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Burfict Returns To Arizona As One Of NFL’s Best

Vontaze Burfict left Arizona State in a cloud of controversy after a junior season that included too many personal fouls, a benching in his final college game, and a disastrous showing at the NFL Combine that contributed to him going undrafted.

He returns to Phoenix this weekend as one of the best linebackers in the NFL.

“Going back to Arizona is exciting, but that’s not on my mind,” Burfict told me. “This will be the game where the ‘ones’ and ‘twos’ will play a little bit more, so I’m going in locked-in like it’s a regular week. I’m not worried about a homecoming or anything like that – it’s a business trip for me.”

And business is good for the NFL’s leading tackler last season.

Burfict leads defense (440x284)

Despite being the Bengals youngest starter on defense, the 23-year-old Burfict has emerged as the team’s emotional leader on that side of the ball.

“He’s intense and everybody feeds off of his energy,” said defensive end Robert Geathers. “He’s a football-smart guy and when you’re prepared like that and have his energy, it doesn’t matter how old you are.”

“If you don’t want to play with a guy like that next to you, I don’t know what to tell you,” said safety Reggie Nelson. “I love playing next to him.”

“He’s as confident as any player I’ve ever seen at any level, and that’s what really impresses me,” said linebacker Jayson DiManche. “You’ll never know if and when he makes a mistake out there because he’s always going so fast and playing so hard. His attitude and effort level are off the charts. That’s something as a young linebacker that you try to emulate. It’s crazy because Vontaze is actually younger than me.”

Burfict’s intensity level extends to the practice field where he could often be seen jawing with offensive players during training camp as it were the Super Bowl instead of a routine drill.

“You have to have fun,” said Burfict. “In training camp you’re with the guys almost 40 days straight and it gets old around day five. So you want to make it competitive and have fun with it and talk crap. When I talk to Andy, Gio, BenJarvus – it spices things up. You don’t think about the reps, you just think about competing and trying to win that rep. I feel like bringing a bit of an edge and talking a little trash makes us play better and faster.”

“All of the great ones pretty much have that personality,” said cornerback Darqueze Dennard. “Lawrence Taylor…Ray Lewis…you see the passion in all of that barking and hollering and you see that in Vontaze. I love it and I think the rest of the guys appreciate that. He motivates guys and gets them going. When you see a player who is running around having fun and screaming and hollering after he makes plays, it makes you want to go out there and have fun with him.”

Burfict forces fumble (440x314)

Burfict played in his first Pro Bowl last year and intercepted an Andrew Luck pass in his team’s win. His guests in Hawaii included fellow linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.

“I wouldn’t be able to make plays without Rey,” said Burfict. “He helped me learn the playbook and now it’s my turn to try to pass it on to other guys.”

“When I heard that he made the Pro Bowl, I almost broke down crying,” said Guenther. “The first time that he walked into my meeting room I said, ‘Just do everything that I ask you to do and be where you need to be.’ He did everything to the utmost. To make the Pro Bowl in his second year after everything that kid’s gone through and to be out there in Hawaii to celebrate with him was such an honor. It’s something that I will always remember.”

Vontaze is entering the final year of his rookie contract and while the Bengals will control his rights next season as a restricted free agent, the team would undoubtedly prefer to sign Burfict to an extension before reaching that point.

Now that the Andy Dalton megadeal is done, does Burfict think he’s next?

“I don’t know,” said Burfict. “It’s not on my mind. If it does come it’s God-blessed. If I just work hard it will possibly come.”

(Shortly after this story was published, the news broke that the Bengals have reached an agreement on a contract extension with Burfict.  It is reportedly a 4 year/$20 million deal that will pay him $7.6 million this year).

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Tyson Fighting For Starting Spot

Bearcats safety Mike Tyson packs a punch…tattoos the wide receiver…will look to take a bite out of the opponent’s passing attack.

When you share a name with the controversial former boxing champ, the one-liners are inevitable.

“Yeah, everybody jokes about his name,” said linebacker Nick Temple.

“I always hear, ‘Are you related to Mike Tyson? Or is your name really Mike Tyson?’” the sophomore safety told me. “Some people think that I’m lying, but I’m telling the truth. It was my dad’s name and it runs in the family.”

