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.”

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Black Is Happy To Be Back

Imagine your worst nightmare being nationally televised.

Imagine you’re Larry Black.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry Black (305x440)

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

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

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

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

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

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Annen Sprinting Toward NFL Shot

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

Would you believe UC’s Blake Annen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bengals Move On Without Johnson And Zimmer

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

Johnson and Zimmer (356x269)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cobi Hamilton Says He’s On Right Track

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

Hamilton vs Dallas (440x315)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hamilton in rain (440x297)

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

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

Cobi received similar encouragement from his position coach.

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

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

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

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

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