A Season Of Bengals Fun Facts

Each week on the Bengals Radio Network pre-game show, I do a segment called “Fantastic Fun Facts” with a member of the team.  It’s a mini life story of that week’s subject where we get away from the X’s and O’s of football and focus on their backgrounds, families, and interests off of the field.

Here are a few interesting nuggets from the segment this year.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis
BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Here in Cincinnati we’re constantly hearing and reading about city budget battles.  When folks in Minneapolis do that, your mother is right in the middle of it.  Tell us a little about what she does.

She does budget analysis for the city of Minneapolis and works extremely hard at her job.  I’m very proud of her and what she does.  Obviously we both have stressful jobs, so sometimes at night, we vent to each other.  It’s something that I enjoy.  I really love my mom, I love what she does, and I’m proud of her.

So even with that big-time job in Minneapolis, I understand that she’s never missed one of your NFL games – home or away.

No sir.  She hasn’t missed any of my games ever since I was in high school other than one or two games.  For the most part, she’s been to every last one of them.

Josh Johnson
Josh Johnson

How much did you weight as a high school senior?

145 pounds.

Is that the reason why you played college football at the FCS level?

That had something to do with it, not to mention that I was 5’11” and I looked like I was about 10 years old.  I was just a late bloomer.  I got to college and started growing and became a better athlete.  I dunked a basketball for the first time in college, so I was just a late bloomer.

In your final year of college you had 43 touchdown passes and one pick.  What the heck happened on the interception?

It bounced off a guy, went in the air, and it was probably the longest five seconds of my life.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  Not to mention that it was against our rival Dayton – right up the street from here.  That was the only loss we had and cost us a championship.

J.K. Schaffer
J.K. Schaffer

If you could meet anyone in history – living or deceased – who would it be?

My Grandpa Schaffer passed away when I was two years old so I didn’t really know him.  That’s who I would go back and meet now.  I hear from so many people how great of a man he was, and I know the type of man that my father is.  So I would like to go back and meet my grandpa.

Giovani Bernard
Giovani Bernard

What do you like to spend money on?

Shoes.  I think that’s the big thing – I love shoes.  I’ve always liked them.  Michael Jordan…I think a lot of guys nowadays are always buying the Jordans.  That’s my hobby I guess you could say.

How many pairs?

I don’t even want to say.  I’ll keep that off-the-record.

Strictly athletic shoes or dress shoes too?

I’ve got some dress shoes.  I have to move to that side a little bit more now because you want to have appropriate attire.  Being an NFL player, you don’t want to wear off-the-street clothes, you kind of want to be a business person.  So you have to have the dress shoes in your package as well.

Rex Burkhead
Rex Burkhead

You’re from the Dallas suburb of Plano, TX where I understand one of the big tourist attractions is the Southfork Ranch – where J.R. Ewing lived on the TV show Dallas.  Have you been there?

I actually have.  There was a flag football tournament there when I was growing up.  It was called “Let It Fly,” and they actually had it out there in the fields out by the ranch.  We either had a prom or homecoming there as well at one of the banquet halls, so yeah, I’ve been out there.  It’s a pretty cool place.

So you have been to Southfork Ranch and you went to the White House this past April with your friend Jack Hoffman – the 8-year-old cancer survivor who has been an inspiration to so many.  What was your initial reaction when you heard that trip was going to happen?

I was kind of surprised, I guess, but it was very humbling at the same time that his family invited me to come with them.  It was definitely a privilege.  He’s got a great family and to be able to go there is something you never even dream about or think about when you’re growing up.  To actually be able to go to the White House, meet the President, and go to the Oval Office was really cool.

Mike Pollak
Mike Pollak

According to your Arizona State bio, you are an avid guitar player who has written songs.  Fill me in.

I’ve been playing since early in high school and that’s my big off-the-field escape.  I try to play a guitar at least 30 minutes a day.  It helps me unwind, and in the off-season I get together with a bunch of friends and we like to jam a lot.  A lot of guys like to buy cars and jewelry, I collect guitars.

I’ve been treating myself to a new guitar every year, so my wife is kind of getting upset.  It’s taking up too much room in our house back in Arizona, but I haven’t bought one yet this season.

Acoustic or electric?

I have both.  I have a lot of both.  I mostly like to play electric, but now that I have two small kids, I’ve been shifting to more acoustic.

Jayson DiManche
Jayson DiManche

The Bengals brought you in for a visit before the draft and you told me in the pre-season that you could tell at that point that they were really interested.  What was it about that visit that gave you that sense?

They were the only team that flew me in and showed that much interest.  It really made a huge impact on me – especially after the draft when it was time to choose a team.  They flew me in and showed me a nice time and (linebackers coach) Paul Guenther has not only been a great coach to me, but also a great mentor in leading me through the whole process of being a rookie in the NFL.  He’s shown me the ropes along with Vinny, James, and Vontaze – they’ve really been helping me through everything.  Paul has been a catalyst for that and I really appreciate it.  On my visit, he was a huge factor in me coming here.  He’s such a down-to-earth guy and an East coast guy like myself that we just got along.  I knew that if I didn’t get picked in the draft that this would probably be the place for me.  Not to mention that the orange and black matches my high school colors.  I’ve got a lot of stuff that matches.

Brandon Thompson
Brandon Thompson

According to your bio in the Clemson media guide, your nickname there was “Yams.”  Where did that come from?

It started my freshman year.  I was talking amongst the defensive lineman and we were talking about things we liked and didn’t like.  I was a country guy coming in with a southern accent and stuff and I told them that I didn’t like yams and they were like, “Huh?”  So one of the players started calling me that and Tommy Bowden was the coach at the time and he started calling me that.  It stuck and I’ve been “Yams” ever since.

Do they call you that here?

A couple of players fool around and call me that every now and then, but not really here.

George Iloka
George Iloka

You went to Boise State – home of the famed blue turf.  Did you like it?

I loved it.  We went 50-3 in my class so we won a lot of games.  For me it was weird when we played on a green field.  That threw us off.  We were like, “Green…what is this?”  It was definitely fun and if it psyched people out, that always helps.

