AJ Green Says No Structural Damage To Knee

If you nearly had a panic attack when you heard that A.J. Green went down with a left knee injury at the Bengals first training camp practice on Thursday, you’ re not alone.

“It was scary for me,” Green said on Friday morning.  “But I felt (my knee) and everything felt intact.  I got up and walked off so it’s fine.”

AJ injury (440x330)

The two-time Pro Bowl receiver said that an MRI showed no structural damage and compared the injury to a hypertension of the right knee that he suffered against Pittsburgh as a rookie in 2011.

“That’s what it is,” said Green.  “It’s just not as bad as the one in Pittsburgh.

“It’s like a little bone bruise.”

Green injured his left knee about 90 minutes into practice on Thursday when he attempted to make an acrobatic catch on a deep ball thrown down the sideline by Andy Dalton.

“I was awkward so I was trying to keep my feet in and then I got off-balance,” said Green.  “I don’t know if something was under my foot like a rock or something, but it just went back and I slipped.”

Although it was the first day of training camp, Green has no regrets about making an all-out attempt to make the catch.

“That’s how I’m programmed man,” said Green.  “That’s all I know.”

Green, who turns 25 next week, said that there is no timetable for his return to practice.

“I don’t know – whenever they say I’m ready,” A.J. told reporters.

Bengals fans would undoubtedly be happy if Green is back in time for the regular season opener, but A.J. wants to be back on the field as soon as possible.

“You know me, I need my reps,” said Green.  “I love to get all of my reps, but we’ll see what happens.”

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Mike Brown on Andy Dalton: “I Expect Him To Get Better”

Mike Brown was a good enough college quarterback at Dartmouth to be mentioned in the pages of Sports Illustrated in October of 1956, but he is reluctant to share his thoughts on where Andy Dalton needs to get better in his third season.

“I’m an old quarterback and I like to pretend that I never threw a ball that didn’t go exactly where it should have,” joked Brown.  “But I know how lousy I really was, so maybe I should shut up on this one.”

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While the Bengals president chooses to avoid providing a detailed critique of his current QB, it’s hard to find a preview of the 2013 team that doesn’t focus on Dalton’s room for improvement.  For example, on Tuesday morning the headline on ESPN.com’s AFC North Blog read “Make or Break Year For Andy Dalton?”

“I think that Andy Dalton is a very good quarterback and I guess there has to be something to talk about,” Brown told me.  “If you’re a quarterback in this league, people are going to question everything you do in every game that you play.

“I know this; we were good enough to get to the playoffs for two years in a row with Andy Dalton as our quarterback and that is saying a lot.  Do I expect him to get better?  I do.  I expect him to get better and I think he expects to get better.  He’ll have more experience, maybe he’ll be able to make certain throws a bit better – we’ll find out.  He’s our quarterback.  He’s a good leader, he’s a solid passer, and I’m glad that we have him.”

Mike Brown interview (440x330)

Brown has been studying quarterback play since he was 11 years old when his father became head coach of the Cleveland Browns.  This week at the Bengals annual preseason media luncheon, I asked Mike to share some thoughts on the greatest quarterbacks he’s been associated with in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Otto Graham:

“He was the greatest quarterback ever in my book,” said Brown.  “Otto had an intuitive sense about him.  He made plays when they needed to be made.  He took that team to the league championship game in ten straight years.  They rode his back all the way.  He was very athletic – he played in the NBA as a guard.  His throwing motion was not pretty.  The ball didn’t come off his hand in a dead spiral consistently, yet he found the open guy and made plays.  He anticipated and made things happen that weren’t drawn up.  If I had a quarterback to pick in all of the time that I’ve watched pro football, he would be the one that I would put at the top of my list.”

Ken Anderson:

“Kenny was very accurate,” said Brown.  “His throwing statistics are better than most of the quarterbacks that are in the Hall of Fame.  It’s an injustice that he’s not in the Hall of Fame.  I think if you were listing who was the most important player in Bengals history, Kenny would be the one.”

Boomer Esiason:

“Boomer was a powerful passer,” said Brown.  “He was up-and-down some.  Sometimes when the ball left his hand, I’m not sure that even he knew where it might be going.  What he had that set him apart was leadership.  The players believed in him and he made them better.”