Mike Tyson INT

Cincinnati’s Mike Tyson is from the Tidewater region of Virginia and got into nine games for the Bearcats as a true freshman last season, finishing with 18 tackles and two interceptions. This year he’s been lining up with the first team defense in training camp as the safety opposite of Zach Edwards.

“He’s so much more comfortable than he was last year,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “Last year he didn’t have a clue about what he was doing but we had to play him. I think playing last year helped him some. He’s grown up, he’s a lot more comfortable with what we’re doing in zone and man, and he and Zach work well together. It’s going to give us a pretty good one-two punch for the next few years if we can just keep them healthy.”

“Last year I just played on athletic ability,” said Tyson. “I knew some things, but not a lot. My understanding of the defense is much better now.”

“I think he’s really progressed,” said defensive coordinator Hank Hughes. “When you’re a freshman, everything is brand new but he’s doing a good job of catching on to the scheme and playing aggressive and physical.”

The most memorable moment of Tyson’s freshman year was a 95-yard interception return against UConn. Unfortunately, as he neared the goal line, the Cincinnati safety had the ball punched out of his hands and it rolled through the back of the end zone for a touchback (click here to hear the radio call).

“To be honest, I was really tired,” said Tyson. “I was holding the ball wrong and a dude came up from behind and stripped it. I think about that play all the time – every time I play football I think about it. I look at it as a gift and something that I have to build on.”

Tyson says it was a gift because he knows that he’ll never make the same mistake again.

“You got that right,” he said with a laugh.

While UC’s coaching staff is obviously looking for Tyson to intercept and deflect passes, he’ll also be counted on to help stop the run. At 6’2” and a chiseled 200 pounds, the sophomore has the potential to add an intimidation factor to the secondary.

“We could put him at linebacker today and he would play pretty solid for us,” said Tuberville. “He doesn’t shy away from contact – he likes it.”

After all, you would expect a football player named Mike Tyson to hit hard right?

“It’s not a bad name at all for a safety,” said Temple. “It’s a good name actually.”

So what does UC’s Mike Tyson think of sharing a name with the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world?

“I’m more of a Muhammed Ali fan,” he said with a grin.

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Kiel Hopes Long Wait Is Almost Over

When the Bearcats take the field on September 12th vs. Toledo, it will have been 2 years, 9 months, and 25 days since quarterback Gunner Kiel played in a football game that counts – the final game of his decorated high school career at Columbus East HS in Indiana.

“It feels like a decade,” said Kiel. “It’s awful – it’s a terrible, terrible feeling not to be able to play for three years. I’m really excited to get back under center and be able to throw the ball, run the ball, and do whatever it takes to win a football game again.”

Kiel at Higher Ground

When UC opened training camp on Monday, Kiel took the first team reps at quarterback and the 21-year-old sophomore is considered the frontrunner to be Cincinnati’s starter – although Jarred Evans and Munchie Legaux will be given the opportunity to win the job over the next few weeks.

“We’re going to have some competition,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “It’s not a given on who is going to be our quarterback.”

“I know that Coach Tuberville is going to name a starter whenever he is ready to, so it’s up to me to compete, work my tail off, do the right things, and be a good teammate,” Gunner told me.

Kiel says that his confidence skyrocketed after the spring game when he completed 17-of-22 passes for 300 yards despite sitting out the second half. He got another confidence boost in June when he was among 40 college quarterbacks invited to be a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy along with the likes of Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, and UCLA’s Brett Hundley.

“To be invited to the Manning Camp is such an honor and a true blessing.” said Kiel. “To be with the best quarterbacks in the country and a hero of mine (Peyton Manning) was unbelievable. It’s definitely something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

I asked Gunner if he learned anything in particular from the Broncos’ 13-time Pro Bowl quarterback.

“Footwork,” he answered. “For a quarterback, it all begins with your feet – the way you deliver the ball, the accuracy, how fast you can get the ball out. I think that’s something that I definitely have to work on. My footwork is a little slow, but I know that. (Quarterbacks) Coach Hinshaw and I are going to work on that and it’s something that Peyton definitely preaches.”

“The thing about Gunner is that he’s got to set his feet some, and he’s got to get his body in position,” said Coach Tuberville. “Playing quarterback in this type of offense is as much about footwork as it is about the arm. But he’s starting to make more good decisions, he’s more consistent with his decisions on who to throw the ball to, and I think the receivers that we have are really going to help him because he’s going to have a lot of targets.”

