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Man in motion

Posted Aug 23, 2012


Jamaal Anderson

Bengals new defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson, fluent in sign language and fluid in motion, has spent a lifetime understanding that actions mean more than words. Which fits nicely into head coach Marvin Lewis's motto, "I see better than I hear."

"It seems to be a good fit. There's great mixture of veteran and young leaders on this line," Anderson says. "Just from the personal conversations, these guys have embraced me from the moment I got here."

Anderson gets another chance Thursday night in the preseason's third game to show why he's a virtual lock to make this line's Opening Day rotation. With Cincinnati's top two left ends out again for the 7 p.m. game at Paul Brown Stadium against the Packers (11:35 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12), the 6-6, 280-pound Anderson is expected to move again from backup right end to start at left, and then slide inside to tackle on some passing downs.

The Bengals didn't sign Anderson to a two-year deal back in March to be the eighth pick in the 2007 draft, which he was under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in Atlanta. They signed him so that Zimmer would pick up some versatile depth off the bench that was lost with Jon Fanene and Frostee Rucker in free agency.

(And since Anderson is healthy, producing and counting against the salary cap, don't look for Fanene to return before Opening Day now that he's been cut in New England after missing his last 13 practices with a knee issue.)

“Jamaal is a very talented guy. He’s a tremendous athlete – that’s why he was a high pick in the draft," Lewis says. "He’s got great experience, and most importantly he’s a very, very good person. He has that veteran presence about him. He understands football, he understands defensive line play. He can communicate up there, so he knows what’s going on. He’s had some good experience. So he’s really fit the bill for what we’re looking for.”  

As usual, Anderson is in motion. End. Tackle. He arrived at Arkansas as a 205-pound walk-on wide receiver and left as the second defensive end drafted. As a six-year-old growing up in Little Rock, he was so active that he caught the eye of the mother of the 42nd President of the United States.

It seems that Anderson's mother, Karen, now retired as the training coordinator for the State of Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, volunteered to work on Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign at the Little Rock headquarters.

A friendly and outgoing native of Queens with her Throgs Neck Bridge-thick accent, Karen easily struck up a friendship with the equally friendly and outgoing mother of the candidate, Virginia Kelley, a native of Bodcaw, Ark.

"She was around the office a lot and I would pick up Jamaal from (first grade) and bring him into the office," Karen says. "Jamaal was always bouncing around and he was cute and she asked me one day if she and her friend could take him shopping so he could get out of the office for a while. They did it more than once and every time I'd ask him if he'd want to go shopping with them, his eyes would get wide because he knew that meant Ms. Virginia would buy him something."

Jamaal Anderson has a hard time remembering those mall trips, but he does remember meeting Ms. Virginia's son years later. That will happen when your father delivers the speech before the President's address at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

"My dad," Jamaal Anderson, "has accomplished so much.

"He's definitely an idol."

He may have shared microphones with presidents and he may be a member of the National Hall of Fame for People with Disabilities, and may have once served as second vice-chair of the National Council on Disability and is a professor of sign language at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock while becoming a giant in the deaf community.

But bigger than all that is that Glenn Anderson took Jamaal down the street to the field at the church "and pitched about 100 baseballs to me."

"If he wasn't playing himself, he was practicing with me," Jamaal says. "We'd throw at home or go to gyms and shoot or play in the neighborhood."

Or he'd go watch Glenn play softball and basketball for deaf club teams. Deaf since a bout with pneumonia at age nine that Glenn says left him without "clear understandable speech like a person with intact hearing," he turned to sports and while he played into his 40s he also coached a deaf club team where Jamaal became a staple at the practices at the Arkansas School for the Deaf.

The energetic little kid who charmed Virginia Kelley once ran onto the basketball court and stole the ball for Glenn's team before hiding behind the bleachers.

"I think I was just trying to stand up for my dad," Jamaal recalls. "The one thing I remember is that whenever we were practicing or playing, he was always teaching me the fundamentals. He'd always make sure of that."

He was teaching him a lot more than that.

