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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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E-man Is Healthy And Happy To Be Back

Don’t tell Emmanuel Lamur that the first day of OTAs was no big deal.

When the Bengals took the field on Tuesday, it marked the first time in nearly nine months that the third year linebacker had participated in 11-on-11 football drills after dislocating his shoulder in the final preseason game last year.

Lamur injury (427x224)

“Oh man, it feels really good to be back,” said Lamur. “It’s a blessing to be back with the guys. The injury opened my eyes in a way. I’m enjoying every rep and having fun. Last year the game was taken away from me just like that.”

“One of the things that I told the guys in the meetings is to enjoy the process,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “Whether it’s phase one of OTAs, lifting weights, meetings, or being out of the field. With the guys that got injured last year, I said, ‘It’s not a lot of fun when you’re hurt and sitting out, so enjoy the time that you have out here.’ You never know when it’s going to end and that’s how E-man plays.”

“This is a chance for him to come back and get his feet wet and get back into the groove of things,” said Rey Maualuga. “He looks great. He’s a great coverage player and a great all-around athlete.”

Lamur had another reason to be fired-up on Tuesday: He practiced with the first unit on defense. Following the offseason release of James Harrison, Lamur is the front-runner to start at SAM linebacker.

“He was the starter there really at the end of his rookie year (2012),” said Guenther. “He played a lot in his last five or six games and obviously he started the playoff game (at Houston). Right now he’s running with the ‘ones’ and if he continues to improve, I don’t see much of a change there.”

“I’m running with the first group right now but the way I approach it is to work hard on each and every rep like I’m still trying to earn a spot,” said Lamur. “I’m staying motivated and hungry because that’s what pushes me.”

Lamur was a 210-pound safety as a sophomore at Kansas State before shifting to linebacker for his final two college seasons. Although he added some weight after changing positions, Emmanuel was still slightly undersized to be an NFL linebacker when the Bengals signed him as an undrafted free agent.

“He was pretty raw, but from the first day when we were out here in the rookie camp, I was like, ‘Man, I really like him.’” said Guenther. “Nobody believed me because he was an undrafted rookie and nobody knew anything about him. As time went on at practice, everybody started coming around on the guy and I said, ‘I told you.’ Once he figured out what to do, you could see the athletic ability really take over.”

Lamur tackle (440x305)

Lamur was able to put on 12 pounds of muscle prior to last season and now he’s a chiseled 245 pounds.

“There are big boys in this league so I had to get bigger and stronger,” said Lamur.

“I thought he was ready for a break-out year last year but unfortunately, he got hurt in the preseason,” said Guenther. “He looks bigger, faster, and stronger now.”

While the Bengals did not sign any big-name free agents in the off-season, they’re hoping to get a major boost from the return of injured players like Geno Atkins, Leon Hall, and Lamur.

“He’s going into his third year and he’s smart,” said Maualuga. “He talks a lot out there and is always asking questions. He loves to compete and I’m pretty sure that he’s going to try to get to the ball quicker than Vontaze and me. I expect a big year from E-man. He’s going to surprise a lot of people and do some great things.”

“I’ve always been a big fan of E-man,” said Andrew Whitworth. “He’s a great guy with great character and has worked his tail off to be where he is. He’s one of those guys where you’re anxious to see him have success because he deserves it.”

“Being out for the season last year was very humbling,” Lamur told me. “I’m glad to be back at work and I’m improving every day.”

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Maualuga Hits Big Screen

In early February, I went to see the movie American Hustle and was stunned when Rey Maualuga appeared in the preview for a baseball flick.

“Everyone was like, ‘I think I saw you in a trailer. Did you do a movie?’” said Maualuga with a laugh.

Trailer – Million Dollar Arm on Disney Video

In Million Dollar Arm, actor Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame plays a real-life sports agent named J.B. Bernstein who goes to India in search of baseball talent after losing the chance to represent a high-profile football star.

The script called for a football player of Samoan descent, so the casting agents reached out to NFL teams and encouraged candidates to try out.

