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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.”

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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.

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Don’t Forget About Sean Porter

Without looking it up, I’d be willing to bet that no team in the NFL is getting more production out of its fourth round draft picks than Cincinnati.

Not only did the Bengals select one of the NFL’s best defensive players in that round – Geno Atkins in 2010 – but Robert Geathers (2004), Domata Peko (2006), Clint Boling (2011), Orson Charles (2012) and Russell Bodine (2014) are all potential opening day starters that were selected in the fourth round.

And then there’s Sean Porter.

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The linebacker from Texas A&M was the Bengals fourth round pick last year, but missed his rookie season due to a torn shoulder labrum.

“It happened at practice right after the first preseason game,” said Porter. “A tight end ran a vertical route on me, I took him on with my arm straight, and my shoulder came out of place.

“It was rough. All you can do is move forward. God always has a plan.”

Being sidelined was a new experience for Porter who never suffered a serious injury in college where he played in 52 games including 41 starts for the Aggies. His shoulder is fully healed now and Sean was back on the field in the Bengals recent OTA and minicamp practices.

“It felt pretty good after a few months, but I don’t know if I could have actually gone back on the field last year,” said Porter. “Luckily I had plenty of time to recover and make sure that I’m fine. I’m definitely back to 100 percent now.

“I haven’t been on a football field in a long time so this was my first time getting back out there on the grass. I’m excited to be back out there with the team, but I still have a lot of work to do.”

“He’s been good,” said linebackers coach Matt Burke. “He missed all that time last year and he’s been knocking the rust off, but he’s been doing good so far.

“He played a lot of good football in his college career. He was a captain at Texas A&M and he’s really knowledgeable. He’s a smart kid, he’s played the position a lot, and he’s seen a lot of football from that spot. Even though he didn’t get the work last year, mentally he’s on top of that stuff.”

In one of the Bengals recent practices, Porter opened eyes with a red zone interception of Andy Dalton.

“He’s been close on some stuff and been in the right spot and that was one of the first times that he made a ‘flash’ play,” said Burke. “It was in the red zone and those are the types of plays we want to see there. It was good for him to make a play like that and hear guys hooting his name a little bit.”

“I feel like I’ve been doing OK,” said Porter. “I’m still playing catch-up coming off of the injury from last year, but I’m just trying to learn the playbook and get back out here with these guys.”

Sean is one of several linebackers who will be battling for a roster spot in training camp. Assuming that Vontaze Burfict, Rey Maualuga, Emmanuel Lamur, and Vinny Rey are locks to stick, that leaves Porter, JK Schaffer, Jason DiManche, Marquis Flowers, Brandon Joiner, and James Davidson batting for two or three spots.

“There are a lot of guys in that mix,” said Burke. “We have four veteran guys at linebacker that have been around and played a little bit, and Sean is part of the crew that’s competing for those spots.”

“You need competition to get better in this league and it’s a blessing to have a whole lot of good guys to compete against, play with, and learn from,” said Porter. “I’m trying to show that I’m ready to be part of this team and contribute.”

And trying to become another under-the-radar fourth round draft pick to pay off for the Bengals.

“I’m not really here for the spotlight,” said Porter. “I’m just here to help this team win.”

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Campbell Likes What He Sees

It’s one of the most significant plays in Bengals history…but it did not occur in one of their games.

Campbell injury (440x248)

On October 16, 2011, Oakland Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell broke his collarbone while being tackled by Cleveland’s Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita. The Raiders won the game to improve to 4-2 and Hue Jackson’s team was just a half game out of first place in the AFC West. So instead of turning to journeyman backup QB Kyle Boller to replace Campbell, the Raiders made a bold move and sent two high draft picks to the Bengals for Carson Palmer.

The trade certainly worked out well for Cincinnati as the “Carson Cloud” was lifted from the franchise, the extra picks became Dre Kirkpatrick and Giovani Bernard, and the team has gone 26-16 after the deal with three straight playoff appearances. Oakland finished that year 8-8 and the Raiders have gone 4-12 in each of the two seasons since.

