Archive for the ‘ Uncategorized ’ Category

Carter Making Case For Hybrid Role

In their 2010 season opener at Fresno State, the UC Bearcats were simply unable to protect Zach Collaros. The UC quarterback was sacked eight times, including three times by one of the Bulldogs defensive ends.

Chris Carter vs UC

His name was Chris Carter.

Five years later, Carter’s pass rushing skills are the biggest reason why he’s staging a strong bid to make the Bengals 53-man roster as a hybrid linebacker/rush end.

“I had some really crazy coaches when it came to pass rushing back in high school and college,” Carter told me. “It was all about repetition. Don’t get tired. Wear them out with your speed. And then wear them out again, and again, and again. Eventually they’re going to get tired and before you know it, you’ve got a sack.

“That’s a skill that I’m really trying to capitalize on, but at the same time, I have to keep throwing other things in there as well – playing in space, playing linebacker, and that’s something I’ve been improving on as well.”

Carter vs Bucs

The 26-year-old leads the Bengals in the preseason with 2.5 sacks, and would have had another in Saturday’s win over the Bears if not for a penalty in the secondary. Carter has also consistently flashed his speed rush off the edge throughout training camp.

“Any time you step on the practice field you want to make sure you get noticed by the coaches, scouts, and all of the staff,” said Carter. “I just come out here every day with my hard hat on ready to work.

“Fortunately, I’ve been able to come out and stack good days on top of good days. That’s the goal. To continue to be consistent with that and to show my worth on the practice field and in the games.”

“Chris Carter has done a nice job all training camp and this preseason,” said Marvin Lewis.

After recording 19.5 sacks and 38 tackles-for-loss in his four seasons at Fresno State, Carter was drafted by the Steelers in the fifth round in 2011. After battling hamstring and abdomen injuries in his first two seasons, Carter appeared in 13 games for Pittsburgh in 2013 including a start at outside linebacker.

But last year, the Steelers waived Carter just before the start of the season. He was quickly picked up by the Colts and spent several weeks with Indianapolis before being waived again. The Bengals signed him in early December and Chris played in the final three games of the regular season and the Wild Card playoff loss.

“A lot of guys can get discouraged when you kind of become a journeyman,” Carter told me. “I spent three years with Pittsburgh, a short time with Indy, and hope that I’ve found a home here.

“I respected the Bengals when I was in Pittsburgh. I don’t think many Steelers will say that until they get out of the program, but when I was there, any time we talked about the Bengals there was a great amount of respect because we knew it was going to be a physical game. We knew that we were going to be hurting on the Monday and Tuesday after that game. So I was excited to come here and when a lot of the Steelers guys found out that I signed here, they were excited for me because they have a lot of respect for the coaches and players here.”

While playing for Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh, Carter says he learned an important lesson that he is keeping in mind during his strong preseason showing with Cincinnati.

“They told me, ‘One day you’re drinking wine and the next day you’re crushing grapes,’” said Carter. “So don’t ever get too high on yourself. Just stay humble, keep your nose to the grindstone, and your eyes to the sky and you’ll be alright.”

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Clinkscale Ready To Make Calls

Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has known head coach Tommy Tuberville for roughly 25 years. The two are so close that Tuberville was the best man at Gran’s wedding.

But the Bearcats new co-defensive coordinator Steve Clinkscale had no connection to the boss when he joined the UC coaching staff in 2013.

“I had never heard of him,” said Tuberville. “He got lost somewhere up in the snow around Toledo and Illinois. We were looking for a secondary coach and I wanted one that knew recruiting in Northern Ohio, Michigan, and Chicago and his name kept coming up.”

Clinkscale

Clinkscale had just finished his first year on the Illinois staff after spending three years at Toledo.

“I told (Coach Tuberville) when I met him that it felt like I had known him for 10 to 15 years,” said Clinkscale. “We just kind of clicked right away.”