One of the biggest things that stood out on the first day of camp was how deep the Bearcats are at wide receiver. In addition to having four productive receivers back from last year’s team in Shaq Washington (team-leading 78 receptions), Chris Moore (45 rec, 9 TD), Max Morrison (29 catches, 3 TD), and Mekale McKay (16 rec, 7 TD), UC adds two receivers with NFL size and speed in Johnny Holton and Casey Gladney, gets Alex Chisum back from an ankle injury, and will use Ralph David Abernathy IV more frequently as a slot receiver.

“It’s amazing – we have eight guys that can fill a spot,” said Kiel. “They’re fast, they run crisp routes, they go out and get the ball, and you can throw it anywhere.”

“We’re going to have some weapons,” said Tuberville. “Now we just have to be able to get it to ‘em.”

After redshirting for a year at Notre Dame and sitting out last season after transferring to Cincinnati, Kiel hopes that his long wait is almost over.

“I haven’t played a game, so I have to come out and prove myself,” he said.

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Hewitt Opening Eyes In First NFL Camp

In East Lansing, Michigan it’s known as “The Stop.”

With 1:46 remaining in last year’s Rose Bowl, Michigan State led Stanford 24-20 when the Cardinal went for it on 4th-and-1 at the 34 yard line. As soon as the ball was snapped, Spartans linebacker Kyler Elsworth made a flying leap over the line of scrimmage to nail the Stanford fullback for no gain to seal the victory for Michigan State.

Elsworth flying (440x293)

“They’ve got pictures everywhere in East Lansing of Elsworth jumping over the offensive and defensive lines,” said Bengals rookie and former MSU star Darqueze Dennard. “It was crazy. It’s a big play in Michigan State history.”

Ironically, the Stanford player who was stopped on 4th-and-1 was Bengals rookie Ryan Hewitt.

“It was a great play,” said Hewitt. “I think my neck might still be a little sore from that one.”

NCAA Football 2014: Rose Bowl Michigan State vs Stanford JAN 01

Three of Hewitt’s fellow rookies played for Michigan State in that game – Dennard, Isaiah Lewis, and Dan France – but Ryan says they haven’t busted his chops about “The Stop” or the final score.

“We’re on the same team now, so this isn’t the time to do that,” said Dennard. “But if Michigan State and Stanford actually play again, I might bring it up.”

While Dennard is a lock to make the Bengals 53-man roster after being drafted in the first round, Hewitt is also making a strong bid to stick despite being signed as an undrafted free agent. Ryan is being used as an H-back (fullback/tight end hybrid) and has frequently lined up with the first string offense.

“He’s earned it – we’re not giving anybody anything,” said offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. “He’s earning an opportunity to play with the first group and that’s kind of where he is right now. But he has to fight like heck to stay there.”

“I think Ryan has really done a nice job for us,” said Marvin Lewis. “He’s handled things well. He’s playing tight end/H-back/fullback whatever you want to call those positions we have and he’s handled it well both physically and mentally. I think as a receiver he’s done a nice job. As an interior blocker he’s done a good job. I really think he’s got a bright future.”

Hewitt vs Chiefs (440x278)

Hewitt began his college career as a tight end but switched to fullback and started at that position for his final three seasons. He was frequently used as an outlet receiver out of the backfield and finished his college career with 59 catches for 473 yards and 6 TD.

Bengals west coast scout Steven Radicevic liked what he saw of Hewitt at Stanford and Cincinnati reportedly gave Ryan a $10,000 signing bonus – the most of any of the team’s college free agents this year. Hewitt knew that the Bengals didn’t have an established fullback, but didn’t realize that he would be used in a dual role.

“It was kind of a transition that came out of the blue – I wasn’t really expecting it – but it’s something that I embraced and I’m thankful for the opportunity,” said Hewitt.

Ryan says that he elected to go to Stanford for academics more than football, so perhaps it’s no surprise that he’s been able to quickly learn the Bengals’ playbook at multiple positions.

“We ran a very similar offense at Stanford with a lot of the same terminology, so that’s helped the transition,” said Hewitt. “But it is difficult. You have to spend a little extra time studying to make sure that you know both positions so that when you get put in at either spot you know what you’re doing.

“But I pride myself in knowing what I’m doing and making sure that I’m in the right spot and right alignment. That’s something that I work on every day.”