But what if Campbell was never injured?

“I believe that the Raiders would have made the playoffs and it would have been a different story for me and Hue,” Campbell told me. “We would have probably still been there. But things happen and you move on. You count the blessings that you’ve had in this league and understand that sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way.

“A lot of things happened that year. I got hurt, Darren McFadden got hurt, Jacoby Ford got hurt, and we lost some lineman and defense players as well. If things like that didn’t happen, we were a playoff team. Hue probably would have been there for another five years and I probably would have been there for another five. But those things happen.”

Jackson and Campbell were finished in Oakland at the end of the 2011 season and three years later they have been reunited in Cincinnati as offensive coordinator and second-team quarterback.

“Jason did a great job for me there,” said Jackson. “I know who he is and I know what he can do. He still has some improving to do because he’s still learning our system, but I think he’ll be fine.”

“Hue’s a competitor,” said Campbell. “He’s not going to let anybody get pushed around. He’s a guy that wants to take the fight to the opposing team and he’s going to motivate guys really well to get the best out of them.”

Campbell throwing (440x293)

The 32-year-old Campbell has 79 NFL starts under his belt and gives the Bengals an experienced backup quarterback if – God forbid – Andy Dalton gets injured. But he also gives Dalton an extra set of eyes.

“I think he brings a veteran’s presence,” said Jackson. “He’s been around the league, he’s been with different teams, and he’s seen a lot of different defenses. I think he has a calming effect on most people. He’ll be good in the quarterbacks room with Andy and he’ll do a good job that way.”

“He’s been around for a long time and came in with a good understanding of the game,” said Dalton. “This is year ten for him – we always joke around about how old he is – but he’s had a good career. He’s a cool, easy-going guy and we have a great relationship.”

“Andy’s got a lot of games under his belt,” said Campbell. “He’s won a lot of games and he’s been to the playoffs three years in a row. So it’s not a mentor-type thing. It’s more a matter of helping him see things from afar that he might not notice at the time. I just want to do everything that I can to help him and at the same time stay prepared and do the best that I can do.”

After several weeks of practices, Campbell says he’s impressed by Dalton and his new team.

“I like him a lot,” Jason told me. “He’s taken that leadership step and is really on top of his game. He’s one of the promising young quarterbacks in this league and I’m excited for the opportunity that he has. I told him that it’s not every day that you get a great defense, running backs, and receivers and can use your knowledge to play the game. Some guys get drafted to teams that aren’t even half-way there yet.

“Andy asked me how we compare to some of the teams that I’ve seen and I told him that we have a great opportunity. We have a lot of guys that are in that four-to-seven year range where they have a lot of experience and are about to burst into their primes. We also have some guys that have been around the game for a while that are still moving around and making plays. I really like what I see. There’s a lot of talent on this team, but talent doesn’t get you anywhere unless you put it all together. Guys have been working their butts off in practice. It’s been really intense which is going to bring out the best in this team in the regular season.”

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How Will Hue Use Sanu?

In the two years that Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson spent in Oakland, he helped 255-lb Marcel Reece earn the nickname the “Matchup Nightmare.” Jackson used Reece as a fullback, tailback, and even had him line up at wide receiver to take advantage of his unique skills as a runner and receiver.

Could Jackson have similar things in mind for Mohamed Sanu?

“He’s got me doing some stuff,” said Sanu with a grin. “I love it. I’m embracing it and I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that I’m the best at it.”

Mohamed Sanu

Mohamed Sanu

Sanu was a jack-of-all-trades in three years at Rutgers, finishing his career with 12 TD catches, 9 TD runs, and 4 TD passes. In two years with the Bengals, Sanu has 63 receptions, 9 rushing attempts, and has completed both of his passes – including a 73-yard touchdown to A.J. Green (watch it here).

“Mo is a dynamic player,” said Green. “You saw what he did in college and we’re trying to use his abilities in this offense. He can run the ball, throw the ball, and catch the ball – he can do about anything with a football.”