As legend has it, birds mistake the blue turf for a body of water and dive-bomb to their death.  Is that true?

I haven’t seen one, but I will tell you this.  Ducks naturally want to poop in water, so during some practices there was doo-doo all over our end zone.  So I would say that that part of the myth is true.

Vontaze Burfict
Vontaze Burfict

Your older brother was a college football player and I understand you were the waterboy for his high school team.

Yeah.  He was a receiver but he played pretty much every position.  I really wasn’t into football at that time but I would go to watch him and support him while my mother was at work.  I always favored him to see if he needed water because he was my brother.  I think that made me who I am today because I watched him perform out there and I was like, “Man, I want to be like my brother.”  Any time that he didn’t have practice, he would come throw a ball with me and try to get me to like the sport.  It turned out good because every Thanksgiving we would have a tackling-fest in the grass in our front yard.  We would throw pads on and a helmet and he would always hit me hard and it made me want to hit people hard like he did.  I cherish him for that and always look up to him for that.

Rey Maualuga
Rey Maualuga

You have a lot of tattoos.  Is it addictive?

It is.  They say after the first tattoo you’re going to want more despite how bad it hurts.  After a few weeks of letting it heal, you look in the mirror and want more.  You see tattoos on other people and it makes you think, “Oh man, if I could only have one in that spot on my stomach, chest, or whatever.”  Only time will tell what tattoo I’m going to get next or where on my body that I’m going to get it.  Hopefully when I grow old, they don’t look all wrinkly and bad.

When was the last time that you had a haircut?

The beginning of my junior year in college.  I’ve trimmed it here and there, but it’s been like five or six years since I’ve shaved my hair off.

Dane Sanzenbacher
Dane Sanzenbacher

People that watched the preseason opener against the Falcons where you had a punt return touchdown and caught a touchdown pass heard Jon Gruden sing your praises and say he loves the sound of the name.  But that was not the first time that Jon Gruden has gone crazy over Dane Sanzenbacher.  Going back to ESPN’s Gruden Quarterback Camp with your college quarterback Terrelle Pryor, half of the segment was about you.  What is it about Jon Gruden and you?

I don’t know.  I still haven’t met him to this day.  But that is where it started.  I was watching on ESPN like everybody else.  I was eating breakfast and all of the sudden the segment comes on that is supposed to be about Terrelle.  I don’t know what his fascination is, but it’s probably helped my career more than a lot of things actually.

Clint Boling
Clint Boling

You were a high school basketball player.  What position did you play and what kind of numbers did you post?

I played center and I didn’t stray too far from the paint.  My high school coach had a rule that I could only dribble twice.  That was probably a good thing.  I liked basketball a lot and had a lot of fun.  I would say that I was an average high school player.

Did you average a double-double?

I would say so just because I was so much bigger than everybody else at the time.

Anthony Collins
Anthony Collins

You did not play football until your senior year of high school.  Why not?

I was a basketball player.  I always wanted to play basketball and was on an AAU team so I never had time for football until a couple of my friends went out there and I was forced to play football.  It’s a good thing that I did.

How did they force you?

Some things happened and a couple of my teachers and the principal told me that I had to (play football) or they would have to call my mother about some things.  That was an easy decision because my momma don’t need to know anything negative.

Mohamed Sanu
Mohamed Sanu

Your mother ran for parliament last year in Sierra Leone right?

Yes.  Unfortunately, she didn’t get elected but she works very hard and the people in her community love her.  She does so many things for her community and felt like she would be a good voice for them.

You have her name tattooed on your chest.  Did she know that you were going to do that?

She didn’t know until after I did it.

What was her reaction?

She’s not a big fan of tattoos, but when she saw that her name was on my chest, she was pretty excited about it.

Devon Still
Devon Still

You grew up in Wilmington, Delaware.  The so-called “first state” for being the first one to ratify the Constitution.  When you tell people that you’re from Delaware, do they have any idea where it is?

No.  Whenever I tell anybody that I’m from Delaware they always say that I’m the first person that they’ve ever met from there.  Then they ask me where it is.  My response is that they need to pay more attention in geography because as you said, we’re the first state so everybody should know where we’re located.

Vice President Joe Biden is from Delaware.  Have you ever crossed paths with the V.P.?

I haven’t, but hopefully that day is coming soon.

Alex Smith
Alex Smith

Every year at the Super Bowl, they have something called the Madden Bowl where NFL players compete at the video game.  You are a two-time champion.  Have you – a proud Stanford grad – actually wasted a lot of your time playing Madden?

Unfortunately.  When I told you that I wasn’t paying as much attention to my economics classes (at Stanford) as I should have been, it was because of Madden.  I still dabble every now and then, but definitely not as much as I used to.  I have kids now and I’m getting a little older so it seems like the days go by a little faster.  But going out to those Madden Bowls was always fun.  Of course, they retired me after I won too many times.  I still peek in and see who is winning.

What does the Madden Bowl champion receive if anything?

A trophy and bragging rights.  That’s pretty much it.  I’ve got a couple of trophies sitting in the house and I’ve been able to tell everybody that I’m the Madden Bowl champ.  Because of that, everybody thinks they can beat you and wants to play you, so that definitely comes along with it too.

Tyler Eifert
Tyler Eifert

When Brian Kelly wanted to motivate you at Notre Dame, what buttons did he push?

He would just coach me and tell me what I needed to do.  He wasn’t big on yelling at me or things like that – not that he wouldn’t.  All you have to do is tell me what to do and I’ll try to do it.

What gifts did the Notre Dame players get for playing in the BCS Championship game?

We got a gift card from the university with some money on it and then we got to go to a gift suite.  But they didn’t send us the gifts that we picked out which was a little surprising.  They sent us like a cheaper version of them.  I wonder if the winners got them?  I guess that’s what you get when you lose.  It’s all good though.  I’ll take what they gave me.

Margus Hunt
Margus Hunt

Who was your favorite athlete growing up?

