Zeitler right at home

Posted Apr 28, 2012

When Kevin Zeitler shook hands with Dre Kirkpatrick, his father, and his agent on Friday, they all winced at each other while admiring The Vise. When Zeitler shook hands with equipment manager Jeff Brickner and offered him the Aroldis Chapman windup before reaching out, he almost tore off Brickner's throwing shoulder.

"First impression," said Zeitler, who figures to have the inside track on the starting right guard job. "You've got to give them something to remember."

The handshake is this kid's calling card of no-nonsense strength and smarts, one of the shots fired in that game of attrition the AFC North plays even in the draft rooms that may be what people remember about this draft.

While the Bengals were taking Zeitler, the Steelers were taking Stanford guard David DeCastro and then in the second round Ohio State tackle Mike Adams. DeCastro got all the ink as the next Steve Hutchinson, but there were teams that had Zeitler safely ahead of DeCastro because of his 40 Wonderlic score, center versatility, and the Wisconsin offensive NFL assembly line.

Now the careers of Zeitler and DeCastro are forever intertwined.

"I’m just honored that they decided to pick me and took a chance on me," Zeitler said. "I’m going to do everything I can to show them that they did make the right decision.”

Dave Lapham, the Bengals radio analyst who played 10 seasons on the Cincinnati offensive line, couldn't get enough of the pick. A smart and versatile guy himself (Lapham went to Syracuse after he turned down Harvard), he applauded at various junctures of the news conference highlighting Zeitler's strengths.

He said Zeitler was the pick once the Bengals traded down from No. 21 to No. 27 with New England.

"They're both really good players," Lapham said of Zeitler and DeCastro. "I could see the slight edge to Zeitler, the fact he can play center and, really, the fact you get the 93rd player on top of it, it's a no-brainer.

"He's got balance, explosion, short space quickness. Everything you want in a player. He didn't make many mistakes. He was never out of position. Very efficient. I didn't find out how smart he was until later. A 40 is quite impressive."

Offensive line coach Paul Alexander says the drafting of Zeitler gives him the best guard depth he's had in 18 years coaching the Bengals line even though they are replacing starting left guard Nate Livings and right guard Bobbie Williams, the team's tandem of the past three seasons.

"We added two guys that have played a lot," Alexander said of Travelle Wharton and Jacob Bell. "We got a good guy (Zeitler). We like Otis (Hudson) and (Clint) Boling. And we like our tackles."

Asked if he would keep four guards, he laughed and said, "Marvin told me were keeping 13 linemen this year."

Alexander knows he's going to keep Zeitler. Zeitler was just what you thought he'd be as a guard. No tie, but a Bengals short-sleeved polo jersey. He downplayed his test score and said he did practice with his agents, but said his academic achievements (3.8 GPA in high school and a 3.0 plus in college) are a product of his parents. They live on the outskirts of Milwaukee, where his mother is a preschool teacher and his father is an accountant.

"My parents stressed doing well academically and I always wanted to do well on tests," he said. "I think it helped with understanding football and what's going on in front of you."

With Wharton bringing his nine years of experience, Kyle Cook established as one of the smartest centers in the league, right tackle Andre Smith's knack for the game and left tackle Andrew Whitworth's player rep smarts, the addition of Zeitler gives the Bengals O-line a brainy group.

"Pretty smart. A lot smarter than I am. It’s kind of disturbing in that sense. But it’s very important," said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. "Not to mention, he can play center. Hopefully he’ll be a solid backup center for us if something happens to Cookie. We need that part of his game. The more he can do, the better he is. That’s part of the reason we had a major attraction toward him, because we feel like he’s a very versatile guy and a very smart guy and able to pick up an offense very early. That goes a long way.”

Zeitler fits into the line of lockers where Cook can be found playing Words with Friends on his iPad against Whitworth on his phone and Smith can easily break down his weekly matchups.

"I enjoy reading," Zeitler says, counting the Dragon Tattoo series as recent reads.

Alexander says given his German heritage and football pedigree, Zeitler should live on Cincinnati's West Side. The fit is snug.

"He can go to Price Hill Chili. Maybe send his kids to Elder. Friday night football," Alexander said.

On his way to the AFC North.


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