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From Greensboro To The A Gap: D.J. Reader, Larry Ogunjobi Team Up In Bengals Middle 

D.J. Reader: Effective recruiter.
D.J. Reader: Effective recruiter.

The Baseball Player from Grimsley High School and The Extra Large Kid from Ragsdale High back in the day in Greensboro, N.C., finally find themselves together in the revamped middle of a reconstituted Bengals defense.

The Baseball Player, the incumbent nose tackle D.J. Reader, has been sending texts to The Extra Large Kid since about the time Larry Ogunjobi followed Reader into the NFL Draft a year later.

But this text, sent last week in the early hours of NFL free agency, was different.

"Need you, Dog," Reader's message said. "I need a dog next to me."

Not long after that, Ogunjobi agreed on a one-year deal for $6 million that gives them exactly what each of them needs. It allows Ogunjobi to play his natural position at the three technique defensive tackle position and it gives Reader that dog to play next to him. A scrappy, relentless rescue dog who re-made his life when he re-made his body. An athletic tag team complementing Reader as he continues to do the grimy work of the nose man, a group of which he is considered an elite member.

Call it From Greensboro to Gap-linburg.

It also gives the Bengals' last-in-sacks defense another booster shot in the wake of the signing of Saints' 13.5-sack edge rusher Trey Hendrickson. New Bengals defensive line coach Marion Hobby, Reader's college position coach, has two new starters with a combined 34.5 career sacks.

"I think it got a lot better," Reader says of the pass rush. "With Sam (Hubbard) having another year, a guy like Trey coming in with Larry, I think we'll all be able to rush well together. Coach Hobby is going to do a good job putting us in position and teaching guys the right way to go about it. I think we're in a really, really good spot."

Reader, who did a good bit of recruiting at other defensive spots, also likes the addition of right tackle Riley Reiff "to help my boy Joe out," and he's OK with them bulking up on defense because he thinks that also helps out Burrow. He points to the late-season win over the Steelers that he and Burrow missed, a 27-17 game where the defense carried the night.

"They're trying to win. I think they're going about it the right way," Reader says. "I think they realized we needed some pieces on defense. I think we got them, now we just need some depth.

"(Good defense) gives them more confidence. It lets you settle in as offense. You don't feel like you have to push the ball down the field all the time. That game against Pittsburgh was a prime example. There wasn't that pressure. 'We've got to score.'''

The Bengals scored with Ogunjobi when they lined him up at the three technique. He knows that's the right spot for him because he's been in Reader's spot, most recently last season in Cleveland. Ogunjobi gave nose tackle his best shot because always does, but for the first time in his career he didn't play on third down and he had just 2.5 sacks.

He played nose the previous two seasons, too, but he was allowed to do some different things and it got him 5.5 sacks in each of those years. Now he's back at the three technique for the first time since he was a rookie and loving it.

"Given the way the league is, I'm more of a three (technique) just based on my body-type, my quickness, speed, movement ability," Ogunjobi says. "I know what being a nose feels like. I know what the double teams feel like. I know the combo blocks. It's not an easy position. You have to command a double team and allow people to go to work and it's awesome to be with (Reader) because I've been the guy that's had to take on the double teams."

Reader can move around the line, although his favorite spot is nose, so he knows what it's like to be able to play your natural spot and what that means for the Bengals and Ogunjobi.

"He's more a three I would think," Reader says. "It will be great to have him in his natural position and see what he can do. I Iove playing the nose guard position. I like pass rushing from there. I like playing the game from that position. I know its different rushing from there than any other position, but I'm good at it, so I enjoy it.

"When you're not used to playing that spot, not many guys like playing that spot. Especially if you're not a bigger guy already. Not that Larry is small. I sit at 340 if I eat too many cheeseburgers. He's not that person. It's a difference. Twenty pounds is a lot."

But 20 pounds isn't all that much for Ogunjobi. Ten years ago he was a sophomore at Ragsdale weighing a dangerous 350 pounds when his parents took away his X-Box and sent him to a coach to lose weight.

About a month later in the car he argued with the coach when Larry told him he wanted nothing to do with the football team. But that Saturday he was on the field unable to complete his first practice and the next practice the coaches wondered, "Larry, we want to make sure you're still here."

"Yeah, I'm, still here," he told them, but, 'In my head it was only because I had to be."

Two years later he was 267 pounds and the recipient of five full rides (he chose Charlotte) after a regimen he worked out following practice at the YMCA running and biking. He could last only a few miles at the beginning, but by the end he was running 12 and biking 15.

Yet the turning point came at the awards banquet after that first season. He thought his best friend was going to be named the junior varsity's most improved player. Instead, it was him.

"That was the first time in my life where I earned something that I felt like I really worked for," Ogunjobi says. "It kind of put things into perspective for me."

Reader, The Baseball Player, starred in all three major sports and was ticketed to a big football school early and was a pitcher who threw in the 90s while batting .529 and winning MVPs.

But he couldn't help hear about the younger D-tackle with the irresistible story 15 minutes away in Jamestown.

"Really good guy. Hard working," Reader says. "I remember the way he worked himself into the shape he is now. The guy you see now is a completely different Larry Ogunjobi. It's crazy knowing the kid and watching how hard he worked to get to where he needs to be. He's trying for greatness. You can't ask for much more than that. He wants to be great. He does everything he can to go out there and be a special player."

As a Division I tackle-to-be, Reader couldn't escape the gaze of Ogunjobi. Everyone had heard about Reader's baseball exploits and Ogunjobi saw his football skills up close. Like the time Grimsley put him at fullback and dared Ragsdale to tackle him.

Now they're in the middle of an NFL defense, challenging the AFC North with a new set of pass rushers they hope takes the pressure off their own passer. Together. Finally.

"God doesn't make mistakes. I'm just trying to keep doing the work," says The Extra Large Kid, not too big anymore.

But just the right size for the Bengals.