Tuberville gave Gran his first opportunity to be a coordinator two years ago and now he’s doing the same thing for Clinkscale who will call the defense for the first time in his 15-year coaching career.

“I couldn’t ask for a better situation than working under Coach Tuberville,” said Clinkscale. “He’s been a great defensive coordinator and he’s been a great mentor to me – teaching me what to call, when to call it, and understanding game situations. I’m super excited to get out there at Nippert Stadium and call the defense and let our guys go out there and play ball.”

Perhaps Tuberville’s most important piece of advice is to keep the defense simple.

“The thing that you can’t do is try to do too much,” said Tuberville. “It’s better to do less than more. You tend to think that doing more will help you, but players win games – coaches don’t. Don’t screw ‘em up. Don’t put ‘em in a position where they can’t have success and don’t put ‘em in a position where they have to think. If they’ve got to think about what they’re doing then they are going to play slow. Get them in situations where they feel comfortable, get them lined up, and turn them loose and let them play.”

The 37-year-old Clinkscale is a very animated, energetic, and hands-on coach and the defense displayed more outward enthusiasm during training camp than it has in recent seasons.

“He brings the juice man,” said defensive end Silverberry Mouhon. “Whenever practice may seem down, he’s up there going crazy and slapping helmets. We all respect him a lot. He brings the energy when we need it.”

“He’s tough,” said safety Zach Edwards. “I want to say he’s like a father figure, but I feel like he’s a big brother. He’s going to protect you and have your back, but he’s also going to get on you and push you to do better.”

“You have to push them because they can go a lot harder than they think,” said Clinkscale. “I’ve been there as a player where I thought I was done and couldn’t do any more and I was pushed and motivated to work harder. That’s what I do with our players and they respond well. I strongly believe as a coach that you can’t go out there and be mild-mannered. If you want them to be enthusiastic and you want them to work hard, then you have to do the same thing.”

“We’re really practicing well on the defensive side of the ball,” said Tuberville. “We are more fundamentally sound than what we’ve been. He gets into their heads a little more and I think he understands the little things about defensive football.”

Clinkscale grew up as a police officer’s son in Youngstown, OH and hopes the Bearcats defense reflects his upbringing.

“My father told me to, ‘Always be the hardest worker in whatever you do.’” said Clinkscale. “That’s how I’ve always been as a player, coach, and human being.

“And people in Youngstown are kind of in survival mode. The economics there are very low. But the people there believe in one another, count on one another, and root for one another. It molded me as a young man to always have a bit of a chip on my shoulder and to out-work and prove people wrong.”

His chance to prove himself as a defensive coordinator begins on Saturday night.

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A Familiar Name Returns To Tampa

In Cincinnati, James Wilder is the name of a young Bengals running back fighting to make the roster.

In Tampa, that name is football royalty.

James Wilder Sr.

James Wilder Sr. is the leading rusher in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history (5,957 yards) and the former NFL record holder for most rushing attempts in a game (43) and in a season (407).

“People always tell me great things about him,” said James Jr. “They say if I’m half of what he was, then I’m pretty darn good. To follow in his footsteps and do the kinds of things that he did in his career is my goal.

“I grew up watching him all the time on tape. He retired before I was born, but that’s who I idolized and modeled my game after. Same size, same height, same playing style.”

“He’s a very determined kid,” said James Sr. “Ever since he’s been playing ball with the Boys and Girls Club he’s been very determined and that continued in high school and college. He’s a hard worker. I’m saying he’ll be better than I was if he gets the opportunity.

“Gosh, his athleticism and preparation are a whole lot better. The game is faster; the guys are a lot stronger, so physically he’s ahead of me. It’s just the mental aspect of getting to know the game.”

James Jr. was a member of Florida State’s 2013 National Championship team and averaged 6.0 yards per carry in his three years with the Seminoles. The Bengals signed the 6’3”, 232 pound running back as a college free agent last year and Wilder spent his rookie season on their practice squad.