His name is Virgilijus Alekna and he’s a Lithuanian discus thrower.  I actually was able to work with him in 2007.

Is he famous in track and field circles?

Oh yeah absolutely.  He’s a two-time Olympic winner and a two-time world champion – just an absolutely tremendous discus thrower.

What were some of your favorite places to travel during your track and field career?

China was really great.  Turkey was unbelievable – it’s a crazy culture over there.  South Africa is an absolutely beautiful place.  Spain is really cool as well.

For the final game of the regular season vs. Baltimore, Bengals owner Mike Brown will be my guest.  Among other things, we’ll discuss childhood memories of his father’s great Cleveland teams, the summer he worked for George Steinbrenner, and the Bengals loss that hurts the most.  Hope you tune in on Sunday morning at 11:30.

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

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Bengals Provide Emphatic Answer To Critics

Normally in the NFL, a 9-5 record and a one-game lead in the division is worthy of praise.  But after laying an egg in Pittsburgh on Sunday Night Football last week, the Bengals were called “pretenders,” “frauds,” and worse.

Steelers tackle Jones (375x440)

“You’re playing against a 5-8 team and get embarrassed on national television,” said NBC analyst Rodney Harrison.  “I was very disappointed but it just shows you that this is a very talented team but they’re not a mentally tough team.”

Those words and others like them did not sit well in the Bengals locker room.

“It’s all perception,” Michael Johnson told me.  “You’ve got to look at the actual numbers.  People that really understand football understand what happened.  If you pay attention and really know what you’re talking about and aren’t just popping off blowing steam, then you see what happened.”

The first quarter in Pittsburgh was an aberration.  A dropped snap by punter Kevin Huber on a frigid night handed the Steelers seven points.  The first punt return touchdown allowed by the Bengals in more than two years gift-wrapped seven more.  And an unintentional fair catch by Cedric Peerman helped give Pittsburgh the ball at the Cincinnati 47-yard line, leading to the Steelers longest touchdown drive of the night.

“We had some bad things happen to us early in the game in Pittsburgh that are unfortunate,” said Marvin Lewis.  “The breaks that fell their way put us behind.  That’s what happened.  That one’s over.  Everybody thought the sky had fallen in.  It didn’t fall in yet.”

“That was just one of those games that just got away from us early,” said Chris Crocker.  “We didn’t give ourselves a chance to really compete and that’s not usually how we play.  It was just one of those games.  The way to make yourself feel better is to win.  That’s really the only remedy.”

Bernard vs Vikings (440x336)

The cure for what ailed everyone in Bengals Nation was Sunday’s 42-14 thumping of the Vikings.  Cincinnati dominated everything that didn’t involve Minnesota’s spectacular rookie Cordarrelle Patterson to remain undefeated at home.

“All week I was saying that the intensity had picked up,” said Wallace Gilberry.  “The fire was re-lit.  I’m not saying that we deserved that loss against the Steelers, but we definitely needed it.  It put things in perspective and it woke me up and woke up other guys that needed it.”

“No one in here panicked,” said Johnson.  “No one in here was worried.  We came in and regrouped and you see the result.”

Cincinnati’s win plus Baltimore’s loss to New England clinched the AFC North for the Bengals.  But that’s only the start of what they hope to accomplish.

“We’ve got all our eggs in the basket now,” said Coach Lewis.  “That’s what we started out to do.”

“Anytime you get to the postseason it feels really good,” said Crocker.  “Because once you get there, anybody has a shot at the ultimate goal.”

For Michael Johnson, that makes four playoff appearances in the five NFL seasons.  The Bengals are one of only five teams to accomplish that feat (Saints could make it six).

“It’s what I’ve expected since I was drafted here,” Johnson told me.  “I heard a lot of negativity on draft day and the weeks to follow, but all I knew was to come in and work as hard as I could and try to get better.  We have a lot of talented players here and everybody is doing a great job of stepping up and taking ownership of what we’re trying to do around here.  If just feels good to be a part of it.”

Last January, Johnson returned to school at Georgia Tech in hopes of earning his degree.  The 26-year-old defensive end is still a few credit hours short, but he did not sign up for classes this year.  Instead, he’s got a trip to the Meadowlands planned for early February.

“I’ve got big plans baby,” said Johnson.  “Big plans.  Come with me.”

And don’t jump out of the plane when it hits a little turbulence.

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Hall Of Fame Praise For Bengals O-Line

Andrew Whitworth went to the Pro Bowl at left tackle last year and has been among the NFL’s best at the position for years.  But the best left tackle in history says that Big Whit is even better at guard.

“Andrew has had a great career here, but I cannot remember a time where he has physically dominated defensive lineman the way he has at the left guard position,” said Anthony Munoz.  “I’m loving it.  I’m watching him dominate straight ahead.  And I love him dancing around on the power (play).”

Dalton Whitworth (440x367)

Munoz was in the broadcast booth for ESPN Radio during last Sunday’s win over the Colts and says that watching Whitworth reminded him of the guy that lined up next to him during the 1980’s.

“Max Montoya was probably one of the best pulling guards that I’ve ever seen – and not only because I played with him for 10 years,” said Munoz.  “Max had a knack at 300 pounds to pull and cut down any defensive backs that were out in front of him.  I see Andrew – everybody sees his size and his strength and how well he’s played at tackle – but man, the guy has a sense, he has that football awareness to pull around and unload on people.  That takes a lot for a guard because you’re pulling around a lot of confusion.  You’ve got your center and your other guard and sometimes the tackle, so you have to be able to do it physically, but you have to be able to have sight of what you’re going to hit.  He does it as well as I’ve seen in a long time.”

The Bengals were forced to move Whitworth from tackle to guard two weeks ago vs. San Diego when Clint Boling went down with a season-ending knee injury.  Cincinnati wound up rushing for 164 yards – one off its season high.

“He was a little bit of Babe Ruth out there,” said offensive line coach Paul Alexander.  “He was hitting home runs and he was striking out a little bit.  When he hit people he freaking knocked ‘em out.”

