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Bodine Expected To Compete For Starting Center Spot

If you’re wondering why the Bengals traded up 12 spots in the 4th round to select North Carolina center Russell Bodine, the answer can be found by looking at defensive depth charts in the AFC North.

“The center requirements are different in our division than any other division in football,” said offensive line coach Paul Alexander.

The Ravens, Steelers, and Browns all play 3-4 defenses anchored by behemoths at nose tackle in Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata (6’4”, 340), Pittsburgh’s Steve McLendon (6’4”, 320), and Cleveland’s Phil Taylor (6’4”, 355).

Russell Bodine

Bodine is 6’3”, 310 and was the only player to bench press 225 pounds over 40 times (42) at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“I think he can block the big nose guards,” said Alexander. “He was really the only big center in the draft.”

“He’s a big, strong man and tough – which we need to have to compete and win against the people we play in our division,” said Marvin Lewis. “We think he has those attributes.”

“I think that to some degree that my nastiness is my strength,” said Bodine. “As an interior lineman, you’ve got to have a little bit of a mean streak. You’ve got to go out there and enjoy the competition, and it’s going to be a competition on every snap. There’s nowhere to hide in there. You’re going to hit somebody on every play so you have to enjoy that.”

After releasing veteran starter Kyle Cook in March, the Bengals have an obvious opening at center. Trevor Robinson started seven games as a rookie in 2012 and Mike Pollak was a starting center in college before spending most of his six NFL seasons at guard.

“I’m thinking (Bodine’s) going to compete right away,” said Alexander. “He’s going to compete to be the starting center.”

“I want to come in and compete and give everything I can to the team,” said Bodine. “I have high expectations for myself, so obviously it will take a lot of work to transition and any starting spot will take just as much work to earn that. I’m definitely looking forward to getting in there and giving it my best and seeing what happens.”

The Bengals met with Bodine at the combine and Alexander attended his pro day at North Carolina, so the former Tar Heel figured that Cincinnati was a candidate to select him. But he wasn’t exactly glued to coverage of the draft.

“To be honest, I wasn’t even watching the TV,” said Bodine. “I couldn’t sit there and watch and drive myself crazy. Obviously, I’m excited about the opportunity and I can’t wait to get there and get started.”

Shortly after learning about the selection in a phone call from Marvin Lewis, Bodine received a text from his former college teammate Giovani Bernard.

“Gio is a great guy,” said Bodine. “I can’t wait to get up there and hopefully have him make me look good again. He sure did that when he was at UNC.”

 

Bengals Hope Clarke Can Be Like Mike

When it comes to drafting defensive ends, size matters.

Especially to the Bengals.

“Like John Madden always says, ‘If there’s a tie between a little guy and a big guy, take the big guy.’” said defensive line coach Jay Hayes.

“Once these kinds of guys fall off the board, there aren’t many like them,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.

Clarke at WVU (440x275)

After losing 6’7”, 270 pound Michael Johnson to free agency, Cincinnati used its third round pick on William “Will” Clarke out of West Virginia.

“William is a prototype defense end,” said Guenther. “(He’s) 6’6”, 271 and when you look at his frame – and Jay and I studied him throughout the combine and his college days – this guy can put weight on. He can be 290 in a month.”

“Will Clarke probably had the dimensions of a guy that fit that bill for us – no doubt about it,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “His future is ahead of him to continue to grow into his body, to mature, get stronger, and continue to play with the speed and athleticism that he’s demonstrated there at West Virginia. I’m really excited about adding him to the mix with the rest of our defensive line group.”

“I have a big motor and use my size to my advantage,” said Clarke. “I’ve improved as a pass rusher and I’ll bring that to the team.”

Johnson was also a third round selection in 2009 and the Bengals watched him develop from a backup as a rookie into one of their most consistent players on defense. The hope is that Clarke can follow a similar path.

“I think there are some comparisons, but let’s compare him in two or three seasons,” said Lewis. “Michael grew into that and did a nice job here which is what we want. We want to continue to grow great players.”

“He’s the type of guy that will fit in well,” said Hayes. “He’s going to work hard and he has talent. And he has potential to keep getting better.”

Clarke was a three-year starter at West Virginia and led the Mountaineers last season with six sacks and 17 tackles for loss. His 81 ¼-inch wingspan helped him deflect seven passes.

