(Jacob Ramsey, Mike Windt and Curtis Young)
Including draft picks, 10 Cincinnati Bearcats were in NFL camps this past weekend. The Rams had 4th round pick WR Mardy Gilyard, the Panthers--6th round QB Tony Pike, 7th round DL Ricardo Mathews and free agent OL Jeff Linkenbach were with the Colts, free agent DL Alex Daniels was with the Raiders, S Aaron Webster with Houston, DL/LB Craig Carey with the Bears and the Bengals entertained LS Mike Windt, RB Jacob Ramsey and DL Curtis Young.
Fresh off back-to-back BCS bowl games, these Bearcats are now in for a rollercoaster ride that'll see some make it, some not, and some waiver back and forth waiting for the proverbial "big break".
For the three Bearcats that traveled "down the hill" to participate in Bengals rookie camp, they have a unique chance to continue playing in front of familiar fans.
"It was a great experience for me to come out here and get a shot with the Bengals to compete for a position and come to camp," said Jacob Ramsey, who was second on the Bearcats in rushing yards and fifth in all purpose yards.
However, Ramsey shared carries with Greg Moore, John Goebel and Isaiah Pead under Brian Kelly, while being switched to defense by his first coach, Mark Dantonio. Also, playing in a pass-oriented offense didn't really showcase his talents, so coming into a situation emphasizing the run appeals to the 22-year-old from Columbus.
"Yessir, definitely a good thing for me," said Ramsey. "Coming from the spread offense, I didn't get a chance to run the ball, so now the tables are turned. I have an opportunity to show what I can do."
In Ramsey's last three seasons, he ran for 362, 664 and 439 yards. However, his yards per carry jumped each year (3.8 in '07, 4.4 in '08, 6.0 in '09).
As with most every player given the chance to put on an NFL helmet and prove his worth, Ramsey is extremely appreciative.
"It's an opportunity to go out and play the game I love to play," said Ramsey.
Curtis Young is in the same situation.
He also went undrafted and perhaps unnoticed because he played for a team that didn't necessarily emphasize defense. Still, Young was among team leaders in TFL (tackles for loss) despite missing three games in '09 due to injury. This after starting his senior season strong.
"Some things happen for a reason, that's how I look at it," said Young. "I try to stay positive for the whole thing. I got back and finished the season and I'm back at 100% now. All I wanted was to get in somebody's camp and I'd be able to show my abilities. Hopefully, when it's all said and done, I'll be a Bengal or something."
Part of Young's problem is the pro perception that he may be "too small" to play defensive line at 6-1, 269 pounds. Former teammate (and current Cincinnati Commando) Terrill Byrd had the same problem.
Young will hear none of that excuse.
"I always play with a chip on my shoulder 'cause guys look at me 'cause I'm 6-1, small and all that," said Young. "To me size don't mean nothing. It's not the size, never has been."
That "chip" could be the bargaining chip to push Curtis Young over. That, and the fact that Young at 24, has more maturity than most having had football briefly taken away from him. Young battled back and then became a mentor to younger players to prevent them from making the same mistakes.
"Where I came from, other guys did that in high school," said Young, who attended Cleveland Glenville. "When I came to college, I had some issues, family issues, things like that. It kind of set me back, but I just didn't give up. I fought back and I got an opportunity to get my scholarship back."
Not only did he get the scholarship back, he thrived in his final two seasons, helping the Bearcats to the Orange and Sugar Bowls. Be it here, or somewhere else, Young feels there are still games left to be played.
"I'm just going to give it all I've got and leave it in God's hands," said Young.
Also occupying a makeshift locker in the Paul Brown Stadium clubhouse (jokingly referred to as "Death Row" by some) is long snapper Mike Windt.
The oldest of the Bearcat/Bengal free agents (he turns 25 on the 29th) probably has the best chance to stick with the team. He also is a native Cincinnatian and it doesn't hurt that he snapped for Bengals punter Kevin Huber during two record-setting seasons at UC.
"Yeah, it is kind of convenient," said Windt. "Having Kevin as the punter is a very big positive. There's a good trust between us. He knows where he wants the ball and he knows I'm going to put it there."
After being lured back onto the football field by Mark Dantonio, the former Elder Panther was perfect on every snap for Brian Kelly's headline-grabbing Bearcats for three seasons. Plus, he's used to winning. In addition to the back-to-back BCS bowls at UC, he was on back-to-back state championship teams at Elder.
There's no question the Bengals did their homework on this signee.
"No, never have had a bad snap," confirmed Windt. "Knock on wood (as he banged on former Bearcat/Mt. St. Joseph free agent Alex Harbin's head). Based on my college record, I never have and I don't expect to ever have a bad snap."
He also may have set an NFL record for number of cameras situated around a long snapper at one time on his first day Friday. Most media outlets probably couldn't identify UC's long snapper if given 100 tries, but being local and being a teammate of the current punter put Windt in Chad Ochocinco-status (for at least one day).
"Yeah, just happy for the opportunity to come out here and compete," said Windt. "I know that this opportunity is the best opportunity for me and I'm happy to come down here with Darrin--Coach Simmons (Bengals special teams coach). He just made it a lot easier decision for me. It's a great opportunity to come here and do my job."
Realistically, the road is long for all of these guys and they know it. Most players invited to tryouts are practice players for the draft picks to compete against. They are longshots to be longshots. This isn't training camp--this is an audition to be INVITED to training camp where you immediately go to the back of the line.
However, for a few days (and hopefully more) these players get to use NFL facilities, wear NFL garb and hang in an NFL clubhouse (even if it is in a portable locker).
While you hope they all advance and prosper, the reality is many Bearcats have found how brief it all is. My advice to all of them--based on years of watching?
Box up all the free stuff you can and make sure you take advantage of the catered food.