“He’s a smart kid and I think he has a burning desire to be good,” said Jackson. “He has the characteristics that we look for. He needs to continue to grow and play well within our system and we’ll see where this thing goes.”

The 23-year-old from Denver is a sturdy 6’4”, 254 pounds and Coach Lewis says he expects Hewitt to get more powerful.

“I think as he grows and he’s fortunate enough to stay around here, I think by next year we’ll have a real, real big physical man,” said Lewis. “He’s going to be a big person.”

Ryan may have been stopped last January in Pasadena. But it appears that he’s just getting started in Cincinnati.

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Miliano Thinks Mystery Is Solved

There was no bigger mystery on the UC football team last year than kicker Tony Miliano.

Miliano

After making 34 of 47 field goal attempts (72%) in his first two seasons, Miliano slumped to 7-for-17 (41%) as a junior.

Miliano thinks the mystery has been solved.

“I went back and watched the film after the season and found out that I was leaving my hips open and everything was missing right,” said Miliano. “I don’t know if you even noticed, but every miss went right except for the one at UConn. I think that I was trying so hard to pinpoint the problem the whole year that I overcorrected things that didn’t need to be corrected. Then you get into a funk and it goes into your head. I don’t think that I’m a head case, but when you’re trying to fix something like that, it’s not going to go too well for you.”

If you’re a golfer, you can probably identify. If you start to struggle and suddenly have a million swing thoughts, the problem usually gets worse.

I asked Miliano if kicking is more mental or physical.

“I’d say it’s 50/50 really – if not more mental,” he said. “We come out here and do this all the time and know how to do it. It’s just that you have to come out with the right attitude, and you have to be able to do it on a regular basis.”

Miliano worked with kicking gurus Tim Williams and Jamie Kornblue in the offseason, and enters his senior year in a battle for the placekicking job with redshirt freshman Andrew Gantz. On the first day of training camp, each kicker made all six of his attempts in 5-yard increments from 20 to 45 yards.

“The young kid was ahead over the summer, but we’ll base it pretty much on handling pressure out here,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “Both of them hit all of their kicks today, but it’s a little bit different when they turn the lights on and we start scrimmaging. That will pretty much tell the tale. I’d say it’s neck and neck right now.”

“Andrew had a great spring and a great summer as well, so it’s a really good competition,” said Miliano. “Andrew is a good kid, so it’s good that we’re pushing each other and making each other better.

“When I went out there today, it’s unbelievable how comfortable I felt. I felt so relaxed – the way that I felt two years ago and the year before that. Comfortability is a huge factor when you’re out there before all of those fans and I can’t wait – I really can’t.”

What he can’t wait for is another chance.

“Oh my gosh, I can’t even describe how happy I am,” Tony told me. “Seriously, I’m really lucky – not just to have another season, but to have all the guys around that support me after what happened last year and the coaches that are still hanging in there with me. I’m super happy and I can’t wait for September 12th.”

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Burke Is Bengals Journey Man

Film study with players is a big part of an NFL coach’s job. But Cincinnati’s new linebackers coach Matt Burke doesn’t strictly put X’s and O’s on the screen. At one point this spring, his players saw Burke take a 134 meter leap off of the Nevis Highwire Platform in New Zealand – the third highest bungee jumping platform in the world (you can see the video here).

Nevis bungee (322x440)

“I made all of the rookie linebackers introduce themselves to their teammates and show a video clip, and since I’m a new guy here I showed them that,” said Burke.

“That was kinda scary,” said Emmanuel Lamur. “I couldn’t do it. He has a lot of guts – that’s for sure.”

The Dartmouth-educated Burke has a wide variety of adventures to share with the Bengals’ linebacker corps. Since becoming an NFL assistant under Jeff Fisher with the Titans in 2006, Matt has traveled all over the world including stops in Belize, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Finland, Guatemala, Honduras, Iceland, New Zealand, Peru, Russia, Sweden, and Thailand.

Burke with monk (440x293)

“We took vacations and camped out when I was younger, but the first time I left the country was actually after my first year in the NFL,” said Burke. “It was the first time I had any money after college and I went to Ireland with a buddy. That’s all it took. From then on, I’ve taken one or two trips every year now.

“That’s about my only expense for the year. We’re here 90 hours a week during the season, so you really don’t have any time to spend money. So I spend my money taking a big trip and seeing the world.”

“He’s a lot braver than I am,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “It’s his free time and as coaches we don’t get a lot of it.”

