From Flag Football To The NFL

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 22, 2016 – 1:19 pm

At this point in the offseason, there are nearly 3,000 players on NFL rosters. I’m guessing that only one of them played intramural flag football in college.

Alex Erickson

Bengals rookie Alex Erickson eventually earned All-Big 10 honors at Wisconsin, but he arrived there without a scholarship and didn’t begin practicing with the Badgers until the spring of his freshman year.

“My first semester at school I wasn’t on the team right away,” Alex told me. “I was coming off of a broken wrist so I probably would have had to sit out most of the first season. So in October of my first year in college, a couple of buddies that I played against in high school asked if I would join their intramural team. I only played in two or three games, but it was fun to get out there and run around a little bit.”

Erickson was a quarterback in high school, rushing for 3,856 yards and 57 touchdowns and passing for 3,648 yards and 37 TDs. He also played defensive back and had 14 interceptions. But after joining the Badgers as a walk-on, Alex gradually became a standout at wide receiver.

“It was just consistency,” said Erickson. “Catching the football consistently, preparing consistently, and getting better every single day. I had never played the position before going to Wisconsin, so I was already behind the eight ball and I had a lot of great guys in front of me. I just tried to focus and learn every day.”

His dedication paid off. Last year Erickson finished second in the Big 10 with 77 receptions – the second-highest total in school history. And while he was not selected in the NFL draft, the 23-year-old from Darlington, Wisconsin quickly signed with the Bengals as a college free agent.

“I had visited down here with Cincinnati, met with the coaching staff and had a good relationship with (receivers coach) James Urban so I felt like it was a great fit,” said Erickson. “The things they saw in me as a player are the things that I would say about myself. The ways they talked about using me here are the same ways that I was used at Wisconsin – inside and outside, being able to play multiple positions, and the special teams’ component is huge. So when I got the call after the draft it was a no-brainer to come down here to Cincinnati. Getting an opportunity to compete for a roster spot with the Bengals is all that I could ask for.”

Erickson isn’t big at 6’0”, 195 pounds and doesn’t have blazing speed as he was timed at 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Wisconsin’s pro day. But he made a strong impression during the Bengals’ OTAs and minicamp.

“Alex Erickson is a smart, crafty, bright-eyed, hard-working football player,” said Urban. “We’ll see how he looks when the pads come on. Sometimes little guys disappear, and sometimes they show up bigger than you ever think. I would not bet against him in any way. I’m anxious to see him in pads.”

“I never felt that if I was bigger I could have more success,” said Erickson. “It is what it is. You’re not going to be able to change what God gave you in that sense, so I’ve never looked at my size as an issue.”

“He gets in and out of cuts with a very low center of gravity and does a good job of creating separation,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham. “There are a lot of abilities that you have to have to be able to play in the National Football League and people look at him and say that he’s not a very big guy or a super-fast guy and that’s why he didn’t get drafted, but there’s reliability and accountability. If I’m a quarterback and I throw the ball Erickson’s way – from what I’ve seen here at the camps he catches it. Nothing has hit the ground that he should have caught. You can have all the speed in the world and all of the route-running ability in the world, but if you can’t catch the football it’s all a moot point. This guy makes plays. Every single practice that I’ve been to, he ends up making plays.”

“I’ve been trying to study the playbook and ask questions,” said Erickson. “They’ve thrown a lot at us and a lot of the playbook is installed, so it’s a constant battle to keep studying and keep looking at your notes and asking questions. You’re not sure how many opportunities you’re going to get, so you’ve got to make the most of every single one of them.”

The free agent departures of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu have obviously created opportunities on the roster at wide receiver and Erickson admits that was a factor when he elected to sign with Cincinnati.

“You obviously have to look at the numbers side of it,” said Erickson. “My agent had it broken down where guys on this team that had played huge roles had left and those spots are going to need to be filled. So I thought it would be a good place to come and compete and try to earn a spot.”

He’ll need to shine in training camp and preseason games to make the Bengals roster or practice squad. But simply having the opportunity represents quite a climb from intramural flag football.

“It’s been a unique journey to say the least, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said.

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LaFell Seeks Second Ring In Cincinnati

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 6, 2016 – 2:46 pm

When veteran wide receiver Brandon LaFell became a free agent this offseason, his goal was to sign with a team that had a chance to win and a good quarterback.

