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Quick Hits: Bengals Man Of The Year Karras Thanks Cincy; 'Downtown Jake Brown'  Shrugs Off Nicknames; A (Drew) Sample Of Elite Pass Pro

C Ted Karras signs autographs during warmups at Paycor Stadium before kickoff of the Steelers-Bengals game in Week 12 of the 2023 season.
C Ted Karras signs autographs during warmups at Paycor Stadium before kickoff of the Steelers-Bengals game in Week 12 of the 2023 season.

Bengals center Ted Karras may have gone to high school in Indianapolis, but he came of age in Cincinnati and that's why he says his "huge," contingent headed down I-74 East for Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Paycor Stadium against the Colts is going to be blanketed in black and orange.

Karras, clearly touched by the Bengals nominating him for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, tried to put it into words after Wednesday's walkthrough in the IEL Indoor Facility.

"The main sentiment I want to express is gratitude to the Cincinnati community. This nomination is for everyone," Karras said. "The outpouring of generosity that Cincy has shown me and the Village of Merici and the sister city of Indianapolis, it makes me speechless at times."

Karras' project, the Cincy Hat, has been around barely a year and has already raised nearly $1 million to expand independent living for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities at Indy's Village of Merici. It all began when Karras arrived in Cincinnati in 2022 free agency with about 120 "Cincy," hats to give to his new co-workers.

"A lot of the credit goes to my teammates for loving them and wearing them and it created a demand," Karras said.

How rare is this? Cathedral High School's Terry McLaurin is the Payton nominee for the Washington Commanders.

"Best player in Cathedral football history," Karras said. "His last two years they said screw it and put him at running back and pitched him the ball every play and they went to state championships."

As a member of the Patriots in 2021, he lost his only game to the Colts in his eight seasons. But he was never a fan. He was born in Chicago and his grandfather played for the NFL champion Bears in 1963. So it made sense he wore the jersey of Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher to Super Bowl Day at Matthews Middle school in sixth grade the week the Colts beat the Bears.

The Bears are another reason the nomination means so much.

"Big fan of Walter Payton. Sweetness," Karras said. "One of my favorite players of all-time. Tremendous man. He left us too early.  …. I never met him, but I've read a bunch of books and have seen the highlights."

In classic Karras optimism, he's ready:

"I'm going to go win it."

It's an award no stranger to Bengals. Ken Anderson. Anthony Munoz and, quite fittingly, Reggie Williams, Sunday's Ruler of the Jungle.

JAKE WHAT?: One of those teammates Karras is talking about is quarterback Jake Browning.

Apparently, he asked Browning to wear a Cincy hat to his weekly Wednesday news conference and he did. But Karras paid for it when somebody asked him about nicknames and Browning zeroed in on him and senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner.

"I feel like everyone is just throwing something at the wall, seeing what's going to stick," Browning said. "Ted is throwing a couple of nicknames out there and I was told to wear the Cincy hat, so I'm obliging. And then Duff. Duff must have thrown out four different nicknames. Just yelled four nicknames after the game to see like, all right, which one of these is going to stick? And so I have no preference. I'm good with whatever."

Karras' "Downtown Jake Brown," appears to be gaining traction with the players. But Duffner's "Jake The Snake," is a reliable standby.

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Bengals head coach Zac Taylor spent some time with Jaguars offensive coordinator Press Taylor and family before Monday's game, but don't get it twisted. This sibling rivalry takes no prisoners. Not even the next generation is safe.

"Press's son, Woods, I don't know how old Woods is. Two?" Zac says. "Talked a little trash. A little trash. Like the game had already been played out. I said, 'Not so fast my friend.' He'll be hearing about that one for the next 20 years or so." …

The coaches love tight end Drew Sample. He's in his fifth season (he basically lost all of 2022 to a knee injury) and you don't hear his name much because he's more of a blocker. But this year he's scored two of his three career touchdowns and he continues to be a reliable pass protector, now more so in the backfield.

On Monday he played 45 snaps, his most in three years,  as the Bengals went to more six- and seven-man protections than usual. Pro Football Focus had him on the field for 24 pass plays (he had a red-zone catch for 11 yards to set up a touchdown) and he allowed just one pressure on nine pass blocks as mainly a backfield protector.

Sample and running back Trayveon Williams did great work on the biggest play of the game, Browning's third-and-10 out against a blitz to wide receiver Tee Higgins that kept alive the winning drive in overtime with Sample also in the backfield.

"I'll take this opportunity to pontificate about Drew Sample. He's been absolutely fantastic in the role that we have asked him to play," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan with a wide smile during his weekly media skull session Wednesday.

"The thing that really separates him from any tight end I've been around is his capacity to handle the third down pass protection part of the game. You want to talk about locked into everything that he needs to do as a protecting back. He's phenomenal and it's like he knows what to do before the quarterback sometimes."

Callahan says the only guy he can think of close to him as a pass blocker in the backfield is the old Ravens fullback now with the 49ers, Kyle Juszczyk. But Juszczyk is only 235 pounds and a hybrid fullback. Sample is 260.

"When you have a 260-pound tight end going to fit up on linebackers, it looks a lot different. It feels a lot different for the quarterback in the pocket versus a 205-pound running back," Callahan said.  "So that's a huge advantage for us because it's third-and-six, third-and-10. We're not running the ball in those spots. It's a throwing down. It's always going to be. And so it doesn't matter if we have a threat of the run in those spots at all.

"So we're going to lean our resources into pass protection. I just think what he's done, how he's done it, the way he goes about his job, his growth, his mental focus, and clarity of the job description has been probably one of the most important parts of how our season is going along in that realm of pass protection. He makes a massive difference back there as a pass protector."

Which is why they took him in the second round in 2019 ….

The last time Washington's Browning met Washington State's Gardner Minshew II was when Browning beat Minshew, 27-15, for the 2018 Apple Cup. Now they meet Sunday in the NFL and Browning has kept an eye on him.

"Anytime you have a guy that didn't get drafted high, but he is a later pick and has kind of had to scrap, I've always had a lot of respect for his game," said Browning, undrafted in 2019 while Minshew went in the sixth round to Jacksonville. "We've had a couple times where I did different workouts with him. Always been a guy that seems very easygoing, but when it's time to work, he works hard and I can always appreciate those guys that can be easygoing, normal to be around, and then when it's time to go, it's time to focus and he was able to kind of flip that switch and so I've always kept up with his career a little bit."

That Apple Cup game?

"I think we were really good on defense all my years there, and I remember it being a very dominant performance on defense and running the ball," Browning said. "And I remember it was snowing so bad that we didn't put a punt returner back there. He couldn't see the ball or the punter, and so we just rushed everybody and I remember thinking it must be pretty bad." …

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