“It took a toll on me mentally,” said James Jr. “I’ve never been in a position where I was toward the bottom of the depth chart trying to work my way up. I’ve always started out near the top of the depth chart. But talking with the coaches and talking to my dad, you just have to be unselfish and control what you can control. Every time your number is called, go out and do what you’re supposed to do and handle your business.”

“I’ve seen a lot of growth,” said James Sr. “I’ve seen him adapt and see what it takes to prepare himself now that he has that year under his belt.”

James Wilder Jr.

In Cincinnati’s preseason opener against the New York Giants, Wilder led the Bengals with 14 carries for 53 yards, including a two-yard touchdown.

“I thought I did well,” he said. “Watching the film, there were a lot of things I can polish up – I left a few yards out there and things like that. There are a few things that I can fix. That’s what the film is for and that’s what practice is for.”

“He’s got to have the confidence that every time he touches the ball he’s going to make something happen,” said James Sr.

This coming Monday night, James Jr. says it will be a dream come true when he plays in the same NFL stadium where his father spent the final two seasons of his nine years with the Buccanneers.

“Growing up always being around it and the fact that Pops played there, it was definitely a dream of mine to be able to play there,” said James Jr.

And he’ll do it with his father in attendance.

“He definitely informed me that he’ll be on the Bucs side in a Bengals jersey,” said James Jr. with a grin. “I’m sure he’s going to hear about it a little bit if he does that.”

“Hopefully he can do what he does best,” said James Sr. “I’m behind him 100 percent.”

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True Freshman Copeland Making Bid To Start

One of the most enjoyable things about watching a college football training camp is seeing a newcomer emerge that you’ve barely heard of.

In the first week of Bearcats camp it’s been true freshman Marquise Copeland.

Marquise Copeland

“He just keeps climbing and climbing,” said co-defensive coordinator Robert Prunty. “It’s to the point where if we played a game tomorrow, he would be starting at defensive end with Silverberry Mouhon. Honestly, I’m shocked.”

Copeland started at right defensive end in Saturday’s scrimmage as Mark Wilson and Landon Brazile were kept off the field for precautionary reasons with minor injuries. That meant that Copeland was matched-up against First Team All-AAC offensive lineman Parker Ehinger.

“I looked at that match-up and I said, ‘If I start him against Parker, how is he going to handle it?’” said Prunty. “I kept looking at his eyes when we were doing pregame warmups and he didn’t have those ‘wide eyes.’ That let me know how poised he was.

“He made the first three plays of the scrimmage. He’s just an impressive young man. Great leverage, unbelievable hand placement for a kid coming out of high school, and he’s physically ready to play Division I football.”

“He really stepped it up,” said Mouhon. “Marquise went out there under pressure as a true freshman and kept his composure. He did everything Coach Prunty taught us to do and his play spoke for itself.”

“It was a good accomplishment but I’m capable of doing more,” Copeland told me. “There’s more to come.”

Copeland is from Bedford, OH, a suburb of Cleveland, and chose UC from a long list of college suitors including Kentucky and Wisconsin. He frequently lined up in a two-point stance during Saturday’s scrimmage and showed a burst of speed in rushing the quarterback.

“You can clearly see the level of speed that we’ve got now on the outside,” said Prunty. “We’ll play some hybrid guys that are defensive end-slash-linebackers.”

Copeland looked like a linebacker when he signed with Cincinnati, but at 6’3”, 260 pounds that is no longer the case.

“In my senior year of high school I was 230 pounds so I’ve gained about 30,” said Copeland. “I’ve been eating right and lifting every day. It was a long process, but I got bigger.”

I asked Mouhon how quickly Copeland caught his eye in training camp.

“It wasn’t even in camp – he caught my eye over the summer with the way he was able to pick things up,” Silverberry told me. “He’s a quick learner and he’s able to keep fighting. More power to him for coming out here and proving himself.”