After two weeks of OTA practices with the Bengals, LaFell sounds confident that he found what he was looking for in Cincinnati.

“Definitely man,” he said. “Andy (Dalton) is a great guy and a great young quarterback that’s been producing year in and year out and been getting his team better year in and year out. This team has been winning for the last six or seven years – since Andy’s been in the league and before that when they had Chad (Johnson) and those guys. I wanted to come in to a great situation where I had an opportunity to play with a good quarterback, get a lot of playing time, and to win. Since I’ve been here, that’s all I’ve been seeing.”

LaFell with Bengals (440x315)

LaFell was signed by the Bengals to help fill the holes in the receiving corps left by the departures of free agents Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. With six years of NFL experience and 278 career catches, Brandon is expected to step into the starting lineup opposite A.J. Green.

“I feel like he’s been here for a while and that it isn’t his first year here,” said Dalton. “He came in and picked things up pretty quickly. He’s really going to help us out.

“He’s not asking a ton of questions and asking me to repeat things. He’s got it. You can tell that he’s studied a lot and been in his playbook and he’s learned a lot of what we’re doing.”

“It’s nothing different from anywhere else I’ve been,” said LaFell. “I’ve always had a lot demanded out of me and I always demand a lot out of myself. There’s a good opportunity here for me so all I’m going to do is go out there and make the plays that are available and do whatever I need to do to help this team win.”

LaFell spent his first four NFL seasons with Carolina before signing as a free agent with New England in 2014. In his first year with the Patriots, Brandon had a career-high 74 catches for 953 yards and caught a touchdown pass in New England’s Super Bowl victory over Seattle.

LaFell Super Bowl (440x247)

“I give a lot of credit to Tom (Brady),” said LaFell. “He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play this game and he made the game much easier for me. He made it slower my first year in the offense. He made it so simple that I just had to go out there and play fast and catch the ball.”

LaFell says there are similarities between Brady and Dalton.

“Just the way they command the huddle,” he said. “They both go out there and get us in the best plays possible no matter what the defense is showing and deliver the ball on time.”

The 29-year-old out of LSU began last season with a broken foot and finished with 37 catches for 515 yards. But he says he’s fully healthy now and expects to thrive with opposing defenses focusing on five-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green.

“It means I’m going to get a lot of man-to-man coverage and I don’t have to worry about the defense shading to my side,” said LaFell. “Every time he touches the ball he can take it for a touchdown, so it takes a lot of pressure off of me knowing that I don’t have to make every play.

“I definitely showed what I can do if I’m healthy. Last season I didn’t play healthy at all, but this year I have another chance to go out there and put my best foot forward and make up for what I did last year.”

LaFell already has what his teammates are chasing – a Super Bowl ring. He says signing with Cincinnati gives him a legitimate chance to win another one.

“Since we won that game, all I’ve been thinking about is winning another one,” said LaFell. “I told guys it’s like playing golf. Once you hit that perfect swing that’s all you’re chasing the rest of the time that you’re playing. It’s the same way with football. Once you win a big game you want to continue to win big games. That’s my goal every year.”

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Luc Embracing New Challenge With Bengals

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 1, 2016 – 5:19 pm

Jeff Luc’s license plate includes the number 48 – his uniform number in high school and in his first three seasons of college football. His twitter handle is @JeffLuc1 – a reference to the number he wore as a senior at UC.

Now Luc has a new number (44) and a new position. The former Bearcats linebacker is currently working with the Cincinnati Bengals at fullback.

“At first, I didn’t want to play it coming out of college,” Luc told me. “But now that I’m here, I have a different mindset. So when I was approached about playing fullback I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ I think it’s another opportunity to show what I cacn do and how versatile I am.

“I’m fairly new at the position, but I’m willing to learn and willing to put in the extra time. They know that I’ll give it my all.”

The chiseled 6’1”, 256 pounder had an outstanding senior season for the Bearcats in 2014, earning first team All-American Conference honors when he finished 11th in the country in tackles (134) and tied for the NCAA lead in forced fumbles with six. Luc says his experience at linebacker should help him make the transition to fullback.

