In East Lansing, Michigan it’s known as “The Stop.”
With 1:46 remaining in last year’s Rose Bowl, Michigan State led Stanford 24-20 when the Cardinal went for it on 4th-and-1 at the 34 yard line. As soon as the ball was snapped, Spartans linebacker Kyler Elsworth made a flying leap over the line of scrimmage to nail the Stanford fullback for no gain to seal the victory for Michigan State (click here to watch the play).
“They’ve got pictures everywhere in East Lansing of Elsworth jumping over the offensive and defensive lines,” said Bengals rookie and former MSU star Darqueze Dennard. “It was crazy. It’s a big play in Michigan State history.”
Ironically, the Stanford player who was stopped on 4th-and-1 was Bengals rookie Ryan Hewitt.
“It was a great play,” said Hewitt. “I think my neck might still be a little sore from that one.”
Three of Hewitt’s fellow rookies played for Michigan State in that game – Dennard, Isaiah Lewis, and Dan France – but Ryan says they haven’t busted his chops about “The Stop” or the final score.
“We’re on the same team now, so this isn’t the time to do that,” said Dennard. “But if Michigan State and Stanford actually play again, I might bring it up.”
While Dennard is a lock to make the Bengals 53-man roster after being drafted in the first round, Hewitt is also making a strong bid to stick despite being signed as an undrafted free agent. Ryan is being used as an H-back (fullback/tight end hybrid) and has frequently lined up with the first string offense.
“He’s earned it – we’re not giving anybody anything,” said offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. “He’s earning an opportunity to play with the first group and that’s kind of where he is right now. But he has to fight like heck to stay there.”
“I think Ryan has really done a nice job for us,” said Marvin Lewis. “He’s handled things well. He’s playing tight end/H-back/fullback whatever you want to call those positions we have and he’s handled it well both physically and mentally. I think as a receiver he’s done a nice job. As an interior blocker he’s done a good job. I really think he’s got a bright future.”
Hewitt began his college career as a tight end but switched to fullback and started at that position for his final three seasons. He was frequently used as an outlet receiver out of the backfield and finished his college career with 59 catches for 473 yards and 6 TD.
Bengals west coast scout Steven Radicevic liked what he saw of Hewitt at Stanford and Cincinnati reportedly gave Ryan a $10,000 signing bonus – the most of any of the team’s college free agents this year. Hewitt knew that the Bengals didn’t have an established fullback, but didn’t realize that he would be used in a dual role.
“It was kind of a transition that came out of the blue – I wasn’t really expecting it – but it’s something that I embraced and I’m thankful for the opportunity,” said Hewitt.
Ryan says that he elected to go to Stanford for academics more than football, so perhaps it’s no surprise that he’s been able to quickly learn the Bengals’ playbook at multiple positions.
“We ran a very similar offense at Stanford with a lot of the same terminology, so that’s helped the transition,” said Hewitt. “But it is difficult. You have to spend a little extra time studying to make sure that you know both positions so that when you get put in at either spot you know what you’re doing.
“But I pride myself in knowing what I’m doing and making sure that I’m in the right spot and right alignment. That’s something that I work on every day.”
“He’s a smart kid and I think he has a burning desire to be good,” said Jackson. “He has the characteristics that we look for. He needs to continue to grow and play well within our system and we’ll see where this thing goes.”
The 23-year-old from Denver is a sturdy 6’4”, 254 pounds and Coach Lewis says he expects Hewitt to get more powerful.
“I think as he grows and he’s fortunate enough to stay around here, I think by next year we’ll have a real, real big physical man,” said Lewis. “He’s going to be a big person.”
Ryan got stopped last January in Pasadena, but it appears that he’s just getting started in Cincinnati.
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