Bengals Add Willis To D-Line In 3rd Round

As he sat at home in Kansas City, Jordan Willis thought there was a chance that he would be drafted in the second half of the first round.

“Me and my agent kept an open mind about what could happen,” said Willis. “He gave me a range of (picks) 19 to 45.”

Jordan Willis

As it turned out, the Bengals were able to land the Kansas State defensive end in the third round with the 73rd overall pick.

“He was in our conversation all day today,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “Both the coaches and the scouts had him graded above where we took him. We feel like it was great value.”

“I don’t know exactly why I got to the point that I’m at, and why some teams passed on me,” said Willis. “Some of the players that did go ahead of me kind of shocked me.

“I’ve lived in the world of ‘chip on my shoulder.’ I’ve been there at Kansas State, I’ve been there at the high school that I went to – that’s been my whole life so it’s not really any different.”

“We really feel fortunate to be able to pick Jordan Willis here,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “Throughout his career at Kansas State he’s been a big producer for them and then I think he had an outstanding end-of-season bowl game, Senior Bowl, and then what he did at Indianapolis to confirm some of his physical tools.”

At 6’4”, 258 pounds, Willis ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any defensive lineman at the Combine as he was timed at 4.53 seconds. The only player at his position to top his 39-inch vertical jump was the number one overall pick Myles Garrett.

“I try to look at a lot of the guys before I go to the Combine even if it’s just a little snippet,” said Guenther. “But when you go there, three or four guys at each position catch your eye and you come back here and go to the tape and really study the guy. That’s what we did with him.”

Willis earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior as he led the conference with 11.5 sacks while adding 17.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.

“He plays with good hand placement, a flat back, nice eyes, good leverage, good knee bend – he’s got good fundamentals,” said defensive line coach Jacob Burney.

“The thing that jumps off the tape is just how relentless the guy plays,” said Guenther. “He’s a no-nonsense kid, he comes to work every day, and he takes care of his body. There are no marks on this guy. He’s our kind of guy.”

“Some guys are polished when they get to the NFL and some guys aren’t,” said Willis. “I’m still polishing up my game every day to be the absolute best that I can be.”

The Bengals are hoping that Willis can contribute immediately by moving into the rotation on the opposite side of Carlos Dunlap at right defensive end.

“He’s going to start from the back and work his way in just like all of the guys that come in here,” said Guenther. “But even having an extra guy at defensive end takes some of the snaps off the guys that we have and makes everybody fresh. He’s not just a pass rusher. He can play all downs. He’s a good guy to have in your arsenal.”

“They’re bringing me in obviously to get after the passer so that’s what I need to focus on,” said Willis.

Willis, who turns 22 next Tuesday, played mostly on the left side at Kansas State, but the Bengals say he should have no trouble switching sides.

“He played mostly on the left, but he played up and down the line,” said Burney. “He’s been inside and he’s been on the right side. He’s got some versatility.

“He’s a student of the game. He really studies the tackles and he’s relentless. There’s tremendous upside with this guy.”

And after finishing third in Kansas State history with 26 career sacks, Willis is determined to prove that he should have been drafted higher.

“I do think I’m underrated,” he said. “But sometimes that’s the hand you’re dealt. You can’t change it, you just have to work from here. I’ve been there at Kansas State and I’m used to hard work. That’s what I think I bring to the table.”

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Ross, Bengals Run Into History

John Ross’ life changed in 4.22 seconds.

That was the wide receiver’s time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, breaking the record of 4.24 seconds set by Chris Johnson in 2008.

(Watch his 40-yard dash here)

“I was thankful for the attention because it was positive,” said Ross. “I think it got me a little more notice – not just from fans but from teams.”

“4.22 – enough said,” said NFL Network’s Mike Mayock and the Bengals finished the sentence Thursday night when they took him with the ninth pick in the NFL Draft.

But the downside to that attention is that people assume that Ross is strictly a deep threat, despite having 81 catches for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns last season at Washington.

“I still feel like I fight that every single day just because people don’t believe in me in that way,” said Ross. “Just revert back to the film. A lot of my touchdowns were in the red zone and a lot of teams took away the deep ball with cover two coverage. In our offense that made us convert a lot of our routes, so it made me hone in on the intermediate routes and work harder on that aspect of the game.”