“I’m actually glad that I’ve had guys try to block me because I know what to look for in trying to block linebackers,” he said. “I know the different leverages and how they take on a fullback, so with that being said, I’ve got to have a linebacker mindset at the fullback position. There are going to be some collisions going on.”

Luc was not drafted last year, but signed as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins and made it through training camp and the preseason before being one of their final cuts.

“I sat home for 16 weeks and that’s a long time,” said Luc. “I finally got picked up by the Saints near the end of the year and was on their practice squad.

“You never know when the call is going to come. The biggest thing that stood out was all of the time that I had. Since high school, we’ve had everything scheduled and planned out for us. We have to be here at this time, we have to do this at that time. To get released and experience that for the first time was difficult because I was literally bored out of my mind. But I learned from it, and I’ve grown from it, and I think it made me the person that I am today. And that’s a better person.”

Luc signed with the Bengals in January and hopes that his NFL career mirrors his college experience. After being ranked as the nation’s top middle linebacker prospect in high school by multiple recruiting services, Jeff originally enrolled at Florida State. But after battling injuries and seeing limited playing time in two years with the Seminoles, Luc transferred to Cincinnati and become one of the Bearcats’ best defensive players.

“I ended up finishing well,” Jeff told me. “It’s kind of similar. I started with Miami and hopefully I’ll have a long career and finish here. Everything happens for a reason.”

The switch to fullback could give Luc a better opportunity to make the Bengals’ roster or practice squad since Vontaze Burfict, Karlos Dansby, P.J. Dawson, Marquis Flowers, Rey Maualuga, Vinny Rey, Trevor Roach, and third round draft pick Nick Vigil (listed alphabetically) provide considerable depth at linebacker.

“I’m not even thinking about that,” said Luc. “I just want to get better at this position and help the team any way possible whether it’s at fullback, linebacker, or any other position.

“I can be whatever they need me to be. Special teams, defense, fullback, nickel packages – I think I bring a lot to the table. But at the end of the day, I have to go out and show it.”

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The “Other” Coach Lewis Helps Mouhon Get NFL Shot

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 7, 2016 – 4:34 pm

Former UC Bearcats defensive end Silverberry Mouhon says he has Coach Lewis to thank for his free agent opportunity with the Cincinnati Bengals.

As in Marcus Lewis.

Mouhon Bengals camp (317x378)

The son of Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was an assistant to the University of Cincinnati coaching staff in 2013 during Mouhon’s sophomore year when he had a career-high 9.5 sacks. Marcus has been part of the Bengals coaching staff for the past two seasons, and encouraged Silverberry to join the team on a tryout basis during this weekend’s minicamp.

“Marcus was talking to my agent and said it would be great for me to try out with the Bengals if things didn’t work out in the draft,” said Mouhon. “I felt like this was the place I was meant to be. I’m close to UC, Marcus is here, so I feel like it’s a blessing to have this opportunity.”

Mouhon earned second team All-American Athletic Conference honors last year and was named the Bearcats’ defensive MVP despite battling injuries.

“I dealt with some nagging injuries last year, but in the offseason I was really able to get myself back,” said Mouhon. “Just having some time off from the physical part of football helped me get my body back to where it needed to be. Now I’m 100% and ready to go.”

The 6’3”, 260 pound defensive lineman trained under strength and conditioning coach Cliff Marshall in the offseason at the Ignition APG workout facility in Mason. Mouhon ran a 4.81 40-yard dash at UC’s pro day and did 27 reps on the bench press.

While the Bengals depth on the defensive line likely means that Mouhon is battling for a spot on the practice squad that is not his objective.

“I’m trying to be on that 53-man roster – that’s the top goal,” he told me. “I will never sell myself short. Whatever happens, happens, but I’m going to work my butt off and see where it goes.”

Silverberry Mouhon Bengals (440x293)

His task this weekend is to show the Bengals coaching staff that he’s worthy of being signed to a contract in order to get a longer look in training camp.

“I want to show the coaches that I’m versatile and can play special teams or wherever they want me to play,” said Mouhon.

Silverberry finished his college career with 19 sacks to rank fifth all-time at UC. After winning at least nine games in each of his first three seasons, the Bearcats finished 7-6 last season.

“It was disappointing,” said Mouhon. “But at the same time, I enjoyed the time I spent at UC and we had some great moments while I was there. I will never forget those moments and it was a great blessing to be there.”