“You’ve got to get some push and you’ve got to be around the quarterback in order to do that,” said Lewis.

“When you’re disrupting the ball at this level, you couldn’t ask for more,” said Guenther. “There were a lot of situations last season where there might have been a guy wide open and one of our ends batted a ball down and it saved our butt.”

Despite losing Johnson, the Bengals still have one of the deepest defensive end units in the NFL with Carlos Dunlap, Robert Geathers, Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt, Dontay Moch, and Sam Montgomery on the current roster. Now they’ll look to work Clarke into the rotation.

“The guy fits into the kind of guys we have,” said Hayes. “We have long, tall, athletic players and he is definitely one of those guys.”

“He’ll make this football team better with his physical attributes,” said Lewis.

After selecting cornerback Darqueze Dennard in the first round and Clarke in the third, the Bengals have used two of their top three picks to bolster one of the NFL’s top defenses.

“In the draft, you never can get enough (pass) rushers and you can never get enough cover guys and we’ve addressed both of those areas,” said Guenther. “I think we got two guys that are the kind of guys we’re looking for around here. Hard-working, disciplined, physical, and they love the game of football. We’re excited to have them both.”

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Combine Record-Breaker Returns To Bengals

With two days left to obsess over “measureables” leading up the draft, it is worth pointing out that the defensive end who clocked the fastest 40-yard dash time for that position in NFL Scouting Combine history will be in training camp with the Bengals this year.

And it’s not Jadeveon Clowney.

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Dontay Moch, who ran a 4.4 at the combine before being drafted by the Bengals in the third round in 2011, is back in Cincinnati after being claimed off of waivers from Arizona in mid-March.

“Coach Lewis called me and said, ‘Hey, are you ready to be back?’” said Moch. “I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I thought he was pulling my leg. But once I got that phone call and they told me I was going to be back here and sent me on that flight it felt good.

“I’ve always had good vibes here and I love the atmosphere and energy. It’s a great place to be and I’m honored to be back and eager to get working.”

The 25-year-old only played in one regular season game in his first two seasons in Cincinnati due to chronic migraines. After finding an effective way to treat them prior to last season, Moch led the Bengals with three preseason sacks but wound up being one of their final cuts at the end of training camp.

“He’s been through a lot – both personally and professionally,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “He’s a young guy that we drafted and brought in here and it has not gone the way that we expected, but a lot has happened in his life.”

Cincinnati tried to keep Dontay on the practice squad last year, but the former University of Nevada star elected to sign with Arizona instead.

“That’s my hometown and you can’t go wrong playing on your home field,” said Moch. “It was definitely something that I was glad I could do, but at the same time, it’s good to be back where I started.”

“He had an opportunity to stay here last year and he chose to go to another team,” said Coach Lewis. “It helped him grow.”

Moch Cardinals (308x440)

Moch was on Arizona’s active roster for the final 13 games and registered his first NFL sack vs. Tampa Bay. The Cardinals worked him at linebacker and as a rush end, but that is not the plan in Cincinnati.

“We tried him some at linebacker and we realized that the best thing that he does in pass rush,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “So we’re going to have him concentrate on defensive end and hopefully he’ll give us an added burst off the edge.

“It’s hard for a guy that played defensive end to try to learn linebacker at the highest level. It takes some time to do that. But after thinking about it, the best thing for him is to be a rusher. Just put his hand on the ground and go forward most of the time.”

With the loss of Michael Johnson to free agency, Moch will be a candidate to be part of the rotation at defensive end.

“In previous years I was always his back-up,” said Moch. “The fact that he isn’t here – he is a great guy and a great athlete and I’m glad that he got the deal that he did – it does open up a few doors for me and lets them see where I can fit in.”

“I’m excited to have him back because he knows the system and should fit right in,” said Domata Peko. “I can’t wait to see what he can do. In previous years he had a couple of guys in front of him and it was hard for him to get playing time. Now he might get his chance to shine.”

With Moch’s freakish size/speed ratio, the Bengals are hoping he can make an impact as a pass rusher and on special teams.

“He’s got a couple of things that he has to work on as far as the bull-rush and all that, but I don’t think there’s a player that can match his speed coming off the edge,” said Adam Jones. “If he stays healthy I think he’ll be a good addition to the team.”

“It’s really make it or break it for him,” said Coach Lewis. “I’m excited for him. He knows what his role is going to be. I thought he did a much better job for us last year in special teams in the preseason and hopefully he can continue with that and have a chance to be one of the guys to stay.”