Carson Palmer: 

“Carson was a beautiful thrower,” said Brown.  “He could throw the deep pass as well – or better – than anyone I ever saw.  I used to enjoy just watching him in practice.  Things happened here that weren’t all in his control and some things didn’t work out the way that we wished.  That weighed him down and he decided to go where he thought the grass was greener.  I liked him personally and I still like him personally.  I wish he hadn’t done what he did, but we bounced back from it and I wish him well.”

After running through that list, I asked Brown if he sees any of those traits in Dalton.

“Andy is different in style from Boomer, but he has that same leadership quality about him,” Brown told me.  “The players like him and they respond to him.  As a passer, I don’t know that he would rank at the top, but he doesn’t rank at the bottom either.  He ranks with the good ones that we’ve had.  His future has to play out.  We’ll see – he might surprise some of his critics.”

Does Mike Brown think that Andy Dalton will be the Bengals quarterback for the next 10 years?

“Right now, I’m planning that he will be,” said Brown.

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Freshman Caupain Looks To Make Point

As a senior at Cosby HS near Richmond, VA last year, Troy Caupain averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds.  But when he joins the Bearcats this fall, Caupain will be looking to pile up assists since he is expected to play point guard at the college level.  

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“We were able to see Troy enough to realize that this guy is a point guard,” said UC head coach Mick Cronin.  “He’s 6’3″ and he’s still only 17; he won’t turn 18 until six or seven games into the season.  But he’s a natural point guard.  It’s the one position – kind of like quarterback in football – where there are probably some things that you’re just born with.  He’s comfortable with the ball in his hands and he sees the entire court.”

Caupain says that Coach Cronin wasn’t the first person to see point guard potential in his future. 

“My uncle realized it was time to be a guard because I wasn’t going to be 6’8″ or taller,” said Caupain.  “So he worked with me to build up my ball handling, my basketball IQ, and my court awareness.  I took it to mean that I was going to be a point guard and ever since then, I dedicated myself toward doing that every time that I went to the gym.”

“I remember recruiting Kenny Satterfield and a lot of the services said that he wasn’t a point guard because he was 6’2″ and he scored a lot of points in high school,” said Cronin.  “But when you watch a guy play, you can see what he’s comfortable with and it really wasn’t a hard thing with Troy.  When the ball is in his hands he’s very comfortable and he doesn’t really feel pressure.  When some guys get pressured, they put their head down, they get nervous, and they speed up.  When Troy sees pressure it doesn’t rattle him.  He just makes a simple pass and is calm with the ball.” 

Caupain was named the Player of the Year in Richmond last year and finished his career as his school’s all-time leader in scoring average and rebounds.  That led to comparisons to a former DePaul star that spent 17 years in the NBA.

“People tell me that I remind them of Rod Strickland back when he played for the Wizards,” said Caupain.  “He was a floor general on the court – he could get a bucket when his team needed it, but he looked to involve his teammates.  I like to smile, be a leader, and get my teammates involved in the game.

“When I was young, (Strickland’s) son played on my little cousin’s AAU team, so I used to see him all the time and we used to go to his house and play basketball and stuff.”

Caupain’s ability to find open teammates figures to put him in the mix to replace Cashmere Wright as Cincinnati’s starting point guard.

Does Troy expect to win the job?

“That’s not my call,” Caupain told me.  “But I’m working hard to try to earn that spot – yes.”

“I’m excited about him because he’s going to make other guys better,” said Cronin.  “That’s the key.  He’s going to get other guys a lot of easy baskets.”  

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Camp Tuberville Just Weeks Away

The Tommy Tuberville era at Cincinnati is about to begin.  The Bearcats check-in for training camp on Sunday, August 4 and hold their first practice the following day.  Fans can meet the players and get autographs at the annual “Meet the Team” event at Kings Island on Sunday, August 18.

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I had the opportunity to interview Coach Tuberville this week about some key topics going into camp:

Rumor has it that you were hanging out with the big stars at the ESPYS last week?

Every year I play in the V Foundation Golf Classic to raise money to fight cancer.  I’ve been going for many years.  Sometimes I go to the ESPYS along with it, but this year I didn’t have time so I just played in the golf tournament to help them raise money and then I flew back.  I played with actor Chris Tucker, and Bruce Jenner played right in front of us.  You get to meet a lot of people at that tournament, but I’m always excited to get back home and get ready for the football season.