The Bengals stuck with the combination of Whitworth at guard and Anthony Collins at tackle last week and rushed for 155 yards in the win over Indianapolis.

“The running game over the years has been pretty good, but I believe right now that it’s as good as it’s been in a long time with the Law Firm and Giovani Bernard,” said Munoz.  “For me to see that little pitch with the guard and tackle pulling out – those are things we used to do not only in college but with the Bengals.  We used to run that with Max Montoya leading James Brooks around the corner and it’s great to see that again.  And not only doing that, but then they’re lining up and running the power and just pounding people.”

“I call it the WWE – the WhitWorth Effect,” said former Bengal Artrell Hawkins.  “An offense has to have something to hang its hat on.  And real confidence comes from knowing that what you do works.

“It’s like a runaway locomotive.  They’re so physical that there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

“Andrew Whitworth is overpowering people,” said my broadcasting partner Dave Lapham.  “He’s such a catalyst from a physicality standpoint because that stuff becomes contagious.  Honestly, he’s made (center) Kyle Cook’s life better.  When Kyle is double-teaming with Andrew Whitworth it’s an easier sled that working with Boling.  That’s nothing against Boling – he’s just not as big and powerful of a drive blocker as Andrew Whitworth.”

Is Big Whit enjoying playing guard more than tackle?

“I think that depends on your personality,” Whitworth told me.  “If you’re a guy that wants finesse and wants to play basketball a little bit, then you enjoy tackle.  But if you’re a guy that loves to be physical, and hit people, and be violent, then you probably like playing inside.  I love both of ‘em, but I think guard probably suits my personality.”

Of course, it would be impossible to move Whitworth to guard if Anthony Collins wasn’t doing the job at tackle.  According to ProFootballFocus.com, Collins has been on the field for 193 passing plays this season without allowing a sack.  He would be PFF’s top-rated pass-blocking left tackle if he had enough snaps to qualify.

“I had a chance to actually be at a workout with A.C. when he hadn’t even been drafted yet out in Arizona,” said Munoz.  “One of the first things I saw was how athletic he is.  I’ve always been impressed with his athleticism and his ability to move.  I always thought that maybe he could be a little stronger, but I’ve always thought highly of A.C.”

“I’m going to be interested to see how Anthony Collins holds up against bull-rushers,” said Lapham.  “Pittsburgh will bull-rush you and that is the only fly in A.C.’s ointment.  Speed rushers he eats alive.  The guy’s got tremendous feet and takes great angles.  He can get that extra kick step and frustrate the speed guys that want to get on the edge.  That’s basically what (Indy’s) Robert Mathis was trying to do.  The first guy that comes in and tries to bull-rush him…it’s going to be interesting to see how A.C. holds up.”

Marvin Lewis is notoriously reluctant to change the depth chart issued early in the week to the media unless it’s absolutely necessary, but going into this week’s game in Pittsburgh, Collins is listed as the starter at tackle with Whitworth at guard.

“I would not change anything for the rest of the season,” said Lapham.  “I would not change one iota of what’s going on up front.”

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

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James Harrison on returning to Pittsburgh, the meaning of intimidation, and more

On Wednesday afternoon, Marvin Lewis referred to James Harrison as a “very respectful bully.”

“He’s going to be gruff about everything he can be,” said Lewis when asked to clarify.  “That’s his fun.  We spend a lot of time together and guys have to have fun.  That’s his fun.  To always be on edge – to keep people on edge.

“He’s had an exceptional career.  You can’t take anything away from James Harrison’s career.  He’s won, he’s been a great player, and he helped a team win championships.  Guys like that eventually end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”

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Harrison’s upcoming return to Pittsburgh for the first time since leaving the Steelers is one of the big storylines this week.  And yes, the five-time Pro Bowler and 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year kept me “on edge” in this one-on-one interview for Sunday’s pregame show on the Bengals radio network.

This is your first trip back to Pittsburgh.  Is it going to be emotional for you?

No.

Not at all?

No.

Why not?

I’ve already had a chance to see those guys here, so it’s going to be no different seeing them there.

Before that first game you got a little choked up talking about Dick LeBeau.  What is it about that relationship that meant so much to you?

He’s more of a father figure than he is a coach.  He has a real tight bond with a lot of us players – former and present.  He’s not just a coach.

You were in for 87% of the defensive snaps last week.  Are you happy with the way your role on this team is evolving?

Yeah, it’s a good thing.  I’m starting to get a chance to get out there more, learn more of the defense, and get an opportunity to play a little more.  That’s part of getting comfortable.

This team has lost a lot of key pieces on defense and yet you’ve continued to play at a very high level.  How have you done it?

Each guy that is behind a starter we call a “starter in waiting.”  When he gets his opportunity due to the misfortune of somebody else, he’s got to come in there and step up.  We want him to play to the level – if not better – than the person that he’s replacing.  Right now I think we’ve got guys that are stepping in and continuing to play at a high level.

You’re an Ohio guy who played in Pittsburgh for a long time – how do you feel about December weather?

I like December weather.  I’m used to it, so it’s no big deal.

This team is two games up with three to go in the division race.  How do you avoid looking beyond this week?

It’s simple – you don’t.  Nobody looks beyond this week.  We’re playing the Pittsburgh Steelers and that’s our focus.  I couldn’t even tell you who we play after that.

You’re in the first year of a two-year deal with the Bengals.  Do you think you’re going to be playing beyond next year?

I don’t know.  We’ll see how my body feels.

How does it feel right now?

It’s alright right now.  I’m not having to do too much with it.  It’s getting to be where I’m getting opportunities to be out there a little more and I’m liking it.  My body is feeling fine.

Is this team what you expected it to be, or are the individuals in this locker room different than you anticipated?

Nothing was expected other than I thought that I was coming to a team that could contend for a championship and that’s what I’ve got.  That’s what we have right now and that’s what we are going to continue to strive to do.

Last year’s Bengals/Steelers game in Pittsburgh was one of the more physical ones that I recall watching.  Is that what we should anticipate this Sunday?

