July 2013

Fun Facts With Margus Hunt

Margus Hunt is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing rookies in the NFL.  The 26-year-old native of Estonia appeared to be on his way to the Olympics as a shot put/discus thrower before moving to the United States and switching to football while attending SMU.

The 6’8”, 280 pound defensive end has only been playing football for four years, but earned first-team All-Conference USA honors last year after finishing with eight sacks, two forced fumbles, and an INT.  The Bengals selected him in the second round (53rd overall) in this year’s draft.

Margus Hunt at camp (440x302)

His unusual background made Hunt a perfect candidate for a “Fun Facts” interview for the Bengals radio network pregame show.

What is the name of your hometown in Estonia and describe it for us.

It’s called Karksi-Nuia and it’s a really small town.  We don’t even have a traffic light.  Everyone knows everyone there and when I was growing up, I walked everywhere because it was so small.

If you hadn’t been a professional athlete in the United States, what do you think you would have done back home?

I would have kept my track and field career going and seen where it took me.  I would have also definitely gone to college and got my degree.

What do you consider to be your most impressive athletic achievement so far?

I don’t really know.  It’s been a blessing to go through all of this and stay healthy.  Winning gold medals in track and field in international competition was definitely a special feeling because you get to stand on the podium and hear your national anthem.  Right now, football is the most important thing in my life and I’m trying to get that on track.

Where are all the gold medals and trophies?

All of them are back home in Estonia.

Who was your favorite athlete growing up?

His name is Virgilijus Alekna and he’s a Lithuanian discus thrower.  I actually was able to work with him in 2007.

Is he famous in track and field circles?

Oh yeah absolutely.  He’s a two-time Olympic winner and a two-time world champion – just an absolutely tremendous discus thrower.

What were some of your favorite places to travel during your track and field career?

China was really great.  Turkey was unbelievable – it’s a crazy culture over there.  South Africa is an absolutely beautiful place.  Spain is really cool as well.

Have you ever been to an NFL game?

No.  I’ve been here for five years and never really had an opportunity to go to a game so I’m excited to take part in one.

Are there still football terms that you don’t understand?

No.  I know the words – it’s just a matter of learning the game.

Is the United States roughly what you expected or is it very different from the notions that you had growing up in Estonia?

Watching “frat boy” movies back in Estonia you definitely get a skewed overview, but I eventually put that behind me and focused on why I came here.  It’s been working out well.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Eifert Catching On Quickly

In the Bengals first two practices of training camp, rookie tight end Tyler Eifert has stood out for catching everything thrown in his direction.

Well almost …

“He missed one with alligator arms – don’t forget about that one,” said Adam Jones with a laugh.

“I did drop one the first day – it drove me nuts,” said Eifert.  “If it hits your hands you’re supposed to catch it so that’s what I try to do.”

Eifert training camp (440x326)

The Bengals first round draft pick out of Notre Dame has more than compensated for the lone drop by making numerous catches including a few where he was well-covered.

“He one of those guys that if you find a way to put it around him, he finds a way to bring it in,” said Andy Dalton.  “He’s definitely going to help this team.”

Although I have not kept statistics, it seems likely that Eifert has had the most receptions of any Bengals receiver in 11-on-11 drills.  Is Tyler surprised by the number of passes coming his way?

“Maybe a little bit,” Eifert told me.  “I don’t really know how it normally works or who gets a lot of balls, so I’m just trying to get better, make sure I know my assignments, and make the most of my routes.”

“He’s got a great feel for the game,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.  “The big thing is getting him introduced to the route concepts and the route tree and let him run them from different spots.  He’s making the most of his opportunities.”

Eifert is quickly earning the respect of the players attempting to cover him.

“He’s got a different skill set from a lot of tight ends as far as the way he runs routes,” said Terence Newman.  “He’s a big guy but he moves like he could be a big wideout.  It’s kind of like the 49ers and the things they do with Vernon Davis.  He’s versatile so he can do a lot of different things.  He can beat you when he’s attached to the line and he can beat you when they flex him out.  He’s going to be somebody to be reckoned with this year to be sure.”

“It’s going to be hard for linebackers to match up with him,” said Jones.  “His ‘shake-ability’ is unbelievable and he’s great at getting in and out of breaks.  It’s almost like Andrew Hawkins but a little bit slower.”

It’s only been two days and the players haven’t started hitting yet, but Eifert appears to be developing good timing with Dalton.

“I think our chemistry is good,” said Eifert.  “I think we’re still developing that trust, but for how early it is, I think that the trust factor is moving along pretty well and he can trust me to do what I’m supposed to do and be in the right spots.”