You’ve been coaching for a long time, but when you’re in your first year at a program is training camp more challenging?

It’s more challenging because we’re still finding out about our players and they’re finding out about us.  But I’m excited about our off-season.  They’ve just gone through a very tough summer workout program and I think we’re in very good physical shape.  They’ve gotten stronger and you’re always excited to get them back on the field to see where we’ve come since spring practice in terms of their physical and mental abilities.

Is the quarterback job Brendon Kay’s to lose at training camp?

Yes, because he had a very good spring and I thought that Munchie (Legaux) hit the wall in about the 10th or 11th practice.  The guy that really played well and made a lot of headway was Bennie Coney.  Bennie has a lot of talent – he can run, he can throw, and do all of those things.  So we’re going to have some options.  I tell you, it’s going to be a battle.  I’ve told Brendon that we’re going to start him out with the first group, but anything can happen.  We’ll have a couple of scrimmages and a lot of practices and remember, your quarterback not only runs the offense – he’s the leader of your entire team.  Brendon is probably a little bit ahead, but that can change very quickly in two-a-days.

I ran into a member of your staff this week who told me that a few of the junior college additions are going to make an immediate impact this year.  Can you tell us about a few of those guys?

We have on campus running backs Rod Moore and Hosea Williams who will battle it out with Tion Green and Ralph Abernathy.  Going into the season, you have got to have two or three running backs that you can count on, so I think there is going to be a lot of competition there.  Jerrell Jordan is a junior college defensive end that came in in January and broke his foot – the fifth metatarsal – and had a screw put in it so he didn’t get a lot of practice time.  He’s in much better shape, and Terrell Hartsfield is another junior college defensive end that has been on campus for about two months and I think he is really going to help us.  Those guys are going to be great additions to our football team mentally and physically.  Then we have Howard Wilder, a junior college cornerback, that I really think is going to help this team get better.  In those areas we need some help, and I think they’re going to provide it for us going into the opening game.

Is cornerback your biggest concern?

We have a lot of concerns.  Every football team has concerns about experience and depth, but I would say right now that it’s the cornerback position just because of depth.  I think we have some guys that can play, but you have to have six to eight guys on your team, and we’re going to have to count on a couple of high school players to come in and give us some help, along with junior college players like Howard Wilder.  So corner has been a concern since we got here.  I think we’ve helped ourselves in recruiting, but now we have to get them in shape and get them ready to play mentally.

People have read and heard about your Australian rugby player Lindsay Crook.  Is he likely to redshirt in year one to learn American football?

I think that’s a big question mark.  I know he’s a good athlete and he can really run.  He had a setback – we had to scope his knee about a month ago because he had some loose cartilage in there that was giving him some pain.  So we decided to go ahead and clean that up.  He was down for about three weeks – he’s just now started running again.  But I think he’ll be able to help us some.  I’m not sure what position or it might just be on special teams, but you’ve got to remember that he’s not your average high school player.  He’ll be 21 years old this year.  He’s got a lot to learn about what we do and how we do it, but I think that he can pick it up.  We’ll have to see how far he can come in the next few weeks.  I’m not going to play him just to play him, but I think he has the ability to help the team this season.

What’s been the most pleasant surprise about the UC program since you arrived?

The enthusiasm of the players and the confidence that they have.  The thing about the UC football program over the last six or seven years – it’s probably been one of the biggest surprises nationwide.  For a long time, UC was one of the doormats of college football, but with the emergence of winning like UC has won over the past few years – every team has some ups and downs – but they’ve had some consistency.  They’ve been to two BCS Bowl games, and most schools across the country haven’t been to one.  I think the confidence that these players have in what they can do and how they can do it gives us an edge.  I’m not here to change a whole lot; I just want to keep the ship going in the right direction.

You’ll begin your tenure here in The American – the new American Athletic Conference.  As a head coach, would you rather be in a league where you potentially could dominate or a league like the Big 12 with traditional powers like Oklahoma and Texas?

I think there’s a fine line there.  Everybody wants to win games and I think that’s a big question mark for where you want to be.  But for us to have an opportunity to win national championships, something is eventually going to have to happen for us to get into the (power five conferences).  But I like the conference we’re in.  I like the teams that we’re playing and I think we can compete and be one of the stronger teams in the league year in and year out.  That’s how we’re going to treat it.  We’re going to recruit harder every year, and we’re going to try to beat whoever is on our schedule.  We really don’t have control over that right now, so we’re just going to have to wait and see what happens.