“It’s impossible not to talk about his speed when he ran the fastest 40 time ever right?” asked Bengals receivers coach James Urban. “But he can stop – that’s equally important. If you can go that fast and stop and transition…then you have the ability not to just go over the top but to separate underneath. That’s where he jumps out on film.”

John Ross

Ross visited Paul Brown Stadium two weeks ago to visit with Bengals coaches and came away thinking that he could be drafted by Cincinnati.

“I got that vibe when I was there,” he said. “I called my agent immediately and told him how great I felt about that job interview. I told him, ‘Don’t be surprised on draft day if the phone rings and I’ll be a Cincinnati Bengal.’

“I expected to go in the top ten. I felt like I have top ten talent. I felt like the only thing that was holding me back was the speculation about my injuries.”

Ross missed the 2015 season with a torn ACL and had surgery after the Combine to repair a labrum tear in his shoulder. The 21-year-old says he’s on schedule to be ready for training camp and the knee injury obviously hasn’t slowed him down.

“I feel like after I tore my knee I got much faster,” said Ross. “I started to work on leg muscles that I didn’t get a chance to work on before and my trainers kept telling me, ‘You’re going to be faster.’ I kept looking at them like they had something on their face because that just didn’t sound right.”

Those trainers were proven right when Ross posted his record 40-yard dash time at the Combine and it could have earned him a highly unusual prize.

Adidas had offered an island to any prospect that broke Chris Johnson’s record while wearing the company’s cleats and then agreeing to endorse Adidas shoes. Ross was wearing Nike shoes and says he doesn’t regret it.

“Not at all,” he said. “Nike is an amazing brand and I’ve been wearing Nike all of my life. I feel like the island was for people who were focused on something that seemed unattainable. That wasn’t my goal or my focus. My goal was to go in and compete and to run the fastest time at the combine.”

Despite his record-setting sprint in Indianapolis, Ross is not a former track star. He only ran track for one year in high school before quitting the sport.

“This might sound funny, but I definitely didn’t like running,” said Ross. “I felt like in track they had us out there running for no reason and it didn’t seem fun.”

But it’s very enjoyable on the way to the end zone.

“It feels good to know that you can run by people and not be caught,” he said. “I think it’s something that everybody would like. I’m thankful.”

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Tyson Hopes To Hear Name In NFL Draft

In the classic children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” young Charlie Bucket finds a golden ticket in a Wonka Bar.

For former Bearcats football player Mike Tyson, the golden ticket to the NFL Scouting Combine arrived in his inbox.

Mike Tyson combine

“I got an email in December so I got one of the early invites,” said Tyson. “I was home in Virginia when I got the email and I looked at it and it said ‘Congratulations.’ I was so excited that I was crying and everything. It was one of the best emails that I ever got.

“The combine was a great experience. Getting the exposure, meeting all of the players from the other schools, and getting a feel for how everything will be when you’re around NFL coaches. It was fun.”

(Click here to watch his combine workout)

The 6’1”, 204 pound safety was timed at 4.56 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, did 17 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press, and had a vertical jump of 33 inches.

“I honestly think I did well in everything, but the defensive back drills were probably the thing I did best,” Mike told me. “Since I played nickel (at Cincinnati), teams wanted to see if I could play safety – can I move my hips and stuff like that. I did really well. So I’m pretty satisfied with what I did.

“You never know who’s watching at the combine. You have to be ready to do whatever – long days, long nights, less sleep, whatever they ask. You don’t know what you’re in for to be honest with you. You hear the rumors but you don’t know until you’re actually there. It was a blessing to be one of the 330 people invited. I wish there could have been more of my teammates, but it was a blessing to represent the University of Cincinnati.”

East Carolina v Cincinnati

Although the Bearcats had a disappointing year in 2016 going 4-8, Tyson had an excellent season as he led UC with five interceptions and finished sixth on the team in tackles.

In February, listed Tyson as “one of five players who could impress during the combine” and wrote the following:

Make no mistake, this kid is capable of making a name for himself. He’s an intelligent safety, rarely out of position and always close to the ball. He’s as seasoned as any safety in the draft, as he started accruing snaps early as a freshman. Athletically, look for him to hang with the top prospects in his position group, while his knowledge of the game and maturity set him apart during the interview process. He has all of the makings of a solid, long-term starter at the next level.