As it turned out, one of those blessings was getting to know the son of an NFL head coach.

“Marcus Lewis really helped me,” said Mouhon. “He said even if it wasn’t here in Cincinnati, I should keep my head up and he told me what to expect wherever I went. He said to keep working and an opportunity would come knocking.

“Never lose those connections man. I’m grateful for what he’s done to help me get here.”

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Westerman Brings Toughness In 5th Round

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 1, 2016 – 5:24 pm

Forget about the bench press, 40-yard dash, and three cone drill. When it comes to evaluating offensive line prospects, Bengals coach Paul Alexander has a unique “toughness test.”

“I shake the kid’s hand, I look them in the eye, and I judge the percentage that he would kick my butt,” said Alexander with a laugh. “And if I think he would really destroy me, then I like him.”

Chris Westerman ASU (440x248)

Suffice to say that Alexander would not like his chances in a brawl against the Bengals’ 5th round draft pick Christian Westerman – a 6’3”, 298 guard out of Arizona State who has experience as a boxer.

“It’s something that helped me in the game of football,” said Westerman. “Growing up in Arizona, there’s a weight regulation and I wasn’t able to play (football) until I was a freshman in high school. So for me, just getting in some type of contact sport was essential.

“I liked to hit people back then. I still do – but it a different way.”

“He’s tougher than hell,” said Alexander. “He’s the toughest kid in the draft. When Andrew Whitworth came out he was the toughest kid in the draft. Russell Bodine was (in 2014), and I think Jake Fisher probably was last year. (Westerman) fits right in.

“In this division you’ve got to be. It’s not for the feeble.”

Pro Football Focus gave Westerman a third round grade and ranked him as the best pass protecting guard in this year’s draft. Although Christian has never played center, the Bengals think he is versatile enough to learn the position.

“He’s been a guard and a tackle in his career, but the opportunity at center could be there too” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “All of our interior guys need to learn how to do both things, so that will be something we’ll work with him on.”

“It won’t happen overnight,” said Alexander. “It will be a year away or whatever before he can do that. But I think he’s a versatile guy.”

After fielding a few questions about Westerman’s ability to move to center, Alexander took the opportunity to defend the team’s current starter Russell Bodine who has had bouts of inconsistency in his first two NFL seasons.

“Let me tell you about Bodine,” said Alexander. “He’s better than Clint Boling was after two years. He’s similar to what Kevin Zeitler was – Zeitler didn’t start out all that great. And then I was talking to Whit about Rich Braham and he said, ‘Don’t compare Bodine to Rich Braham.’ And I said, ‘Whit. Rich Braham didn’t step on the field until his third year.’ This is a young player in his second year who is playing with a bunch of veterans that are very good offensive lineman and he’s the last one right now because he’s the youngest. But I don’t care what anybody says – I think Bodine is going to be a helluva player.

“I just think that he’s young. If you look at his birth date, he’s the same age as the kids in this draft. He came out two years early. He’s incredibly strong and tough and just needs to learn how to do it. It’s going to come.”

Unlike Bodine, Westerman will not be expected to start as a rookie. But he will be in the mix to provide immediate depth at both guard spots.

“We feel really good about the chance for him to come in right away and have a chance to uplift us,” said Lewis. “He gives us another young guy on the interior offensive line to compete.”

“I would say my biggest strengths are my overall physical strength, my consistency, and my willingness to be coachable and be a better player every day,” said Westerman. “For me overall, I want to work on technique, my first step, and all of the kinks to it. A lot of things you can get away with in college you can’t in the NFL.”

The Bengals can only hope that Westerman is as successful in the NFL as he was in the boxing ring where he figures he has competed in eight or nine bouts.

So what’s his career record?

“Honestly? I haven’t lost a fight,” he said.

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Bengals Add Versatile Weapon In Boyd

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 1, 2016 – 5:20 pm

When Bengals legend Isaac Curtis stepped to the podium in Chicago to announce the Bengals’ second round pick in the 2016 draft, he said “Tyler Boyd” and then hesitated before adding his position.

Perhaps he was considering how many to mention.

Boyd running (430x440)

Boyd is a wide receiver, but in three years at the University of Pittsburgh he could have been listed on the roster as a “Swiss Army Knife” as Tyler caught 254 passes, ran the ball 63 times, returned 73 kicks or punts, and even completed 3 out of 4 passes.

