Veteran Bynes ‘a huge asset’ on and off the field for Bengals

Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Josh Bynes has been settling into the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense and already finding an important role.

As a 10th-year veteran among a unit of young linebackers, Bynes is taking those teammates under his wing while quickly getting himself up to speed on how the Bengals want to play.

The leadership aspect comes naturally to Bynes, and familiarity with Lou Anarumo’s 4-3 defense has helped him feel more comfortable at his position early in training camp – including his first interception in an 11-on-11 team drill Thursday.

“I just try to feel like I’m getting there with the defense and see what’s asked of me each and every day -- I’m just trying to build from there,” Bynes said. “… I was talking to one of the young guys (Thursday), and he said the day was not that great. I was like, ‘That’s OK. You need that day because then these are the moments you learn from, the ones you write in your notes, when you’ve got a bazillion things to write from because you made so many mistakes. Those are the days that make you better.’”

Bynes, who turned 31 on Monday, has filled a lot of notebooks over the years, and he’s leaning on that experience. Originally an undrafted free agent in 2011 after winning a BCS National Championship with Auburn, the Ravens picked him up and he played in 26 games in three years before moving on to the Detroit Lions (2014-16) and Arizona (2017-18) and then making his way back to Baltimore last year. He won a Super Bowl with Baltimore in 2012.

The Bengals signed Bynes to a one-year deal after playing 12 games with seven starts for the Ravens in 2019. He posted a minus-8 expected completion percentage when the nearest defender in coverage, according to NFL Next Gen stats, and graded him at 76.2.

“He’s a guy that’s done it, he’s a high-character guy, he can really help these young guys out in how they approach not only the stuff on the field but off the field as well,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said of Bynes. “My good friend James Bettcher had him in Arizona and had nothing but great things to say about him. He’s a huge asset, both on and off the field. He’s going to play a pivotal role, not only on the field but in the locker room as well.”

Bynes is at least four years older than everyone else in the linebacker room, but 25-year-old Jordan Evans is the only other player with more than two years of experience in the NFL.

Evans, who was carted off of Monday’s practice with an apparent leg injury, and second-year player Germaine Pratt, a third-round pick in 2019, are the lone returners from last year’s group of contributors, so the addition of Bynes was “huge,” Anarumo said. The Bengals drafted three linebackers to help rebuild the unit, including Logan Wilson in the third round, Akeem Davis-Gaither in the fourth and Markus Bailey in the seventh.

The rookies especially have been gravitating to Bynes, trying to soak up everything they can from him.

“He is like a walking football library,” Wilson said. “He’s so smart. He is the smartest player I’ve ever been around personally. He knows so much football. He knows why the offense does things this way or how we should respond to playing it. There’s a reason why he has been in the league for so long and played with a lot of guys and in a lot of systems and learned a football. I’m just going to piggyback off him and try to learn as much as I can from him, because he’s about as smart as they come.”

Bynes said being around so many young players has started to make him seem older than he feels, but he has embraced the role of the veteran leader and now wants to show he can still play like a young guy.

“Not too long ago I was that young guy in the room,” Bynes said. “One of the guys hit me with an ‘OG’ the other day, and I was like, ‘Wow. I’m OG.’ That cut me deep because I don’t feel like ... does this face look old? I still look like I’m in my 20s over here. But nah, it’s OK. Even in the offseason I still take care of myself. I honestly feel great. My body feels amazing. I feel like I can play in this league another three years, four, five years. Whatever they ask me to play, my body feels amazing.”

Although Bynes is best known for his coverage in the passing game, he said he can be a three-down linebacker if needed. However, he suspects the young guys were brought in for a reason and will see a lot of the playing time on first and second down.

Bynes said he just wants to be a part of turning things around from a disappointing 2019 campaign, where the linebackers were the weakest point of the defense.

“Whatever they ask me to do and what position they ask me to do, I’m all for,” Bynes said. “We got some young linebackers. Me obviously, if they feel like they want to throw them out there —whatever it takes to win at this level, that’s what I’m all for. It’s not like I’m sitting here like ‘Oh my gosh, I want to do this. I want to do that.’ Nah. Obviously first and second down, of course, but I’m up for whatever they want to do on third down. Whatever it takes to win. That’s really what it’s all about. I feel like we have great guys in the room and great guys on this team to put us in position to do so much better than we did last year for sure.”

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