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Green and Atkins Have More Than Top 100 In Common

On Thursday night at 8 pm, look for A.J. Green to be named to NFL Network’s list of the Top 100 Players of 2013.  This week’s episode will reveal the players ranked from 20 to 11.

AJ Green diving catch (440x309)

“I’ll say top 15 and he’s still growing,” said Reggie Nelson.  “A.J. is doing a tremendous job of leading by example and just going out there and practicing hard.  There’s not a day where he doesn’t run his routes at full speed.”

“It’s an honor just to be on there because the players vote,” said Green.  “It’s all about respect.”

The Top 100 is selected by active players; although according to NFL Network only 481 of them (28.3%) took part in the voting process.

“I’ve always wondered about that,” said Leon Hall.  “I’ve never voted and I don’t know when that voting happens.”

Green will become the second Cincinnati player to appear on this year’s list, joining Geno Atkins who was ranked number 36.

Geno sacks Roethlisberger (440x293)

“He came in 36th?” said Hall.  “That’s kind of weird and unexpected considering how dominant he’s been.  I don’t know how many players I would put in front of him.  I’d put a few – Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, those kinds of guys.  But I think Geno got ripped off – I’m not going to lie.”

“I thought that he could have been higher because he’s probably one of the best d-tackles in the league,” said Green.

“I’m pretty sure that my teammates believe that I should be number one or whatever,” said Atkins with a laugh.  “I’m just happy to be on the list.”

While the Top 100 is hardly scientific (Tim Tebow made it last year at #95), the presence of two Bengals in the top 40 is a sign of the team’s growing notoriety around the NFL.  Two years ago when the series started, the only Cincinnati player on the list was Terrell Owens (#91) and he did not play for the Bengals in the season that followed.  Last year, Green was the only Cincinnati player to make it at #77.

“All we do is go out and play football – that stuff is just somebody’s opinion,” said Nelson.  “But it’s nice to be in the Top 100 – it’s certainly better than not making it.”

Green and Atkins have more in common than making this year’s list.  In addition to being former Georgia Bulldogs, the Bengals standouts let their play speak for itself.

“They’re old school and that’s the way I like it,” said Hall.  “They just work hard and produce on the field.  They both have confidence and that’s a key, but they don’t express it to everybody.”

“We’re both Georgia boys so we’re used to winning and hard work,” said Green.  “That’s been instilled in us since we’ve been there.  We just come to work every day.  We really don’t talk that much – we just go play football.”

And the Bengals duo isn’t satisfied to simply make the list.

“It’s great that some guys think so highly of me, but I feel like I still have a long way to go to be the receiver that I want to be,” said Green.

“I’ve got to do it again this year,” said Atkins.  “That list was for last year, and I’m focused on the 2013 season.”

The fact that the Bengals top two players are both no-nonsense, hard-working pros has a huge impact on the team’s locker room culture.

“Say you have a young receiver coming in here and he thinks that A.J. Green is the best in the NFL,” said Hall.  “Then he sees A.J. at work and he thinks, ‘He’s already the best and he’s still working hard.’  That makes him say, ‘I’m going to work hard because I want to be where he’s at.’  The same is true for any young defensive player watching Geno practice or work in the weight room – which is pretty impressive.  And it’s not just the rookies – it goes upwards too.  There are plenty of old guys that look up to A.J. and Geno for the way that they work.”

“If other guys see the best working hard, putting in the extra time, and listening to the coaches, they’re going to want to do that,” said Atkins.  “It becomes contagious and that’s how you create the best team out there on the field.”

“That’s the thing about this team – a lot of guys lead by example,” said Nelson.  “You’re not going to hear us talking about ourselves.  As long as we keep that ‘I’ out of the locker room, we’ll be just fine.”

That isn’t likely to be an issue with Green.  In fact, the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver doesn’t even plan to watch Thursday’s episode to see where he’s ranked.

“I’ll probably just read about it on Twitter,” said Green.

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A Birthday Wish For Brandon Ghee

Today is Brandon Ghee’s 26th birthday.  If he has the opportunity to blow out the candles on a birthday cake, his wish should be simple:  An injury-free season.