The coaches’ best vacation opportunity comes between the end of OTAs in late June and the start of training camp in late July. This year, Burke grabbed his backpack and headed nearly 8,000 miles from Cincinnati.

Burke at altitude (330x440)

“I went to Nepal for two weeks to hike along the Everest Trail,” Matt told me. “I went by myself, but it was through an outfitting company so there were four other guys and we had about 10 Sherpas with us.

“It was definitely one of the more strenuous trips that I’ve taken, but I can’t sit still for too long. I just really like getting out and seeing things and sometimes you have to work to see the good stuff. For me it’s about getting away. There’s not a lot of cell phone reception up in the Himalayas.”

Burke says that his exotic excursions have helped him as a coach.

“Our profession at a base level is understanding people, motivating players, and being able to relate to different types of people,” he said. “If you look at the linebacker room, they’re from all over the country and have different backgrounds. I find that when I’m out traveling, I meet all sorts of people from different parts of the world and you get a better understanding of human nature.

“But honestly for me, it’s a reset as much as anything. It helps my coaching because I can come back here for the season a little bit more refreshed mentally than I normally would be.”

There have been a few scares along the way including the time in Cambodia when he thought he was being kidnapped by a cab driver. It’s probably also safe to assume that Burke is the only Bengals coach who has been inches away from a live Bengal Tiger.

Burke with tiger (440x330)

“When I was in Thailand, I actually got to go into the cages with some of the tigers there,” said Burke. “They have a zoo-type setup where you can go in and pet the tigers and stuff. I had to do it. I got my heart rate up a little bit there. I just like trying that stuff.”

So what’s next on his itinerary?

“When the season ends and things have settled down and we get our calendar for the offseason, I’ll start looking at it,” said Burke. “Things start popping into my mind and I decide what kind of craziness that I want to get into.”

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After Nightmare, Legaux Dreams Of Return

Munchie Legaux has grown accustomed to “the look.”

When people realize who is and are reminded of the gruesome knee injury that he suffered nearly 11 months ago, Munchie can see their facial expressions change.

“Guys see me and look at my knee and go, ‘Oh my God,’” said Legaux. “I’m OK.man. I don’t have a prosthetic leg or anything.”

Far from it.

Legaux running (440x269)

After enduring months of mind-numbing rehab sessions following surgery to repair all four ligaments in his left knee, Legaux estimates that he is 80 to 85 percent recovered.

“I expect to be out there for the first game of the season,” Munchie told me. “And I expect to be out there competing for the start of camp.

“Every day, twice a day, I’m in the training room and the weight room. Lifting, running, squatting – whatever it takes to get me ready for camp.”

“When you’ve had an injury like that, you have to fight through a lot of things,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “But he’s a battler.”

Legaux was one of four Cincinnati seniors who represented the program at American Athletic Conference Media Days in Newport, RI and his presence was noted by Commissioner Mike Aresco in his state-of-the-league address.

“I am especially pleased to see Munchie Legaux from Cincinnati and I’ll be happy to shake his hand after he takes the field this season,” said Aresco.

“It was an honor and a blessing for him to recognize me,” said Legaux.

While Gunner Kiel will enter training camp as the number one quarterback on the depth chart, Coach Tuberville says that Legaux and Jarred Evans will be given the opportunity to compete for the job.

“I have been in this situation for the last two years,” said Legaux. “Competition brings the best out. And if it’s Jarred Evans of Gunner Kiel out there for the first game, I will be their biggest supporter.

“There’s a target on my back with people thinking, ‘What is he going to be like? Is he going to be the same guy? Is he going to be Munchie Legaux running around and making plays?’ But that doesn’t define a quarterback. A quarterback is willing to sit in the pocket and throw the ball and I can do that and also run at the same time.”

Regardless of how much playing time he earns, Legaux’s comeback is already an inspiration to his coaches and teammates.

“When he first suffered that injury, nobody ever thought he would come back,” said Tuberville.

“Everybody watched Munchie go down, and everybody is going to watch him get back up,” said cornerback Adrian Witty.

“Nothing is impossible,” said Legaux. “Injuries…anything you have going on in your life…just continue to have faith, take it day-by-day, and stay positive. That’s the main thing – stay positive.”

After a nightmarish injury, Munchie Legaux has an increasingly realistic dream: To run back on to a football field in a Bearcats uniform.