Moch says it feels like he was never gone.

“It’s amazing how I just came back, moved one locker away, and added a few more digits to the number I had previously,” Dontay told me. “I’m #92 instead of #52. I am a defensive end and I’m going to be a heat-seeking missile out there.”

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Black Is Happy To Be Back

Imagine your worst nightmare being nationally televised.

Imagine you’re Larry Black.

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Last July, the rookie defensive tackle out of Wyoming High School and Indiana University suffered a fractured leg and dislocated ankle in the sixth practice of training camp. The injury and Black’s devastated reaction – including the phone call where he broke the news to his parents – were all captured last year on the first episode of Hard Knocks.

“At the time I didn’t know what was going to happen – it just sucked,” Larry told me. “I saw stuff flash before me that I never would have thought.”

His teammates have differing opinions on whether Black’s anguish should have been included on the NFL’s ultimate reality TV show.

“It’s tough on any player to have a major injury like that and for it to be shown the way that it was – that’s one of the things that you would like to keep in the locker room,” said Clint Boling. “But that was just part of the experience of Hard Knocks.”

“I think it’s good for everybody watching to see how this world works and how fragile it can be,” said Margus Hunt.

Nine months after having his personal trauma televised, Black says it all worked out for the best.

“It is part of the game and it actually turned out great for me,” said Black. “I have a lot of supporters and I got a lot of feedback from people. I realized out how much they actually cared. Things have a way of working out and somehow it worked out to my benefit.”

Larry Black (305x440)

After spending last season on injured reserve, Black was given a clean bill of health in mid-February. He’s been able to fully participate in the team’s offseason workout program which began two weeks ago.

“Oh man, it feels great just to be part of the team,” Larry told me. “When you’re on IR, you’re part of the team but you feel distant because you’re not working the same hours. You come in for rehab and you watch a little film, but you’re still not putting in the same amount of time. It just feels good to be back around the guys again doing the same stuff at the same level.”

“He’s back with us and he looks great,” said Wallace Gilberry. “I’m excited and I think everybody else is too to see him get in here and get in the rotation and see how he can contribute.”

Black was an undrafted free agent last year and faces stiff competition in trying to make the team as a defensive lineman. But in addition to showing his injury, Hard Knocks also allowed us to hear the coaching staff complimenting his play and saying that he had a legitimate shot at an NFL career.

“I thought that I was playing good ball when I got hurt and I need to pick up where I left off,” said Black. “My ankle is 100% and it’s a blessing that I recovered the way that I did after that injury. I’m just looking forward to getting better and better as a player each and every day.”

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Annen Sprinting Toward NFL Shot

Who is the fastest tight end in this year’s NFL draft?

Would you believe UC’s Blake Annen?

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The 6’4″, 247 pounder is not even among the 29 TE prospects listed in the USA Today’s NFL Draft guide, but after running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds at UC’s pro day, the former Bearcat is definitely attracting interest from NFL teams.

“There’s a difference sometimes between playing speed and timed speed,” an NFL scout told me. “As a receiving tight end, the question will be, ‘Can he play to that timed speed?’ He hasn’t always done that on tape. But now you know he’s capable of it so that’s intriguing.”

“That obviously opened everybody’s eyes,” said UC head coach Tommy Tuberville. “He’s a little undersized but there are not a lot of tight ends out there like him. He’s physical, he can block, and you can also flex him out and play him as a receiver. He did great in almost everything that he did as his pro day so his stock went up. I’m excited for him.”

Annen showed good speed on a 49-yard grab against Northwestern State last year and a 41-yard touchdown catch vs UConn. Still, despite seeing nearly every game he played at UC, I’ll admit to being a bit stunned when I saw his 40-yard dash time.

But teammate and fellow NFL hopeful Brendon Kay says he was not surprised.

“Not at all because I was training with him for two months so I would have been surprised if he didn’t,” said Kay.

OK, so he’s fast. But 4.41? That’s faster than the 4.43 posted by top wide receiver prospect Sammy Watkins of Clemson at the NFL Scouting Combine. I asked Annen how he did it.

“I’ve heard that question a lot,” Blake said with a laugh. “Part of it was training and being around nutritionists more and learning different ways to take care of your body.”

