There is still a lot to be sorted out in the 102 days before the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens open the 2017 season, but one thing growing increasingly clear is that linebacker Nick Vigil is going to play a much larger role this year.
Coming off a rookie season in which he played just 110 defensive snaps, Vigil has been a consistent presence with the first-team base and nickel units in the two practices open to the media since OTAs began May 23.
“He looks a lot better,” Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “I always say in between your first and second year you’ve got to make the biggest jump. He knows where to be, what the schedule’s going to be like. He’s not a rookie anymore. So he’s on top of things that way.”
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Vigil appeared in all 16 games last year but mostly was used on special teams until the last month of the season. With the Bengals out of the playoffs and Vontaze Burfict inactive for the final two games with a knee injury, Vigil played 75 of his 110 snaps in the final three games.
“That was big,” Vigil said. “When you don’t see those reps and then you get them at the end of the year and you see how fast it actually moves at game speed, that helps a lot knowing what to expect.
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I think I learned a lot, especially playing a lot of special teams,” he added. “I think as the year went on I got a little bit better and then getting the reps a little later on in the year really helped me out.”
Vigil went into the offseason committed to get leaner and stronger in addition to smarter.
“That was one of my main goals,” he said. “Just eat clean, try and build muscle and not a lot of fat. Last year I don’t think I had a really good diet. I’ve been focusing on that. Then just being able to understand what everything is going on with the defense, what everybody is doing.
“Last year I didn’t feel like I knew what everybody was doing,” he added. “I knew what my job was, but when you have an understanding of the whole concept of what’s going and why the D coordinator is making the call it makes it a lot easier.”
Four years ago Bengals safety George Iloka found himself in a similar position. As a fifth-round pick in 2012, Iloka didn’t play a single snap on defense as a rookie, but he took advantage of extra reps the following spring to earn the starting job, which he has held ever since.
But Iloka said it wasn’t the belief the coaches showed in him, but rather what came from within that helped him climb the depth chart.
“The first boost of confidence is going to come from yourself,” he said. “It’s not going to come from the coaches or your teammates. It comes from you learning the playbook and understanding it and really knowing it where there is no doubt in your mind.
“I’ve already seen the jump,” Iloka added. “There was actually a big jump from the beginning of last year to the end of last season when he started playing a little bit more. He’s still growing, but I think the future is very bright for him. I’m excited to see him play.”
Vigil was known as a downhill thumper at Utah State, although he also showed the ability to run in coverage with tight ends and backs. That’s something he said he hopes to show more of with his leaner frame, and it was on display Tuesday as he stayed stride for stride with wide receiver Alex Erickson on a deep route.
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“When we watched him on tape, I said this guy is perfect for what we’re doing,” Guenther said.
Even though everything at this stage is void of contact, Vigil is proving he belongs.
“Physically you’re not going to be able to show as many things this time of year,” Guenther said. “It’s the footwork, his eyes, his technique, things like that. Knowing if we’re changing a call at the line of scrimmage, can he communicate it to the safety or the corner or the D line. He’s done all those things so far, so it’s been good.”