Bengals Pick Off CFL Interception Leader

Winston Rose signs on the dotted line.
Winston Rose signs on the dotted line.

Two days after finishing the season with the fourth fewest interceptions in the NFL, the Bengals plucked the Canadian Football League's leading interceptor Tuesday when they signed all-CFL Winnipeg cornerback Winston Rose to a two-year deal a month after he helped the Blue Bombers to the Grey Cup championship.

Rose, who turned 26 the same week the Bombers routed the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, led the league with nine interceptions and added another in the West Division title game, giving him one fewer than the 11 the Bengals had this season. He also had five the year before for British Columbia in a league that doesn't make it easy to make interceptions.

The Canadian game is played on a wider and longer field with 12 men and except for the quarterback, players in the backfield can be in motion at the snap and can move in any direction as long as they are behind the line of scrimmage at the snap. Wide receivers can also be in motion along the line.

"You can press, but you have to be a yard off. You can't be in their face," said Ross after he signed. "A player in the slot gets a running start. Those are the biggest differences. It's tougher to play corner up there, but the NFL is more physical."

At 6-0, 176 pounds, Rose already knew after three pre-season games as a rookie with the 2016 Colts. It was reinforced after defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo gave him a welcoming hug.

"Come back at 186 in April," Anarumo told him. "You're long enough."

Talk about a small world. Anarumo was part of the Bengals contingent that worked out Rose and liked how he tracked the ball. It turns out that Rose's high school coach in the Los Angeles area at Harvard-Westlake, Scot Ruggles, was a graduate assistant for Anarumo at Marshall about 18 years ago.

"Scotty went out there to become an actor and ended up coaching football," Anarumo said.

According to Ruggles' twitter feed, he's doing both as director of football relations at UCLA and appearing as Coach Wilson in CW's second season of All American. His former player has lived the real world looking for an NFL shot. It may be a small world, but Rose has traveled it.

After high school Rose went the junior college route before playing three seasons at New Mexico State. The Rams signed him following the 2016 draft, where he was thought good enough to be a late-rounder, but they cut him and he played those three pre-season games for the Colts. Indy cut him, but three days later the CFL's Ottawa franchise called and 40 games later he's back in the NFL.

Yet that wide world been more than football. When he was 17 he lost his god brother, Ashton Crosswell, 16, to a shooting in Watts. But he calls him his brother because he is.

"He was the son of my god mother, but you couldn't tell us apart. We grew up together," Rose said. "Wrong place. Wrong time. A crossfire. He's the reason I play football. I play for him."

After getting the Grey Cup, Rose also worked out for the Eagles and Chargers and when Philly offered, he opted for Cincinnati.

"I felt it was the better fit," Rose said. "The relationship building with Coach Lou felt right. I did my research and I felt the Cincinnati Bengals were the best fit."

The Bengals love that ball-tracking ability and hope he works out like three CFL imports over the years that have made contributions. Most recently was wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, who in his three seasons from 2011 to 2013 caught 86 balls for nearly 1,000 yards as primarily a slot receiver for three playoff teams. Safety Kyries Hebert either led or shared the special teams tackling title in his two seasons of 2008-09, including 21 as a rookie. Linebacker and rush end Rashad Jeanty started 32 games between 2006 and 2009 and had nine tackles for loss along with 35 tackles on teams. When the Bengals swept the AFC North in 2009, Hebert shared the teams lead with 11 tackles while Jeanty had 10.

"Looking at Canada has always been an important part for us. There are a lot of good players that come down here," said Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin. "He has proven ball skills and the receivers get running starts up there. He's shown he's been fast enough, quick enough, alert enough to make plays up there."

For Rose, it's pretty simple what stands out about his game.

"Tracking the ball," he said. "Seeing the ball, getting the ball. That's pretty much the mentality."

And putting on 10 pounds.