The Bengals open the preseason in six days Friday at Paul Brown Stadium in a 7:30 p.m. game and Kwamie Lassiter II, who photos show smiles like the last Kwamie Lassiter, can't help but smile at the schedule maker.
Bengals vs. Cardinals. Arizona. His dad's team for the first eight seasons of his career. His home, where he played for Hamilton High School on the outskirts of Phoenix in Chandler.
"It was meant to be," the son says.
Here's something else that was meant to be. Lassiter II, an undrafted wide receiver from Kansas, has been the most impressive offensive rookie in the first days of training camp with undrafted Wisconsin wide receiver Kendric Pryor making a late surge.
But if he's going to make the club, he's going to have to be the punt returner for special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, a college teammate of his father's at Kansas.
"A fantastic teammate," Simmons said after practice Friday. "Very respectful. Very kind. Great leader. Always had a smile on his face. Liked by everybody."
Before practice, his son is showing the same things. What is it that Marvin Lewis used to say? Dogs don't have cats. "Obviously you can see how he was raised, Simmons said.
"We've had the talk," Lassiter said of the Kansas days. "But we talk mostly about the places around there."
Politely, the son tells you he doesn't recall much about the first NFL training camp he attended.
"Pops was in San Diego. It was 2004," said Lassiter, which would have made him six. "All I remember is watching football and playing with my little brothers."
His father has been gone more than three years, dying suddenly of a heart attack when he was 49, two weeks shy of Kwamie II's 21st birthday. It is days like this he remembers what his father told him and his brothers.
"Be the best," Lassiter said. "At everything. Studying. Around people. Football. In the weight room. Being a good person."
The son didn't have quite the career at Kansas that the father had, but who did?
"He was a field general. A playmaker," Simmons said. "He was a big reason the pendulum began to swing for Kansas for several years with that (1992) team that beat BYU in the Aloha Bowl."
The son walked on at Kansas and got better every year, not becoming a starter until his fourth season. Last year was the best of the five with 59 catches for 653 yards and three touchdowns. His two 100-yard games came against good clubs in Oklahoma and West Virginia.
But then, his dad was undrafted, too, before going on to play 10 years and 129 games in the NFL.
"What do they say?" Lassiter asked. "History repeats itself?"
He's slight at 6-0, 180 pounds, but he always seems to find space.
"Not a ton of production, but our scouts and our coaches are looking for traits on film," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan after Friday's practice. "He's a smooth runner. Good route running ability. Great ball skills. He protects the ball really well. Those combination of things have shown up on the field. He finds splits ion the zones and makes tough catches."
Lassiter stacked another good day Friday. No drops. He had another seam ball and got open a few other times over the middle. One thing he's doing without being able to return a live punt yet is show he can develop as a receiver.
"He has to make some splash plays on special teams, but we've noticed he's made splash plays on offense. He knows how to catch and take it up field," said vet safety Michael Thomas, who knows the story. "He walked-on in college, so he's been through it trying to prove himself. If he can pop a couple of punts, I can see him making it."
It's a tough climb through the vets. Trent Taylor may not be spectacular, but he does what Simmons wants and that's always catch punts. Special teamers Stanley Morgan, Jr., and Mike Thomas have holds on the Nos. 4 and 5 receiver jobs. Trent Irwin is, if anything, reliable. Lassiter had 30 career punt returns for the Jayhawks. Like receiving, his best year was last year at 13.5 yards per return.
Simmons says, for the most part, the punt return job is going to come down to the three preseason games and he's looking for creativity.
"That's a good word," Lassiter said. "I feel like I can make some people miss and extend the play and get the offense back on the field."
The first chance comes against Arizona in six days.
"Full circle," says Lassiter, who is looking to run a couple of straight long lines.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: WR Kwamie Lassiter II
PLAY OF THE DAY: S Michael Thomas
No, not a misprint. The cagey nine-year backup did it for the second day in a row on nearly the same play. On a play on the sidelines, rookie cornerback Allan George battled fellow CFA Jaivon Heiligh and the ball popped in the air back onto the field.
Just like he did Thursday, Thomas dove and scooped it off the ground for an interception. At least it looked that way. But one of the NFL officials working the practice, side judge Keith Washington, called it incomplete and he was immediately surrounded by a good-natured knot of DBs telling him he blew it.
It wasn't calling Bengals middle linebacker Logan Wilson for holding on third-and-eight from the Cincy 8 with 1:44 left in the Super Bowl, so everybody was smiling.
"Just running to the ball. That's what I do, my man," Thomas said. "AG made a great play on it. I was surprised that the ball actually stayed in bounds because of how close it was to the sideline. I was very excited even though the ref blew it dead."
Thomas, 32, the oldest player on offense and defense, isn't showing his age. If he makes it, the Bengals probably have to keep five safeties. And there's the minimum salary for a nine-year player of $1.1 million. Too much for a fifth safety? He would be active on game day as the critical punter's personal protector.
