Here’s my favorite stat about Cincinnati’s talented young nucleus: The Bengals sent four players to the Pro Bowl last year and Andy Dalton was the oldest.
Here’s a look at the Bengals’ four Pro Bowlers that are all under the age of 25.
Andy Dalton: 24-years-old (birthday October 29th)
Geno Atkins: 24-years-old (birthday March 28th)
Jermaine Gresham: 23-years-old (birthday June 16th)
A.J. Green: 23-years-old (birthday July 31th)
But that’s not all.
There’s another potential Pro Bowler on the roster that is nearly seven months younger than A.J. Green – defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
Dunlap, who turned 23 on February 28th, was among the most dominant pass rushers in the NFL last year before injuring his hamstring in week eight at Tennessee.
“Carlos Dunlap was on fire before that hamstring injury,” said ProFootballFocus.com analyst Sam Monson. “At that point in the season he had racked up only three sacks, but he had 10 QB knockdowns and 24 pressures in only eight games. Essentially before going down with the injury, Dunlap was as devastating a force as there was in the league at rushing the passer.”
“I feel like I need a whole season that was like the way that I started last year,” Dunlap told me this week. “I’m starting fresh and making sure that I am doing everything that I can to stay healthy.”
Prior to last season during the NFL lockout, Dunlap returned to the University of Florida to take classes toward finishing his degree. But this off-season, he eschewed the classroom and went to the gym.
“I went down to Pete Bommarito (Performance Systems) where I trained for the combine,” said Dunlap. “It was continued maintenance on my hamstring and I concentrated on training a little bit harder. It was unfortunate that I had an injury and I want to make sure that I do everything in my power to prevent that from coming back. I postponed school and focused on training because this is my job.”
Dunlap finished with 4.5 sacks in 12 games last year after setting a Bengals rookie record with 9.5 in 2010. In 2012, Carlos aims to lead the NFL in sacks.
“That’s always been a childhood dream,” said Dunlap. “As a competitor, you want to be the best at whatever you do. I’m labeled as a pass rusher and I want to change that too. I want to be known as an all-around defensive end, but I do want to lead the league in sacks and be ranked up there with the elite pass rushers.”
That’s not his only lofty goal. Dunlap wants to join fellow 2010 draft pick Geno Atkins at the Pro Bowl.
“Carlos congratulated me before I went and said, ‘This year, I’m going to go with you.’” said Atkins. “I’m rooting for him.”
“I’m jealous – I ain’t gonna lie, I’m jealous man,” said Dunlap. “Geno earned it. He had a great year and I don’t know why he wasn’t voted on to the first or second team (Atkins went as a first alternate because New England’s Vince Wilfork made the Super Bowl) . But Geno is a Pro Bowler – they’re not going to say how he went.
“That’s a goal as well – to get there with Geno. I’ve been telling Geno the whole off-season that we have to get there together this year.”
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