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Future Bearcat Curtis Wins “Mr. Basketball” Award

When Sean Kilpatrick was playing for Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Massachusetts I was living about an hour away in Boston. After he signed to play for UC, I braved a massive snowstorm and drove to one of his prep school games to see Sean play.

He was awful.

Kikpatrick’s coach assured me that it was just a rare bad game and that Sean would have an outstanding career at Cincinnati.

I did not have a similar experience when I went to watch future Bearcat Samari Curtis.

In mid-February when Cincinnati had a week between games, I took a peek at the Xenia High School schedule in hopes of seeing the 6’4” guard in action. Fortunately, the Buccaneers had a road game in the Dayton area, so I made the trip up I-75 and when I walked into the gym I spotted Coach Cronin in the stands.

Together we watched Curtis put on quite a show in an 86-72 win. Despite being held to three points in the first quarter, Samari finished with 42 points and went over the 2000 point mark for his high school career.

Samari and Mick

“There are roughly 50 guys in the state of Ohio that have done that before,” said Xenia coach Kent Anderson. “And he missed 11 games. He had a broken hand and missed six games as a sophomore and five last year with a concussion. You never know how many points he would have had.”

Curtis had a school-record 52-point game this season, averaged 34.4 points a game, and finished with 2,109 career points. On Thursday he was named Ohio’s “Mr. Basketball” for 2019. That award has existed in Ohio since 1988 and Curtis is the first Cincinnati recruit to win it.

“I love his competitive spirit,” said Coach Cronin. “He really loves basketball and loves to compete and I’ve seen him play at the highest levels of AAU and summer camps against the nation’s best players.”

Samari Curtis profile pic

The most impressive aspect of Curtis’ game the night I watched him play was his ability to drive toward the basket at high speed with either hand, abruptly hit the brakes, and softly float in a mid-range jump shot.

“I’ve really tried to develop that over the last couple of years,” Samari told me. “I know you have that at the next level.”

“He probably does that better than anything,” said Coach Anderson. “From 12 to 15 feet, he’ll stop on a dime and pull up. He just has such good body control and he can finish around the rim with either hand.”

For the season, Curtis shot approximately 52% overall, 33% from outside the arc, and 77% from the free throw line. He also averaged 5.8 assists to rank second in the Greater Western Ohio Conference.

“He can score any way,” said Coach Anderson. “Three pointers, mid-range, attack the rim, and at the free throw line. There’s really no weak part of his offensive game. As he gets stronger and gets down there in Coach Cronin’s system, I just think the UC fans are going to love him and he’s going to love the atmosphere at Fifth Third Arena.”

Curtis verbally committed to Xavier in February of last year, before reopening his recruitment and signing with Cincinnati in November.

“I think he’s going to be the ideal Bearcat – I really do,” said Anderson. “When he made the switch I thought it was the right fit for him.”

Coach Cronin is hoping that Curtis can contribute right away next season.

“You hope that every recruit can play a significant role right away,” Mick told me. “Samari has great ball skills for a guy that’s 6-foot-4,” said Cronin. “He can pass it, he can handle it, and he can shoot it mid-range, long range, and get to the rim. He’s a high level talent. The adjustment for him will be the speed of the game, the guys he is playing against, and the physicality of the college level. You’ve got to be able to play defense and take care of the ball. If you can do that, it doesn’t matter what grade you’re in.”

Curtis says he is looking forward to getting to Cincinnati and getting to work.

“I’m excited for them to help me get better,” he said. “I know that Coach Cronin, Coach Jackson, and the rest of the staff are going to keep it real with me and help me get better every day. That’s what I love.”

“When Coach Cronin came to our gym a year and a half ago to try to recruit him, he looked him dead in the eye was just honest with him.” said Anderson. “Rather than give him some con job he was brutally honest and it ultimately it paid off for UC and it paid off for Samari because I just think it’s the perfect fit for him.”

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There’s A Freak In The Bearcats Secondary

For roughly 15 years, national college football writer Bruce Feldman has put out his “Freaks List.” In Feldman’s words, freaks have “rare physical abilities that wow even those folks who are used to observing gifted athletes every day.”

His top-listed freak last year was Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. A few years ago it was SMU defensive end (and eventual Bengals draft pick) Margus Hunt.

Wiggins

This year, Feldman put out a list of the Top 50 college football freaks for The Athletic and it includes Bearcats safety James Wiggins who is 33rd on the list.

