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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