“That’s very noticeable for the quarterback when he keeps being in the right spot at the right time,” said Gruden.  “Andy feels very good about him and very confident with him already.”

“He’s done a good job,” said Dalton.  “The way that we’ve been drawing stuff up will make him one of the focal points and he’s one of those guys that seem to catch everything that comes their way.

Almost everything.

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AJ Green Says No Structural Damage To Knee

If you nearly had a panic attack when you heard that A.J. Green went down with a left knee injury at the Bengals first training camp practice on Thursday, you’ re not alone.

“It was scary for me,” Green said on Friday morning.  “But I felt (my knee) and everything felt intact.  I got up and walked off so it’s fine.”

AJ injury (440x330)

The two-time Pro Bowl receiver said that an MRI showed no structural damage and compared the injury to a hypertension of the right knee that he suffered against Pittsburgh as a rookie in 2011.

“That’s what it is,” said Green.  “It’s just not as bad as the one in Pittsburgh.

“It’s like a little bone bruise.”

Green injured his left knee about 90 minutes into practice on Thursday when he attempted to make an acrobatic catch on a deep ball thrown down the sideline by Andy Dalton.

“I was awkward so I was trying to keep my feet in and then I got off-balance,” said Green.  “I don’t know if something was under my foot like a rock or something, but it just went back and I slipped.”

Although it was the first day of training camp, Green has no regrets about making an all-out attempt to make the catch.

“That’s how I’m programmed man,” said Green.  “That’s all I know.”

Green, who turns 25 next week, said that there is no timetable for his return to practice.

“I don’t know – whenever they say I’m ready,” A.J. told reporters.

Bengals fans would undoubtedly be happy if Green is back in time for the regular season opener, but A.J. wants to be back on the field as soon as possible.

“You know me, I need my reps,” said Green.  “I love to get all of my reps, but we’ll see what happens.”

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Mike Brown on Andy Dalton: “I Expect Him To Get Better”

Mike Brown was a good enough college quarterback at Dartmouth to be mentioned in the pages of Sports Illustrated in October of 1956, but he is reluctant to share his thoughts on where Andy Dalton needs to get better in his third season.

“I’m an old quarterback and I like to pretend that I never threw a ball that didn’t go exactly where it should have,” joked Brown.  “But I know how lousy I really was, so maybe I should shut up on this one.”

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While the Bengals president chooses to avoid providing a detailed critique of his current QB, it’s hard to find a preview of the 2013 team that doesn’t focus on Dalton’s room for improvement.  For example, on Tuesday morning the headline on ESPN.com’s AFC North Blog read “Make or Break Year For Andy Dalton?”

“I think that Andy Dalton is a very good quarterback and I guess there has to be something to talk about,” Brown told me.  “If you’re a quarterback in this league, people are going to question everything you do in every game that you play.

“I know this; we were good enough to get to the playoffs for two years in a row with Andy Dalton as our quarterback and that is saying a lot.  Do I expect him to get better?  I do.  I expect him to get better and I think he expects to get better.  He’ll have more experience, maybe he’ll be able to make certain throws a bit better – we’ll find out.  He’s our quarterback.  He’s a good leader, he’s a solid passer, and I’m glad that we have him.”

Mike Brown interview (440x330)

Brown has been studying quarterback play since he was 11 years old when his father became head coach of the Cleveland Browns.  This week at the Bengals annual preseason media luncheon, I asked Mike to share some thoughts on the greatest quarterbacks he’s been associated with in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Otto Graham:

“He was the greatest quarterback ever in my book,” said Brown.  “Otto had an intuitive sense about him.  He made plays when they needed to be made.  He took that team to the league championship game in ten straight years.  They rode his back all the way.  He was very athletic – he played in the NBA as a guard.  His throwing motion was not pretty.  The ball didn’t come off his hand in a dead spiral consistently, yet he found the open guy and made plays.  He anticipated and made things happen that weren’t drawn up.  If I had a quarterback to pick in all of the time that I’ve watched pro football, he would be the one that I would put at the top of my list.”

Ken Anderson:

“Kenny was very accurate,” said Brown.  “His throwing statistics are better than most of the quarterbacks that are in the Hall of Fame.  It’s an injustice that he’s not in the Hall of Fame.  I think if you were listing who was the most important player in Bengals history, Kenny would be the one.”