Here’s what Feldman wrote about the UC sophomore:

“One of the higher-ranked recruits Cincinnati has signed in recent years, the 5-11, 205-pound one-time Miami commit from South Florida is super strong for his size. He benches 405, squats 675 and has tremendous burst, broad jumping 11-0, vertical leaping 37 inches and timing 4.40 in the 40.”

Wiggins was flattered to be included on a list of the top physical freaks in college football.

“I didn’t know that I was going to be on it until (football sports performance) Coach Brady (Collins) told me to go online and check out the freak list,” Wiggins said. “I saw my name and I was surprised. I’m really thankful for what the weight staff did for me in getting me stronger and faster.”

“He’s one of the freakiest kids I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Collins.

Wiggins says his teammates have started calling him “Freak,” but Collins prefers a different nickname.

“I like to call him ‘Mr. Smiley,’” Brady told me. “He makes my day better. When he smiles, I smile. He’s a great kid and I’m so happy and proud of him. I can’t wait to keep coaching him for the next two years.”

Wiggins redshirted in 2016 and saw limited action in 10 games last season – mostly on special teams.

“Last year I had a meniscus injury that took me out of camp,” he said. “So I came back late and was down the depth chart. But the coaches told me to keep grinding and everything would work out. I got my name out through special teams and now I’m here.”

“He’s got as much ability as pretty much any safety that I’ve been around,” said head coach Luke Fickell. “There’s still a long way to go, but he has the raw natural talent. The ability to learn the football game is where we’re still trying to grow and he hasn’t done it on a Saturday just yet. But I see great growth in him. And I don’t just mean as an athlete – he’s always been that. But his confidence in understanding and playing the game of football.”

Wiggins played wide receiver, quarterback, cornerback, safety, and outside linebacker in high school and credits safeties coach Jon Tenuta for helping him grasp the finer points of secondary play.

“It’s gotten a lot better – especially with Coach Tenuta,” Wiggins said. “He’s a smart man and he made me understand formations and how the game goes. Since I’ve been with him my football I.Q. has gotten way better.”

Wiggins and fellow sophomore Darrick Forrest have been the safeties on the first-team defense at training camp.

“They’ve taken most of the (starting) reps and I feel confident about them and their growth,” said Fickell. “We have to figure it out as we go and create some competition for who the backups will be.”

Wiggins could be a fixture in the Bearcats secondary for the next three seasons, meaning he also has three years to climb Feldman’s list of the top physical freaks in college football.

So how high could he go?

“You know what? He could easily be number one,” said Collins. “If he puts together a good year on the field and we do as well, there’s no doubt about it. He’s number one in my heart. I can’t wait to see what else freakish he can do.”

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Campbell Returns For 6th Year To Lead O-Line

One of the first lessons that athletes receive in youth sports is to never quit.

But two seasons into his UC football career, Garrett Campbell was told by athletics trainer Bob Mangine that he should consider quitting due to knee and back injuries.

Garrett Campbell

“Bob sat me down with my parents,” Campbell said. “He said, ‘You’re at a very susceptible point. I don’t know how much more your body can take and I don’t know how long you can last. It’s a big risk. You might get to play for one or one-and-a-half years here. Is that worth it for you?’”

For the former St. Xavier High School standout the answer was yes.

“I love the game of football and I couldn’t turn my back to it,” Garrett told me. “I talked to my parents for a while and we all decided that it wasn’t time for me to leave yet. Bar none, it was the greatest decision I’ve ever made.

“I’ve had no problems since. It’s been wonderful. The strength staff has always taken care of me and all of my needs if something is sore or something is bothering me. My body feels great and I never thought it would.”

Since his injuries prevented him from playing in his first two seasons at Cincinnati (2013-14), Campbell has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He was recently named to the watch list for the Allstate/AFCA Good Works Team and the Wuerffel Trophy, two awards which recognize players for the on- and off-field contributions to their school and community.

“You know what’s unbelievable?” he said. “I asked some of the incoming freshman this spring, ‘Where were you in 2013?’ And some of these guys were saying, ‘I was just starting my seventh grade year.’ I said, ‘When you started your seventh grade year, I was starting my first year of ball here at Cincinnati.’ That’s unbelievably mind-blowing to me. It flies by. I still feel like it’s my first or second year here.”

Campbell joined the Bearcats as a preferred walk-on before being awarded a scholarship prior to last season. His return for a sixth year means that the Bearcats will have a veteran back who started every game at left guard last season.

“Any time you can have a guy back who is going into his sixth year and has started every game for the last year, it gives your group a guy that they can lean on,” said offensive line coach Ron Crook. “A guy who has seen everything and has been through everything.”

“Garrett coming back gives up a lot of stability,” said head coach Luke Fickell. “He’s a guy that’s been here for a while and played a lot of ball for us.”