Ghee running (293x440)

As a rookie in 2010, Ghee suffered a concussion in a preseason game and then spent the last six games of the year on injured reserve due to a groin injury.

In 2011, a hamstring injury caused Brandon to miss much of training camp and he wasn’t added to the active roster until the 10th game of the season.

Then last year after earning rave reviews during May and June mini-camps, Ghee broke his wrist in early August, one week into training camp.

“It was a freak accident,” said Ghee.  “I jumped up for a ball and fell on it wrong and it took me out for an entire season.

“My wrist is 100 percent now.  I tape it as a precaution but I’m feeling really good right now and I’m just trying to get better.”

His coaches and teammates have noticed.  Minor injuries to Leon Hall (thumb) and Adam Jones (calf) meant additional reps for the Bengals younger cornerbacks during the recent OTA period, and Ghee took advantage of the opportunity.

“He always looks good, honestly, when he’s able to be out there,” said Hall.  “He’s one of those guys that definitely looks the part.  He does well in almost everything that he does – the deal with him is just trying to stay healthy and get in the games.”

“He’s really instinctive,” said Andy Dalton.  “He gets good jumps on the routes and he plays the ball well too.  I thought he had a good camp.”

“I think Brandon has done a good job of picking up where he left off when he got injured last year – knowing what to do and being somebody that hopefully will compete to stay on the football team, compete to play, and give us great snaps if he does,” said Marvin Lewis.

“Everybody learns differently, but for me, I get better by playing,” Ghee told me.  “The more reps I get, the better I’m going to be.  I’m glad that I’m getting a lot of reps in this OTA period.”

The Bengals drafted Ghee in the third round of the 2010 draft out of Wake Forest after he was clocked at a sizzling 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.  After being sidelined last season, he took advantage of the opportunity to add strength.

“The first thing I had to do was get healthy,” said Ghee.  “Once I was healthy, I hit the weight room hard and did a lot of upper body and lower body.  Now I’m back to being 100 percent and feel better than ever.

“I’ve gained about six or seven pounds and kept my speed.  I just wanted to get a little bigger for playing inside in the nickel and trying to fit on the run (defense).  I don’t like tight ends grabbing me, so that’s why I gained a little weight.”

The top three cornerbacks on Cincinnati’s depth chart are obvious:  Hall, Jones, and Terence Newman.  For Ghee, this is a crucial year to prove that he can provide quality depth at the position.

“Every year is important – I don’t care who you are,” Brandon told me.  “But this is my fourth year here and it’s my contract year so I’m trying to do well and earn another contract.

“Last year was very disappointing and I had a whole year to think about it.  I’m back now and I’m trying to bounce back and show my character.  Everybody goes down, but how you come back is all that matters.”

“He has all of the physical abilities and tools, he’s smart enough, he understands what to do, and he just has to go out and do it, time in and time out,” said Coach Lewis.

“The potential is there, but in the league that only gets you so far,” said Hall.  “Ghee has been in the NFL for a while, he kind of knows the ropes, and he knows that he has what it takes to be a good NFL player.  He just has to stay healthy and transfer it to the field.”

“If he stays healthy, I think he’s going to help this team,” said Dalton.

That doesn’t seem like too much to wish for.

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Sanzenbacher Standing Out, Despite Looking Familiar

Dane Sanzenbacher is aware of the comparisons to a former Bengals receiver.

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There’s the uniform number, the position, the size…

“…the skin color?” said Sanzenbacher.  “I know where you’re going with this.”

It’s true, like former Bengals receiver Jordan Shipley, Sanzenbacher is Caucasian.  But that’s not why the team’s current #11 bares resemblance to the previous one.

“He’s a tough kid, he’s got great quickness in space, and he’s got a good feel for the game,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden of Sanzenbacher.  “Everything that he displayed at Ohio State you can see on the field.  And the one thing obviously that you can’t see is his toughness.  He’ll catch it in a crowd – we know that.  He’s got really good hands and runs very good routes.”

Except for the reference to Ohio State, Gruden could have been describing Shipley in 2010 when he led AFC rookies in receiving yards with 600.

“It’s the style of play – I get it,” said Sanzenbacher.  “I think he was a great player when he was here.  I wouldn’t say that I modeled my game or anything after him, but I can see the similarities and it’s a compliment.”