Annen finished last season with 16 catches for 183 yards and 2 touchdowns (you can listen to his first TD catch here). But his stats suffered when the Bearcats changed their offense following a loss at USF in the fifth game of the season. For the rest of the year, UC emphasized a 4-wide receiver attack with limited use of the tight end.

“I think it was a great decision by the coaching staff and we won nine games which is nothing to complain about,” said Annen. “Obviously you want to contribute as much as you can, and that means finding ways to be a team player. If that means catching 100 balls then I do. If that means making 100 blocks, then I make 100 blocks. When you win nine games you can’t complain about it.”

“He was a team player and he was a professional about it,” said Kay. “My hat’s off to him. I’m close to Blake – we’ve spent a lot of time training together – and we’ve been tight for the last five years. It was definitely tough for him when we made that change and he didn’t get many opportunities. I still think he made the most of the opportunities that he had. He can do it all – he can run, he can catch, and he can block. He has a bright future.”

Annen recently had a private workout with the Philadelphia Eagles and last week, took part in the Bengals’ annual workout for draft-eligible players from area colleges and high schools. If he is not selected in the late rounds of the draft, Blake stands a good chance of winding up in an NFL training camp as an undrafted free agent.

“That’s the goal and all I need is a shot,” Annen told me. “Obviously if that comes on draft day I would be ecstatic, but just being able to have an opportunity is more than a lot of people can say. If you do get that opportunity, it all comes down to what you do with it.”

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Bengals Move On Without Johnson And Zimmer

Last year the Bengals knew that they would probably lose Michael Johnson to free agency at the end of the season. For several years, they’ve known there was a decent chance that Mike Zimmer would leave for a head coaching opportunity.

Johnson and Zimmer (356x269)

But when the players returned to Paul Brown Stadium last week to begin offseason workouts, they faced the stark reality that Johnson and Zimmer are gone.

“It was pretty sad,” said Carlos Dunlap. “Mike (Johnson) was my guy. We had a great thing going, but he got a great opportunity down in Tampa and couldn’t pass it up. It’s part of the business.

“And losing Zim is most definitely going to be different. It’s probably going to be quieter.  Obviously Zim got a head coaching job which he’s worked hard for and was well-deserving of, but now (Coach Guenther) gets a great opportunity to step up and try to fill the role of the guy he coached with.”

In Johnson, Cincinnati is losing a defensive end who was productive and durable. ProFootballFocus.com ranked him 4th among NFL defense ends in 4-3 schemes last year. Fortunately, the loss comes at a position group where the Bengals have Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt, Devon Still, and Brandon Thompson waiting in the wings and Geno Atkins and Robert Geathers returning from injury.

“We’re going to miss Mike a lot, but it is part of the business,” said Geathers. “We figured it was probably going to happen after he got the (franchise) tag. We attack it by committee anyway. We have a good group of guys and really good depth so I’m pretty sure there’s going to be even more competition.”

“Geno Atkins is the best defensive lineman in the league and to get him back healthy will make our rotation second to none,” said Dunlap.

In Zimmer, Cincinnati is losing a coordinator that guided the Bengals’ defense to top 10 finishes in yards and points allowed in four of the past five seasons. But the players say they’re confident that former linebackers coach Paul Guenther is ready to take over.

“It’s definitely going to be weird,” said Still. “Zim was our defense and taught us basically everything that we know. But Paul studied under Zim and he’s a helluva coach himself. I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like to be coached by him this year.”

“Experience is the only difference,” said Dunlap. “I feel like Paulie G. has been with Zim for so long that he knows his X’s and O’s. He just hasn’t been a defensive coordinator and being ‘the guy’ is different from being one of the guys.”

“He’s very confident and knows what he’s talking about,” said Gilberry. “They definitely passed the torch to the right guy.”

The changes in personnel haven’t changed the bottom line: To get back to the playoffs and finally get over the hump in the postseason.

“It’s a new year and you have to do it all over again,” said Geathers. “It doesn’t matter what we did last year or how it ended. It’s a new season and nobody cares what we did last season. Nobody cares that we were undefeated at home or none of that stuff. We have to start all over and get back to where we want go.”

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Cobi Hamilton Says He’s On Right Track

It’s not unusual for NFL players to work out at their former colleges in the offseason, but in Cobi Hamilton’s case, there’s a bit of a twist. When the wide receiver returned to Arkansas after his first year with the Bengals, he worked out with the Razorbacks’ track team, not the football team.

