Dunlap looking to sink his teeth

Posted Jul 16, 2013

Carlos Dunlap thinks the Bengals "got a steal" in the wake of his five-year, $40 million extension and he says it is going to continue to fuel his quest to accomplish such goals as going to the Pro Bowl and winning a Super Bowl.

Updated: 11 p.m.

Carlos Dunlap hasn't always seen eye to eye with his coaches during his NFL maturation. But he, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and position coach Jay Hayes are quite definitely on the same page when it comes to his new five-year extension that averages $8 million per year in new money just five months after turning 24.

They believe the team has made a huge show of faith in the player because of the flashes it believes can be bottled consistently as Dunlap heads into his fourth season. 

"He's always had a passion to play; that's never been an issue," Hayes said Tuesday. "The thing he needs to be able to do is play completely. And if the trend keeps going I think he's going to be able to do that."

Zimmer has seen the growth during the last year and as late as last month's voluntary workouts.

"I think he's bought into what we're trying to do here," said Zimmer, who has ridden Dunlap hard in the tough love plan. "When he came here he was selfish and not really aware of what it took. He's really working hard at it."

And even during his media conference call Tuesday there were times Dunlap seemed surprised at the money given a player with two NFL starts. But he knows why. Because of those flashes that he wants to become steady bolts of lightning.

"It's not an ordinary deal by far. I haven't really started for the Bengals yet. I feel like my best football is in front of me as long as I stay healthy," Dunlap said. "I still plan on having that big season. I haven’t had it yet, or close to it since my rookie year. I will top that and I still have all of these goals ahead of me. That’s going to be my drive … you always want to want more and more."

How much more does he want? He had to go to the netherworld to define the hunger.

"It's like a vampire," Dunlap said. "You taste blood, you want more."

Despite playing most of his 655 snaps on third down—fifth-most on the highly-touted Bengals defensive line last year—Dunlap's 6-6, 280-pound athleticism allowed him to be a gamebreaker. His two sack-and-strips of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in red-zoneish territory earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors and the Bengals a road win, and his 14-yard interception return for a TD sealed Cincinnati's 10th win of the season in the finale against Baltimore. He also led the team in forced fumbles and recoveries and his six sacks gave him 20 in 38 career games.

And he has done it with a youthful exuberance that at times yields some endearing quotes and reflects his confidence.

"I still think they got a steal," admitted Dunlap, who missed most of the preseason and the first two games with a knee injury last year.

"I was named the starter last year but only started (one) game. We have a great, young core and our best football is ahead of us. The biggest thing we have to do now is get past the first round of the playoffs. During training camp I worked my way up to be the starter. Right after I earned it in the first preseason games a wide receiver rolled up on my knee, which is one of those fluke injuries I was talking about. I had to slowly work my way back."

The Bengals didn't exactly hold him up. The $8 million average in new money is tied for 14th among NFL defensive ends, according to ESPN. And Dunlap's $6.6 million average over six seasons would put him in the top 10 in 2013.

According to the web site, the Bengals franchise tag makes Michael Johnson's 2013 salary the ninth highest in the NFL and the third most at defensive end behind Jared Allen's $14.2 million and Julius Peppers's $12.9 million.

The site computes Dunlap's average in his new deal at $6.6 million, which in 2013 would put him in the top 10 of defensive ends behind only Allen, Peppers, Johnson, Anthony Spencer (tagged at $10.6 million in Dallas), Jake Long (7.2) and Charles Johnson (6.7). Red Bryant is also at $6.6.

It's a long way from the 54th pick in the 2010 draft out of Florida, where Dunlap had a rep as being immature and not always motivated.

"This is important to Carlos. Football means a lot to this young man," Hayes said. "He's the kind of guy that, no matter when or how much money he gets, he wants to be respected by his peers for doing things the right way as well as being a great player. And he has been doing things the right way and I think that's why he's going to become a complete player."

The goal is to be a three-down player, like his good friend and the Bengals franchise player, right end Michael Johnson, last year's line leader with more than 900 snaps while amassing 11.5 sacks.

Zimmer thinks Dunlap can do it if he continues to work like he did this spring, where the coaches changed his footwork working against the tight end so he can get off blocks easier.

"If he's going to be a three-down player he has to get better playing the run and he has become better, more consistent," Zimmer said. "I thought he did a good job this spring working on the things he needs to improve. He seems like he wants it. Money only helps you with financial security. What you put on film, that's the only thing that gets you respect on the field."

The Bengals had until Monday at 4 p.m. to reach a long-term deal with Johnson for 2013 and when the Dunlap deal leaked an hour after the deadline, it was assumed that Johnson didn't take that offer.

But no doubt Johnson was looking for more than the $6.6 million average Dunlap got over six years because he's already making $11.1 million this season. Most observers are saying the Bengals can't pay two ends that kind of money and that Johnson won't be back in 2014. Especially since the club's next target is thought to be two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, a guy that commands more than Johnson and Dunlap.

Still, Dunlap isn't so sure the trio is going to be broken up.

"He was excited for me; he told me congratulations," Dunlap said of his phone call with Johnson. "I told him, 'I'm here for the long haul. Hopefully we can get you and Geno here for the long haul, too. If not, we have one more year to reach all our goals and me and you both get to Hawaii with Geno.' "

They've talked about sticking together ever since Dunlap and Atkins came out of the 2010 draft to join Johnson in his second year. As Dunlap shot to a Bengals rookie record with 9.5 sacks in his last eight games, the rampaging kids up front earned the nickname of the Fisher Price package.

Suddenly three years later the price of the toys has made it all very adult.

"We're grown men. We understand the business side of the thing," Dunlap said. "Mike and I are both friends. We've kept in contact all offseason. I was pushing for him to get a deal done. I didn't know that I was going to get a deal done in spite of him getting a deal done. Me, Geno and Mike all want to get a deal done and stay together for years to come. That's been our goal since we all got on the field together and got that label Fisher Price when we were rookies."

But Dunlap had to laugh. That Fisher Price package is no longer kids stuff.

"Technology has changed. Nowadays the young guys are doing what it takes to be considered one of the best," he said. "All of us are competing against each other and is what is driving us. Getting these deals done is just more motivation.

"Another man's success is another man's motivation in our opinion. Geno and Mike both called me right after they heard about it. They were just as excited as if they had theirs done. I told them, 'Now we've got to go get your all's done.' "

While Johnson has played all 64 games in his career, Dunlap has missed 10 with a variety of ailments. But he doesn't think it's a conditioning thing and points to the fact he was in the gym at the same time Tuesday morning despite celebrating the deal Monday night. To the surprise of his workout partners.

"I feel like the Bengals and my teammates can vouch that I always come in the best conditioning shape; it’s just a string of bad luck, some fluke injuries here and there," Dunlap said. "I’ve stepped up my off-the-field activities and attacked these in different aspects. I’ve started Pilates, I’ve started treatments, getting more massages. I’ve learned a lot of things from the vets, the things that they’ve done to get through the years to be considered a vet."

Dunlap doesn’t mind walking to his own drummer. He points to four guys that helped him as a rookie and they wouldn't be four guys that would go on the Mount Rushmore PR for the NFL: Tank Johnson, Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson and Adam Jones. But he had an open mind and listened.

"Those were the guys that I would say on the team that have helped me mature and understand the business side of football as well as having fun in it," Dunlap said. "That’s being yourself. They explained it to me in a different angle. It’s always better to hear it from three different angles rather than just one. Anything I do, I always get three opinions before I make a decision."

No doubt it would have been a unanimous decision to sign on the dotted line.


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