"The way it's set up, my number works for this team," Thomas said. "At this point its icing on the cake. I'm playing because I love this game still."
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor on son Brooks attending this week's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction:
"He's pumped. I don't think he understands that magnitude of what this is. I've tried to explain it to him; he's 11. He's more concerned with catching kickoff from Evan McPherson yesterday. I tried to prep him to understand this is a big moment for these guys. This is one of the greatest things that's ever happened to them, so when they're giving the speeches try to find a way in your 11-year-old brain to appreciate it. He just keeps asking, 'Are the kids going to be there?' I'm like, 'I can't answer that buddy.'
… I look forward to hearing how it goes for them … I had to make sure he wore matching socks. He usually wears the Bengals themed socks. I said, 'No Bengals, we're just going to wear white socks to this event.' "
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Making it even more memorable for Brooks is he's going with his grandfather, former Packers head coach Mike Sherman. Sherman has been invited by one of his players being inducted, former Packers safety Leroy Butler …
Second-year man D'Ante Smith, battling for the swing tackle spot with Isaiah Prince, limped off the field Friday during what seemed like a harmless position drill. It looked like he did something to his back …
Daily Joe Burrow Update: No timeline, still. He was out in the cart and rode in unscathed through the screams when practice was over. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan could have used the old Kevin Bacon line from "Animal House," ("Remain calm.")
But he didn't.
"No concerns," Callahan said after Friday's practice. "When it's time to come back, he'll be back. He's just getting his strength back. What do they say? The only minor surgery is the one you don't get.
"The problem is, every day in training camp feels like five. So it's like, when is he coming back? It hasn't been two weeks yet. The installation is pretty much over. Now we're just tweaking and re-fining it and playing around with stuff. This is stuff he did in the spring and last year and the year before that. No panic." …
Brooks Taylor's guy, McPherson, continues to kick the living stuff out of the ball. After going 6-for-6 on Thursday, he followed it up with 5-for-5 Friday, the longest one a 50-yarder that still may be going. So far, it hasn't mattered who is long snapping, holding or anything else …
The defense had another good day, even though two of their more prolific sackers sat out the nickel team sessions that were geared to third down. After blowing everyone up Thursday, Trey Hendrickson rested and Joseph Ossai took his snaps and he came up with some good pressure working against the ones, when Sam Hubbard got another sack working on the left edge …
Three technique B.J. Hill also seemed fine, but watched his snaps taken by Cam Sample, an edger showing off his versatility …
More evidence Hendrickson is fine? After practice he signed autographs for fans lining the sidewalk to the locker room …
Cornerback Tre Flowers came back after a couple of days out and took Eli Apple's snaps on the outside opposite Chidobe Awuzie. Welcome back. Wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase got him on a Go ball and quarterback Brandon Allen dropped a dime over Chase's shoulder for what would have been six …
Second-round cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt saw a couple of snaps with the ones, but made his play of the day working with the twos when he nearly came up with a one-handed interception as he backpedaled on a deep one …
Awuzie nearly made a great pick working against Chase on the sidelines, but his momentum carried him out of bounds …
Old friend Frostee Rucker last played in the NFL in 2018 and in Cincinnati 10 seasons ago, but he saw two old friends when he visited training camp Friday. One was on the sidelines with him, Bengals chaplain and former teammate Vincent Rey, and the other was on the field in new linebackers coach James Bettcher.
And he made a new friend in Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase. Rucker was accompanied by five-year-old son Lincoln Frost Rucker and when they arrived, Lincoln pulled off his Rucker 92 Bengals jersey and put on an orange T-Shirt complete with a drawing of Chase.
Chase noticed as he ran a seven-on-seven route near the group on the sidelines and while Rucker took a picture with Chase's arm around Lincoln, he convinced his son to do the Griddy with Chase.
"Absolutely loved him. He was a heart-and-soul kind of guy," said Bettcher, recalling how Rucker was a key player for defenses ranked fifth, second and sixth with guys like Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones up front. "I think Frostee had an impact with everybody he's been around. He's got infectious energy. His smile speaks for itself
"I was a young coordinator and it was great having a guy like that who loved ball, loved to work and played with passion. The young players were fortunate to have a guy like that."
By the time Rucker got to Arizona in 2015, he was ten years in after the Bengals took him in the 2006 third round. After the rough start (he played five games in his first two seasons), he became a popular figure in Cincinnati known for his contributions to community events and played on two playoff teams in 53 games. He moved on after the 2011 season and ended up playing in 157 NFL games. He started 30 games for Bettcher's Cards from 2015-17.
Bettcher still sees a Rucker memento from about six years ago. That's when his son Colton was about the age Lincoln is now.
"Frostee signed a jersey for him and wrote a little note on it," Bettcher said. "Play hard, work harder. It meant so much he framed it." …