“I can’t wait for that moment. I might cry,” Legaux told me. “A lot of guys are happy for me to be back and say, ‘We might cry with you.’ But I don’t know what to expect when I run out for the first game with guys noticing, ‘Man, look at him. He’s running. He’s back.’ I’m just excited and ready for that time.”

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Eifert On Course Entering Second NFL Season

The American Century Championship is the most prestigious celebrity golf tournament in the world. There’s a $600,000 purse, live weekend coverage on NBC Sports, and this year’s list of celebs included legendary athletes like Charles Barkley, Roger Clemens, and John Elway, Olympic heroes such as Mike Eruzione, Dan Jansen, and Bode Miller, comedians Larry the Cable Guy and Ray Romano, and even former Vice President Dan Quayle.

This year’s tourney in Lake Tahoe, NV also included Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert.

Eifert making catch (440x248)

“I think I was the least-famous person there, if I even am famous,” Tyler told me with a laugh. “But it was a lot of fun being around all of those guys and they were really good to me. For me, I didn’t feel like a celebrity so much. It was more like a kid getting to hang out with some of the celebrities.”

This year’s winner was former Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien. Eifert shot 79-77-82 to finish in a tie for 28th  (out of 86) and let his Twitter followers know that he wasn’t happy with the result.

“I wasn’t terrible, but I hit the ball a lot better than I scored which is frustrating,” said Eifert. “But it seems like that’s always the case. It was still a good time and hopefully I’ll get to go back next year.”

Eifert golf event (440x292)

There was one other participant in the event with Bengals ties – Carson Palmer – and he and Eifert were in the same group in the first round (along with Chiefs QB Alex Smith). In case you’re interested, Palmer shot 76-73-78 to tie for 15th. But here’s what inquiring minds really want to know: Did Eifert and Palmer compare notes about playing in Cincinnati?

“A little bit at first, but not a whole lot,” said Eifert. “We were just out there playing golf so it wasn’t a whole lot of business.”

Eifert got back to business this week with the start of training camp and is looking to build on a rookie season that saw him finish with 39 catches for 445 yards (11.4 ypc) and 2 TD.

“Overall I was happy with it,” said the 23-year-old from Ft. Wayne, IN. “The transition went well for me and I enjoyed playing. I didn’t feel a lot of pressure – I could really just go out there and have fun and try to help the team win. I wasn’t maybe as productive as I wanted to be, but when you’re splitting balls with another tight end – between the two of us we caught a lot of balls.”

Jermaine Gresham finished with 46 catches for 458 yards, meaning that Cincinnati got a combined 87 receptions for 903 yards from their top two tight ends. But former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden expected to get the ball to Eifert more frequently last year after the Bengals made him the first tight end selected in the draft (21st overall). In an interview I did with Gruden after the 12th game of last season, he said that Eifert “was probably the most underutilized player on our team.”

“Somebody told me about that comment and it was a surprise coming from him,” Tyler told me. “When you have this many playmakers, it’s hard to utilize everyone. Obviously I would have liked to be more involved in the offense and make more plays for us, but we have a lot of good players.”

Eifert suffered a stinger in the next-to-last game of the regular season and barely played in the playoff loss to San Diego as he was only on the field for 3 of the 81 offensive snaps. Considering how effectively Cincinnati used Eifert and Gresham in a dual tight end package during the regular season, does Tyler think the playoff outcome would have been different if he had been healthy?

“It’s hard to say,” said Eifert. “I don’t think one player can really change the game. San Diego brought it to us. I would like to think that I could have helped, but I guess we’ll never know.”

This much we know beyond a shadow of a doubt: Eifert is a much golfer than Charles Barkley. Sir Charles shot 106-107-106 to finish dead last in the celebrity event.

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Dennard Is Leon-Like In First NFL Camp

When Leon Hall made it back on the field for the first day of training camp after rehabbing his torn Achilles, one of the happiest people to see him in uniform was a rookie that has frequently been compared to the veteran cornerback – first round draft pick Darqueze Dennard.

“(Leon) is a great player,” said Dennard. “I think he’s one of the cornerbacks that get underlooked because he doesn’t talk as much as a Richard Sherman, but he has the same production as him. He’s a very productive player and just to have him back playing – I’ll get to watch him and pick his brain as well.”