When the 23-year-old arrived at UC, he wasn’t sure that he would play at all.

“I always tell this to the young guys,” Campbell said. “I used to watch the upperclassmen on film and I would see them move so quick and react so quick and I was like, ‘I will never reach that point. I’ll never get there.’ Now when I see myself on film, it’s like, ‘Is that me? Am I doing that?’ It’s a dream come true to see myself in those shoes now.”

“He’s very methodical about everything that he does,” said Crook. “He’s prepared, he works hard, he takes great notes in the meetings and he watches a lot of film on his own. Because of that preparedness and because of the way he approaches things, he puts himself in a really good position when he goes out on the field.”

Campbell is also a success story off of the field. He earned his undergraduate degree last December and posted a perfect 4.0 GPA in the spring semester.

“I have dreams of pursuing med school after this,” he said. “I’ve already graduated with my pre-med degree and now I’m actually working with Bob Mangine down in the training room on a research study with the UC track athletes which has been a phenomenal experience for me. Getting real life experience like that and possibly being involved in a medical journal is going to help me in the long run. It’s really setting me up for the future.”

But first he has a sixth and final year of college football to look forward to.

“My first couple of years were hard,” Garrett told me. “I’ve had three different offensive line coaches here and two head coaches. That’s been difficult and a blessing for me. All of the coaches bring in a lot of great stuff that I can pick and pull from to develop my technique. But the downside is changing every year and re-learning a coach and his system. Under some I thrived and under some I didn’t. Under the ones I didn’t, it was a grind. I was really in the pits and didn’t love football at the time. But I knew that it wasn’t time for me to quit. I knew that there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. So I knew that I had to keep pushing through it and when Coach Crook came, it was that pot of gold. It’s been an unbelievable experience and I’ve really connected with him. He’s a great coach and a great guy and for me it was a turnaround.

“The one regret that I have is that I couldn’t get five or six years with this staff. I don’t know where I would be now if they were here.”

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Barkley Brings Experience To Backup Battle

When free agent quarterback Matt Barkley signed a two-year deal with the Bengals in March, he joined his fifth NFL team in six professional seasons.

So how does he possibly keep that many playbooks straight?

“I like to think of the plays and concepts as geometric patterns,” he told me. “You learn to forget and learn terminology.

“I think it’s an easy way to visualize it. Football in general is a game of angles and geometric patterns. It’s seeing the distance and relationship between players and where they are on the field.”

Matt Barkley Bengals

But Barkley doesn’t strictly have to rely on geometry to learn the Bengals’ playbook. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was his quarterback’s coach when Matt was a rookie with the Eagles in 2013.

“There are elements of what we did in Philadelphia and there are elements of the west coast passing game that I’ve done in other offenses too,” said Barkley. “I think my experience will help a lot.

“(Coach Lazor) is one of the reasons why I was attracted to sign here. I’ve so far loved my time being with him – he’s a guy that shoots you straight and isn’t going to sugarcoat things. He’s not a ‘yes’ man and I don’t like coaches like that. I like someone who will spur you on and goad you when they need to motivate you.”

Following the departure of AJ McCarron as a free agent to Buffalo, the Bengals need a backup quarterback behind Andy Dalton. Barkley has played in 11 NFL games, including six starts for the Bears in 2016, and will battle for the backup role in training camp with incumbent Jeff Driskel and rookie Logan Woodside.

“We played against him when he was with Chicago and I was in Green Bay,” said quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt. “It took us to the last play of the game to beat him. He had a heck of a game that day (30-for-43, 362 yards, 2 TD).

“He’s a veteran guy who has had some starting experience. His arm strength is good, he threw the ball well (in minicamp), and we’re just getting him more in tune with the footwork and timing of the routes that we have in this system. But that’s coming.”

In addition to his prior relationship with Lazor, Barkley has known Dalton for several years having trained together in Los Angeles under quarterbacks’ guru Tom House.

“I’ve known Andy for four or five years now,” Barkley said. “We’ve trained together in the off-season and done a bunch of different events over the years. I knew it would be a good QB room and a system that would fit me well.”

“I’ve enjoyed having him around,” said Dalton. “He’s been in several different systems, been around the league a little bit, and been on different teams so he can pull on past experiences. And he’s played too. It’s cool when you get a guy that you’ve gotten to know over the years to come join your group.

“We’ve got a good room. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out once preseason starts.”

Matt Barkley USC

Barkley was a four-year starter at USC and finished 6th in the Heisman Trophy race as a junior in 2011. He was selected by Philadelphia in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, but the Bengals had him graded considerably higher.

