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Green and Atkins Have More Than Top 100 In Common

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 19, 2013 – 9:54 pm

On Thursday night at 8 pm, look for A.J. Green to be named to NFL Network’s list of the Top 100 Players of 2013.  This week’s episode will reveal the players ranked from 20 to 11.

AJ Green diving catch (440x309)

“I’ll say top 15 and he’s still growing,” said Reggie Nelson.  “A.J. is doing a tremendous job of leading by example and just going out there and practicing hard.  There’s not a day where he doesn’t run his routes at full speed.”

“It’s an honor just to be on there because the players vote,” said Green.  “It’s all about respect.”

The Top 100 is selected by active players; although according to NFL Network only 481 of them (28.3%) took part in the voting process.

“I’ve always wondered about that,” said Leon Hall.  “I’ve never voted and I don’t know when that voting happens.”

Green will become the second Cincinnati player to appear on this year’s list, joining Geno Atkins who was ranked number 36.

Geno sacks Roethlisberger (440x293)

“He came in 36th?” said Hall.  “That’s kind of weird and unexpected considering how dominant he’s been.  I don’t know how many players I would put in front of him.  I’d put a few – Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, those kinds of guys.  But I think Geno got ripped off – I’m not going to lie.”

“I thought that he could have been higher because he’s probably one of the best d-tackles in the league,” said Green.

“I’m pretty sure that my teammates believe that I should be number one or whatever,” said Atkins with a laugh.  “I’m just happy to be on the list.”

While the Top 100 is hardly scientific (Tim Tebow made it last year at #95), the presence of two Bengals in the top 40 is a sign of the team’s growing notoriety around the NFL.  Two years ago when the series started, the only Cincinnati player on the list was Terrell Owens (#91) and he did not play for the Bengals in the season that followed.  Last year, Green was the only Cincinnati player to make it at #77.

“All we do is go out and play football – that stuff is just somebody’s opinion,” said Nelson.  “But it’s nice to be in the Top 100 – it’s certainly better than not making it.”

Green and Atkins have more in common than making this year’s list.  In addition to being former Georgia Bulldogs, the Bengals standouts let their play speak for itself.

“They’re old school and that’s the way I like it,” said Hall.  “They just work hard and produce on the field.  They both have confidence and that’s a key, but they don’t express it to everybody.”

“We’re both Georgia boys so we’re used to winning and hard work,” said Green.  “That’s been instilled in us since we’ve been there.  We just come to work every day.  We really don’t talk that much – we just go play football.”

And the Bengals duo isn’t satisfied to simply make the list.

“It’s great that some guys think so highly of me, but I feel like I still have a long way to go to be the receiver that I want to be,” said Green.

“I’ve got to do it again this year,” said Atkins.  “That list was for last year, and I’m focused on the 2013 season.”

The fact that the Bengals top two players are both no-nonsense, hard-working pros has a huge impact on the team’s locker room culture.

“Say you have a young receiver coming in here and he thinks that A.J. Green is the best in the NFL,” said Hall.  “Then he sees A.J. at work and he thinks, ‘He’s already the best and he’s still working hard.’  That makes him say, ‘I’m going to work hard because I want to be where he’s at.’  The same is true for any young defensive player watching Geno practice or work in the weight room – which is pretty impressive.  And it’s not just the rookies – it goes upwards too.  There are plenty of old guys that look up to A.J. and Geno for the way that they work.”

“If other guys see the best working hard, putting in the extra time, and listening to the coaches, they’re going to want to do that,” said Atkins.  “It becomes contagious and that’s how you create the best team out there on the field.”

“That’s the thing about this team – a lot of guys lead by example,” said Nelson.  “You’re not going to hear us talking about ourselves.  As long as we keep that ‘I’ out of the locker room, we’ll be just fine.”

That isn’t likely to be an issue with Green.  In fact, the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver doesn’t even plan to watch Thursday’s episode to see where he’s ranked.

“I’ll probably just read about it on Twitter,” said Green.

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

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A Birthday Wish For Brandon Ghee

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 6, 2013 – 10:29 pm

Today is Brandon Ghee’s 26th birthday.  If he has the opportunity to blow out the candles on a birthday cake, his wish should be simple:  An injury-free season.

Ghee running (293x440)

As a rookie in 2010, Ghee suffered a concussion in a preseason game and then spent the last six games of the year on injured reserve due to a groin injury.

In 2011, a hamstring injury caused Brandon to miss much of training camp and he wasn’t added to the active roster until the 10th game of the season.

Then last year after earning rave reviews during May and June mini-camps, Ghee broke his wrist in early August, one week into training camp.

“It was a freak accident,” said Ghee.  “I jumped up for a ball and fell on it wrong and it took me out for an entire season.

“My wrist is 100 percent now.  I tape it as a precaution but I’m feeling really good right now and I’m just trying to get better.”