Hamilton vs Dallas (440x315)

“With the new football coaches at Arkansas, I guess I’m more comfortable with the track coaches because I ran track for two years and those coaches are still there,” said Hamilton. “I drop in on the football coaches every now and then, but there are a lot of new faces so it’s kind of weird. So I work out and lift weights with the track team because there’s a comfort level.

“Some of the same guys that I ran with my freshman and sophomore years are seniors now, or may be going into the pros. Two or three of those guys are really fast, so I work out with them and it benefits me a lot. It’s not the same as football conditioning, but it keeps your legs in shape.”

Hamilton was listed at 6’2”, 205 pounds last year and says that he’s probably dropped some weight as a result of the track workouts.

“I stay in contact with the fellas during the offseason, so I knew what his plan was,” said wide receivers coach James Urban. “We talked about how important this offseason was going to be for him.

“He had to get himself in a little better shape which he’s done. He looks great now and really embraced it in the offseason.”

The Bengals drafted Hamilton in the sixth round last year after a prolific senior season at Arkansas in which Cobi finished with 90 catches for 1,335 yards. After making seven receptions in the preseason last year including a 4-yard TD catch against Dallas (watch it here), Hamilton spent the regular season on Cincinnati’s practice squad

“Cobi made as big of strides from the beginning of training camp to the end of the season as anyone I’ve ever been around,” said Urban. “It was learning the system…learning how to practice…learning how to compete daily…just learning how to be a pro. There are some guys that come ready-made for it and some guys that take a little while. We’re excited about him.”

“It took a lot of reps, but things started coming a little bit easier for me towards the end of the season and I started to make more plays,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton in rain (440x297)

With the loss of Andrew Hawkins to Cleveland in free agency, Hamilton will be looking to break into the wide receiver rotation this season under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

“Hue pulled me aside last year when he was the running backs coach and encouraged me to get better,” said Hamilton. “He was always whispering in my ear, ‘Do you know how good you can be?’”

Cobi received similar encouragement from his position coach.

“He just wasn’t quite making the plays that I saw him make at Arkansas during training camp and the early part of the year,” said Urban. “So I kept saying, ‘What do we have to do to get you to make the plays that I know you can make. I know you can make them.’”

Now the former 200-meter runner at Arkansas says that he’s on the right track to contribute at wide receiver in Cincinnati.

“Now I know what it takes to be an NFL player,” Cobi told me. “I’m excited for this season and I’m ready to get going.”

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Gunner Comes Out Firing In Bearcats Spring Game

The Bearcats annual spring game began with an 8-yard pass from Gunner Kiel to Mekale McKay. Followed by a 7-yard strike to Max Morrison. Then a 47-yard bomb to Chris Moore. And then another 15-yard bullet to Moore.

Four plays, four passes, and four completions for 77 yards. Not a bad way for Gunner Kiel to make his unofficial Bearcats debut in front of roughly 5,400 fans at Paul Brown Stadium.

“A lot of people kind of bash me and hadn’t really seen me play,” said Kiel. “I haven’t played in three years. So to come out here and silence the critics is definitely one thing that I wanted to do.”

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The bashing resulted from Kiel’s struggle to choose a college as one of the nation’s most heavily-recruited high school quarterbacks. Gunner changed his mind after verbal commitments to Indiana and LSU and eventually enrolled at Notre Dame. After a redshirt season with the Fighting Irish, he transferred to Cincinnati last spring.

“I know what I did some people say was dumb – and I agree with them 100% — but that doesn’t change the person that I am,” said Kiel. “I’m a good person and I’m going to do what’s right. I’m going to be a good teammate and I’m going to come out here and work my hardest.”

His hard work appears to be paying off.

Kiel played only the first half of Saturday’s scrimmage and directed the first team offense to three touchdowns and one field goal on six drives against the first team defense. He finished 17-for-22 for 300 yards, with one touchdown run and one interception.

“That’s amazing and this probably wasn’t even his best practice,” said wide receiver Shaq Washington.

“Gunner’s got a quick release, he understands football, and he’s usually going to throw it to the right guy,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “The problem that he’s had this spring is that he’s had ‘happy feet’ because we have had three starting offensive lineman out.”

That was a factor last Sunday in a scrimmage that was dominated by the defense. Kiel was 9-for-20 for 44 yards and Tuberville did not pull any punches afterward.