In seven NFL seasons, Hall has earned a sterling reputation for his consistent, technically-sound play at cornerback. The 22-year-old Dennard displayed similar traits at Michigan State and earned the Jim Thorpe Award last year as the top defensive back in college football.

“The guy is all football,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “He’s really smart and he’s really competitive. He’s taken all of the information that we’ve given him in the spring and he’s retained most of it. He’ll be a really good addition to our team.”

“He knows what he’s doing,” said safety Isaiah Lewis, who played with Dennard in college. “He catches on to things fast and he’s always done that. Back at Michigan State, he picked up the defense fast which allowed him to play as a freshman so he’s doing the same thing basically.”

Bengals Football

While Hall was still sidelined during OTA and minicamp practices, Dennard worked with the first unit in the Bengals’ nickel packages. But he won’t necessarily have to play abundant snaps as a rookie since Cincinnati has four other first-round picks at cornerback in Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones, and Dre Kirkpatrick.

“It’s deep back there in the secondary,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “(Darqueze) is going to have a hard time getting to see the light of day – which is a good thing. But I think he’ll be able to handle that, because I think he’ll really be able to be a huge contributor on special teams and so forth. And I think that’s going to be an important part of how we shape this football team as well.”

“I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win,” said Dennard. “Whether that’s playing five snaps on defense or playing 80 snaps on defense – becoming a starter or just being a special teams player my first year. Just doing whatever I can to help the team win and get to our goals.”

Dennard autographs (640x427) (440x294)

In mid-June, Darqueze signed his first NFL contract which will pay him roughly $8 million over the next four years. But instead of spending a big chunk of it during the players’ four week break before training camp, Dennard was busy trying to earn it.

“I’ve been training – working on my footwork, studying film, and studying receivers’ tendencies and things like that,” said Dennard. “Just getting ready to play football again.

“I’m excited just to get back out there and play again. I have an opportunity to join a great defense and add my little talents to it. I’m just really excited about the competition that’s going on in camp and the overall team goals.”

“He doesn’t care about the glitz and glamour and all of that stuff – he’s here to do the dirty work,” said Guenther. “He’s a cornerback with a linebacker’s mentality and I like those kind of guys.”

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

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Keeping Up With Jones

As a Bengals broadcaster, I’m often asked to name my favorite player to interview on the team.

People usually seem surprised when I tell them it’s Adam Jones.

Adam Jones pick six (440x290)

The veteran cornerback is unfiltered. His answers are honest, insightful, and often hilarious.

Jones is entering his eighth NFL season and has become a durable and dependable member of the Bengals secondary. After appearing in only 22 games between 2007 and 2011 due to injuries and off-the-field issues, Adam has played in all 17 games (including playoffs) in each of the last two years.

“God has been on my side,” said Jones. “I enjoy being out there and I’m going to take advantage of it while I can.”

Jones was obviously blessed with rare athletic ability, but the Bengals new defensive backs coach Vance Joseph is impressed by Adam’s work ethic.

“Guys who play in this league for a long time want to get better every day so that they can keep their job,” said Joseph. “He understands that so he’s been very receptive and willing to learn new things. That’s tough for older players who have been in systems for a long time. They get stubborn in their techniques, but he’s been open-minded. He’s willing to try different things and that’s what I’m asking him to do.”

With the return of a healthy Leon Hall and the addition of first round draft pick Darqueze Dennard, it’s been suggested that Jones might get fewer snaps at cornerback and more opportunities to return punts. But that’s not what he has in mind.

“I don’t plan on giving up my spot at corner,” Adam told me. “I’m training to be a starter. I would like to return punts too, but I want the corner snaps because I feel like I’m at the point in my career where I’m playing my best football.

“I’ve been getting better technique-wise with coaching. I’ve done a good job of studying, taking care of my body, and competing.”

At the Bengals recent OTA and minicamp practices, Jones was among the most vocal and enthusiastic players on the field.

“He’s had a great spring,” said Joseph. “He’s in great shape, he’s healthy, and he’s ready for the season.”

“I like to compete and I like to go out there and have fun,” said Jones. “The day that it stops being fun I’m going to hang it up.”

That isn’t likely to happen soon. Jones, who turns 31 in September, is entering the second year of a three-year deal with the Bengals and hopes that it’s not his final contract.

“I think I probably have another six or seven years in me,” said Jones.

He wouldn’t say it if he didn’t mean it.

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

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

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