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Apple Catches Bengals' Eye While Reports Have Spain Return

Eli Apple traded jerseys with Vonn Bell a few years back. Now they're on the same team again.
Eli Apple traded jerseys with Vonn Bell a few years back. Now they're on the same team again.

How about acquiring a 25-year-old cornerback once taken with the 10th pick in the draft when you go stocking for depth?

That's what the Bengals did Tuesday when they inked Eli Apple to one of those nothing-to-lose-for-either-party-one-year-deals. They hope a reunion with former Ohio State teammates Vonn Bell and Sam Hubbard along with Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, his secondary coach in 2018 with the Giants when a mid-season trade sent Apple to the Saints, can be exactly what he needs on his fourth team in the last three years.

"I'm excited to work with him again," Anarumo said Tuesday afternoon. "Heck of a signing. He brings a multiple skill set."

Apple played just 34 snaps last season with the Panthers because of a hamstring injury, but the Bengals also reportedly re-upped with a player on Tuesday that they saw plenty last year when they welcomed back Quinton Spain on a one-year deal.

And the one thing you can say about Spain's excellent adventure up and down the Bengals offensive line in 2020 at three different positions with three different quarterbacks is that he gave them a resourceful resource.

Which is why the Bengals were glad to get him back in a move that gives them the starting tandem of Spain at right guard and Xavier Su'a-Filo at left guard that worked the last four games of the season in a very intriguing offensive stretch.

Talk about intriguing. The 6-1, 203-pound Apple went to his Big Apple hometown Giants out of Columbus with the tenth overall pick in the 2016 Giants' draft, a product of his massive athleticism. Apple, who grew up in southern New Jersey, started three post-season games during his 30-game stint with the Giants and 25 with the Saints.

The Bengals love Ohio State players (Apple would be their 35th Buckeye to take a snap, by far the most of any school) and some thought this pairing would have happened before now.

"It's a long-time coming," said Apple Tuesday, headed to the airport after signing his deal. "There are a lot of familiar faces. Vonn and Sam Hubbard and Coach Lou. "There are a lot of playmakers on this team. I'm excited to be a part of it."

The Bengals added two starting cornerbacks last week and one last March and look to have a set starting lineup at that spot. But they need depth after Darius Phillips and Tony Brown and why not Apple? Although he's never been able to stay long on one team despite that high selection, he's looking to bottle consistency after flashing those elite skills with a career line of 33 passes defensed, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.

If this is the proverbial second-chance story, Anarumo says the guy comes with some first-round skills.

"He's big, he's long, he's tough. And he can run," Anarumo said. "He's got a lot of qualities you like. He's played a lot of winning football early on in his career. Everybody's got a different path in the league, so hopefully this can be the right one for him."

Heading into his fifth season Apple sees himself as a guy that won't back down from a leadership role.

"The athleticism in the secondary is pretty good. Everybody's a playmaker," Apple said, "It's going to feed off that. I can bring my thing with my athleticism into the mix. I've got size and versatility. I'm another leader back there. Somebody vocal."

Spain, who turns 30 in training camp, is a guy that brought enormous leadership last season by just watching him. Cut by the Buffalo Bills in late October, he surfaced a few days later in the Bengals' COVID protocols. When he was able to emerge, he signed a practice squad contract and got in a walk-through.

A mere 48 hours after viewing the playbook for the first time, he played all but the first series at left guard for an offensive line suddenly missing four starters. After a seamless no-sack day in which the Bengals rushed for 118 yards against the AFC South-leading Titans for rookie quarterback Joe Burrow's second win, the next game Spain made his first career start at right tackle before settling in at right guard the next week.

Those last four games with Su'a-Filo were interesting. It included quarterback Ryan Finley's Monday Night upset of the Steelers on 152 yards rushing followed six days later by quarterback Brandon Allen's 371 yards passing in a 37-31 win in Houston.

The draft could end up changing both guard spots, but the Spain signing gives them solid depth.

According to Pro Football Focus, he finished in 47th place among 120 places in run blocking and in 51st place among 101 in pass blocking efficiency when allowed one sack and 12 pressures on 437 passes.