I think every game is going to be a physical game just because we’re in it.  So yeah, I would expect a physical game.

I think when you signed with Cincinnati, a lot of folks wondered if you would add “swagger” to the defense.  Do you think you have?

I don’t know.  You would have to ask them.

What does the word intimidating mean to you?

It means nothing because I’m not intimidated by anything.

Do you think you intimidate others?

You would have to ask them.

I find you a little intimidating from a reporter’s standpoint.  Do you like to give that image?

It’s not an image that I’m trying to give off.  I guess it’s just my natural body presence.

Do you think there’s a misconception about your image?

There’s a misconception about a lot of people’s images.  If you see a person on TV and all you get fed is a certain image than you’re going to believe it.  So for people who don’t know me and just know of James Harrison the football player – yeah they’ll believe it.  But for those who know me, understand me, people that I love and love me, they have a whole different image of me.

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Tuberville Looks To Add To Big Game Reputation

When Whit Babcock introduced Tommy Tuberville as Cincinnati’s new head coach at a quickly-arranged news conference last December, he brought up the time they spent together at Auburn and said that he was impressed with Tuberville’s leadership style, family-centered values, and how he treated people.

“I was also impressed with his knack for winning the big games,” said Babcock.

I thought that might be worth bringing up before the Bearcats host Louisville a week from Thursday in one of the biggest games in Nippert Stadium history.

Image

Tuberville has a 7-3 record in bowl games, went 7-3 vs. archrival Alabama during his years at Auburn, and has gone 6-3 in his career when facing teams ranked in the Top 5.

So what’s his secret?

“I was fortunate to grow up as an assistant coach in a lot of big games and rivalry games with coaches like Dennis Erickson, Jimmy Johnson, and R.C. Slocum and the one thing that I took from all of those guys was to let the players win the game,” Tuberville told me.  “Don’t try to outcoach the other team.  If you try to do too much and throw too much on the wall and players are confused, you always end up with problems.  So we’ll prepare them and get them ready to go, but it’s going to happen between the whistles and between the lines at Nippert Stadium.  Just get out of the way and let ‘em play.  There’s no secret to it.  Get ‘em ready to go and turn ‘em loose.”

Cincinnati is clearly playing its best football of the year going into the showdown against the 10-1 Cardinals.  After beating Houston on Saturday for their sixth straight win, the 9-2 Bearcats have climbed into the Top 25 for the first time this season.  That seemed hard to imagine in early October when the Bearcats walked off the field after a loss at USF with a 3-2 record.

“We were just trying to find out if we could score points, much less win football games because we were struggling on offense,” said Tuberville.  “About midseason we were flopping around just trying to find an identity and we started getting a little bit better and better and guys started to make plays.  We haven’t done anything different – our guys are just kind of absorbing everything that we’ve put in over the past year and it takes a while to do that.  I’m proud of all of the players.  The seniors have done a great job of keeping this team focused and the leadership has just been outstanding.” 

Image

No senior has played a more important role than quarterback Brendon Kay.  During the Bearcats’ six-game winning streak, Kay has averaged 330 passing yards and thrown 15 TD passes while completing 72% of his throws.

“It’s remarkable – 60% is good,” said Tuberville.  “You’ve got to give some credit to the receivers like Mekale McKay, Chris Moore, and the two little guys inside (Shaq Washington and Anthony McClung) catching everything that he throws.  But still, you’ve got to find the open man and get the ball there.  And people forget, he’s been about 70 to 80 percent healthy for the last few games because he’s been beat up.  I’m really proud of Brendon.  He came in and he was the back-up quarterback before Munchie got hurt and he struggled for a couple of games, but he’s just been gangbusters for the last few weeks.

“He’s the most accurate guy that I’ve been around, and I’ve been around some Heisman Trophy winners at Miami (Vinny Testaverde and Gino Torretta).  But none were as accurate as Brendon for such a long period of time.  He’s been on target for the last five or six weeks.  He’s throwing the deep ball, the short ball, the screen passes – all of those things are on target.” 

While the offense has made huge strides since the USF loss, the defense has been solid in every game this season but the week two loss at Illinois.  Cincinnati is ranked 5th in the nation in rushing defense, 9th in yards allowed, and tied for 9th in points allowed.

“We’re not overpowering,” said Tuberville.  “We don’t do anything fancy.  We’ve got two or three guys that are good senior leaders.  We’ve got a lot of first-time players, but those guys are 11 games into the season and they’ve gotten much better.  I think it’s the overall scheme of Art Kaufman and all of his coaches pulling the trigger and saying, ‘Listen.  Let’s do what we do and don’t do anything special and let ‘em play.’  It’s worked out pretty well for us.”

The Bearcats are one win from reaching 10 victories for the sixth time in the last seven seasons and still have a chance to win their fifth conference title in the last six years.  Additionally, if Cincinnati beats Louisville and UCF loses one of its final two games to either USF or SMU, the Bearcats could earn a trip to the Sugar Bowl.

If only Bearcats had not have dropped their conference opener at USF…

“We’ll take 9-and-2 after the start we had,” said Tuberville.  “You can always look back and say, ‘Man, what if?’  But you don’t want to do that.  You want to look at where you are today and what you have in front of you.”

What Tommy Tuberville has in front of him is his biggest game so far at Cincinnati.

And if you’re like me, it can’t get here soon enough.

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Zimmer Expresses Confidence Despite Mounting Injuries

If you know anything about Mike Zimmer, you know that he’s not about to say “Woe is me” after injuries ravaged his 5th-ranked defense.

Zimmer (376x440)

Even after losing Geno Atkins, Leon Hall, Robert Geathers, and Taylor Mays with season-ending injuries, the Bengals defensive coordinator exudes confidence.

“Obviously we can’t replace some of the talent we’ve lost, but we can play really good as a team,” said Zimmer. “We can do our job, we can play really hard, and we can make sure that we understand all of the situations and those kinds of things. This is the NFL and this isn’t the first time that this has happened. I take it as a great opportunity and a great challenge to get this group of guys to play really good defense.”