“He’s mature beyond his age,” said Prunty. “I’ll be honest with you; I know that we’ve only been in camp for a week, but I’m shocked by his performance so far. But you know how this game is; you’ve got to get better every day. He’s a freshman – let’s see if he hits the wall or knocks the wall down.”

The last two defensive players to start the season opener as true freshman for the Bearcats were Mike Mickens and Terrill Byrd in 2005. Copeland is hoping to change that.

“I’m trying to work every day to get that spot,” said Copeland.

“He’s a real quiet guy but his play speaks loudly,” said Mouhon. “I’m really excited for him this year.”

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An Impressive Debut For “Baby Geno”

Leave it to Lap.

A couple of hours before kickoff on Friday night as we discussed some of the players we were looking forward to seeing in the preseason opener, my broadcast partner Dave Lapham brought up defensive tackle DeShawn Williams, the undrafted rookie out of Clemson.

“He’s going to kill them if he’s in there against the third string,” said Lapham.

Good call.

DeShawn Williams

Williams (#69) entered the game with 9:33 remaining in the fourth quarter and quickly got to quarterback Ricky Stanzi as he released an incomplete pass on third down and seven.

“He was right there in my lap,” said Williams. “I wish he would have held the ball a little longer – then I would have had two sacks.”

On the play, Williams was double-teamed by center Brett Jones and guard Michael Bamiro, but kept fighting until he got to Stanzi as the quarterback rolled to his left.

“There’s a young man I noticed right away in camp,” said analyst Anthony Munoz on the TV broadcast. “The thing that I noticed was his speed, his quickness, and he goes 100% the whole time. He never stops.”

“On that play, he rolled out and I just gave great effort,” said Williams. “Things might not always go good as a rookie, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving effort.”

The 22-year-old got his first sack on the Giants’ next offensive snap when he nailed Stanzi for a nine yard loss.

“The guy’s got a motor and when he separates he can accelerate,” said Lapham. “He’s always penetrating, showing up, and making plays.”

Williams was on the field for 11 plays and hit the quarterback twice.

“I just waited for my opportunity,” DeShawn told me. “Even though I didn’t get that many reps, I prepared like I was a starter. Then when my number got called, I tried to just go out and play ball and have fun. That’s what Coach Guenther and Coach Hayes told me to do. Just go out there and attack.”

On his sack, Williams again beat two blockers to get to the quarterback, using an inside move to blow by right guard Eric Herman before brushing aside running back Akeem Hunt as he tried to help.

“I knew that my reps would be limited so I had to give it my all,” said Williams. “And that’s true whether it’s one rep, two reps, or 70 reps. Give it your all because coaches are looking for guys that are going to give effort. Nobody can measure your effort – that’s on you. That’s the man in the mirror. I never want a coach to say, ‘He’s not an effort guy.’ That speaks a lot about you. I want to give it my all so that they can count on me when I get in the game.”

“They’re teaching them right down at Clemson,” said Lapham. “They’ve got something like six or seven guys from last year’s defense in NFL camps.”

Williams appeared in 53 games for the Tigers during his college career to tie for fourth-most in school history, but still wasn’t drafted. According to his NFL.com draft profile, DeShawn is “shorter than desired checking in at under 6-foot-1 and a little top heavy.”

Three-time Pro Bowler Geno Atkins received a similar scouting report before the Bengals selected him in the fourth round in 2010.

“They call me ‘Baby Geno’ in the locker room, but I haven’t done anything yet to reach that status,” said Williams. “I try to learn from him each and every day. Just to have an All-Pro in your room – you get star struck and I’ve got nothing but praise for him. He’s a wonderful teammate.

“I’ve never met a guy like Geno. He’s just a freak of nature man. One day I hope I can reach his status but it’s going to take some work.”

Williams isn’t likely to be as great as Atkins, but his NFL career and the Bengals season got off to a good start against the Giants.

“This is something to build on, but we haven’t done anything yet,” he said. “We still have to work but it feels good.”