“I feel like I can help the team a lot with my athleticism,” said Boyd. “I believe they can move me all around the field to create mismatches.”

“You got a chance to see him do a lot of different things because they got it to him a lot of different ways – handing it to him, throwing it to him, and he got to throw the ball,” said offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. “You got to see everything that the guy has which is nice to know. Sometimes you don’t always get to see all of those things. So we have a good idea of what he is and we have a pretty good idea of where we can take him.”

“There are Sanu-esque things in the versatility that he provides,” said receivers coach James Urban.

Boyd combine (293x440)

Like former Bengals WR Mohamed Sanu, Boyd does not have blazing speed as he was timed at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Pitt’s pro day. But that did not prevent him from breaking Larry Fitzgerald’s school records for career receptions and receiving yards (3,361).

“I think he’s got competitive speed,” said Zampese. “You wouldn’t look at his timed speed and say, ‘Wow, he’s going to run by that guy all the time.’ Those numbers don’t bear that out, but when he plays, he competes and he’s productive with the skill set that he has.”

“He does a great job of using his body to create separation,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “He’s great with the ball in his hands and seems to understand the game very well.”

With the free agent departures of Sanu and Marvin Jones, Boyd will have the opportunity to play a significant role as a rookie.

“Tyler has a chance to come in and compete to play,” said Lewis. “We’ve got some guys in the building who feel like they want those opportunities as well.”

“He strikes me as a guy that can play the slot early, and learn the outside spot and be productive out there as we go,” said Zampese.

“I feel like I’m capable of playing in the slot or outside,” said Boyd. “They can move me around a lot. Or even line me up in the backfield so I can get mismatches with linebackers.”

The 21-year-old was raised in the Pittsburgh area and helped his high school team win four state championships before attending Pitt. It’s no surprise to learn that his favorite NFL team is the Bengals’ biggest rival.

“I definitely rooted for the Steelers,” Boyd said with a laugh. “That’s my hometown team. But at the end of the day, I’m going to sacrifice myself to the team that picked me and would rather have me. So I’m going to have to completely go at the Steelers and cause them all hell.”

If not hell, Boyd can at least cause headaches for opposing defenses by giving Andy Dalton another versatile and dependable weapon.

“We think we got a good football player and we’re going to find ways to take advantage of his skill set and we think it’s a good fit,” said Urban.

“He’s certainly not a finished product, but he’s ours and we like him,” said Zampese. “We’re going to drag him and push him and make him compete and drive him to where we think he can be.”

“I can’t wait to start the next chapter in my life,” said Boyd. “I’m really happy and appreciative that the Cincinnati Bengals chose a great player like myself.

“I was waiting around just waiting for that call. No matter what team picked me I was going to be really happy and grateful and just celebrate with my family. I’ve got about 30 people at a hotel to celebrate with me and it’s one of the happiest days of my life.”

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Vigil Pick Worthy Of Celebration

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 1, 2016 – 5:09 pm

Last April, despite being named the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Utah State linebacker Zach Vigil was not selected in the NFL draft. He eventually signed as a free agent with Miami and played in all 16 games as a rookie.

This year when it was clear that Zach’s younger brother and former college teammate Nick was likely to be selected, their father wanted to throw a party on the second night of the draft.

“I said to hold off until I’m actually drafted and something happens,” said Nick Vigil. “You never know with this whole process. He said, ‘OK.’ But there still ended up being 20 or so people there.”

Vigil tackle (440x321)

Nick should have trusted his father’s instincts as the Bengals selected Vigil in the third round with the 87th overall pick.

“I was surprised,” he said. “I hadn’t had much contract with them throughout this whole process. My cell phone actually dropped the call. I saw ‘Cincinnati, Ohio’ and I saw their pick was coming up and I kind of panicked a little bit. Good thing my mom had her phone on her and they ended up calling her. She handed me the phone and it was pure excitement.

“I didn’t think I’d necessarily go that high. It was the third round and we were thinking more of the fourth round. When I got the call it was a good moment for me.”

Vigil was a two-year starter at Utah State, earning first-team All-MWC honors in both seasons. He ranked sixth in the nation in tackles last season and turned heads at the NFL Scouting Combine by posting the fastest times among linebackers in the three cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle.