Still, the loss of Atkins will force Zimmer to make changes since the two-time Pro Bowler is the best interior pass rusher in the NFL and helped the Bengals consistently get pressure on the quarterback without constantly having to blitz.

“Obviously we won’t have the same pressure that we had with Geno with just three guys or four guys, so we’re going to have to manufacture it a little bit more. That will be our challenge as coaches – to try to find ways to still create pressure on the quarterback.

“It hurts because there were a lot of times where schematically we were trying to put Geno in one-on-one situations. Now we won’t be doing that quite as much. We’re going to have to turn to our ends and try to find situations where we can get them into one-on-one matchups.”

The bulk of Geno’s playing time figures to go to second-year pro Brandon Thompson who was in for 36 snaps in Thursday’s loss at Miami. Like Atkins, Thompson is freakishly strong as evidenced by this YouTube clip of him bench-pressing 495 pounds.

“I look at it as an opportunity,” Thompson told me. “It’s my chance to showcase my talents and what I bring to the table. It’s hard losing a player like Geno. He’s probably one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL if not the greatest. I’m not going to be able to replace him, but I’m going to come in and do what I do. I’m rough in there and I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get to the ball.”

“Whoever is playing in place of Geno is going to step up and make plays – I can tell you that for sure,” said Terence Newman. “That’s how good our depth is on the line.

“It’s a great challenge. Geno is a great player. He’s one of the best in the league at his position. He’s one of the best defensive players in the league period. It’s a great blow, but like I said, it’s an opportunity. Whoever is in that position is going to try to step up and make his presence felt.”

As a rookie with Dallas in 2003, Newman was part of a Zimmer-coached defense that finished number one in the NFL in yards allowed and second in points allowed despite not having a dominant pass rusher (Greg Ellis led the team with eight sacks).

“We had a great group of guys that were unselfish and did what they were supposed to do,” said Zimmer. “They played really hard, and played really smart, and I think this group can be like that. Obviously we still have more talent than we probably did when I was in Dallas. Collectively if we all play good together, we’ll still be a good defensive team.”

Zimmer was named the NFL Assistant Coach of the Year in 2009 when the Bengals finished fourth in the league in total defense despite not having a Pro Bowler on that side of the ball.

“When I first got here, we obviously didn’t have the talent that we have now and we played pretty good,” said Zimmer. “I take a lot of pride in getting 11 guys to do their job, and do it as well as they can, and playing great team defense. I do feel like we have a nucleus of guys and we have some other good players that can go in there and play well.”

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Cincinnati Wrecks Ryan And Crushes Jets

New York Jets coach Rex Ryan ran with the bulls in Pamplona last summer.

I wonder if he felt like he was being chased by angry beasts again on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

“This is one of the best performances that we’ve had here from start to finish,” said James Harrison.

“We suffocated them all day,” said Chris Crocker.

The final score was Cincinnati 49 New York 9. Did A.J. Green feel like he was back in a college game at Georgia?

“A little bit,” Green said with a laugh.

Dalton vs Jets (440x293)

It was the Bengals most dominant all-around performance in the Andy Dalton/A.J. Green era. The 49 points scored were 11 more than the Bengals had tallied in any previous game with Dalton at quarterback, and the 40-point margin of victory was Cincinnati’s most lopsided win since Sam Wyche famously rubbed Jerry Glanville’s nose in a 61-7 drubbing of Houston in 1989.

“The whole team’s just clicking,” said Green. “I feel like this is the first game where we actually put all three phases together.”

On offense, Andy Dalton threw a career-high five touchdown passes, joining Carson Palmer and Boomer Esiason as the only Bengals quarterbacks to throw five-or-more in a game (Palmer holds the team record with six). During the Bengals 4-game winning streak, Dalton is 89-for-131 (68%), 1246 yards, 11 TD, 3 INT for a passer rating of 116.8.

“Dalton was hot,” said Rex Ryan. “That’s the thing about him – when he gets hot like that, we’ve seen over the last 3 weeks (he’s passed for) over 300 yards. He’s talented enough to do it and he’s got an outstanding group of receivers and skill position players.”

Marvin Jones leaping TD (304x440)

Green topped 100 yards receiving for the third straight game with three catches for 115 yards, but the star was Marvin Jones who finished with eight catches for 122 yards and four touchdowns. The Bengals have had some outstanding wide receivers over the years like Isaac Curtis, Cris Collinsworth, Carl Pickens, Chad Johnson, and Green (among others), but none of them caught four touchdown passes in a game.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Jones of setting a team record. “It means a lot.”

“I’m happy for him because he comes to play every week man,” said Green. “He plays with a chip on his shoulder like he has something to prove every week.”

“It’s hard when you have a guy like A.J. who is the focal point and going to get a lot of balls, but Marvin’s made the most of his opportunities and has gotten a lot better since his rookie year,” said Crocker. “I’m proud of the guy.”

On defense, the Bengals held their opponent without a touchdown for the second straight home game and scored a pair of TDs on interception returns by Crocker and Adam Jones.

“I give all the kudos to Coach Zim for putting us in great situations the whole game,” said Adam Jones. “We played a helluva game on defense today.”

Perhaps the biggest mistake that the Bengals made all day was when the 33-year-old Crocker tossed the ball into the crowd after scoring his second career touchdown and first in nine seasons.

“I wanted to go back and get it, but that’s the emotion of it,” Chris told me. “When you’re having such a good day like that – let the fans enjoy it too.”

Trust me. They did.

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More Weapons Mean More Wins For Bengals

A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson traded compliments before the game…spectacular highlights during it…and jerseys after the Bengals 27-24 win.

AJ and Calvin jersey swap (440x435)

“I’ve worked out with this guy for three years and he taught me a lot,” A.J. told me.  “I’m glad I came out OK in a comparison of my stats to his.  I know our trainer was proud of us today.”

Remarkably, Green and Johnson each finished with 155 receiving yards.

“It was like fantasy football out there,” said Marvin Lewis.  “It was a helluva deal.”