When Glenn made the speech at Gallaudet as chairman of its board of trustees for the school known as the world leader in deaf education, he was returning to where he graduated in 1968 and where he had been inducted into its athletic Hall of Fame in 1995. It was in '68 at the Mason-Dixon Track and Field Championships he finished second place in the long jump at 21 feet, 11.5 inches, and third in the triple jump at 43 feet, 11.5 inches.

The school doesn't have stats from the basketball teams of that era, but one historian informed the sports information department this week that at 6-2, Glenn was "a tremendous scorer in the paint and rebounder his final two years where he averaged double figures for points per game ... somewhere between 18-20 points per game."

That was a long way from his public high school career in Chicago, where Glenn recalls in an email that he sat on the bench for an excellent team.

"The players made fun of me because I was deaf and 'talked funny,' " he wrote. "I did not get a chance to showcase my talent until I arrived at Gallaudet University."

He also told Jamaal something else.

"He was the only guy on that team that went on to college and graduated," Jamaal says. "I think of the adversity that he went through and how he kept his head down and stayed strong. It's amazing how things are meant to be and you end up where you're supposed to be if you stay strong with God and keep working at it."

It hasn't always been easy for Jamaal, either. He desperately wanted to go to Arkansas to play for Houston Nutt, whose father was deaf and coached at the Arkansas School for the Deaf ("It was like family"), but he had to earn the scholarship and find a position. Then he's had to deal with the "bust" label after that '07 draft with 7.5 career sacks and working on his third team.

But labels don't go down well in the Anderson family. Karen Anderson objected fiercely to teachers that told her Jamaal needed to be treated as a hyperactive child.

"No one was going to label my child with anything," Karen says. "He was probably about five and a half and he had a lot of energy. I felt the best way to steer his energy at that age was sports and we got him involved in T-ball. And it took off from there."

Now 20 years later he seems to be shedding that other label and evolving into another. Solid role and rotation player. Anchor the edge on first and second down, try to penetrate on third down from the inside. He's coming off a career-high three sacks with the Colts and sounds revived here playing for Zimmer in the second-chance mold of Brandon Johnson, Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson.

After starting left end Carlos Dunlap went down with a knee injury in the preseason opener, Anderson freely talked about how he's developed in the league.

"I've definitely become more studious. That was one of the things I probably learned between my second and fourth year in Atlanta," Anderson said 10 days ago. "I was definitely getting in, watching a lot of video, understanding not only my position in the scheme but overall what the concept was and why I was doing that for a particular reason.

"(Zimmer) looks for tough-nosed defensive ends. He wants guys that are going to stop the run and then get after the passer. That was probably one of the biggest things he instilled in a lot of defensive ends, was getting after that run and being tough-nosed, and then once you stop that run you can get after the passer."

The father's resilience has not only influenced Anderson on the field, but also in his interaction with his new community. Karen says working with deaf children has become Jamaal's passion and Glenn knows how powerful it is for No. 92 to walk into a class of deaf children knowing American Sign Language. How many pro athletes can do that?

So barely had the ink dried on the Bengals contract when Glenn looked up the contacts at St. Rita's School for the Deaf in the Cincinnati suburbs.

"Many deaf kids and even adults can identify with Jamaal because they see him as having a 'family connection' to the deaf community," Glenn writes.

"Sports has always been an important part of the lives of deaf people. Playing sports at a school for the deaf often provides opportunities for deaf youth to meet and compete against deaf youth from deaf schools in other states," he says. "That is an important part of the socialization process for deaf children. Participation in sports at a school for the deaf serves as a stepping-stone for those who aspire to play at the college level such as Gallaudet or in the community."     

The karma kicked in right away. Like during the spring OTAs while Jamaal and his wife were staying at The Westin. Talk about where you're supposed to be. After she informed him there was a convention of deaf organizations milling about, her husband immediately went wading into the city looking to reach out and make contact.

"I spoke with St. Rita's School for the Deaf when I went out on Fountain Square," Jamaal Anderson says, "and told them I was interested in coming out and visiting the school and speaking to the kids."

The kid is in motion again.

On a team where the head coach sees better than he hears, he's quite welcome.

 

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