Rey and Domata (440x440)

“Domata Peko and I did an audition video,” Maualuga told me. “He did his own and I did my own. I don’t think it was a competition between the two of us – we just figured, ‘Why not give it a try and see what happens?’”

Maualuga got a member of the Bengals video department to shoot his audition and asked a fellow linebacker for some coaching.

“He asked me for some tips and we rehearsed some of the lines together,” said Vinny Rey. “I was a theater minor at Duke so I had a tiny bit of experience. When I heard that he got the role I was ecstatic.”

“I did it right here in the player’s lounge – it took about a half hour,” said Maualuga. “They e-mailed me the script. Vinny helped me stay comfortable and got me saying my lines the way the director wanted.”

“I told Rey that the most important thing is to just go for it,” Vinny told me. “Don’t be nervous, don’t be ashamed – just go for it and act like it’s real. Just play the character. I’ve been telling him that I should be getting 3% like his agent.”

Maualuga’s scenes were shot last off-season in Atlanta.

Rey in movie (440x415)

“It was a great experience,” he said. “It’s something I’ve never done before and something I never thought that people would be calling me and asking me to do. When I heard I got the part, I was happy and excited to get that crossed off of my bucket list.

“I didn’t know how it actually happens with the different camera angles and all the takes that you have to do. I got to see a behind-the-scenes look at how everything gets done. It was fun.”

While his character rejects the agent played by Hamm in the movie, the two of them hit if off on the set.

“He’s a great guy and obviously an awesome actor,” said Maulauga. “We just talked about being comfortable. It’s just like me being on a football field. Practice makes perfect. If you mess up, you mess up and obviously you try to correct your mistakes by doing what is necessary. He told me to calm down and said that he messes up a bunch.”

The film was released nationally last weekend and Maualuga watched it with teammates and Bengals fans.

“On Friday, Domata’s wife rented out a whole movie theater,” said Maualuga.

“Me and my wife noticed that Rey couldn’t go to the premier because we had practice and he couldn’t make it out to Hollywood, so we just wanted to have a little private screening for him in the Cincinnati area,” Peko told me. “We rented out a movie theater, invited our teammates and their families, and then we invited 50 people on Twitter and Instagram to come with us.”

Million Dollar Arm has received generally favorable reviews from movie critics, and Maualuga’s acting debut got high marks from his teammates.

“He looked really natural – I was surprised,” said Marshall Newhouse. “He’s spent enough time in California that I’m sure he has the whole Hollywood thing down. He did a good job.”

“I think he has a future in Hollywood,” said Peko. “All the fans that came to the screening said that he did a great job.”

Still, Maualuga’s movie role is sure to result in some good-natured abuse in the Bengals’ locker room.

“His character’s name was Popo so we’ll see how that goes,” said Newhouse. “We’ll see if that sticks or not.”

“We’ve been joking around and calling him Rey Travolta,” said Peko.

Several NFL players have gone on to have successful acting careers after their playing days including Fred Dryer, Ed Marinaro, and Carl Weathers. Might that be in the cards for Maualuga?

“I’m going to try to play football for as long as I can, but if they come calling I’m not going to turn it down,” he said.

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Bengals Hope Flowers Will Bloom As NFL Linebacker

Arizona linebacker Marquis Flowers was projected to either be a late-round draft pick or to sign with an NFL team as an undrafted free agent. As a result, he vowed not to get his hopes too high as the draft unfolded.

“You go in with that game plan, but it’s definitely hard to follow it,” said Flowers.

Marquis Flowers (440x359)

As a result, the Wildcats’ second-leading tackler last season says he was “filled with joy” when the Bengals selected him with the 36th pick of the sixth round (#212 overall).

“When Coach Lewis called me, it was just one of the best feelings,” said Flowers. “I was watching at home with my family. I had a lot of family members over and it was a great experience to share it with all of them.”

Flowers played in the US Army All-America Bowl as a high school senior and was a highly-rated recruit when he enrolled in Arizona.