One thing that should work in Tyson’s favor is the versatility that he displayed at Cincinnati. As the nickel in the Bearcats’ 4-2-5 base defense under the former coaching staff, Mike was a hybrid linebacker/safety who played a key role in stopping the run but also had to defend slot receivers in pass coverage.

“That ability is important to NFL teams because of all the talent you have at slot receiver,” said Tyson. “You’ve got big, fast, athletic tight ends. You’ve got tall outside receivers moving inside. And you’ve got a bunch of small, skimpy types of dudes. It was good exposure for me and shows that you can hold your own. As a safety I’m comfortable moving into the box to stop the run if they want to do that. Or if they want to use me as a defensive back in the nickel or the dime they know I can do that. Whatever they need me to do.”

The three-day NFL draft begins on Thursday and while Tyson hopes to hear his name called, he knows that he doesn’t need to get drafted to make an NFL roster.

“I’m not the type of guy to try to get my hopes up,” said Tyson. “I’m hearing middle rounds is possible, but we’ll see what happens. I know I’m going to be in somebody’s camp – that’s a guarantee. Hopefully I’ll get drafted but if I don’t, it’s no big deal. I’ll still go to somebody’s camp and prove what I have.”

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Bengals Kick Off 50th Year Celebration

(I was given the opportunity to co-host the Bengals 50th Anniversary Kickoff Celebration on Thursday with my broadcasting partner Dave Lapham. Here were my opening remarks. Who Dey!)

The year was 1968.

Three US Astronauts orbited the moon.

A gallon of gas was 34 cents. The first Big Mac went on sale that year for 49 cents.

Simon and Garfunkel had us singing “Here’s to you Mrs. Robinson…”

Gomer Pyle had us laughing in front of the TV

And Rosemary’s Baby scared the you-know-what out of us at the movie theater.

And on a Friday night, September 6th of that year, the Cincinnati Bengals played their first regular season game.

In the 49 seasons since, Bengals fans have watched Ken Anderson pick apart defenses with pinpoint accuracy and Boomer Esiason expertly run the no-huddle.

We’ve seen Tim Krumrie play hurt, Carson Palmer launch spirals, and Ickey Woods do the shuffle.

But we never saw Jim Breech miss an overtime field goal attempt.

We’ve cheered for Bob, Pete, Rudi, Michael and a total of 26 players named Johnson…including one who changed that to Ocho Cinco.

And this year we’ll cheer for current stars like AJ Green, Andy Dalton, Tyler Eifert, Geno Atkins, and Carlos Dunlap.

We’ll never forget the minus 59-degree wind chill at the Freezer Bowl…Corey Dillon running angry for 278 yards…or “you don’t live in Cleveland!”

Not to mention trips to Super Bowl 16 in Pontiac and Super Bowl 23 in Miami.

Feel free to forget Montana to Taylor.

We can proudly say that the greatest offensive lineman of all-time played for the Bengals … Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz … and this franchise would not exist if not for the most innovative coach of all-time…perhaps in any sport…the Bengals founder and first head coach Paul Brown.

The Bengals Golden Anniversary season begins at home on September 10th vs. Baltimore. Here’s hoping it ends on February 4th at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.



Mouhon Ends At Right Position

Kevin Mouhon was one of Cincinnati’s most productive defensive ends last season, leading the team with 9.5 tackles-for-loss. But when the Bearcats opened spring practice under new head coach Luke Fickell, Mouhon took the field at linebacker where he had starred in high school.

The experiment lasted for one week.

“I was hoping to make the transition back to linebacker,” Kevin told me. “But we already had a lot of depth at linebacker and I spent last season at defensive end. So Coach Fickell talked to me and said, ‘I know the position just for you – jack linebacker.’ I really love the position.”

Here’s where it gets a little confusing. The “jack” linebacker is primarily a defensive end who has the ability to drop back in pass coverage.

“I think we put him back at his home,” said Fickell. “Some of our third down stuff gives him the ability to stand up and do some of those (linebacker) things, so he still has the ability to show what he can do. But I think he’s most natural with his hand on the ground going forward. After a week I kind of sat down and talked with him and told him that I thought he was one of our best 11 guys. He brings the things that we want – the effort and the energy. We want to put him at a position where I think he can be most successful.”


