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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 Brandon 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.”

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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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