Boomer Esiason:

“Boomer was a powerful passer,” said Brown.  “He was up-and-down some.  Sometimes when the ball left his hand, I’m not sure that even he knew where it might be going.  What he had that set him apart was leadership.  The players believed in him and he made them better.”

Carson Palmer: 

“Carson was a beautiful thrower,” said Brown.  “He could throw the deep pass as well – or better – than anyone I ever saw.  I used to enjoy just watching him in practice.  Things happened here that weren’t all in his control and some things didn’t work out the way that we wished.  That weighed him down and he decided to go where he thought the grass was greener.  I liked him personally and I still like him personally.  I wish he hadn’t done what he did, but we bounced back from it and I wish him well.”

After running through that list, I asked Brown if he sees any of those traits in Dalton.

“Andy is different in style from Boomer, but he has that same leadership quality about him,” Brown told me.  “The players like him and they respond to him.  As a passer, I don’t know that he would rank at the top, but he doesn’t rank at the bottom either.  He ranks with the good ones that we’ve had.  His future has to play out.  We’ll see – he might surprise some of his critics.”

Does Mike Brown think that Andy Dalton will be the Bengals quarterback for the next 10 years?

“Right now, I’m planning that he will be,” said Brown.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Freshman Caupain Looks To Make Point

As a senior at Cosby HS near Richmond, VA last year, Troy Caupain averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds.  But when he joins the Bearcats this fall, Caupain will be looking to pile up assists since he is expected to play point guard at the college level.  

 Image

“We were able to see Troy enough to realize that this guy is a point guard,” said UC head coach Mick Cronin.  “He’s 6’3″ and he’s still only 17; he won’t turn 18 until six or seven games into the season.  But he’s a natural point guard.  It’s the one position – kind of like quarterback in football – where there are probably some things that you’re just born with.  He’s comfortable with the ball in his hands and he sees the entire court.”

Caupain says that Coach Cronin wasn’t the first person to see point guard potential in his future. 

“My uncle realized it was time to be a guard because I wasn’t going to be 6’8″ or taller,” said Caupain.  “So he worked with me to build up my ball handling, my basketball IQ, and my court awareness.  I took it to mean that I was going to be a point guard and ever since then, I dedicated myself toward doing that every time that I went to the gym.”

“I remember recruiting Kenny Satterfield and a lot of the services said that he wasn’t a point guard because he was 6’2″ and he scored a lot of points in high school,” said Cronin.  “But when you watch a guy play, you can see what he’s comfortable with and it really wasn’t a hard thing with Troy.  When the ball is in his hands he’s very comfortable and he doesn’t really feel pressure.  When some guys get pressured, they put their head down, they get nervous, and they speed up.  When Troy sees pressure it doesn’t rattle him.  He just makes a simple pass and is calm with the ball.” 

Caupain was named the Player of the Year in Richmond last year and finished his career as his school’s all-time leader in scoring average and rebounds.  That led to comparisons to a former DePaul star that spent 17 years in the NBA.

“People tell me that I remind them of Rod Strickland back when he played for the Wizards,” said Caupain.  “He was a floor general on the court – he could get a bucket when his team needed it, but he looked to involve his teammates.  I like to smile, be a leader, and get my teammates involved in the game.

“When I was young, (Strickland’s) son played on my little cousin’s AAU team, so I used to see him all the time and we used to go to his house and play basketball and stuff.”

Caupain’s ability to find open teammates figures to put him in the mix to replace Cashmere Wright as Cincinnati’s starting point guard.

Does Troy expect to win the job?

“That’s not my call,” Caupain told me.  “But I’m working hard to try to earn that spot – yes.”

“I’m excited about him because he’s going to make other guys better,” said Cronin.  “That’s the key.  He’s going to get other guys a lot of easy baskets.”  

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Camp Tuberville Just Weeks Away

The Tommy Tuberville era at Cincinnati is about to begin.  The Bearcats check-in for training camp on Sunday, August 4 and hold their first practice the following day.  Fans can meet the players and get autographs at the annual “Meet the Team” event at Kings Island on Sunday, August 18.

Tuberville fist pump (440x213)

I had the opportunity to interview Coach Tuberville this week about some key topics going into camp:

Rumor has it that you were hanging out with the big stars at the ESPYS last week?

Every year I play in the V Foundation Golf Classic to raise money to fight cancer.  I’ve been going for many years.  Sometimes I go to the ESPYS along with it, but this year I didn’t have time so I just played in the golf tournament to help them raise money and then I flew back.  I played with actor Chris Tucker, and Bruce Jenner played right in front of us.  You get to meet a lot of people at that tournament, but I’m always excited to get back home and get ready for the football season.