His coaches and teammates have noticed.  Minor injuries to Leon Hall (thumb) and Adam Jones (calf) meant additional reps for the Bengals younger cornerbacks during the recent OTA period, and Ghee took advantage of the opportunity.

“He always looks good, honestly, when he’s able to be out there,” said Hall.  “He’s one of those guys that definitely looks the part.  He does well in almost everything that he does – the deal with him is just trying to stay healthy and get in the games.”

“He’s really instinctive,” said Andy Dalton.  “He gets good jumps on the routes and he plays the ball well too.  I thought he had a good camp.”

“I think Brandon has done a good job of picking up where he left off when he got injured last year – knowing what to do and being somebody that hopefully will compete to stay on the football team, compete to play, and give us great snaps if he does,” said Marvin Lewis.

“Everybody learns differently, but for me, I get better by playing,” Ghee told me.  “The more reps I get, the better I’m going to be.  I’m glad that I’m getting a lot of reps in this OTA period.”

The Bengals drafted Ghee in the third round of the 2010 draft out of Wake Forest after he was clocked at a sizzling 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.  After being sidelined last season, he took advantage of the opportunity to add strength.

“The first thing I had to do was get healthy,” said Ghee.  “Once I was healthy, I hit the weight room hard and did a lot of upper body and lower body.  Now I’m back to being 100 percent and feel better than ever.

“I’ve gained about six or seven pounds and kept my speed.  I just wanted to get a little bigger for playing inside in the nickel and trying to fit on the run (defense).  I don’t like tight ends grabbing me, so that’s why I gained a little weight.”

The top three cornerbacks on Cincinnati’s depth chart are obvious:  Hall, Jones, and Terence Newman.  For Ghee, this is a crucial year to prove that he can provide quality depth at the position.

“Every year is important – I don’t care who you are,” Brandon told me.  “But this is my fourth year here and it’s my contract year so I’m trying to do well and earn another contract.

“Last year was very disappointing and I had a whole year to think about it.  I’m back now and I’m trying to bounce back and show my character.  Everybody goes down, but how you come back is all that matters.”

“He has all of the physical abilities and tools, he’s smart enough, he understands what to do, and he just has to go out and do it, time in and time out,” said Coach Lewis.

“The potential is there, but in the league that only gets you so far,” said Hall.  “Ghee has been in the NFL for a while, he kind of knows the ropes, and he knows that he has what it takes to be a good NFL player.  He just has to stay healthy and transfer it to the field.”

“If he stays healthy, I think he’s going to help this team,” said Dalton.

That doesn’t seem like too much to wish for.

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

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

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Sanzenbacher Standing Out, Despite Looking Familiar

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 4, 2013 – 5:21 pm

Dane Sanzenbacher is aware of the comparisons to a former Bengals receiver.

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There’s the uniform number, the position, the size…

“…the skin color?” said Sanzenbacher.  “I know where you’re going with this.”

It’s true, like former Bengals receiver Jordan Shipley, Sanzenbacher is Caucasian.  But that’s not why the team’s current #11 bares resemblance to the previous one.

“He’s a tough kid, he’s got great quickness in space, and he’s got a good feel for the game,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden of Sanzenbacher.  “Everything that he displayed at Ohio State you can see on the field.  And the one thing obviously that you can’t see is his toughness.  He’ll catch it in a crowd – we know that.  He’s got really good hands and runs very good routes.”

Except for the reference to Ohio State, Gruden could have been describing Shipley in 2010 when he led AFC rookies in receiving yards with 600.

“It’s the style of play – I get it,” said Sanzenbacher.  “I think he was a great player when he was here.  I wouldn’t say that I modeled my game or anything after him, but I can see the similarities and it’s a compliment.”

But Bengals receivers coach James Urban would rather not compare Sanzenbacher to Shipley.

“I try to avoid that,” Urban told me.  “They’re different and Dane is his own player.  He has a tremendous feel for the game, understands how to get open, and as important as anything playing the slot, he knows when he is open.  Sometimes when you play inside where the windows are tighter and shorter, if you don’t know that you’re open you can run right through it.  You’ve got to be available for the quarterback and he knows those things.

Sanzenbacher finished his career at Ohio State with an outstanding senior season in 2010, earning team MVP honors by catching 55 passes for 948 yards, including 11 touchdown grabs.  He was signed by the Bears as an undrafted free agent and had a solid rookie year, finishing with 27 receptions for 276 yards and 3 TDs.

But after Chicago traded for Brandon Marshall and drafted Alshon Jeffery in the second round last year, Sanzenbacher received limited playing time before being waived on Christmas Eve.  The Bengals claimed him the following day.

“It was a different kind of Christmas,” said Sanzenbacher.  “My family was with me in Chicago at the time.  The phone rings and life changes quickly.  I hopped in the car, packed all the stuff that I figured I would need, and I’ve been here ever since.

