Updated: 11-6-12, 4:50 a.m.
J.K. Shaffer is your classic Cincinnati guy with the classic NFL dream.
Undrafted out of the University of Cincinnati this spring via LaSalle High School, the leading tackler during the Jaguars preseason, and after a cup of coffee with the Tampa Bay practice squad in September, Schaffer finally got to Paul Brown Stadium on Monday as a Bengal when he signed on to the practice squad as a linebacker.
"Look at guys like (James) Harrison from Pittsburgh," Schaffer said. "He was cut by a team six times or something like that before he started playing. You hear stories like that all the time. I want to be one of those stories."
Schaffer doesn't have to look far from his own locker room or even his own position to see the stories. Starting WILL backer
"When I was making my choice, Coach Lewis was using Armon as an example," Schaffer said of head coach Marvin Lewis's pitch during the post-draft recruiting. "I think it was meant to be that for sure."
Schaffer's not sure if he made the right decision to sign with the Jags after the draft. It came down between Jacksonville and the Bengals, and he can still put up his thumb and index finger when he recounts how close it was.
"Hardest decision of my life; it came down to just a few details," he said.
It's no surprise Jacksonville would have such interest. Linebackers coach Mark Duffner, a former UC and Bengals assistant for nearly a decade, knows all about Cincy guys like Schaffer that, as Duffner would say, "play with their hair on fire." Schaffer produced for him with 18 tackles, an interception and two passes defensed before the final cut.
But Schaffer is here now and he knew last week when the spot opened that the offer would be coming, but nothing was going to be set until Monday. As a volunteer coach at LaSalle it seemed like he had to answer the question every day, "What are you doing? I hope the Bengals sign you," and he could only politely say "I hope so, too."
Last week when he finally got the word, Schaffer asked his parents to keep it quiet until it happened and even as he got his playbook Monday he had yet to tell anyone outside his family.
"Oh yeah," he said. "Everyone is going to be excited."
Schaffer, a Bengals fan from the word go, grew up watching a lot of linebackers pass through the PBS portals. But it was actually a defensive end that was and still is his favorite.
"I really like Justin Smith; I still like watching him play," Shaffer said. "I like his effort, motor. He wasn't the most athletic guy in the world, but you watch him in practice and he'd be the guy going through and smacking the bag as hard as he can, hustling everywhere he goes."
Which gives you an idea how Schaffer is going to approach it all. He played the middle at UC, along with some WILL, but he had yet to hear where the Bengals were going to line him up. A two-time All-Big East selection in four seasons at UC, he'll no doubt learn all three spots.
He did, though, have a jersey, even if he didn't have one as a kid. He did have plenty of Bengals caps and T-shirts.
"I'm not a jersey guy," Schaffer said.
He is now after equipment managers Jeff Brickner and Adam Knollman gave him No. 49.
“He was a productive player at UC. He has a good opportunity to develop as an NFL linebacker. Let’s see how good he can get and be, but he’s a good guy to have in the program and begin to train," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "He’s a smart kid, and a guy that played tough and physical. You never know until you start being around the guy and the coaches coaching him, but it seems like he has a lot of the traits you’re looking for.”
KILLER PENALTIES: On the two passing penalties in the fourth quarter Sunday, Lewis thought it was the proper call on Bengals cornerback
“I thought the deep ball to A.J. should have, no question, been pass interference," Lewis said in his Monday news conference. "The ball was in the air. From what everybody has told me about the pass interference call from the TV replay, we grabbed the receiver a little bit early. I think the receiver was moving for position, and I guess (Jones’s) hand was up and grabbed him. I haven’t watched the TV copy (of the game). But that’s what was called.
"That’s the thing, it’s a tight game and you see that all the time. In that football game last night (Atlanta vs. Dallas), the doggone receiver nearly takes the jersey off the cornerback and doesn’t get a call. Conversely, if that happens the other way it gets called. But you’ve got to get in position. Those are tough plays, when the ball is up in the air like that. Adam was in very good position—he was on top of the receiver—and you’ve just got to find a way to stay on top, because he pushed back through.”
The Bengals weren't wild about the holding calls on left tackle
“I think one of the holds we got yesterday was a legitimate call. We have to do a better job of getting into better position so that those things don’t occur,” Lewis said. "The penalties in the fourth quarter ended up being very significant. We had four penalties in the fourth quarter that really made an impact, if not five. They had a big effect."
STAT CHECK: At the halfway point Bengals quarterback
CHASING T.J.: Green can catch Houshmandzadeh in the club record book during Sunday's 1 p.m. game at Paul Brown Stadium against the Giants in another category. A touchdown would give Green a TD in eight straight games, tying him for the longest skien in one season.
NOT SO SPECIAL: When the Broncos busted their team-record 105-yard kick return Sunday, it went through the alley of two of Cincinnati's most solid special teams players. WILL backer
“We had some guys break down," Lewis said. "We did a nice job of getting the play aborted from their part, and their player made a good cut. We’ve got to get off blocks. That’s the key to playing against a smallish returner like that – get off blocks and get an opportunity to make a tackle. He’s a good cut-runner and we don’t get off blocks and in good enough spots. We kind of got tugged a little on the backside a little bit, but we’ve got to get there and make the play.”
DEBUTS: That play was one of the 10 snaps rookie cornerback
“I thought Emmanuel did some good things," Lewis said. "He was involved in a lot of plays and got his hands on the ball. He did what we expected him to do.”