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A Long Shot From “Slap Shot”

Morgan James is the only player in college football who can be seen on hockeyfights.com.

James is a 25-year-old former minor league hockey player who has joined the UC football team as a preferred walk-on.

Morgan James with Bujnoch

“I’ve never played a down of football in my life,” said James. “I’ve been an ice hockey player since day one. But I’ve always been a football fan and it’s always been a dream of mine to play. Even though I’m further along in my life than most of these guys, I’m coming back to fulfil that.”

James says he began training to make the transition from hockey to football about a year ago. Video of him lifting weights and doing football drills can be seen on YouTube.

“That was part of what I did to get my name out there,” he said. “I made a couple of workout videos to show what I’m doing and show what I’ve got and I sent that around to some colleges. I had a lot of Division II interest and Division I-AA (FCS), but I’m confident that I can be a football player so I wanted to come to a great school like Cincinnati.”

But how did he wind up at UC?

“A high school coach that (Co-Defensive Coordinator) Steve Clinkscale knows brought him and another young man down to one of our camps,” said offensive line coach Darren Hiller. “He worked out with the defensive lineman during the camp and then toward the end of the camp I put him through some offensive line drills. We filmed it and after we got done with camp, we watched all of the guys that we thought were possible prospects. We looked at him because of his sheer size and athletic ability.”

“He’s got a body that you would go out and recruit,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville.

James is 6’6”, 295 pounds, and has been timed at 4.9 in the 40-yard dash.

Morgan James at right tackle

At Camp Higher Ground on Sunday, James lined up with the third string offense at right tackle.

“Today was the first day that we put him in a team setting,” said Hiller. “Before today we just had him in individual drills teaching him what a zone block was, what a down block was, what a double-team block was, and what a pass block was. When he was pointed in the right direction it was pretty good.”

“It’s a lot of information at once and I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t confusing,” said James. “But I’m doing my best to learn and I’m thankful to have great coaches like Coach Hiller and Coach (Austen) Bujnoch to help me.”

“He is starting from scratch when it comes to football knowledge,” said Hiller. “We actually had to explain where the quarterback was and that he called the plays. It was kind of comical, but it’s really unique because he has great athletic ability.”

So why didn’t he ever play football?

“I started playing hockey at a very young age and invested everything in playing hockey every single day,” said James. “That’s all I did.”

The Michigan native played professionally for two years and admits that his role was often to be the team enforcer.

“I played for the Louisiana IceGators and the Columbus Cottonmouths for the majority of my time,” said James. “In the minor leagues I did play the role of an enforcer. There’s been a lot of talk about that in the locker room here and a lot of jokes. The videos have been floating around – that’s for sure.”

Despite his age, James has four years of football eligibility remaining at Cincinnati.

“He’s like a ball of clay that we’re going to try to mold,” said Hiller.

“We’ve started from ground zero with him,” said Tuberville. “It will be interesting to see how much he develops in a couple of years.

“He’s a good kid. He doesn’t say anything. He just wants to play football and it’s going to be fun to watch him.”

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Bearcats Feature Wide Variety At Wide Receiver

The 2015 UC football team features a “Noah’s Ark” wide receiving corps: The Bearcats seemingly have two of everything.

“They are so scary it’s unbelievable,” Memphis coach Justin Fuente told me at AAC media days. “They threw an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game against us and we didn’t have anybody that could come close to the kid. They have some awfully dangerous weapons.”

“When we went undefeated at Auburn (2004) we had an unbelievable receiving corps, and it kind of reminds me of that group,” said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. “They were tall and lanky and they were fast and physical.”

Gunner Kiel’s top seven targets from last season are back. Here’s a scouting report on each receiver from UC’s junior quarterback (listed in order of receptions last season).

Shaq Washington

Shaq Washington (66 catches, 761 yards, 4 touchdowns):

“A captain of the wide receivers and a guy that can get open at any time. A reliable target that I love to throw to on short and intermediate passes.”