“I went in there my freshman year as a (Mike) Stoops recruit at safety,” said Flowers. “I played at nickel safety my first year. My second year, I got moved to strong safety due to our other safety tearing an ACL. Then after that, Coach Rich (Rodriguez) came in and moved me to linebacker a week before the first game of my junior year. It’s been a great transition and I’m learning every day.”

Flowers made a strong impression on Bengals linebackers coach Matt Burke with his athletic ability.

“He’s 6’2 ½”, 230-plus pounds and ran a 4.5 flat at his pro day,” said Burke. “I spent a lot of time with him. He wasn’t a combine guy so I was out in Arizona at his pro day. We brought him here on a visit as well, so I really got to know the kid pretty well through the process and I’m excited to have him on the team.

“He’s just a long, fast kid that can run and move in space. That carries some special teams value for us as we move forward with him.”

In his two seasons at linebacker at Arizona, the 22-year-old Flowers had 24 tackles for loss, 6 ½ sacks, 4 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles.

“The linebacker position is starting to change slightly and I think this guy fits that mold,” said Burke. “They used to call them undersized linebackers, but he’s 6’2 ½”, 230 pounds and he can run. I think that fits in to the game that we’re playing these days.

“I think we’ve done good work here finding some late round guys and free agents that are good prospects that hit on some things that we look for in a linebacker.”

“I knew they wanted me,” said Flowers. “I had a really good vibe. This wasn’t a team that called me and said, ‘If you slip through everyone’s hands we could get you.’ This was a team that was persistent.”

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Dream Comes True In Second Round For Hill

For most of the 256 players selected in this year’s draft, getting that call from an NFL team is the realization of a dream.

In Jeremy Hill’s case, it started at an early age.

“It’s been my dream since the first time I touched a football,” Hill told me. “I scored a 60-yard touchdown playing the running back position and I’ve hit the ground running ever since.”

“Since third grade when he first hit the field it was just natural talent,” said his mother Lisa. “Nobody taught him – his dad, myself – he just had it.

“His skill level was just so superior – not to be boastful – but you could see that he was way above the other kids. When he first hit the field, we were like, ‘Whoa, where did this kid come from? Where did he learn that?’ It was just natural ability.”

Jeremy Hill (440x293)

That talented kid has grown into a 6’1”, 233 pound wrecking ball who rushed for 1,401 yards (6.9 ypc) and 16 TD last year at LSU. The Bengals drafted him in Friday’s second round as the perfect complement to the smaller and shiftier Giovani Bernard.

“I think that’s what the coaches had in sight in drafting us in back to back years,” said Hill. “Hopefully they’ll have us for the next few years doing some damage. I’m looking forward to putting in the work and having some success this fall.”

LSU’s style of play was a key consideration for the Bengals in making Hill the 55th overall pick. The Tigers have not followed the trend in college football in adopting a pass-happy spread offense, preferring a run-oriented attack out of pro sets.

“LSU is a stepping stone for the NFL, so everything that we do as far as our program, our weightlifting, our offense is pro-style,” said Hill. “They’re just preparing us. If you see the amount of guys that are drafted out of LSU year in and year out, it’s up there with the most of any school in the country.”

Jeremy did face character concerns leading up to the draft due to two off-field incidents at LSU. The Bengals were assured that it is not an issue after discussing the 21-year-old with several contacts on the LSU staff.

“They did their research and homework and found out what kind of man that I am,” said Hill. “People that spend every day with me – the trainers, the equipment managers, my coaches, my teammates – they speak highly of me.”

His mother says that questions about Jeremy’s character do not bother her.

“I know all the facts and I know the truth,” said Lisa Hill. “Because of that, it does not raise any questions in my heart. I know who I raised and I know who he is.”

Her son will soon be what he’s dreamed of becoming – an NFL running back.

“It’s always been a dream and something that I’ve worked for and for it to come true is still surreal,” said Hill. “Yesterday I was sitting home unemployed and now I’m here with you guys.”

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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.”

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

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