But Bengals receivers coach James Urban would rather not compare Sanzenbacher to Shipley.

“I try to avoid that,” Urban told me.  “They’re different and Dane is his own player.  He has a tremendous feel for the game, understands how to get open, and as important as anything playing the slot, he knows when he is open.  Sometimes when you play inside where the windows are tighter and shorter, if you don’t know that you’re open you can run right through it.  You’ve got to be available for the quarterback and he knows those things.”

Sanzenbacher finished his career at Ohio State with an outstanding senior season in 2010, earning team MVP honors by catching 55 passes for 948 yards, including 11 touchdown grabs.  He was signed by the Bears as an undrafted free agent and had a solid rookie year, finishing with 27 receptions for 276 yards and 3 TDs.

But after Chicago traded for Brandon Marshall and drafted Alshon Jeffery in the second round last year, Sanzenbacher received limited playing time before being waived on Christmas Eve.  The Bengals claimed him the following day.

“It was a different kind of Christmas,” said Sanzenbacher.  “My family was with me in Chicago at the time.  The phone rings and life changes quickly.  I hopped in the car, packed all the stuff that I figured I would need, and I’ve been here ever since.

“At the time, you go from being ticked off while leaving the city to being excited about your new opportunity.  I think it’s been a really good move for me.”

On Monday when I asked a member of the Bengals front office what players were standing out during the current OTA period, Sanzenbacher was one of the first names mentioned.

“I feel pretty comfortable,” Dane told me.  “As little time as it was, it was nice to have those two weeks at the end of last year to be here get acclimated with everything.  It’s not all brand-new.  Obviously through the OTAs and everything, we’ll re-install the offense and start from scratch for the rookies, but I feel comfortable and I think that helps you to play fast.

“He’s been making plays (at practice) since we got him in here late last year,” said Urban.  “We liked him a lot coming out of Ohio State and we’re glad to have him.”

Sanzenbacher will be battling to earn a roster spot as part of a deep receiving corps.  A.J. Green, Andrew Hawkins, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu are virtual locks to stick, leaving (in alphabetical order) Tyrone Goard, Cobi Hamilton, Taveon Rogers, Roy Roundtree, Sanzenbacher, Brandon Tate, and Ryan Whalen fighting for the final two (or possibly three) spots.

“You can’t really think about the numbers,” said Sanzenbacher.  “We’re in OTAs right now for one, so it would be dumb to play the numbers game at this point.  As cliché as it sounds, you just have to take advantage of your opportunities.”

“I showed them a quote today that said, ‘You have to take advantage of your opportunity when it comes because you don’t know when your next chance is going to be.’” said Urban.  “I keep emphasizing that.  I can’t promise them X-number of balls.  They’re all going to get their reps but depending on how the reps fall, they may not get many balls that day.  When the ball comes they’ve got to make the play and do the right thing.  That’s what we’re trying to encourage.”

“You can’t complain about how often your opportunities are coming if you don’t take advantage of the ones that come,” Dane told me.  “I think you have to go out there and try to do things that people are going to remember.  It only takes one play to turn heads.”

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Fun Facts With Tyler Eifert

One of the staples of the pregame show on the Bengals Radio Network is the “Fantastic Fun Facts” interview where I ask the players a series of offbeat questions on a wide variety of subjects.  Although our first broadcast for this season is still more than two months away, I thought it would be fun to get a few interesting nuggets from first round draft pick Tyler Eifert.

Tyler Eifert

Here’s our recent Q & A (Eifert’s answers are in bold):

Aside from football, what do you do well?

Golf.  I’m about a 2 or 3 handicap.  I like to play a lot.

That’s pretty impressive.  Do you bomb it off the tee?

I do – about 340 yards on average.

Seriously?

For real.

Aside from professional athlete, have you had any other jobs?

Nope.  I took the trash out and did some chores around the house, but that was about it.  I played sports year-round.

Who was your favorite athlete as a kid and why?

It was Michael Jordan because he was just the best and dominated.

What do you spend your money on as a guilty pleasure?

I really don’t spend money on a whole lot. 

Electronics, clothes, movies, anything?

I don’t like to go to the movies – I’d rather wait for them to come out (on TV or DVD).  With clothes, at Notre Dame I would just wear issued gear because that’s what they gave us.  I like cars.  It would be fun to spend money on cars someday.