Max Morrison, Obi Melifonwu

Max Morrison (45 catches, 458 yards, 4 touchdowns):

“Crisp, crisp routes. Out of everyone, I think he’s our best route runner. A deadly slot guy with really good feet.”

McKay TD vs Rutgers

Mekale McKay (44 catches, 725 yards, 8 touchdowns):

“A big tall target that can jump out of the sky. With those long strides you thing he’s not moving, but he’s moving really fast.”

Chris Moore 1-handed TD

Chris Moore (30 catches, 673 yards, 8 touchdowns):

“Super-fast, quick feet, and a great route runner. He really can do it all.”

Johnny Holton

Johnny Holton (29 catches, 431 yards, 5 touchdowns):

“Deadly athletic and the fastest guy on our team. Crazy fast with great hands. Goodness sakes.”

Cincinnati Bearcats at Ohio State football

Alex Chisum (22 catches, 242 yards, 2 touchdowns):

“I love Chis. First guy out there, last to leave, and loves to work. He does whatever I ask him to do and is a great route runner.”

Nate Cole, Obi Melifonwu

Nate Cole (15 catches, 145 yards, 2 touchdowns):

“Quick and elusive. He can confuse a lot of DBs because he looks like he’s moving slow, but he’s moving fast. And he’s got great hands.”

But there’s only one football. How can the Bearcats keep everybody happy?

“Honestly, I think I do a pretty good job of spreading the wealth,” said Kiel.

“Your wide receivers are always your worst guys to keep under control,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “They’re prima donnas – not just our guys but all of them. They want the football.

“I’ll have to bring them into the office and say, ‘You’re going to get your share.’”

“One of our core values is being selfless,” said Gran. “It’s trust, it’s being selfless, it’s having unity, and it’s toughness – those are our four core values as an offense. If you can’t be selfless, and you can’t be humble, and it’s not team-first, then you won’t play here. I’ve been a part of championship teams with a lot of great players and it’s not about the touches. It’s about your productivity. If you get the ball three times and do something right with it, NFL scouts will see it.”

Washington, who needs 55 catches in 2015 to become Cincinnati’s all-time career leader, says that battling to get the ball is great motivation.

“We’re very competitive, but at the same time we push each other more than anything,” Shaq told me. “If you watch us, there’s no arguing or anything like that. We stay on top of each other about little things in order to get better.”

“They’re very coachable – that’s what I like about them – we don’t have any that go out there and think that they’ve got their job won,” said Tuberville. “They come out to work every day, put their nose to the grindstone, put that hard hat on and get after it.”

It should be a fun group to watch – and a frightening group to try to defend.

“You’re talking size, speed, and the ability to stretch the field vertically,” said ECU coach Ruffin McNeill. “When you watch them on film you say, ‘Those are some NFL guys right there.’ Big cats that can run.”

Make that Bearcats that can run.

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Dawson Trusts His Instincts

When the Bengals chose P.J. Dawson with the final pick of the third round in this year’s draft, NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock called him, “the most instinctive linebacker I saw on tape this year.”

Three months later after OTAs, minicamps, and a week of training camp, Bengals players and coaches are saying similar things.

P.J. Dawson no helmet

“He’s a savvy player and knows how to get to the ball,” said linebacker Vinny Rey. “He understands football – I can tell he’s been playing football for a while.”

“The knock on him coming out of TCU is that he didn’t test well at the combine, but every linebacker coach around the league that watched the film said, ‘This kid is the best player,’” said linebackers coach Matt Burke. “He naturally has a feel for the game. He sees plays develop and has an understanding of route concepts and that stuff can be hard to teach.”

Dawson says that his instincts on defense are the product of playing on the other side of the ball.

“I feel like it comes from me playing wide receiver in high school,” he told me. “Being on the offensive side helped me learn how offenses work. They don’t do things for no reason. Wherever they send the fullback or the puller, that’s usually where the play is going. I try to make it as simple as possible.”

