So you want to know how Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin and his staff have put together one of the most compete 1-53 rosters in the NFL?
How this team has survived the loss of its best cover cornerback for the last eight games? How a team missed its best run-stopper for six games, its biggest playmaker for four games, the right side of its offensive line for the last two and still tied for the most wins (12) in franchise history and has the longest winning streak (eight) going into the playoffs of any team that lost the previous Super Bowl since Watergate, The Godfather, American Pie and the undefeated 1972 Dolphins?
We give you the cutdown day waiver claim of right guard Max Scharping, making his first Bengals start in Sunday night's (8:15-Cincinnati's Channel 5) AFC Wild Card Game at Paycor Stadium.
His debut comes against the always stout, perennially stingy Ravens because arguably their best offensive lineman went down when Alex Cappa got his ankle rolled in the second half of last Sunday's win to set up Scharping's first postseason appearance since his rookie year the 2019 Texans went up 24-0 in an AFC Divisional in Kansas City.
"He's a three-year starter in this league. You don't get to just pick up guards like that. Good foresight," said center Ted Karras after Wednesday's practice, clicking off the names of the Bengals front office as if they were the Ravens fronts.
President Mike Brown. Katie and Troy Blackburn. Tobin, the 52-year-old reigning NFL Executive of the Year who has overseen seismic drafts in the three Aprils of the 2020s.
"It's a testament to Duke, Mike, Troy and Katie and the foresight to pick up a premier starting guard the Texans decided not to use," Karras said. "Good for us."
Scharping and Karras were already working hand in glove Sunday. Scharping had his folks in from Green Bay, Wis., and as is his want, Karras had about 20 folks over the house after the game. Sharping's father has a business, A-1 Vacuum and Radon, about a mile from Lambeau Field and after getting off nearly a 25-year waiting list for Packers season tickets about five years ago, they can park in the lot and walk to the games.
"He installs central vac throughout northeastern Wisconsin," Scharping said. "He took a look at Teddy's central vac and fixed it up for him. We're rolling in Cincinnati."
That's because when the final waiver wire of training camp appeared, Scharping was high on the scouts' Preseason Watch List.
During training camp, each scout is responsible for a group of teams around the league. They identify which of their players are most likely to get cut and write reports on them from the current preseason tape. Since they probably also scouted them coming out of college, those reports are included. There may also be reports from last preseason.
So when the deluge came around dinnertime on Aug. 30, they just had to punch a search function to get the reports of those suddenly available. There were also a few character calls to players, coaches and other scouts they know from around the league that know the player.
They break the Watch List into categories. Ideal Practice Squad Player. Rotational Player. Quality Backup. Low-Level Starter. Scharping was the highest cut of player out there as the 55th pick in his draft with 33 NFL starts. He fit right into the Situational Starter slot. Given that the Texans had drafted Kenyon Green in the first round and there was a new head coach in Houston, he was on the list. And he was also on the list because given he had a big second-round salary in the final year of his rookie deal ($2.5 million) and the Bengals, with Katie Blackburn's salary cap flexibility, were able to do what most teams couldn't and claimed him all the way down at No. 31.
"Like anywhere, anytime you don't see eye-to-eye with a player, then you talk about it in-depth and you go through it, and sometimes we throw players aside," head coach Zac Taylor told Bengals.com this week. "This is one I think there was unanimity on. We liked Max, we liked what he was about, we liked what we saw on tape. We thought he'd fit in the room, everything we knew about him, and it was a great job by Duke and those guys getting him in the mix."
It also helped that Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack and his assistant, Derek Frazier, were aware of Scharping coming out in 2019 and those notes bolstered the report. Frazier got his hands on him at the Northern Illinois pro day and Scharping remembers.
"Fraze had coached some at Central Michigan and I was at Northern Illinois, so there was a little MAC connection," said Scharping, who agrees with Pollack's assessment that he's a hard-working Midwestern "grunt."
"It was a good workout," Scharping said of that pro day. "I'm Midwest at heart. I was never considered the best at my school. I had to work for whatever I had. Hopefully I'll continue to improve myself."
Smart. Tough. Gritty. That's how Pollack pegs him. A 6-6, 325-pound darken-the-doorway frame doesn't hurt, either. The playbook wasn't much of a problem.
"What helped is I practiced for one day and then we had a three-day break," Scharping said. "I came in here with Frank and Fraze we put in specifics. It was a help to me that Frank knew the system I came from. From the start, I picked it up pretty early."
There were the little things to be done, like learning the techniques Pollack wanted used on stunts and games, but, like Scharping said, "I've been here all year, so there's not necessarily anything lacking. Cap's just a great player. He just sees things, he's had so much experience. Cap's just fantastic at what he does. I'm just hoping to go out there, play to the best of my ability each play and hopefully be there when Teddy needs me the most."
Pollack and Taylor aren't ripping up things. Tweaking, yes. But they've got the same style of right guard they've had all year. Sharping may not be as athletic as Cappa, but he's certainly not a geranium when it comes to some of the movement stuff they've added in the run game lately.
"Smart. Aware. Can anchor a little bit," Pollack said. "He's pulled a lot in Houston. It's not foreign to him. We've been doing a little bit of that ourselves this year … We'll see … You couldn't ask for a better guy to be rolling in there … We thought he'd be a good fit for the room from a mindset and personality standpoint."
The personality was molded in Green Bay, where he grew up about seven to eight miles from Lambeau, which he says you can see from his roof. He grew up following the Brett Favres and the Donald Drivers, but truth be told his favorite Packer was probably an offensive lineman, tackle Mark Tauscher. His family got on the season ticket waiting list when his older sister was a baby. She's 28 and the tickets came through about the time Scharping was at Northern. He can't remember the last time he went to Lambeau.
"They're out of it," Scharping said. "So we're not worried about them now."
But if Aaron Rodgers is out of the playoffs, a son of Green Bay returns for the first time since that rookie year when he played every snap in a win over Buffalo and that crazy 51-31 loss in Kansas City.
"That was a weird game to be sure," Scharping said. "It was a very weird game. I played well in the game, so it was tough for me … Very excited that I'm back finally after a couple of years hiatus."
Karras, who has seen the front office and Scharping work, has got his central vac mindset plugged in for Baltimore.
"We're not changing who we are or what we're doing," Karras said.