“I haven’t spoken a lot to Mr. Brown but he kind of mentioned that indirectly one of the first weeks that I was here,” said Barkley. “I wish they would have picked me up earlier, but that’s how it goes sometimes. I’m glad to be here now.”

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Sizing Up Glenn

In a league filled with genetic giants, Bengals offensive lineman Cordy Glenn stands out.

Cordy Glenn Bengals

“He’s huge,” said quarterback Andy Dalton. “I saw him in a picture standing next to Clint (Boling) and Clint is a big guy, and he’s like twice the size of Clint. He’s a large human. There aren’t many people built like him.”

Following a Bengals practice in June, I tweeted a photo of Glenn walking off the practice field next to Geno Atkins. The angle of the photo was slightly deceiving, but the 6’1”, 300 pound Atkins looked miniscule in comparison to Glenn who is listed at 6’6”, 345 pounds.

That photo has been re-tweeted more than 400 times and even inspired a “how big is Cordy Glenn?” meme.

“It’s like trying to run around a condo when he sets up to pass protect,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham. “He’s taking up the entire property out there. And the good thing about it is he’s not a stiff. He has good feet, he’s very nimble, he can pull, and when he’s out in space he can redirect that big body on the smaller defensive backs. He’s a very athletic guy.”

“For a guy his size to have his athletic ability is pretty special,” said Dalton.

Bills 49ers

Glenn spent his first six NFL seasons in Buffalo before being traded to the Bengals in a swap involving draft picks in March. Before missing 15 games over the past two seasons due to foot and ankle injuries, the former second round pick was considered one of the best young tackles in the league.

Glenn, who turns 29 in September, appeared to have no lingering injury problems during the Bengals’ OTAs and minicamp.

“He got cleared with his ankle and foot issues so we’re easing him back in as he gets more in playing shape,” said offensive line coach Frank Pollack. “He’s a good player when he’s healthy and he’s proven that in the league. We’re excited to have him.”

And Glenn is excited to join a new team.

“This is my first time so I am still feeling everything out, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have a fresh start,” he said. “You have to learn stuff all over and start a new routine, but it’s definitely something that I am looking forward to.

“Just being somewhere where you are wanted is the real key. It makes the adjustment a little smoother for you.”

Glenn has three years remaining on a 5-year, $60 million contract, although team options would allow the Bengals to move on without a salary cap hit after each of the next two seasons if Glenn’s injury woes return.

But the Bengals are hopeful that they have solidified a critical position for the next several years.

“If healthy and he doesn’t have a crack in that foundation and that foot is totally 100 percent, the left tackle position is going to be in good shape,” said Lapham. “He’s going to man that very effectively.”

“Cordy fits exactly what we want in that position,” said Dalton.

He’s a massive man looking to help solve the Bengals’ biggest weakness last year – subpar play on the offensive line.

“You always want to go into the season with something to prove and a chip on your shoulder,” Cordy told me. “So I definitely have stuff to prove and I am looking forward to playing this season.”

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Bengals Hope New Team Means Old Baker

When the Bengals and Redskins played to a 27-27 overtime tie in London two seasons ago, one of the best players on the field that day was Washington defensive lineman Chris Baker.

Chris Baker vs Bengals

Baker had a sack, five solo tackles, and forced a fumble on the Bengals’ final possession in OT on a quarterback sneak by Andy Dalton.

The eight-year NFL veteran made sure that the Bengals remembered that performance when he became a free agent in February.

“When I came here for my visit I was talking to Marvin and I said, ‘You guys have to sign me so I won’t kill you again,’” said Baker with a laugh.

Baker had five productive seasons in Washington (2012-16) before signing a three-year, $15.75 million free agent contract with Tampa Bay prior to last season. But after a disappointing season with the Buccaneers, Baker was cut and signed a one-year, $3 million deal with Cincinnati.

“I didn’t play as well as I needed to play and didn’t play to the standard that I know I can play at,” Baker said. “But I’m happy to be here and have a fresh start. I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m down to 305 and I haven’t been this light since college.”

The Bengals coaching staff knows what Baker is capable of and it has little to do with the overtime tie in London. Defensive line coach Jacob Burney and linebackers coach Jim Haslett both coached him in Washington.

“Chris is really athletic,” said Burney. “He’s a big man that can move. He’s got his weight down and he’s feeling good, so we’re expecting him to be what he was a couple of years back.”

“Hopefully we’re getting the Chris that played for us in Washington,” said Haslett. “He’s really athletic, he’s got great strength and explosiveness, and we thought he was a heck of a player. He’s got good pass rush skills and he’s good on the run.”