The return to defensive end puts Mouhon under the tutelage of new defensive line coach Al Washington who had the same title last year at Boston College. Under Washington, the Eagles finished second in the nation in sacks and sixth in tackles-for-loss.

“Mouhon is a very intelligent football player,” said Washington. “He has great instincts, he’s very explosive, and what we’re trying to do right now is develop the fundamentals so that he can become more consistent. I think he’s a first, second, and third down defensive end. Whatever you tell the kid to do, he’ll do it and I’m very excited to see his development.”

“I’m looking to have more TFLs and sacks this year and build on the repertoire of the things I can do,” said Mouhon.

Kevin is the younger brother of former UC defensive end Silverberry Mouhon and was one of the most highly-touted recruits to sign with Cincinnati in recent years. Kevin played in the prestigious Army All-American game following his senior year of high school and chose UC over Tennessee, Florida State, and Ohio State among others.

“All of that hype was just high school hype,” Mouhon told me. “That can have a negative impact on a player. When I came in I wasn’t really mature yet and that really took a toll on me. I wish I would have had a fresh start and not have come in the way that I came in. But I’m definitely more humble now and I’m just trying to make plays and build up my name again.”

And he’s confident that he’s been put in the right position on defense to do so.

“I was at linebacker at the beginning of camp, but Coach Fickell had a better idea for me with the jack linebacker spot,” said Mouhon. “I feel like I can make big plays at jack linebacker and help the team overall.”

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Speed Trumps Size For LB Young

Perry Young does not have the size of a prototypical linebacker.

Perry Young vs temple

“I am 5’10½” – 5’11” on a good day – and I weigh 210,” Perry told me with a laugh. “I base my whole game on being fast and physical and finding the ball. Most of the time that makes up for my height and weight.”

Young is sufficiently athletic that if he were a few inches taller and about 20 pounds heavier, I suspect that the sophomore from Birmingham, AL might be playing for Alabama or Auburn instead of Cincinnati.

“Everything happens for a reason,” said Young. “God didn’t make me 240 pounds and a little taller for some reason and I feel like I followed the right path. I really love it here and I’m just thankful that I’m here.”

The Bearcats’ new coaching staff is happy to have him. Despite receiving limited playing time as a freshman, Young tied for eighth on the team in tackles last season and he’s been working with the first unit at outside linebacker during spring practice.

“If you’re not physical you can’t play linebacker,” said defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. “I don’t care how big he is, he’s physical enough and athletic enough to play the linebacker position at a high level.”

Young was recruited as a defensive back, but quickly changed positions.

“I came in as a nickel or safety, but as time went by they saw that I was a pretty physical kid,” said Young. “When I was matched up with wideouts I used to beat them up first and cover later. So they said, ‘Hey, do you want to try linebacker out?’ I’ve been playing it ever since and I really enjoy it.”

Under the previous coaching staff the Bearcats’ base defense was a 4-2-5 alignment where the fifth defensive back was a hybrid safety/linebacker. But that is not how Young is expected to be used in 2017.

“In our defense we consider him an outside linebacker,” said Freeman. “I know that there are different terms, but it’s all about what you’re asking that guy to do. In our defense we’re asking him to do a lot. It’s a specific type of player to play that SAM linebacker position, but we consider him a linebacker.”

Young is learning the nuances of the position from Freeman who was a second team All-Big Ten linebacker at Ohio State in 2008 and a fifth-round draft pick by the Chicago Bears.

“It’s a difficult position at first, but Coach Freeman is taking the time to coach me and all of the other SAM linebackers,” said Young. “Our defense is based on it being a physical and simple game. They’re doing a good job of coaching it because it’s coming natural to us.

“Coach Freeman is a really high-tempo guy. He’s young and he knows how to relate to the players. I feel like I can always go to him when I have a problem. I feel really comfortable around him and I feel like he always wants to talk to us. I think he’s a really great guy and I’m looking to him being my coach for the next few years.”

Freeman won’t have to worry about Young giving maximum effort.