Sanu obviously isn’t as physically imposing as the two-time Pro Bowler Reece, but he’s a solid 6’2”, 210 pounds and has looked good in the Bengals recent offseason practices.

“He’s rolling,” said Marvin Jones. “He’s gotten a lot faster and more explosive and it’s good to see out there.”

“He’s running a lot better I think than he has the last two years,” said Andy Dalton. “He looks smooth and I think his speed has increased. It’s been fun to see all of the things that he does. He’s a guy that’s outside, inside, and can play all of the positions. You need a guy on the team like that that can do it all.”

Sanu was the Bengals fourth-leading receiver last year, finishing with 47 grabs for 455 yards (9.7 yards per catch), but wasn’t satisfied with his production.

“I was a little disappointed,” Mohamed told me. “I didn’t feel that I played as well as I should have so I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder.

“I have high expectations for myself and when I don’t perform the way I should perform, I hold it against myself. It makes me work that much harder because I know that I can help this offense more.”

“It’s been funny, he and Marvin Jones have kind of been in a horse race,” said Marvin Lewis. “One edges out one for a second, and then the other one edges ahead. It’s been a back-and-forth throughout their careers, and as rookies, we never really got them out there suited up the same week. Last year we were able to. But I think it’s been a good competition throughout. They both want to play. They both want to be the starting wide receiver opposite A.J. and that’s what you want to have.”

After catching 51 passes for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, Jones appears to be the front-runner for the starting spot opposite of Green, but Sanu is confident that Hue Jackson will find plenty of ways for him to have an impact.

“I love Coach Jackson,” said Sanu. “He’s very demanding and that’s the kind of Coach I like. He gets the best out of you day in and day out. He has high expectations for this offense and everybody in it. That’s what I love and that’s what I thrive under.

“I’m uncommon because I can do a lot of different things and play a lot of different positions. I have a lot of different talents, but it’s up to me to show it.”

Whether it’s running, catching, or throwing.

“Whatever coach wants me to do, I’m going to do,” said Sanu.

“That’s the type of versatility that a team longs for and that we have,” said Jones. “He’s a great talent and we’re definitely happy that he’s on our side.”

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The Other Rookie From Michigan State

He is a rookie defensive back out of Michigan State with glittering credentials. Forty career starts…eight interceptions…and three seasons where he earned All-Big Ten status including first-team honors as a senior.

And he is not Cincinnati’s first round draft pick Darqueze Dennard.

Isaiah Lewis (440x410)

Safety Isaiah Lewis was Dennard’s teammate with the Spartans and signed with the Bengals after the draft as a college free agent. He’ll try to follow in the footsteps of current and former Bengals like Vontaze Burfict, Vinny Rey, Jeromy Miles, and Kyle Cook who made the team and became key contributors despite going undrafted.

“I hear free agent and I’m like whaaat?” Michigan State secondary coach Harlon Barnett told MLive.com. “I guess some people don’t know. He will play a long time. Isaiah and Darqueze are the two best I’ve ever coached.”

“The draft is really weird,” said Bengals defensive backs coach Vance Joseph. “After you get past the third or fourth round, it’s really a matter of taste for what each team wants. I’m not sure why he didn’t get drafted, but he played at a high level on a very good defense and played against top competition. I’m excited about him.”

“The Bengals didn’t draft a safety, so I felt like I had a good chance to showcase my abilities here,” Lewis told me. “It seemed like a good place for me to come. With guys like Reggie Nelson, Leon Hall, and Pac Man (Jones), I feel like I can learn from those guys and make my game that much better.

“It’s like being a freshman all over again. Coming in as a new guy, I’m just trying to learn from the older guys. It’s a good team with a good family foundation. Guys help you learn what’s going on and accept you into the family.”

Lewis’ draft stock was undoubtedly hurt by his lack of size – he’s 5’10”, 211 pounds. But he was a three-year starter at Michigan State and known as a ferocious hitter.

“There are certain guys I call certain things, and Isaiah is what I call a natural born killer as far as his hitting ability on the football field,” Barnett told MLive.com. “He’s going to come and hit you all day every day. There’s not many of them in the NFL. You get him, you got a football player.”