“Offensively, we looked as bad as I’ve ever seen.” he told reporters.

“To hear your head coach make comments like that sets a fire under your butt,” said Kiel.

So the sophomore quarterback was determined to end spring practice on a positive note.

“I treated it just like a game,” said Kiel. “Last night I watched tape, I went over our plays, I went over the protections and coverages, and I treated it just like a regular game. I woke up early and had breakfast, and came out with a chip on my shoulder to get better and play hard.”

“There were a lot of questions marks at quarterback after last week,” said Tuberville. “The big thing about college is being consistent. We haven’t been very consistent this spring. The defense won most of the time during the spring, but today the defense didn’t win. The offense came out with a different frame of mind and played a lot better.

“I can sleep a little bit better now. Last week we were just awful on offense, but today we threw it and caught it well.”

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Tuberville will not name a starting quarterback until fall camp, saying that Jarred Evans will compete for the job and possibly Munchie Legaux as he continues to rehab from the gruesome knee injury he suffered last year vs. Illinois.

But Kiel appears to be the man to beat.

“Obviously Gunner looked really, really good today,” said Tuberville.

“I got the ‘ones’ reps, but I am not the number one quarterback right now,” said Kiel. “That doesn’t mean anything. You still have to come out each day and work hard and compete and do your best. At the end of the day, the coaches are going to make their decision and I understand that, but I’m going to do whatever I can to get the team’s respect, and learn as much as I possibly can because I know that I have to learn more and accomplish more. The sky is the limit and we’ll see what happens.”

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Bearcats Have One Of Nation’s Best Recruiters In Prunty

Cincinnati’s associate head coach Robert Prunty has been named the Recruiter of the Year in his conference in each of the last four seasons by Scout.com.

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“Robert Prunty is one of the best recruiters in the country,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “If you look at our (signing day) list this year, he probably had something to do with half of them. He has that gift.

“He’s outgoing – he’s never met a stranger. That’s what it’s all about. You have to be able to turn it on in any environment and he does a great job in the home and with parents. He understands the need for recruiting 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There’s not a day that goes by where he doesn’t do something in recruiting.”

But the key to Prunty’s recruiting pitch isn’t his mouth, it’s his ears.

“Listening,” Robert answered when I asked what makes him a good recruiter. “I was reading an article about a month ago about psychiatrists and how much money they were making, and one of them said, ‘Basically I just sit there and listen to people’s problems.’ I think when you’re dealing with teenagers and young men; they just want somebody to listen to them. They’re so used to people telling them everything that I form a bond by simply listening to them.

“My mother had 10 kids and my father died when I was 10 years old. I’ll never forget when I was about 15, my mother said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to listen to what you have to say.’ So that came from my mother.”

Prunty’s ability to bond with young people was honed during his eight years as head coach at Hargrave Military Academy where many of his players originally signed with Division 1 schools before needing a year of prep school to improve their grades.

The job required Robert to be more than a football coach.

“Educator…father…preacher…mentor…psychiatrist,” said Prunty. “Remember, everybody that came there had a problem because they didn’t qualify. So they were all sad and depressed and we had to try to build them back up.”

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At Hargrave, Prunty coached 27 players that made it to the NFL including Pro Bowlers Ahmad Brooks, Brandon Flowers, and Jay Ratliff.

“At one point, they did an article where the players who had played at Hargrave were making close to $400 million dollars,” said Prunty.

Tuberville got to know Robert while recruiting players at Hargrave and offered him an opportunity at the college level when he became the head coach at Texas Tech in 2010.

“There were a lot of big-shot coaches that had a chance to hire him, but he was from a prep school and they didn’t give him a chance,” said Tuberville.

“For Coach Tuberville to give me a job when I was at Hargrave – I’m just thankful to God,” said Prunty. “My brother and sister go to factories 12 hours a day and I get to coach football. I grew up in an industrial area where people worked hard, so I’m driven by the fact that I get to coach football and I love it.”

Prunty’s loyalty to Tuberville is a key reason why he has turned down some lucrative opportunities.

“I just had an offer last week from an NFL team as a defensive assistant and I had about five offers before that, but Coach Tuberville gave me a shot when nobody else would and I like Cincinnati,” Robert told me. “I like the people here, my wife likes it here, my kids go to a great school, and that has a lot to do with it. I’m just thankful.”

