Bengals rookie slot cornerback Abu Daramy-Swaray has been mesmerizing his fellow rookies with some of his card tricks, but his greatest feat of magic comes when he simply steps on the Paycor Stadium turf for Friday night's (7:30-Cincinnati's Local 12) preseason opener against the Cardinals.
"I can't imagine just yet what the emotions are going to be turning inside me," he said this week after rookie edge Jeffrey Gunter walked away from his locker shaking his head.
"To think of all I've been through in my life and to get to this point where I'm walking on the field in an NFL stadium with a jersey and my name on the back with my number, it's just going to be very emotional."
Remember, it was just barely six months ago when he was delivering pizzas on the night of the Super Bowl in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. He knew he belonged playing football. Somewhere.
While the Bengals and Rams exulted, Daramy-Swaray wept. A standout player at small Division I Colgate coming into the 2020 prospect class, COVID killed his shot at an NFL training camp. He kept the dream alive playing in the German pro league for Potsdam. The last time he wore pads was a year ago September in a semifinals loss to the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns.
"It comes back naturally," he said.
Now, at 26, an NFL shot.
He'll have plenty of fans coming down I-71, especially his mother. Years ago she somehow got him and his older brother out of the civil war in Sierra Leone that claimed his father three months before he was born.
"It's a story that goes back 20 years. What she did to help get me here was amazing," he said. "The thing is to keep it under control and do my job. Execute. Execute. Execute. I'm trying to get a job."
Other things to watch Friday:
_Incumbent 14-year vet punter Kevin Huber begins his competition against first-year Drue Chrisman. Chrisman has had the most leg strength in training camp. Can he be consistent directionally and can Huber get a spark in the games?
They figure to rotate punts Friday while another 14-year vet, long snapper Clark Harris, probably plays the first half while rookie Cal Adomtis gets the second.
_Left guard Jackson Carman is the only projected offensive line starter starting against the Cards. The guy pushing him, fourth-rounder Cordell Volson, is starting at right guard. They each figure to play the first half before Volson replaces Carman at left in the second half.
_Fitting that the Bengals wide receiver under the most scrutiny Friday is Kansas undrafted rookie Kwamie Lassiter II. He wears 18, the number the great A.J. Green wore here during seven straight Super Bowl runs before he went to Arizona last season.
Lassiter is embroiled in a tough roster fight for the sixth and last receiver slot with sure-handed vets Trent Taylor and Trenton Irwin. The job goes to the guy who wins the punt returning competition, where Lassiter is trying to make more people miss than the reliable and relatively sedate Taylor and Irwin. Taylor, so steady in the postseason, is going to be a hard guy to blow out of there.
_It was a year ago when rookie edge Joseph Ossai blew up his debut in 33 sparkling snaps in the opener in Tampa Bay. But he also suffered season-ending knee and wrist injuries that night. He returned Friday, but he won't play as much as on the edge as seventh-rounder Jeffrey Gunter (in an impressive camp) and second-year Raymond Johnson III.