Do you have a dream car?

Mercedes (440x274)

For something somewhat reasonable, I guess it would be the S65 AMG Mercedes.  I think that would be pretty sweet. 

So you go for classy instead of something fast and sexy?

Right.  It’s classy but it still has some juice.

You’re from Ft. Wayne, IN.  What would you say your hometown is best-known for?

I guess cornfields, playing basketball, shooting hoops at a barn.

What was the name of your high school including team nickname?

Bishop Dwenger and our nickname was the Saints.

Any famous grads?

Jason Fabini who played in the NFL as an offensive lineman for a long time.

Jason Fabini (436x440)

And at the University of Cincinnati.

That’s right.

What was your favorite thing about Notre Dame?

Probably just the guys in the locker room.  Everything we got to go through as a team and getting to be a part of that.

When Brian Kelly wanted to motivate you, 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.

This might be tough since you’re a rookie, but do have any idea what you would like to do after football?

I’m not sure, but I think it would be fun to coach high school or grade school.  I’d also like to work on my golf game when this is all said and done.

You’re a 2-handicap.  It’s doesn’t sound like there’s much work needed.

Oh there is.  You can always get better.

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

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Newman Earned Extension With Play And Leadership

When Terence Newman turned down more money from the Oakland Raiders to re-sign with Cincinnati in March, he made it clear that his relationship with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was a key factor.

Newman (328x440)

“I just want to do things the right way and be the best player that I can be, and the only place that I can get that is with him,” said Newman.

Zimmer is delighted that Newman elected to stay in Cincinnati.

“I love the kid,” Zimmer told me.  “He does what he’s asked to do, he’s a good athlete, he’s quicker than a cat, and he’s got some toughness about him.  I think he’s a heck of a football player.”

But wait a second – did Zimmer really refer to Newman as a kid?  The 11-year veteran will turn 35-years-old just a few days before the Bengals season opener in Chicago.

“To me he’s a kid,” said Zimmer with a grin.  “He’s no different than when we drafted him in (Dallas) whatever year it was.  He said to me one day last year, ‘Somebody asked me why I’m in such a good mood.  It’s because I love doing this and love being out here every single day.’  I’m sure when that changes he’ll retire.  But I don’t see it.”

Ironically, a year ago when the Bengals signed Newman following his release by the Cowboys, there was plenty of talk that he was too old.  Terence responded by starting 16 of 17 games, led the team in passes defensed, and Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 19th best cornerback in the NFL.

“I don’t think I played as well as I’m getting credit for,” Newman told me.  “I thought that I made strides for sure – getting back to having proper technique and things like that.  I thought I had an OK season to be honest with you.  As players we want to be as perfect as possible so I don’t know if I’ll ever have a season that I’m completely happy with.

“I got a lot of slack my last year in Dallas.  To come here and quiet the critics a little bit provides some satisfaction.  But I don’t think that anybody is really satisfied until they make it pretty deep in the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl and win it.”

With Newman and Leon Hall starting at cornerback and Adam Jones joining them in the Bengals’ nickel defense, Zimmer has a veteran trio that can handle his demands on the position.

“We ask our corners to do a lot of things,” said Zimmer.  “We’re not a Cover 2 team – we’re a team that’s going to get up there and try to press receivers.  It allows us to do so much more.  It allows us to blitz more, it allows us to pressure people, and it allows the front four to get sacks because we can make them hold the ball just a little bit longer.  When you have guys that you can line up at corner and say, ‘You’ve got that guy,’ it allows you to do so many more things.”

Newman INT (432x356)

“He puts pressure on us, but if somebody believes that much in you, that goes a long way,” said Newman.  “If your coach says, ‘Hey, you can go out and cover that guy,’ that bumps up your confidence.  That’s what players want to hear.  If your coach says, ‘You’re terrible,’ how do you think you’re going to play?  Zim’s good at that.”

In addition to his value on defense, Newman is helpful to the Bengals skill position players on offense since the two-time Pro Bowler has seen it all in more than 150 NFL games.

“He’s been around for a long time and he understands route combinations, when to sit (on a route), and when to do different things,” said Andy Dalton.  “There will be times when I go up to him at practice and say, ‘What did you see there?  Why were you able to get such a good jump on that route?’  It helps to know what he was thinking.”