“Perry is a guy that no matter whether he is right or wrong, he’s just going,” said Freeman. “That’s what we preach around here – effort and attitude. He’s a guy that gives 100% effort every time that he’s on the field.”

When I spoke with Young after a recent practice, it appeared that he didn’t want to leave the field.

“I love being out here, love the contact, and love the high energy,” he said. “Yeah we’re going to get tired, but if you love it, you really just want to go hard for yourself and all of your brothers out here. There’s never a moment where I’m not smiling or dancing around when I’m out there.

“I’m actually sad that practice is over.”

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Cogswell Hopes For Expanded Role In 2017

When Luke Fickell hired Mike Denbrock to be his offense coordinator at Cincinnati, UC tight end Tyler Cogswell immediately went to Google to learn more about the former Notre Dame assistant coach.

“That was the first thing I did,” said Cogswell. “I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I had no idea he had been the tight ends coach. I saw that and it was an eye-popper.’

Especially after seeing that Denbrock had coached four NFL tight ends at Notre Dame including Pro Bowlers Tyler Eifert and Kyle Rudolph.

“It’s awesome having a guy that taught and produced tight ends like that,” said Cogswell. “Knowing how much productivity they had at the college level was awesome to see.

“With his knowledge and experience with all of the tight ends that he produced at Notre Dame and with (UC tight ends coach Doug) Phillips teaching us and having them combined – it’s really been fun. I’ve already learned so much. I’ve been able to watch film of so many guys that Coach Denbrock has produced. It’s fun hearing his insight on how to get better every day.”

Denbrock had a wide variety of assignments during his two stints (2002-04 and 2010-16) at Notre Dame. In addition to coaching tight ends, he served as offensive coordinator in 2014 and also coached offensive tackles and wide receivers during his tenure with the Fighting Irish.

A constant during much of his time in South Bend was extensive use of the tight end in the passing game. Should we expect to see that at Cincinnati now that he’s calling the plays?

“We would be excited to have that be a big piece of what we do,” said Denbrock. “That’s kind of what we’re doing out here. We’re determining as we go through spring football some of the pecking order if you will of who is going to earn the chance to touch the football and how we’re going to direct our offense as we move forward.

“We can play with five wide receivers on the field and we can play with three tight ends on the field. It’s just a matter of what gives us the best opportunity to win and that’s kind of what spring ball is about. We’re trying to figure out some of those answers as we go.”

During Cincinnati’s first seven spring practices, Cogswell has been a frequent target in passing drills.

“Tyler has done a fantastic job,” said Denbrock. “I guess I’ve been a little pleasantly surprised by his ability to run and catch the ball. If you watched the last couple of years you obviously didn’t see a lot of the tight end in the passing game. As much as I like to use them, his ability to get down the field and do some things catching the football has been nice to see.”

“We’re getting more opportunities at the tight end position,” said Cogswell. “All of us have caught a lot of balls this spring and I think we’re making the most of it right now. If we can be consistent and keep showing that we can do this on a daily basis, I think it would be big for the team.”

Last year, Cogswell finished with just two catches for 42 yards but he did provide perhaps the biggest offensive highlight of the season. In the final game of the year against Tulsa, the former high school quarterback caught a backward pass from Hayden Moore and then tossed it back across the field to the UC quarterback who ran untouched 29 yards for a touchdown.

But Cogswell’s role in the trick play was overshadowed by the offensive line as all five members intentionally fell to the ground on the first pass before jumping to their feet and providing a clear path for Moore to run into the end zone.

“That was Thanksgiving week so we called the play ‘Turkey,’” said Cogswell. “We practiced it all week and I had no idea that the lineman fell down until we saw it in the game. In practice I was focusing on catching it and throwing it and I didn’t see the lineman fall. The lineman kind of took away from my touchdown a little bit. Everyone was talking about the lineman and I thought I threw a crisp, 45-yard ball across the field. That was fun.”

The senior might not get another opportunity to throw a touchdown pass, but it appears likely that he’ll play a significant role in the Bearcats offense in 2017.

“I love him as an in-line blocker and that’s going to be a great asset to what we do,” said Denbrock. “And we’ve done some things with moving him around in formations and he’s a smart guy and can pick things up very well. It’s exciting what he’s bringing to the table.”

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