You’ve been coaching for a long time, but when you’re in your first year at a program is training camp more challenging?

It’s more challenging because we’re still finding out about our players and they’re finding out about us.  But I’m excited about our off-season.  They’ve just gone through a very tough summer workout program and I think we’re in very good physical shape.  They’ve gotten stronger and you’re always excited to get them back on the field to see where we’ve come since spring practice in terms of their physical and mental abilities.

Is the quarterback job Brendon Kay’s to lose at training camp?

Yes, because he had a very good spring and I thought that Munchie (Legaux) hit the wall in about the 10th or 11th practice.  The guy that really played well and made a lot of headway was Bennie Coney.  Bennie has a lot of talent – he can run, he can throw, and do all of those things.  So we’re going to have some options.  I tell you, it’s going to be a battle.  I’ve told Brendon that we’re going to start him out with the first group, but anything can happen.  We’ll have a couple of scrimmages and a lot of practices and remember, your quarterback not only runs the offense – he’s the leader of your entire team.  Brendon is probably a little bit ahead, but that can change very quickly in two-a-days.

I ran into a member of your staff this week who told me that a few of the junior college additions are going to make an immediate impact this year.  Can you tell us about a few of those guys?

We have on campus running backs Rod Moore and Hosea Williams who will battle it out with Tion Green and Ralph Abernathy.  Going into the season, you have got to have two or three running backs that you can count on, so I think there is going to be a lot of competition there.  Jerrell Jordan is a junior college defensive end that came in in January and broke his foot – the fifth metatarsal – and had a screw put in it so he didn’t get a lot of practice time.  He’s in much better shape, and Terrell Hartsfield is another junior college defensive end that has been on campus for about two months and I think he is really going to help us.  Those guys are going to be great additions to our football team mentally and physically.  Then we have Howard Wilder, a junior college cornerback, that I really think is going to help this team get better.  In those areas we need some help, and I think they’re going to provide it for us going into the opening game.

Is cornerback your biggest concern?

We have a lot of concerns.  Every football team has concerns about experience and depth, but I would say right now that it’s the cornerback position just because of depth.  I think we have some guys that can play, but you have to have six to eight guys on your team, and we’re going to have to count on a couple of high school players to come in and give us some help, along with junior college players like Howard Wilder.  So corner has been a concern since we got here.  I think we’ve helped ourselves in recruiting, but now we have to get them in shape and get them ready to play mentally.

People have read and heard about your Australian rugby player Lindsay Crook.  Is he likely to redshirt in year one to learn American football?

I think that’s a big question mark.  I know he’s a good athlete and he can really run.  He had a setback – we had to scope his knee about a month ago because he had some loose cartilage in there that was giving him some pain.  So we decided to go ahead and clean that up.  He was down for about three weeks – he’s just now started running again.  But I think he’ll be able to help us some.  I’m not sure what position or it might just be on special teams, but you’ve got to remember that he’s not your average high school player.  He’ll be 21 years old this year.  He’s got a lot to learn about what we do and how we do it, but I think that he can pick it up.  We’ll have to see how far he can come in the next few weeks.  I’m not going to play him just to play him, but I think he has the ability to help the team this season.

What’s been the most pleasant surprise about the UC program since you arrived?

The enthusiasm of the players and the confidence that they have.  The thing about the UC football program over the last six or seven years – it’s probably been one of the biggest surprises nationwide.  For a long time, UC was one of the doormats of college football, but with the emergence of winning like UC has won over the past few years – every team has some ups and downs – but they’ve had some consistency.  They’ve been to two BCS Bowl games, and most schools across the country haven’t been to one.  I think the confidence that these players have in what they can do and how they can do it gives us an edge.  I’m not here to change a whole lot; I just want to keep the ship going in the right direction.

You’ll begin your tenure here in The American – the new American Athletic Conference.  As a head coach, would you rather be in a league where you potentially could dominate or a league like the Big 12 with traditional powers like Oklahoma and Texas?

I think there’s a fine line there.  Everybody wants to win games and I think that’s a big question mark for where you want to be.  But for us to have an opportunity to win national championships, something is eventually going to have to happen for us to get into the (power five conferences).  But I like the conference we’re in.  I like the teams that we’re playing and I think we can compete and be one of the stronger teams in the league year in and year out.  That’s how we’re going to treat it.  We’re going to recruit harder every year, and we’re going to try to beat whoever is on our schedule.  We really don’t have control over that right now, so we’re just going to have to wait and see what happens.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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