But learning an NFL defense in your first training camp is anything but simple.

“It’s the normal learning curve for all rookies,” said Burke. “He has to learn the details and make sure he’s on the same page with what we’re trying to get accomplished. Right now he might be doing his own thing when he goes and makes a play.”

“Even though he’s learning all these things for the first time he still maintains his savviness,” said Rey. “He’s not playing like a robot.”

The 22-year-old says that the Bengals defense is actually easier to pick up than the one he learned before earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors at TCU last year.

“It’s the wording,” said Dawson. “Just the terms that they use and learning the minor details. It’s the language – that’s all it is.”

With experienced linebackers like A.J. Hawk, Rey Maualuga, and Vontaze Burfict on the roster, Dawson has plenty of available teachers.

“They help me with anything that I need and I appreciate that,” said Dawson. “I feel like I’m going to do the same thing for the next group of rookies coming in.

“I’m also spending a lot of time with the coaches before and after practice trying to get every little extra thing that I can so that I can be ready.”

“I can tell that he’s a quieter guy, but there’s comes a point where you’ve got to start meeting with the coach more and meeting with other guys that see the game from the on-field perspective,” said Rey. “He’s doing that more and more.”

Dawson led the Big 12 in tackles (136) and tackles-for-loss (20) last year and added four interceptions. He’s been compared to Burfict for his playmaking ability and considers that a high compliment.

“I remember when I was watching ‘Hard Knocks’ I saw him and said, ‘Man, that 55 is pretty good.’” said Dawson. “I didn’t even know his name, but he stood out to me. Then I finally met him and I was like, ‘It’s crazy that we’re on the same team.’ It’s a blessing to be here and I’m glad that I can learn from him.”

Dawson is hoping to stand out as well. It’s one of the reasons why he asked be listed as “P.J.” instead of Paul after joining the Bengals.

“I feel more comfortable with P.J. – plus there are a lot of ‘Pauls’ here,” he said. “I didn’t want to be confused for anybody else, so I felt like that would be better.”

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Healthy Eifert Could Have Huge Impact For Bengals

During training camp I’m often asked, “What player has been the most impressive?”

In each of the last two years, my answer has been Tyler Eifert.

But don’t take my word for how good the tight end looks at practice. Just listen to former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

The 2007 Pro Bowler served as a coaching intern during the Bengals’ June minicamp and wore a GoPro camera on his chest during a workout for Bengals.com. Houshmandzadeh could be heard gushing about Eifert as he watched him run pass patterns.

“Every time I see that boy run a route I can’t believe it,” said Houshmandzadeh. “I can’t believe that man! He’s too big to be moving like that. That’s crazy.”

On Thursday, I asked Eifert if he had seen the Houshmandzadeh video.

“I have a family friend that sent it to me,” Tyler said. “When he first got here I told him that I want to be coached. Any advice you have for me about route running let me know. He helped a lot.”

Of all of the injured players that the Bengals look forward to having back this season, Eifert could have the biggest impact. Consider that the former first round draft pick was only on the field for eight snaps before suffering an elbow injury in the season opener last year and had 3 catches for 37 yards.

“It was a lot of fun – I remember that,” said Eifert. “The most catches I ever had in a game was five my rookie year, so I was like, ‘This could be a lot of fun this year.’ Then I didn’t make it through the first quarter. Hopefully I can change that this year.

“You really don’t realize how much you miss being out there until you can’t be out there. It was hard and I’m excited to contribute this year and help us win games.”

Tyler Eifert

Those eight snaps in Baltimore provided a glimpse of the wide variety of ways that offensive coordinator Hue Jackson can use the 6’6”, 250 pound tight end. Eifert lined up as a traditional tight end four times, a slot receiver three times, and an H-back once. The Bengals averaged 7.5 yards per play with Eifert on the field and he caught all three passes that were thrown to him. Additionally, Andy Dalton was 8-for-10 for 78 yards before Eifert’s injury.

