Carlos Dunlap says he saw "two or three" Bengals games last season. That limited viewing sample was more than enough to convince him he's heading to the right situation.
The Bengals made Dunlap, a 6-6, 277-pound defensive end from the University of Florida, their second-round pick of the 2010 NFL Draft Friday night. They saw and knew more of Dunlap than he did of them. What they found convinced them that despite a DUI arrest last December and criticism that his on-field effort didn't always match his physical talents, he was the right fit for them.
Now each gets the opportunity to prove them self correct.
"I love the way their defense plays," said Dunlap. "They get after it. I love the way the defense seems like a real good fit for me. I love the way they come out and play with tenacity. ... I saw about two or three games, and their defense always showed up on the games that I saw."
For all of the tenacity that helped the Bengals go 10-6 and win the AFC North last season, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer wants to see more pressure on the quarterback in 2010. While the Bengals doubled their sack total from 2008 – they had 34 sacks last season after managing just 17 the previous season – Zimmer is on a never-ending quest for improvement in all areas and the thought of adding Dunlap's skills to a unit that finished fourth in total defense and sixth in points allowed in the league made the pick an easy one.
"One of the things that really sold us on him is that we think he has so much position versatility," said Zimmer. "We think he could be a 295, 300-pounder someday and if we can use him in pass-rush situations and let him adapt to where we can find the right position for him a year from now, then we've really got something."
It a scenario not far removed from the one Michael Johnson found himself in last season. The Bengals selected Johnson, a 6-7, 260-pound end, in the third round of last year's draft. Johnson's physical stature was undeniable but criticism followed him that he didn't always play up to that talent. Johnson had a solid rookie season, finishing with 16 tackles, three sacks and five pass breakups. His playing time increased as the season moved on, a function of his productivity after Antwan Odom was lost for the season with a torn right Achilles tendon in Week 6 against Houston.
Odom was tied for the league lead with eight sacks at the time of his injury but Jonathan Fanene moved into Odom's spot in the starting lineup and Johnson's on-field time also increased. Fanene responded with the best of his five seasons; he finished with 49 tackles, six sacks, a pair of pass breakups and an interception he returned for a touchdown against Detroit.
The offseason prognosis for Odom is that he has a good chance at being ready for training camp.
Dunlap's three-year career at Florida included 19½ sacks, 26 tackles for loss, 11 quarterback pressures, eight pass breakups and 56 solo tackles. There was more than one scouting service that saw those stats as tantalizing but not as impressive as they could have been.
"I think that at sometimes it has been (fair), that in some of the games he has disappeared a little bit," said Zimmer. "But I've been watching a lot of tape – way too much tape this time of year – and there are a lot of guys that have already gone off the board that take off a lot more plays than this guy. That's our job as coaches to make sure they're not taking plays off."
Then there is the issue of Dunlap's DUI arrest last December 1. Dunlap, who didn't turn 21 until February, was awakened by Gainesville police, according to police reports, at 3:58 a.m. while at the wheel of his car at a traffic light. Dunlap eventually pleaded no contest and was sentenced to one year probation, 50 hours of community service, participation in a victim's impact panel and $1,000 in court costs and fines.
He was also suspended for the Gators' game against Alabama in the SEC championship. Florida lost the SEC title, 32-13. Dunlap was reinstated to the team in time to play against the University of Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl and produced a pair of sacks in Florida's 51-24 victory.
"That was the only incident on my record and I pretty much just told (the Bengals) that was my first and last incident," said Dunlap. "I never had anything before that and I'm not going to have anything after that. I feel like you've got to learn from your mistakes and I feel that I've learned from it. I apologized to everybody and now I'm ready to move forward with my life and turn that negative into a positive."
The Bengals did more than just take Dunlap at his word.
"That was thoroughly investigated," said head coach Marvin Lewis.
A final phone call from defensive line coach Jay Hayes to contacts within the Florida program on Friday morning solidified the Bengals' belief in Dunlap.
"The people I know, and I've known them for a long time, vouch for the kid," said Hayes. "They said the incident he had was a one-time thing. That was it. There was nothing other than that. I had spoken to the kid before about all of this, but I also have close associations with the people on that (Florida) staff and they spoke highly of him."