“Vig is flat-out productive,” Utah State coach Matt Wells told the Salt Lake Tribune. “He is flat-out athletic. He’s got tremendous upside – especially on special teams.”

His versatility was evident with the Aggies as Vigil saw action at every linebacker spot and even played some running back, including a game with 16 carries vs. BYU.

Vigil run (440x325)

“I don’t know how good I was at running back,” said Vigil. “I’m sure those days are over. In a 3-4 defense in college, I played all four linebacker positions throughout my three years. I was a starter on all of the special teams for a while there as a freshman. So anything I can do to help this team I’m willing to do.”

For starters, he’ll try to follow his older brother’s advice on how to succeed as an NFL rookie.

“He said it’s going to be the hardest year of your life,” said Vigil. “It’s going to be hectic and you’re going to just have to take it all in. Act professional because it’s a job, so treat it like that.”

The Bengals face Zach’s Dolphins in week four on Thursday Night Football, and while Miami has missed the playoffs in each of the last seven seasons, Nick joins a Cincinnati franchise looking to make its sixth straight postseason appearance.

“The culture here is obviously fantastic,” said Vigil. “They’ve won consistently over the past few years. They’ve got a great foundation set by the coaches and ownership. And they’ve got a bunch of core players who’ve been really good for a long time. So I couldn’t have asked for a better place to go.”

Nick was in Cincinnati on Saturday to meet with the team and local reporters, but that didn’t prevent his family and friends from celebrating back in Utah.

“They’re having a big party there today with me,” he said. “My mom said that we were going to have to cancel it and move it to Sunday, but my dad said, ‘No way.’

“They said they were going to have to get a cardboard cutout of me.”

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Jackson Lands In Cincinnati, Not Pittsburgh

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 1, 2016 – 5:01 pm

Houston cornerback Will Jackson figured he would be drafted in the first round by a team in the AFC North. But he thought it was going to be the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I definitely did,” said Jackson. “I had dinner with them and we had great chemistry. They were telling me a lot of good things so I felt like they were coming. But I’m happy to be a Cincinnati Bengal.

“They definitely surprised me. I was sitting on the couch and wasn’t even looking at my phone. For me to get that ring – oh man I’m just so excited.”

Will Jackson Houston (320x440)

The Bengals defensive coaches are equally excited to land the 6’0”, 190 pound speedster that according to Pro Football Focus “may be the best pure cornerback available in the draft.”

Jackson had five interceptions last season and led the nation with 28 passes defended.

“When the ball is in the air, he can find it in the blind spot and make plays on the ball with those long arms,” said ESPN’s Jon Gruden.

“It’s just watching a lot of film and knowing what is going to come before it happens,” said Jackson. “I watched a lot of film and nine times out of 10, I knew what was going to happen so it was always there for me to make the play.”

It helps to have great closing speed. Jackson says he ran a 4.29 40-yard dash in junior college and the 23-year-old was timed at 4.37 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Will Jackson combine (440x313)

“I feel like I could always run, but the NFL projections had me at 4.6 and I wanted to prove people wrong,” said Jackson. “So I went out there and did what I had to do.”

Jackson was widely projected to be a first round pick and PFF gave him a Top 10 grade. But rather than attend the draft in Chicago, William elected to watch it at home in Houston.

“I wanted to be around my family and the people that loved me and helped me get to this point,” said Jackson. “I wanted to celebrate with them.

“I didn’t know if I would go first round or not, so I was hesitant about having the draft party. But it worked out well and I’m excited.”

Now he looks forward to returning to Cincinnati after meeting with the Bengals coaches several weeks ago on a pre-draft visit.

“I know a lot about them,” said Jackson. “I watched film when I came on my visit, watched one-on-ones, and watched practice. I have a great feel for what kind of scheme it is, and I’m ready to just come in and work.”

He may have already accomplished something in the eyes of Bengals fans if being selected by Cincinnati disappointed the rival Pittsburgh Steelers.

“The Steelers in the division were eyeing him at number 25, and the Bengals get him at 24,” said ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” said Jackson. “Just sitting there waiting for the call and looking forward to it finally coming in. It’s truly a blessing and I was overwhelmed.

