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Karras, Bengals Like The Fit In Joe Burrow's Pocket: 'You Could Always Rely On Him'

Ted Karras signs up.
Ted Karras signs up.

Like his grandfather, Ted Karras played in an NFL championship game for a Hall of Fame head coach.

Like his father, Karras took advantage of a longshot opportunity and won a Super Bowl ring.

Like his great uncle Alex Karras, the Lions perennial Pro Bowl defensive tackle whose legend spanned TV shows and movies, the youngest Ted Karras is living room comfortable in front of the camera.

While Alex Karras' greatest hit was punching out a horse in the '70s cult classic "Blazing Saddles," Ted Karras, a New England favorite who has been called "Teddy Ballgame," at times, hit it out of the park Thursday in his first Paul Brown Stadium at-bat.

"How you guys doing? Ted Karras, newest Cincinnati Bengal here to try some Gold Star Chili," purred Karras on his first and only attempt shooting a introductory video.

"The hot dog is calling my name, so here we go … Cheesy… Very good … It's a little sweet. I really like it and I'll be getting a few more coneys while I'm here. (Slightly raised eyebrow with crisp comedic timing.)  Help me keep my weight up."

Karras had just signed his three-year contract, the first official act in an offseason the Bengals are beefing up the precious interior of Joe Burrow's pocket. The conventional wisdom is he'll be the Bengals' new center.

But you could drop in the Midwestern nice Karras anywhere and he'd be an easy fit like his affable hometown of Indianapolis. A few hours after slurping a Five-Way ("That spaghetti under there surprised me"), he and wife Rachel planned to dine at Cincinnati's toney restaurant The Precinct. Burrow would be on hand and Karras would move from the cheese to the Steak Burrow.

"Is that a thing?" Karras asked. "I'll definitely order that."

Just ask Dante Scarnecchia, the legendary offensive line coach every bit a part of the Patriot Way as Belichick, Brady and chowder who put Karras anywhere and everywhere.

"The thing about Ted," Scarnecchia says, "is you could always rely on him If someone was hurt inside, the wheels would never come off the offense. It didn't matter who he was playing against. He was going to be competitive with them. He was going to study the guy and know what to do and how to do it."

Karras' decency landed in the middle of the hard-core New England media and on occasion his niceness bull-rushed the cynicism out of them. Reporters began calling stops by Karras' locker, "Ted Talks." Red Sox icon Ted Williams is the first "Teddy Ballgame," but Karras heard that directed at him a few times and loves it.

"They're going to like him there," Scarnecchia says.

About six months after Scarnecchia was the only offensive line coach to appear at Karras' 2016 pro day at the University of Illinois, he needed to shove in the sixth-rounder to start the season at right guard. In Scarnecchia's last game of his 34-year-career, Karras took all of Brady's final 61 snaps as a Patriot in the 2019 Wild Card loss to the Titans.

That '16 opener was a vintage Belichick-Scarnecchia coaching clinic. They had rookie guards in Karras and Joe Thuney. David Andrews was the second-year undrafted center. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was making his first NFL start on the road in Arizona. The Pats won, 23-21, making sure Tom Brady had a 2-0 start on the way to another Super Bowl coming off the Deflategate suspension.

"Those guys played their asses off and Jimmy got the ball out quickly," Scarnecchia says. "(Karras) does a good job holding the depth of the pocket and, quite honestly, that's what the three guys inside are for. They have to maintain the depth in the pocket."

That's just the kind of pocket the Bengals are looking to make for Burrow after a season he carried them to the Super Bowl despite taking plenty of shots inside, the last one with the Lombardi Trophy 39 seconds and 50 yards away. Karras cut his teeth in a system where the quarterback was king and his kingdom was the moat where he could step up into those GOAT throws between guard and center.

"Tom wasn't going anywhere," Scarnecchia says. "He would move within the pocket really well, but that was the mandate they all had.

'Look, we can't get knocked back, we have to drop our tail down and anchor them and make it a fist fight up there,' and they were very, very good at doing that. Ted was really good at doing that. And any game he started, you just didn't worry about it."

If that doesn't make Bengals fans feel better, this will. Scarnecchia knows a quarterback when he sees one and he's raving about Burrow.

"(Brady) was getting the ball out on time. He makes it lot easier," Scarnecchia says. "He was sensitive to the matchups up front and I thought we were sensitive to the matchups. Where to get help and all the rest of it. Having a guy back there who can get the ball out really helps a lot. I think the guy you got there is special. I saw him play his senior year at LSU because they had some linemen and he took some hits but he kept getting up. He's as tough as they come."

For Karras, it's a way of life. He calls it, "The integrity of the pocket." When he went to New England, the Patriot Way had already been his way.

"Being consistent, physical and tough. It's important to be able to take coaching and handle adversity with a positive attitude," Karras said as he toured his new surroundings. "You're always looking to improve. In this business, it comes down to performance. It's a performance-based business. If you don't perform well, you're out and I'm going to do everything I can to perform at my highest level and beat other people."

Since Karras is third generation NFL, he's at ease in a building where the fourth generation of Paul Brown's family greeted him in the hallways, never mind that his stadium is an hour and 45 minutes from the house where Karras grew up in Indy.

(Close enough to play high school games at Moeller (a win) and St. Xavier (a loss).

Close enough that Bengals president Mike Brown saw his grandfather play against his father's Cleveland teams in the '50s and '60s.

"Our families' paths never crossed. No one ever played for the Browns or Bengals," Karras said. "It's really cool. I met Mr. Brown this morning and he's a pleasure."

Ted Karras III, who celebrated his 29th birthday this week the day after he agreed with the Bengals, knows his history.

His grandfather went from the Marines to the Bears. The Bears loaned him to the Steelers for 1958 and 1959 before he went back to Chicago, where he started at left guard for coach George Halas in the 1963 title game the Bears beat the Giants before he finished his nine-year career with the Lions and Rams.

Six years before Karras was born in 1987, his dad, Ted Jr., was signed by Washington as an undrafted free agent defensive tackle out of Northwestern. He got cut in training camp but was brought back during the strike and got a sack in his one game. Washington won it all that year and a few years ago the Commanders brought everyone back to give everyone on that team a Super Bowl ring.

"Four rings," says Karras, who played a few snaps on special teams when the Patriots beat the Falcons and Rams and would like to make it at least five as a Bengal.

He was watching last month.

"I thought it was a good game. It could have gone either way," Karras said. "The AFC has the most competition its ever had. We're going to have to bring our best every day to compete to be AFC champions again."

Naturally, Burrow was a draw.

"Of course," Karras said. "A very young, hot team. To come in and be a contributor is something I wanted to seize the chance."

Karras has been doing that since Scarnecchia came back to Foxboro after that pro day in Champaign, Ill. He saw him at the East-West all-star game and got interested enough to make the campus trip.

"His numbers weren't great, but they weren't bad," Scarnecchia said. "He moved pretty well and everything he did, he did it as hard as he could do it. I interviewed him and put him through some mental stuff. I thought he was excellent. I came back and I said, 'I like this guy. I don't know where he's going to get drafted, but I would love to have him on the team."

So 16 years after the Patriots took Brady in the sixth round, that's where they drafted his last Patriotic center.

"Tough and demanding, but I'm sure it will be here, too," Karras said. "I'm excited for the chance to test my mettle with a young, great player."

He'll fit right in.

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