“We’ll be out there and run a play and all of the receivers will immediately go to him and say, ‘What did you see?’” said Andrew Hawkins.  “He tutors us on what a defensive back is thinking and it has made a big difference in all of our games as receivers because he studies so much film and understands the game so well.”

“He’s been a great guy to have on this team – not only as a player but as one of the leaders in the locker room,” said Dalton.

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie undoubtedly wanted Newman for his veteran leadership as well as his playing ability, but Terence ultimately chose to stay with a team that’s been to the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.

“I’m in a position in my career where a Super Bowl ring is important,” Newman told me.  “I knew that my role out there would have been helping players develop.  I don’t know if the Raiders are going to be able to contend for a playoff berth this year.

“I was pretty close to leaving to be honest with you.  It took me going out there to kind of jump-start things.  I didn’t know how much I was wanted here.  I knew that the coaches enjoyed having me around, but it’s a business.”

It’s been Newman’s line of work since 2003 when his coach was Bill Parcells and the number one pick in the NFL draft was Carson Palmer.  Eleven years later, Terence earned a 2-year/$5 million contract extension from the Bengals.

“Some of us are like fine wine,” said Newman.  “When you get older you understand a little bit more – not only about your body, but the importance of technique and things like that.  Sometimes I still fight demons, but I try to go out every day and try to get better at something.”

“He keeps himself young,” said Hawkins.  “He’s a jokester, he has a lot of energy, and guys feed off of that.  I’ve looked up to him since I was young, so it’s pretty cool to be on the same team as him.”

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

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Lamur Credits Mom’s Cooking For Added Bulk

Heading into his second NFL season, linebacker Emmanuel Lamur is noticeably bigger than he was as a rookie.  Chip Morton and the Bengals strength and conditioning staff deserve much of the credit, but they got some assistance from Emmanuel’s mother.

“Haitian food,” said Lamur when I asked how he added weight in the off-season.  “My mom has been cooking rice, beans, jerk chicken, and a lot of pasta.  I love to eat.  I try to eat at least six times a day.  And I’ve been lifting weights and working hard – that’s pretty much it.”

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 switching positions, Emmanuel was still a spindly 6’4”, 232 pounds in his rookie season with Cincinnati.

But when the Bengals opened OTAs last week, Emmanuel said that he tipped the scales at 244 pounds.

“I’ve put on 12 pounds and I feel faster and stronger,” Lamur told me.  “That’s going to help me when I’m taking on and shedding blocks and it should help my blitzing ability.

“He realized that if he wants to be an every down player he has to be able to hit with some of the bigger players,” said linebackers coach Paul Guenther.  “That’s what he concentrated on this off-season.  He did exactly what we asked him to do and he’s in great shape.”

“Last year I used my speed, which was my bread and butter, to play the game,” said Lamur.  “But it takes more than that to play linebacker in this league.  You have to be able to take on blocks and be physical.  I had to gain weight and 12 pounds is going to help me a lot and I’m planning on gaining another five.”

Lamur tackle (440x305)

Lamur signed with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent last year and was on the practice squad for the first seven games of the season.  But after being promoted to the active roster in early November, Emmanuel was used frequently in obvious passing situations and made his first NFL start in the playoff loss at Houston.

“He got better and better each week,” said Guenther.  “He started on the practice squad and continued to grow and as time went on, we realized that he should be in there playing for us – particularly on the passing downs.”

“He has a lot of athleticism and ability and he proved last year that the game wasn’t too big for him,” said Marvin Lewis.

The Bengals starting linebackers going into the season appear to be Vontaze Burfict (WILL), Rey Maualuga (MIKE), and James Harrison (SAM).  But Lamur is likely to get considerable playing time.

“Emmanuel is fighting for a starting job,” said Guenther.  “We have him with the first group in the nickel (defense) right now and he’ll be a swing guy in our base defense depending on the team that we play.  If we play a spread-out team, he might be on the field a little bit more in the base.  Right now he’s working at the two outside linebacker spots because he knows both of them.”

“Nothing is guaranteed – you’ve got to compete,” said Lamur.  “Coach is going to play the best guys.  This is a new year and I’ve got to improve and show the coaches what I’m capable of doing.”

At this point, there are 12 more pounds of him to like.

“He’s built like a linebacker and can run like a defensive back,” said Guenther.  “I’m really happy with him.”

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

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