“This is a lifelong dream. I’ve been playing this game since I was in elementary school, and for me to finally make it to this day is such a blessing.”

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Tobin’s Value Is No Mystery

Posted by Dan Hoard on February 26, 2016 – 11:52 am

For several years, Bengals fans have recognized the important role that the team’s Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin has played in building one of the NFL’s deepest and most talented rosters.

Duke Tobin at combine (440x293)

But when he stepped to the podium at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday to discuss the Bengals with the national media – the first time he has represented the team that visibly – the initial question was about his role with the franchise.

“Does this mean you’re running the show there?” asked Chris Wesseling from

“No,” replied Tobin. “There’s no sea change. Our operation remains the same. I was asked to come and talk and it’s a scouting event so it’s a natural thing.”

The self-effacing Tobin typically downplays his importance in Cincinnati, but his acumen in evaluating talent is widely respected throughout the NFL. In January, the Detroit Lions and Tennessee Titans reportedly requested permission to interview Tobin for their general manager openings but he declined to even go through the process.

“It’s flattering, but I knew early on in my job here with the Bengals that this is a place where I wanted to make an entire career,” Tobin said. “I’ve done everything that I could to build myself up within the organization, to add value every year and make that happen. I grew up with a dad who was in Chicago for 18 seasons and he did that for us and for himself and it’s the right thing to do.”

His father Bill is the former general manager of the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts and Duke spent his childhood hanging around his dad’s teams.

“That’s really all I did, other than playing sports myself,” Duke told me. “When I had free time I would be up at Halas Hall being a ball boy, or working security, or pulling the nets at games, or just hanging around the locker room. So I grew up around pro football and that’s really all I’ve ever known.”

His father played a critical role in building the legendary 1985 Chicago Bears who went 15-1 during the regular season before putting together the most dominant postseason stretch in NFL history. The Bears beat the Giants 21-0 in their first playoff game, added a 24-0 shutout of the Rams in the NFC Championship, and then crushed the Patriots in the Super Bowl 46-10.

Duke watched that Super Bowl rout from the Bears’ sideline.

“I’ve got great memories of that team,” he said. “They had ability, they had character, and they enjoyed the game. It was more than a job; it was their lifestyle. When I look at players today, those are the guys I compare them to. Those are the guys I’m always trying to find – Walter Payton being the number one. When you grade a guy, that’s kind of the high end of the scale. A lot of those Bears of the ‘80s shaped my opinion of what a football player should be.”

But his ability to judge talent was also shaped by his own football career. Duke was a highly-recruited high school quarterback who began his college career at Illinois where he was a backup to the eventual number one overall pick in the 1990 NFL draft Jeff George.

“It’s humbling throwing next to a guy like that because it shows all of your deficits pretty quick,” Duke said with a laugh. “When I showed up there, it was a little awe-inspiring to watch how the ball came out of his hand. He had one of the strongest arms and quickest releases that I’ve ever seen.”

After two years at Illinois, Tobin transferred to Colorado where he backed up another quarterback who went on to have a long NFL career Kordell Stewart. Both programs reached the Top 10 in the rankings while Duke was on the roster.

“I was fortunate to be on some good college teams and I think for my job right now, that helped me and shaped what I look for,” he said. “Those Illinois teams were good and then when I went to Colorado we had some very fine teams there with a lot of very good players that played in the NFL.”

Despite only starting one college game, Tobin went on to play professionally in the Arena Football League with the Orlando Predators and Memphis Pharaohs.

“We made a little bit of money and they gave us room and board and an automobile to drive, so there were some positives to it,” said Tobin. “We had a good team as well, and I think a lot of college football players don’t admit when it’s over. I probably fell into that bucket and said, ‘Hey, why not give it another year or two?’ I ended up getting hurt, and it wasn’t worth giving up your knee ligament for it for sure. I started scouting soon after that. I realized where my lot was.”

After spending four years as a scout with the Colts, Duke joined the Bengals scouting department in 1999 before becoming director of player personnel in 2002. His father joined the Bengals scouting staff the following year.

So while his 15 minutes at the podium on Thursday should not be interpreted to mean that Duke’s job has changed, it’s unmistakable that he’s happy with his current role in the Bengals front office.

