CINCINNATI — Carlos Dunlap walked into the Cincinnati Bengals locker room and noticed a group of videographers and reporters waiting by his locker in a far corner of the room.
“Y’all looking for me?” he said.
Indeed, Dunlap (University of Florida) was the focus on the first day of mandatory minicamp after skipping most of the voluntary offseason workouts in Cincinnati. The ninth-year defensive end chose to work out on his own while his agent negotiated a new deal with the team, costing him $300,000 in bonuses.
Rather than skip the minicamp as well, he decided to catch up on what he’s missed with a new defense being implemented.
Plus, he’s encouraged by the progress made on a deal that would keep him in Cincinnati well beyond 2018.
“There are no hard feelings between any of us,” Dunlap said Tuesday. “This is the process. Both sides understand it.”
Dunlap is a key to the Bengals’ hopes of a turnaround this season. They slid to 18th in the league overall and 30th against the run last season while missing out on the playoffs for a second straight year. Coordinator Paul Guenther left to join Jon Gruden with the Raiders, and Teryl Austin was hired as his replacement.
Dunlap has been a game-changer in Cincinnati with his ability to rush the quarterback and bat down passes. He’s second on the team’s career sacks list with 64½, and he’s been the best lineman in the league at batting down passes over the past few seasons.
Coaches have been trying to get him to be more consistent not only from game-to-game, but within games as well. His number of plays could diminish this season as Cincinnati integrates some of its young pass rushers into the line rotation.
Carl Lawson had 8½ sacks last season, the most by an NFL rookie and one sack shy of Dunlap’s team rookie record from 2010.
“They’re very adamant about having a big rotation, and I would too with all this talent on the D-line,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap and tackle Geno Atkins have anchored the line since 2010. Atkins leads the NFL in sacks by an interior lineman over the past few years. Dunlap had a career-high 13½ sacks in 2015, but slipped to 8 the following season and 7½ last year, third on the team.
By working out on his own the past few months, he missed a chance to learn the system implemented by Austin. He said the biggest change is in terminology.
“They’re pretty much similar in scheme — minor tweaks here or there — but they’re things we already had in our defense,” Dunlap said. “So it’s not like a full spring cleaning or anything.”
Coach Marvin Lewis said Dunlap won’t get much time on the field during the three-day minicamp because he’s missed so much practice time.
“It’s a chance for him to get a preview of what will happen during training camp,” Lewis said. “He’ll get very limited repetitions (in minicamp) just because these guys have been working here for an amount of weeks and he hasn’t been here.”