“At the time, you go from being ticked off while leaving the city to being excited about your new opportunity.  I think it’s been a really good move for me.”

On Monday when I asked a member of the Bengals front office what players were standing out during the current OTA period, Sanzenbacher was one of the first names mentioned.

“I feel pretty comfortable,” Dane told me.  “As little time as it was, it was nice to have those two weeks at the end of last year to be here get acclimated with everything.  It’s not all brand-new.  Obviously through the OTAs and everything, we’ll re-install the offense and start from scratch for the rookies, but I feel comfortable and I think that helps you to play fast.

“He’s been making plays (at practice) since we got him in here late last year,” said Urban.  “We liked him a lot coming out of Ohio State and we’re glad to have him.”

Sanzenbacher will be battling to earn a roster spot as part of a deep receiving corps.  A.J. Green, Andrew Hawkins, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu are virtual locks to stick, leaving (in alphabetical order) Tyrone Goard, Cobi Hamilton, Taveon Rogers, Roy Roundtree, Sanzenbacher, Brandon Tate, and Ryan Whalen fighting for the final two (or possibly three) spots.

“You can’t really think about the numbers,” said Sanzenbacher.  “We’re in OTAs right now for one, so it would be dumb to play the numbers game at this point.  As cliché as it sounds, you just have to take advantage of your opportunities.”

“I showed them a quote today that said, ‘You have to take advantage of your opportunity when it comes because you don’t know when your next chance is going to be.’” said Urban.  “I keep emphasizing that.  I can’t promise them X-number of balls.  They’re all going to get their reps but depending on how the reps fall, they may not get many balls that day.  When the ball comes they’ve got to make the play and do the right thing.  That’s what we’re trying to encourage.”

“You can’t complain about how often your opportunities are coming if you don’t take advantage of the ones that come,” Dane told me.  “I think you have to go out there and try to do things that people are going to remember.  It only takes one play to turn heads.”

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

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Fun Facts With Tyler Eifert

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 2, 2013 – 2:50 pm

One of the staples of the pregame show on the Bengals Radio Network is the “Fantastic Fun Facts” interview where I ask the players a series of offbeat questions on a wide variety of subjects.  Although our first broadcast for this season is still more than two months away, I thought it would be fun to get a few interesting nuggets from first round draft pick Tyler Eifert.

Tyler Eifert

Here’s our recent Q & A (Eifert’s answers are in bold):

Aside from football, what do you do well?

Golf.  I’m about a 2 or 3 handicap.  I like to play a lot.

That’s pretty impressive.  Do you bomb it off the tee?

I do – about 340 yards on average.

Seriously?

For real.

Aside from professional athlete, have you had any other jobs?

Nope.  I took the trash out and did some chores around the house, but that was about it.  I played sports year-round.

Who was your favorite athlete as a kid and why?

It was Michael Jordan because he was just the best and dominated.

What do you spend your money on as a guilty pleasure?

I really don’t spend money on a whole lot. 

Electronics, clothes, movies, anything?

I don’t like to go to the movies – I’d rather wait for them to come out (on TV or DVD).  With clothes, at Notre Dame I would just wear issued gear because that’s what they gave us.  I like cars.  It would be fun to spend money on cars someday.

Do you have a dream car?

Mercedes (440x274)

For something somewhat reasonable, I guess it would be the S65 AMG Mercedes.  I think that would be pretty sweet. 

So you go for classy instead of something fast and sexy?

Right.  It’s classy but it still has some juice.

You’re from Ft. Wayne, IN.  What would you say your hometown is best-known for?

I guess cornfields, playing basketball, shooting hoops at a barn.

What was the name of your high school including team nickname?

Bishop Dwenger and our nickname was the Saints.

Any famous grads?

Jason Fabini who played in the NFL as an offensive lineman for a long time.

Jason Fabini (436x440)

And at the University of Cincinnati.

That’s right.

What was your favorite thing about Notre Dame?

Probably just the guys in the locker room.  Everything we got to go through as a team and getting to be a part of that.

When Brian Kelly wanted to motivate you, what buttons did he push?

He would just coach me and tell me what I needed to do.  He wasn’t big on yelling at me or things like that – not that he wouldn’t.  All you have to do is tell me what to do and I’ll try to do it.

What gifts did the Notre Dame players get for playing in the BCS Championship game?

We got a gift card from the university with some money on it and then we got to go to a gift suite.  But they didn’t send us the gifts that we picked out which was a little surprising.  They sent us like a cheaper version of them.  I wonder if the winners got them?  I guess that’s what you get when you lose.  It’s all good though.  I’ll take what they gave me.

This might be tough since you’re a rookie, but do have any idea what you would like to do after football?

I’m not sure, but I think it would be fun to coach high school or grade school.  I’d also like to work on my golf game when this is all said and done.

You’re a 2-handicap.  It’s doesn’t sound like there’s much work needed.

Oh there is.  You can always get better.

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

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

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


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