“It’s kinda fun to watch those guys,” said Andy Dalton.

Cincinnati Bengals v Detroit Lions

But take away Green’s six catches and Dalton still completed 18 of 26 passes for 217 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT.  That’s a passer rating of 120.2 to guys not named Adriel Jeremiah Green.  Dalton’s overall passer rating of 135.9 was the highest of his NFL career.

“He played really well again,” said Tyler Eifert.  “I was looking up at the fantasy stats that they displayed on the scoreboard during the game and he was up there with the leaders and only had half of the attempts of the other guys.  He’s an efficient guy and he’s playing really well.”

“A win is a win and that’s all that I care about,” said Dalton.

Last week, Boomer Esiason was in the TV booth when Dalton earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after throwing for 337 yards and 3 touchdowns in Buffalo.  In that game, Andy completed passes to a season-high eight receivers, led by Green was six catches for 103 yards.

“You go where the defense takes you,” Boomer told me a few days later.  “And believe you me, A.J. Green would much rather be on a team where he catches five balls for 110 yards and a touchdown and wins, than opposed to being targeted 15 times, catching seven balls for 155 yards and losing.  It’s a team game for a reason, and the more guys that you can get involved; the more morale is going to be really high.  They’re going to want to make plays for you because they know that the ball is going to come.”

Esiason proved that at age 36 in his final NFL season when he replaced Jeff Blake in the starting lineup for the final five games and posted a 100+ passer rating in all five outings.

“One of the things that happened during those last five weeks that I would try to impress upon Andy Dalton now as he moves forward – especially after the success he had last week in Buffalo – is that Jeff Blake and Carl Pickens had something very special together,” said Esiason.  “It was ‘Shake and Blake,’ it was big bombs down the sideline, but that morphed into a situation where it was always Carl Pickens and there were guys like David Dunn, Darnay Scott, James Hundon, Tony McGee, Marco Battaglia, Ki-Jana Carter, Eric Bieniemy, and Corey Dillon that all sat around watching those two play football and not really feeling like they were a part of something.  When I got in there, I said, ‘Guys, I’m going to where the defense takes me.  Plus, I can’t throw it 80 yards down the field so you had all better be ready.  You had better have your thinking caps on, your eyes open, and you better be ready for the ball when it comes to you.’  I think the guys really appreciated that they all got to participate in those last five games and I think it’s one of the reasons why we were so successful and I was so successful.  That young group of players had a new toy – it was called a football and they could actually go make plays with it.”

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In Sunday’s win in Detroit, Dalton threw touchdown passes to Eifert and Marvin Jones, completed a big 30-yard pass to Jermaine Gresham to set up a third quarter field goal, and hit Mohamed Sanu for a 12-yard gain on 3rd-and-9.  And with :26 left, needing to gain about 15 yards to give Mike Nugent a shot at a game-winning field goal, Andy hit Dane Sanzenbacher for seven yards and Giovani Bernard for eight.  That’s six critical passes that were not to A.J. Green.

“In order to be a great offense, we have to be efficient,” said Marvin Jones.  “I think Andy did a good job of that – especially with the play-calling and getting all of us rolling.”

“We’re able to spread the ball around to a bunch of different guys,” said Dalton.

Since a subpar performance in Cleveland where 15 of his 42 passes were thrown to Green (36%), Dalton has been spectacular during the Bengals three-game winning streak, going 70-for-101, for 921 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT, and a passer rating of 109.4.  Green has been targeted 27 times for 27% of Dalton’s attempts.

By taking what the defense is giving and relying more heavily on the running game, the Bengals have managed to pull out three straight thrillers and take a two-game lead in the AFC North.

“To be in a game like this with your brothers who you’ve went through a lot with for three straight months of grinding and training camp – these are the moments you live for, practice for, and get ready for,” said Green.

“We keep it interesting don’t we?” said Jones.  “That just shows the heart of the team.  We stick together for four quarters and that’s what we have to do to win games.  Every game is going to be tough in this league.”

“It was one of those games where you just keep fighting and scrapping and it was really a dogfight,” said Chris Crocker.  “I’ll tell you what – I’m gonna have gray hairs when this year is over.”

It will be well worth it if a certain teammate with red hair continues to shine.

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Can Dalton Lead Bengals To Super Bowl

You know that the bashing of Andy Dalton has gone comically over-the-top when a compliment is twisted into a criticism.

Here’s what Adam Jones said to Erik Kuselias of NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk when asked, “Are you 100% convinced that Andy Dalton is good enough to take this team to the Super Bowl?”

“I’m convinced,” said Jones.  “I’m 99% convinced that Andy can take us to the Super Bowl.”

That comment produced this headline “Adam Jones Not 100% Convinced Andy Dalton Can Lead Bengals to Super Bowl.”

Technically speaking that’s accurate, but really?

When pressed to say what it would take to be completely convinced, here’s what Adam added:

“I think he just needs to step up vocally and lead the team,” he said.  “That’s about the only thing – the other one percent.  But I think he has all the tools and all the weapons, to lead us there.”

Not exactly a rip job.

Dalton vs. Bills (440x307)

Listen, we all know that quarterbacks – especially in the Twitter era – are going to be hammered every time they make a lousy throw.

“That’s what he signed up for,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.  “I tell him all of the time that if he didn’t want the criticism, he should have sold insurance.”

The harsh spotlight has been warranted in the playoffs where Dalton has not performed well in a pair of losses to Houston.  But it’s hard to find too much fault with what he’s accomplished in the regular season.  After inheriting a 4-12 team that was expected to be among the NFL’s worst squads in 2011, Dalton has completed 61% of his career passes, with 55 TD and only 35 INT.  The Bengals are 23-15 in his 38 regular season starts.  I doubt that a single Bengals fan would have objected to those numbers when Dalton was selected in the second round of the draft.

“It comes with the position,” said Marvin Lewis.  “If he were 38-0, everybody would feel better – I know I would.  But you’ve got to love his demeanor.”