“He’s been offered all over the country but he’s been loyal and he wants to stay,” said Tuberville.

In addition to his recruiting ability, Prunty is the Bearcats co-defensive coordinator and coaches the defensive line.

“Coach Prunty is a helluva guy,” said junior Silverberry Mouhon. “He demands so much of us because he brings energy every day at practice. You never see a day where he’s down or moping.”

“He’s tough on them,” said Tuberville. “He’s hard-nosed, he’s disciplined – he’s one of those guys that understands how to get it out of guys that maybe did not know how to give 100% effort.

“He was a good coach when we got him, but he’s a much better coach now because works at it like he does in recruiting. He wants to learn, he wants to get better, he doesn’t stay the same, he studies, he goes to other colleges, he goes to high schools, he spends a lot of time with the Bengals, and he’s as good of a coach as he is a recruiter. I’m just excited about him being on our staff and being a good friend.”

“Everybody has respect for him – from the defensive line to the offense,” said Mouhon. “He works hard for us and that makes you want to work that much harder for him because he gives us his all.”

“Growing up with no father and my momma raising 10 kids, all I know is hard work,” said Prunty. “That’s all I know. There’s no substitute.”

That work ethic helps explain his four year streak of being named Recruiter of the Year in the Big 12 (twice), Big East, and AAC.

What does that recognition mean to Prunty?

“It means that I have to try to win it again this year,” he said.

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Edwards Looks To Build On Excellent Start

Did you know that the UC football team had a freshman All-American last year?

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Safety Zach Edwards, who started the last 11 games at safety, received honorable mention recognition among the nation’s top freshman from CollegeFootballNews.com.

“He’s got a knack for finding the ball,” said cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale. “He made some freshman mistakes, but he was able to come up with some big plays when we needed it. For a true freshman to do that at safety and be in charge of the defense and make all of the alignments and the checks – I think that’s pretty impressive.”

“He played well – he didn’t play great because it was his first year and he was trying to figure out what to do,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “Each week it’s tough on an inexperienced kid because we change the game plan, we change techniques, and his head was swimming most of the year. He got better as the season went on, but this year he’ll be much better.”

Edwards was an all-conference wide receiver/defensive back at Middletown High School and came to Cincinnati as a “grayshirt,” meaning that he sat out the 2012 season before enrolling at UC in January of 2013.

“When you play football so much and then you have to sit out, it’s pretty depressing, but I kept faith in God and kept going knowing that everything would work out for the best,” Zach told me. “Eventually it did.”

Enrolling for the second semester allowed Zach to take part in spring football last year, but an injury limited his participation.

“I pulled my hamstring in about the third practice and had to sit out a lot,” said Edwards.

But that didn’t stop him from making a favorable impression.

“He had one practice at safety and I told the coaches, ‘Hey, this is our safety next year,'” said Clinkscale. “The one thing that he had at practice that was a little bit different from our other guys is that burst to the ball. His athleticism was the biggest difference that made him stand out.”

By the third game of the season, Edwards was in the starting lineup. He finished the season third on the team in tackles, tied for second with two interceptions, and earned AAC Defensive Player of the Week honors in early November after having 11 tackles and recovering a fumble in a win over Memphis.

“Being a safety, you have to be physical and that was my whole mindset,” Zach told me. “Be physical and try to beat whoever you’re going against. I knew if I could do that, I could prove myself to these coaches and to the players.”

After losing senior starters Deven Drane and Arryn Chenault, Edwards will be one of the Bearcats most experienced players in the secondary this year despite only being a sophomore.

“The big thing now is to keep it competitive for him,” said Clinkscale. “I tell these guys all that time that there are no starters anymore. You have to win that job again. We are going to recruit guys that might be better than you and we have guys here that are going to do a better job. He understands that he has to give us more every day, and we expect more of him now than we did as a freshman.”

“The guys around me are pushing me every day, and I’m pushing them to better than we were last year,” said Edwards. “My maturity level has to step up and I have to become a leader.”

There’s definitely room for improvement, but after earning freshman All-America recognition, Zach’s Cincinnati career is obviously off to a strong start.

“You can tell that he’s a lot more comfortable this spring,” said Tuberville. “This is his second spring. He started school in January of last year, so he’s been with us for a year and gotten better and got some accolades, but he can play a lot better than he did last year.”

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

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