With their rookie seasons now done, let's take a day-by-day look at the Cincinnati Bengals' first-year players and examine what went right and what went wrong for them individually. Let's also examine the path ahead for the group that will comprise a key chunk of Cincinnati's foundation moving forward.
We started near the bottom of the depth and snap charts and are working our way up, culminating with the first- and second-round rookies who had a major impact on the direction of the Bengals' offense in 2013. Tyler Eifert emerged as a quality blocker and pass-catcher at tight end, while Giovani Bernard was Cincinnati's most explosive playmaking threat, catching passes and piling up yards after the catch, and pulling off numerous highlight-show worthy runs.
Because of injuries predating the start of the 2013 season or time mostly spent on the practice squad, several first-year Bengals won't be discussed in this particular series. At a later date, we'll break down what their impact could be going forward. The names you shouldn't expect to see this week include: Cobi Hamilton, T.J. Johnson, David King, Onterio McCalebb, Quinn Sharp, Bruce Taylor, Larry Black, Brandon Joiner and Sean Porter.
2013 stats: Appeared in every game and recorded four defensive tackles and 14 on special teams.
How acquired: Undrafted free agent.
The good: Most outside of Cincinnati remember DiManche from HBO's "Hard Knocks." On one of the final episodes from last summer's behind-the-scenes look at the Bengals, he showed pure, unadulterated joy when coach Marvin Lewis called to tell him he had finished training camp by making the team. One scene after rolling around on his bed in glee, DiManche called a number in his phone that cameras showed as "Mommy." She, too, let loose a proud scream when she learned the news. Those phone calls weren't the only highlights from DiManche's first season with the Bengals. He played often when the season began, appearing occasionally on defense, and serving as a regular member of an overall special teams unit that saw a lot more good than bad in 2013. Among DiManche's better moments was his blocked punt against Cleveland in November. The block preceded Tony Dye's 24-yard scoop and score. That key special teams play was one of several that effectively got the Bengals not only back in the game they once trailed by two scores, but helped establish a growing margin in what became a 41-20 win in an important division contest.
The bad: DiManche didn't have many glaring weaknesses during his first season. The former Southern Illinois Saluki was never noticeably in the wrong spots during the 47 plays he played defense. And he didn't seem to be at fault if something went wrong on the various special teams units he was part of. In addition to rushing the kicker on the punt return team, he also chased down returners on the punt coverage and kick coverage teams, and blocked for his own returners in the kick return game. Maybe the only real bad for DiManche was that despite a general lack of depth in the Bengals' linebacking corp, he didn't see extensive action in relief. Although, those 47 plays probably were many more than most might have predicted last August.
Looking ahead: So far in his young career, DiManche appears to be following the path of one of his locker room neighbors, Vincent Rey, who also was an undrafted when he was signed by the Bengals in 2010. Since then, Rey has starred on special teams, turning heads along the way. In 2013, injuries and the aforementioned lacking linebacker depth combined to get Rey the most extensive playing time of his career. When he got it, he ran completely away with it, recording career-highs in tackles, sacks and interceptions. DiManche has a chance to see his career progress similarly if he continues to impress on special teams. Because of Rey, Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga in the lineup, DiManche likely won't see regular starting action this fall, but he still could be key to deepening Cincinnati's talent pool at linebacker.