Last week in Buffalo, the Bengals quarterback was 26-for-40 for 337 yards, 3 TD and 1 INT for a passer rating of 105.9.  However, Dalton still took heat for not throwing the ball downfield since 243 of his passing yards came after the catch.

“Andy had an amazing game,” said Giovani Bernard.  “He was able to limit the turnovers, move the ball, and control the tempo.”

For those who have a negative opinion of Dalton, it generally centers around two things we knew about him before he ever put on a Bengals uniform:  That he’s not that tall and doesn’t possess a John Elway-like cannon for a throwing arm.

“I think what it comes down to is whether you believed in Andy Dalton or not,” said ESPN’s John Clayton.  “I’m sure that those who did not believe in Andy Dalton are saying, ‘Told you so.  Told you he didn’t have the strongest arm,’ and all of that stuff.”

But is Andy’s arm strong enough to get the job done?

“Repetitive accuracy is the number one quality we’re looking for in a quarterback,” said Eagles coach Chip Kelly when asked about arm strength during last year’s draft.  “We’re not trying to knock over milk cartons at the county fair.”

I don’t mean to suggest that all criticism of Dalton is unfair.  His deep ball accuracy is the most obvious area of concern, and Andy remains a work in progress in terms of reading defenses and reacting to pressure in the pocket.

“I think he comes in every day with the right frame of mind trying to get better,” said Gruden.  “He knows he’s not perfect, but he’s trying to get there.  He’s doing the best that he can and we’re trying to help him find plays that he’s comfortable with and trying not to force things down his throat.  We’re trying to keep him protected in the running game and the short passing game, but if we get down or he needs to throw it deep, he needs to do a better job.”

Uh-oh.  I can see the headline now:  “Gruden Says Dalton Needs To Do A Better Job.”

Let’s get back to the original question:  Can Andy Dalton lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl?

Jeff Hostetler, Brad Johnson, and Mark Rypien are Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.  David Woodley, Neil O’Donnell, and Rex Grossman guided their team to the Super Bowl before losing the big game.

Put me down as 100% convinced.

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Bengals Weather The Storm

About five minutes before our radio pregame show began on Sunday; I called my friend and favorite meteorologist – Fox 19’s Steve Horstmeyer – to get a weather forecast for the Bengals-Patriots game.

“Scattered showers between one and four o’clock,” Steve told me.  “And there could be a brief heavy downpour.”

Accurate as usual – but Steve neglected to point out that the downpour would arrive when the Bengals needed it most.

Brady in rain (348x440)

With 1:48 left in the game and Cincinnati leading 13-6, the Patriots got the ball at their 35-yard-line giving Tom Brady a chance to engineer his 39th career fourth-quarter comeback.  But Mother Nature provided the 12th man (woman?) as heavy wind and rain made it difficult to throw, catch, and even see.

“I was praying for a monsoon,” said Chris Crocker.  “It just came down at the perfect time.”

Adam Jones INT in rain (440x273)

On the Patriots final drive, Brady was 1-for-6 for 6 yards, and his final pass of the game was a wobbly, underthrown deep ball that was intercepted by Adam Jones.

“I was thanking God for the rain as it came down,” Jones told me with a grin.  “I was like, ‘Thank you Jesus!’  It worked out man.”

While the Bengals got some heavenly help in the final two minutes, they didn’t need any in the first 58.

Cincinnati’s defense was nothing short of remarkable.  Brady only completed 48% of his passes (18-for-38), his lowest completion percentage in a game since 2007, and the Bengals ended Tom’s near-record streak of 52 straight games with at least one touchdown pass.

“Honestly, I don’t think that any of the DBs even knew that,” said Crocker.  “Seriously, Zim knows stuff like that, but we could have cared less.  People were saying, ‘Brady is a Hall of Fame quarterback…it doesn’t really matter what receivers he has’ and we just felt like, ‘We’re pretty daggone good in the back-end.’ We can play, and we took that as a challenge.

“We really smothered those guys all day.  And you have to be aggressive with a team like that because when you sit back on your heels it’s like seven-on-seven and Tom Brady just picks you apart.”

Brady came within inches of extending his TD streak early in the fourth quarter when he connected with a wide-open Danny Amendola as he fell over backwards at the one yard.  But moments before the Patriots wide receiver rolled into the end zone, Crocker alertly touched him to prevent the touchdown.  The Bengals came through with a goal line stand and forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal.

“Goodness gracious…he could have literally leaned over and put the ball across the goal line,” said Crocker.  “It was one of those games where it fell right for us.  I’ve been in a situation where hell, the balls gets tipped in the air and Brandon Stokley catches it at the end of the game and runs for a touchdown.  I’ve been on the other side of it.”

And while the Bengals offense only scored one touchdown, they had to drive 98 yards to do it.  The biggest play coming on 3rd-and-15 from the 2-yard-line when they quick-snapped it to Andy Dalton and he delivered a perfect throw between two defenders for a 28-yard gain to Marvin Jones.

“The quick snap was the perfect call,” said Jones.  “Andy threw a good ball and I just came down with it.  In those situations, all you care about is that football.  I told myself, ‘Whatever happens happens.  If I get hit, then I get hit.’  But it was a great call.

“Normally when you’re on the two-yard-line, you think about just getting out of there and punt it away.  But we didn’t want to give them a short field and we capitalized on our opportunities.  That just goes to show you that we can drive the ball.”

Giovani Bernard followed with a 28-yard run as the Bengals put together a 14-play drive that took 7:48 off the clock. On the touchdown drive, the Bengals called for seven passing plays and seven runs

“This week we really emphasized calling the run and getting after them,” said Clint Boling.  “I felt like we did a good job of doing that.  We stuck to the run throughout the game and kept calling them even though some of them didn’t work.  I feel like that really helped us.”

“We knew that we were going to have to body them up and be physical,” said Marvin Lewis.  “We worked all week at that.  I thought that we did a great job on Wednesday and Thursday at practice and I almost had to back off as we went through the week because we had guys so sore.  We had to go back to being us.”

After a poor performance in Cleveland, you might say that the Bengals weathered the storm.

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