“Loyalty is a two-way street,” said Tobin. “We really enjoy Cincinnati. I wanted to give my kids that same opportunity that my dad gave us to grow up in one place and establish some roots. We’re Cincinnati Bengals and I knew early on that’s what I wanted to do.”

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McCarron Looks Ahead After Heroic Effort

Posted by Dan Hoard on January 12, 2016 – 4:53 pm

As he packed up his locker on Monday, AJ McCarron wore an Alabama sweatshirt and hat. He was obviously looking forward to seeing if his alma mater would beat Clemson later that night for college football’s national championship.

“I’m going to be sitting at the house cheering them on and I can’t wait,” McCarron told me. “It’s an awesome opportunity for those guys and it’s going to be a blast. It’s not nerve-wracking to just sit back and watch the game.”

I’m sure he enjoyed watching ‘Bama win another title, but I’m also certain that McCarron would have rather been preparing for a second round playoff game in New England.

McCarron smoky entrance (440x311)

Statistically, the 25-year-old quarterback did not have a great performance in the playoff loss to Pittsburgh, going 23-for-41 for 212 yards and a passer rating of 68.3. But in the fourth quarter with the Bengals trailing 15-0, McCarron calmly directed the team on three straight scoring drives to give Cincinnati a 16-15 lead with 1:50 remaining.

“Heck, a fourth quarter comeback like that?” said Kevin Zeitler. “You can’t say enough about it. He was able to deal with everything that came his way and he was fantastic.”

“I’m proud of him and proud of what he did, and I know he’ll be nothing but better next season and that’s good for us,” said Marvin Lewis.

“It’s a great feeling when the guys rally around you and everybody believes,” said McCarron. “The whole game when things weren’t going great, guys stayed calm. It’s just a special group that I get to play with and I love every one of them. I had a blast. It was an honor to get to play with them. I know that AD (Andy Dalton) will be back next season, but it was fun.”

And while McCarron came closer to leading the Bengals to a postseason win than Dalton has been able to thus far, the second year quarterback says he has not created a quarterback competition for next season. Dalton led the AFC in passer rating at 106.3 and Cincinnati had a 10-2 record when he broke his thumb.

“This is AD’s team,” McCarron told me. “I am just going to go out and work my tail off and whatever happens happens. But AD is the quarterback and my job is to push him and help make him the best QB that he can be and let the chips fall where they fall. But I support him 100%. I’ve always said that he’s like a big brother to me and I look up to him. That’s the way that it’s going to stay.”

After sitting out his rookie year while rehabbing a shoulder injury, McCarron completed 64% of his passes this season, with 7 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and a passer rating of 89.7 (including the playoff game). As a result, the Bengals will enter 2016 feeling highly confident about their backup quarterback for the first time in several years.

“The best since 2004 or ’05 with Jon (Kitna) and Carson (Palmer),” said Coach Lewis. “We feel pretty good about things.

“At this point a year ago, we weren’t sure about AJ and his development. We assumed and hoped, and it has worked out.”

Unfortunately, the wild card playoff game didn’t work out, as the Bengals self-destructed in the final two minutes.

“It feels like a bad, bad dream and you’re just waiting for somebody to wake you up,” said McCarron. “It’s tough – especially knowing how hard we’ve worked as a group all season long. A lot of people don’t realize how hard it is to make it to the playoffs in general. There are a lot of teams that don’t have the opportunity that we had. It hurts, but the only thing we can do is look forward and take each day to get better.”

McCarron in playoff game (440x322)

As impressed as I was by McCarron’s play on Saturday night, I was equally impressed by how he handled himself in his postgame news conference. He sounded like a 10-year veteran as he handled a gut-wrenching loss with class and stressed the importance of his teammates sticking together.

He reiterated that message on Monday.

“When things get tough, it’s easy for people to point fingers and run the opposite way,” AJ told me. “In college we always said, ‘Who do you want in your foxhole?’ You want guys that can have your back and have your six. Who do you want in that hole with you? The worst-case scenario would be for the team to divide and take steps backward.”

There are likely to be significant changes on the Bengals roster and coaching staff next season, and McCarron is eagerly anticipating a major change in his personal life as well. AJ and his wife Katherine are expecting their first child – a son – in late May.

“Raymond Anthony McCarron III and we’re calling him Trip,” he said.

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