“At safety you’ve got to be aggressive,” said Lewis. “You have to be a stop sign because when things get to you, you’re the last line of defense. There has to be an intimidation factor for receivers to let them know that nothing is going to cross the middle of the field – that’s my area and you’re not just going to cross through.”

In addition to trying to show that he can help the secondary, Lewis knows that his chances of making the team will depend heavily on his ability to contribute on special teams.

“That’s the most important thing,” Isaiah said. “That’s the way you get your teammates and your coaches to have confidence in you. Special teams is going to come first and once they get comfortable with me being out of the field and trust that I know what to do, then I’ll take the next step when I step on to the field with the defense.”

At least one prominent football reporter thinks that Lewis has a shot in Cincinnati. CBSSports.com’s senior NFL columnist Pete Prisco recently Tweeted about the Bengals rookie.

“They do have a talented player,” said Lewis when I told him about Prisco’s Tweet. “He’s not mistaken in saying that.”

“I tell you what; Isaiah Lewis had been a pleasant surprise,” said Joseph. “We knew when we signed him as a free agent that he was a good player, but I think he’s better than we thought. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to play in the preseason and prove his worth.”

“I had to look to see what was the best spot for me,” Lewis told me. “I felt like this was the best fit and I’m happy I made this choice.”

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Newman Going Strong

I don’t think I read a single Bengals draft preview this year that did not include a mention of Terence Newman’s age.

As the Todd McKipers of the world accurately predicted, Cincinnati used its first round pick on a cornerback (Darqueze Dennard) because Newman and Adam Jones are in their 30s and Leon Hall is coming back from his second torn Achilles in three years.

But even though Newman will turn 36 three days before the season opener at Baltimore, the Bengals are counting on him to be one of their top corners in 2014.

“We timed them this offseason in a 20-yard dash and he was, like, second on the team,” said defensive backs coach Vance Joseph. “He can still run and with his experience at corner – that’s going to make him a solid player again this year.”

“I think I was lucky the couple of days that we did that test,” said Newman with a smile. “I just worked in the offseason and tried to get my legs stronger. I had a little issue with my patella last year and obviously the MCL so I got that corrected and I started to feel good. Coming to work every day when you have guys that are 21 or 22 – it’s a challenge in itself to try to hang with these guys. I think I’m doing pretty good.”

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs

The MCL injury forced Newman to miss the final four games of another good season. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Terence ranked 24th among NFL cornerbacks who were on the field for at least 60% of their team’s snaps last year. By PFF’s numbers, Newman finished ahead of Pro Bowlers Tim Jennings (35th), Brandon Flowers (50th), and Antonio Cromartie (56th).

“He’s got incredible athleticism and intelligence and he’s a kid at heart,” said Marvin Lewis. “He’s just been a marvel and he’s a great asset to this football team on and off the field.”

“I love this game,” said Newman. “This is something that I feel privileged to come out and do every day. Knowing people from the outside world that have 9-to-5 jobs and work in corporate America – they would love to be in the position that we’re in. A lot of times you have conversations with people and they just want to talk about football. They tell you, ‘I played in high school but I just wasn’t big enough’ or ‘I wasn’t this or that.’ Well, either was I. I wasn’t the biggest or strongest guy, but I could run. I’ve tried to perfect my craft and I’m still trying to.”

That was evident at the Bengals practice on Tuesday as Newman enthusiastically worked with the first team on defense and frequently lined-up against A.J. Green.

“To me that’s the challenge,” Newman told me. “You’re constantly being tested by younger players and guys that are bigger, stronger, faster. To me that’s kind of like a whole ‘nother game. I have to play the game at practice every week and then play the games on Sunday.

“There was a period of time where my body was breaking down. In retrospect, I probably should have taken a little time off. Maybe taken a few less reps – but I just wanted to be out there all of the time. That wears your body down. Now the coaches are forcing me out here, and that’s helping to preserve my body.”