“Those guys had me from the time I was on the practice squad to being the best defensive lineman on the Redskins’ team,” said Baker. “They groomed me and really believed in me.”

Baker was listed at 320 pounds last year in Tampa and his subpar season included a Week 16 incident where some of his teammates were reportedly angry that he didn’t show enough remorse following a critical mistake in a 22-19 loss to Carolina.

“I jumped off-sides on a crucial down and we wound up losing the game because they scored on the next play,” said Baker. “When you’re losing, people tend to get angrier and nobody is happy when you lose. We just had an argument in the locker room which is common – especially when you lose. But it just happened that reporters were there and wrote a story on it.

“It really wasn’t as bad as people thought. We exchanged some words, we got in the shower, and we talked it out, and it was cool. There was no beef or no ill will toward another person. It was just a misunderstanding but we’re all good.”

Wild Card Round - Green Bay Packers v Washington Redskins

Baker was a fan favorite in Washington for his bubbly personality and was also a favorite of the analysts at ProFootballFocus.com during his final two seasons with the Redskins when he had 9.5 sacks and forced 5 fumbles. That website recently included Baker joining the Bengals in an article titled, “Five low-key free agency moves that could have a big impact.”

“I know the type of player that I am capable of being if I am given the opportunity to go out there and show what I can do,” Baker told me. “I know I can return to being one of the best defensive tackles in this game. I’m working my butt off each and every day and now that I’m with a coaching staff that believes in my ability, I’ll show everybody what I can do.”

Following the departures of Pat Sims and Chris Smith, the 30-year-old Baker will go to training camp battling with Andrew Billings, Andrew Brown, Ryan Glasgow, Chris Okoye, and Josh Tupou for the opportunity to line up next to Geno Atkins at defensive tackle.

“He realizes that he has to prove it,” said Burney. “I do have a history with him, but guess what – that doesn’t mean anything. It’s what he does now.

“He’s more mature now. He understands that he doesn’t have as much time as he had before. So I believe we’re getting him at a good time, but he still has to prove it.”

“If we’re getting the Chris that I hope we’re getting, we’re getting a good football player,” said Haslett.

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Tate Will Try To Reach Roster

Rookie Auden Tate made a big impression at the Bengals’ minicamp in mid-June.

Emphasis on BIG.

Auden Tate Bengals

The 6’5”, 228 pound wide receiver out of Florida State made several jaw-dropping touchdown catches that had his fellow receivers raving.

“Unbelievable,” said A.J. Green. “We call him a young Brandon Marshall. The guy has unbelievable hands, he’s big (with) great body control. He had a very good (minicamp).”

“His catch radius is ridiculous,” said John Ross. “It looks like the ball is always out of reach with him but it’s never out of reach. He’s going to be something serious.”

The Bengals drafted Tate in the seventh round with the 253rd overall pick. He’s not a speedster as the 21-year-old ran a 4.68 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he doesn’t have to be with his height and 33 ¾” arms.

“He can separate,” said wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell. “He’s not the fastest guy in the world and I’m not going to say that he is, but he moves well and he’s got really good quickness at the top of the break.

“He’s got a lot of things that you can’t teach. He’s got unbelievable size. He’s got really good body control. He’s got some quickness and he catches the ball the way that he caught it on film when we evaluated him. The first thing I saw with him is that he catches everything and that’s obviously important for us.”

Auden Tate FSU

Tate led the ACC with 10 touchdown catches last season and 16 of his 65 receptions (25%) in two seasons at FSU went for scores. In Cincinnati’s most recent minicamp, Tate was frequently targeted in red zone drills.

“That’s how I started at Florida State and then just kind of built my role from there,” he said. “That’s probably how it’s going to go here.”

“Every time the ball is thrown to him he catches it,” said Bicknell. “He just really did a great job of catching the football – framing the ball, natural hands, and being strong and competitive.”

Tate made several contested catches where the ball was thrown to a spot where only he could reach it.

“It made me feel really good,” he said. “It’s just building trust and chemistry with them knowing that if everything is broken down they can just give me a chance.”

“He can get to some places on the field that a lot of guys can’t reach,” said Bicknell.

Tate’s strong showing at the June minicamp gave him confidence that he can play in the NFL.

“You never know until you get out there,” he said. “Now I know that I can really play with them it just takes a lot of stress off of me, so I’ll just go out there and play my game.”

“I’m excited about him,” said Bicknell. “I think he’s got to come back and have a great summer camp obviously, but he’s started off well.”

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