“It’s good to have him back and good to see that he’s feeling better,” said Dalton. “He’s a big matchup mismatch for us. The more that he can do, the better we’ll be.”

In addition to dislocating his elbow at Baltimore, Eifert tore labrum in his shoulder during OTAs before last season. Both injuries eventually required surgery, but the former Notre Dame standout says they are no longer an issue.

“I feel good,” he said. “I feel healthy, strong, in-shape, and ready to go.

“I saw (4-time Pro Bowler) Jake Long down in Pensacola and every season he’s had a surgery. I’m just going to go out and play hard and not worry about any of the other stuff.”

Although Eifert is only in his third NFL season, he is the Bengals only tight end with regular season experience (not including H-back Ryan Hewitt) following the departure of free agent Jermaine Gresham.

“It is a little bit weird when you put it that way, but I’m confident in what I can do on the field and being a leader in this locker room,” said Eifert.

“I’ve seen him emerge this spring that way,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “That’s a good thing. Another guy who missed all of last year basically and had to sit and watch so it’s been great to see him break out of that and progress the way we want him to.”

If you make it to one of the Bengals 14 open-to-the-public practices during training camp, I suspect that Eifert will stand out as one of the most impressive players.

And if he stays healthy, the 24-year-old could be poised for a breakout season.

“There’s only so much that you can control and getting hurt isn’t one of them,” said Eifert. “And how many balls you get thrown to you isn’t one of them either. It’s just, go out and work hard, understand the offense, and do your job.”

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

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Hunt Hopeful For Rapid Return

Remember the “Margus Hunt Show” in the Bengals’ final preseason game last year?

Margus Hunt vs Colts

The 6’8,” 290-pound defensive end terrorized the Indianapolis Colts with three sacks and three additional QB hurries in a 35-7 win.

Unfortunately, one week later, Hunt suffered the first of several injuries that limited his impact as he finished with one sack in 12 regular season games. He added a shared sack in the playoff loss at Indianapolis.

“I was called injury prone a lot, but it wasn’t anything that had to do with me being weak,” said Hunt. “In the first game at Baltimore, Steve Smith Sr. knocked the wind out of me and bruised my ribs. That lingered for half of the season. Then I got hit on the side of the knee in the Tennessee game. It was just all of these little things. An ankle injury kept me out for four weeks – it was just stuff like that. But this is football. Everybody gets hurt.”

The ribs, knee, and ankle have healed. Now the 28-year-old is trying to rebound from a lower back injury suffered in the offseason.

“With an injury like that you have to be really careful, so we were really cautious about the rehab process and the strength process,” said Hunt. “It just takes time to really get it to a point where we can start adding more stuff to it.

“It’s about 80% now if not even more. I’ve been working out really good for a while now, but that is kind of different from what happens on the field.”

Hunt will open training camp on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. He can be activated to practice as soon as he is cleared medically.

“I feel positive and confident that I will be back during camp and will be able to play in a preseason game at least – if not two – we’ll see how it goes,” he said. “It’s just a matter of the coaches, the training room staff, and (strength coach) Chip Morton seeing where I’m at with football conditioning.

“We’re still on the rough timeline for where we thought we would be. I was expecting and hoping to be back sooner and being healthy to go right now. But I will be taking part in the conditioning and testing and trying to see where I’m at with that and we’ll go from there.”

The former second round draft pick faces stiff competition for a roster spot in the crowded defensive line room.

“It will be a very competitive camp,” Hunt said. “I have this little setback, but I just feel that if I go out there and do what I’ve been doing and what I can do, I definitely feel positive about still being part of this team.

“We’re at the point right now where I can’t take part in team activities yet, but it’s a day-to-day basis. As of right now I’m still planning on playing in the regular season.”

Hunt would not commit to a specific timetable for when he expects to practice, but the former SMU standout is clearly optimistic.

“I have a good feeling about it being sooner rather than later,” he said. “There is no pain whatsoever right now.”

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

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

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