“He’s obviously an exceptional athlete with great experience and he’s an easy guy to coach,” said Joseph. “Most guys in their 30s don’t want to be coached any longer, but he wants to be coached and wants to be corrected. That’s fun to be around.”

The two-time Pro Bowler is entering the final season of a 2-year, $5 million contract, but his 12th NFL campaign won’t necessarily be his last.

“Darrell Green did it until he was 40 right? (actually 42)” said Newman. “The defensive coordinator at K-State (Tom Hayes) got him when I think he was 36 and said he was still a heck of a player. I just want to see how far these wheels take me.”

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Rookie Looks To Add Wright Stuff On Special Teams

Following the opening practice of OTAs that was open to members of the media last week, I asked a member of the Bengals front office staff if there were any little-known players that had impressed him that day.

“James Wright,” he answered.

James Wright

Wright is the wide receiver and special teams ace out of LSU that Cincinnati selected in the 7th round of this year’s draft. After receiving that positive review of the rookie from one Bengals staffer, I asked wide receivers coach James Urban what he thought of Wright’s first day on the field.

“I saw today what I thought I’d see and what I hoped to see,” Urban told me. “We did a lot of research on him – a lot of credit goes to our scouts – and I think we had a pretty good read on him. He’s got to grow and keep getting better, but he competed his tail off and did not look out of place today.”

If you only looked at Wright’s receiving stats in college, it might have been a head-scratcher when the Bengals drafted him. He finished his college career with just 25 catches including zero his senior year.

“He was in a situation where LSU primarily played with two receivers and those two were drafted in the first round (Odell Beckham) and the second round (Jarvis Landry),” said Urban. “He found a beautiful role and embraced it as a special teams star down there.”

“Life is a challenge,” said Wright. “You have to adapt to whatever is in front of you and make the best of the situation. That’s what I felt that I did in college and did it to the best of my ability.”

James Wright LSU (440x351)

Wright started at wide receiver in the BCS Championship game as a sophomore and began the following season in the same role. But an injury early in his junior year altered his college career.

“James was a starter at wide receiver before he hurt his shoulder and lost his spot,” said Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. “He got ‘Wally Pipped.’ The guy that took his place wound up being a second round pick. James didn’t get a great chance to play on offense as a senior, but he played very effectively in the kicking game. He was a dominant special teams player.”

“He was our captain on special teams in every game,” said rookie running back Jeremy Hill (Wright’s teammate at LSU). “He was the guy that everyone looked up to for being unselfish. He didn’t score a touchdown in his college career but he didn’t care. He still went hard every day in practice and in the games.”

“My senior year, all I did was special teams and I enjoyed it,” said Wright. “It’s one-third of football, so it gives you a chance to play.

“They gave me the captain’s role and I tried to lead by example. Every time I had a rep, I went 100% and that’s the approach I want to keep.”

Following the departure of Andrew Hawkins in free agency, Simmons is looking at Wright as a potential replacement for Hawkins as one of the team’s “gunners” in punt and kick coverage.

“He’ll have an opportunity to come in and compete to be that guy,” Simmons told me. “Anytime in this league that you can get coverage production from a receiver that’s a huge positive. Usually when you think of receivers you think of returners, but somebody has to go tackle those returners. You can’t have all defensive players on special teams; you have to get some help from offensive guys.”

“In college I did a little bit of everything,” said Wright. “I was the gunner in punt coverage, I ran down on kickoffs, I was the corner against the gunner – I did a little bit of everything.

“Whatever they ask me to do and anything that I can bring to the table, I’m going to bring it to the best of my ability and see where that takes me.”

In the battle to make the roster in a crowded group at wide receiver, Wright’s prowess at special teams could obviously help his case.

“I think the biggest job that I have with some of these young guys is getting the message across that unless you come in here as a high pick or you’re a starter, the way you get to play is by being effective in the kicking game,” said Simmons. “If you come in already knowing that because that’s what you did in college, then you’re a step ahead of everybody else.”

“I’m excited for him,” said Hill. “I think he’s going to continue to impress these coaches and impress the fans and he’s going to find a role and make this team.”

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