BENGALS BACKUP DTS CHRISTIAN RINGO AND NILES SCOTT VS. RAIDERS OFFENSIVE LINE
Department of Everyone Has A Story:
After practice one day this week defensive line coach Jacob Burney looked at the double doors leading into the Bengals locker room and compared them to the size of the monstrous offensive line they’ll face Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Channel 12, order tickets) against the Raiders at Paul Brown Stadium. It’s a sobering thought in a season his rotation has been cut down to size with season-ending injuries to five linemen.
“It matters when you lose those kind of guys,” Burney says. “When you lose people, you act like it doesn’t matter but these guys are good football players for us. Big people for bruising-type offenses. But those guys are not here right now and these guys are coming in to try and get the job done and I think they’ll lay it on the line for us.”
When the injuries culminated with three going on injured reserve in three days in late November, Steven Radicevic, the Bengals director of pro scouting, turned to the only categories he could so late in the season. Recycled Veterans and Untried, Undrafted, Unloved Rookies. Meet Ringo and Scott. Some may think the season is dead at 5-8. But for these guys, these last couple of weeks are Senior Bowls and Super Bowls all rolled into one.
Never mind that the Raiders line may not be as big as it was during last Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh. Not only are both starting guards not expected to play but back-up Jon Feliciano just went on injured reserve. Doesn’t matter for Ringo and Scott.
Everybody has a story.
“Good guys. It means a lot to them,” Burney says. “They’re young, energetic. They hang on every word you say. It’s refreshing. They’re taking advantage of it.”
Scott, the poster board of the long-shot rookie as an undrafted Division III product from Mayland’s Frostburg State, was actually a priority free agent. Still, he had no games played until he was minding his own business on the Broncos practice squad when he checked his phone after a practice and saw that his agent had called 30 minutes before practice ended.
“I was like, all right, he never calls when he knows I’m practicing. He told me maybe there was something in the works and God just made it happen,” Scott says. “He probably messaged me 30 minutes left in practice and I’m like, he never does that.”
The 6-2, 315-pound Scott signed on a Thursday. That Sunday he made his NFL debut against Cleveland backing up nose tackle Andrew Billings with eight snaps and immediately getting in on two tackles. The next week it was six snaps against the same Broncos he signed on as a practice squad player after the 49ers signed him following the draft for training camp and he had another tackle. Then last week in L.A. against the Chargers team he grew up following in Elkton, Md., it was 11 snaps and one more tackle while the Bengals defense swarmed the run for the first time all season at 3.4 yards per rush.
Suddenly he’s gone from zero games to three, halfway to an accrued season, and he’s got one more tackle than Bengals’ third-round linebacker Malik Jefferson.
“I like the kid,” Burney says. “He plays hard. He may be wrong, but makes up for it with effort and tenacity.”
With the 6-1, 307-pound Ringo released from the Cowboys just hours after he played his first eight snaps of the season, Radicevic had a gift as he went to his laptop and scanned his picked-over ready list. Not only had Ringo been here for four days last year at the beginning of the season after they claimed him on cut down day, but when he was released he ended up playing six games for Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
Such is life in the NFL. Austin had already been fired by the Bengals a week before but for Ringo, it meant it was another scheme with which he was familiar. He signed the day after Scott and made his Bengals debut the next week against Denver and had two tackles right away on 14 snaps. Then last week in L.A., on one of 17 snaps he got his first sack in his 16th game and four seasons when he punished one of the best centers in the league and bulled Mike Pouncey into Philip Rivers to split a sack with Billings.
“A lot of time it takes you a month or so to get somebody ready. These guys came in and in a couple of weeks’ time they’re out there playing for us,” Burney says. “They did a good job learning the defense on the run. Well enough to trust them putting them in the game. I commend them putting in the long hours and the extra meetings.”
Suddenly, Ringo had a sack against one of the league’s best backing up six-time Pro Bowler Geno Atkins in the three technique. He’s got a job and his coach last year doesn’t.
“It's his defense. I hate that I missed him. I love Coach Austin,” Ringo says. “He gave me the opportunity last year. I was looking forward to seeing him this year, but hopefully things work out for him. I'll always want the best for him.”
That’s the long way around to get that first sack since getting drafted by Green Bay in the sixth round in 2015 out of tiny Louisiana-Lafayette.
“Long time coming. I feel relieved that I finally got the first one out of the way. I looked forward to there being many more,” Ringo says of what he calls “a rollercoaster.”
“It's been tough. I'm just glad I finally feel comfortable here. Each year is different. So I'm always starting over, everywhere I go. Going into a new building, it's going to take some time. But I had good week of practice last week, and that really helped the confidence level. I just went out and had fun Sunday.”
It's always been a numbers game for Ringo. That’s what happened here when he got waived hours after being inactive for the opener and they needed room for cornerback Adam Jones coming off a one-game suspension. He says that was the deal in Dallas, too, last month, with the Cowboys having an NFC East game and they needed some other people active. But he never thought twice about sticking around the practice squad for Dallas’ play-off run.
“At this point in my career it's a no-brainer to accept the offer to be on an active roster,” Ringo says. “Earlier in my career I had a chance to leave Green Bay with the Chiefs and being young and being drafted and not knowing the business, I stayed in Green Bay. They balanced the pay for me. But now in my career, yeah, definitely go get active. Get the accredited season. That's what I learned.
Plus, an active player can make five to six times more money a week than a practice squadder.
“That, too,” Ringo says.
One thing every pro seems to have in common is they were beasts in college. Ringo was the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in a pretty fertile state for defensive linemen. He ranked fifth in the nation in tackles-for-loss among defensive linemen with 20 and was seventh in the nation with 11.5 sacks.
Scott’s story is flipped because he had a tougher road in college. After getting turned down by Division I schools because of board scores, he went Division III and is glad he did.
“Coming out I did,” Scott says of that chip on his shoulder. “I was one of those guys wrapped up going to a Division I school. I had to humble myself a lot to go a Division III school. It kind of made my grind a lot better. Every night I would sit there and think, you have to work twice as hard as someone in a Division I school to get noticed. You have to do twice the amount of things. The number two is what I thought about every time I was playing.”
Scott did it all at Frostburg in four years with 25 sacks and 43 tackles for loss. He racked up 10 sacks as a senior with 16.5 tackles for a loss and was named First Team Associated Press Little All-America as well as the D3football.com All-East Region Defensive Player of the Year.
“Pretty much,” says Scott of playing every spot on the line. “I started at defensive end. They dropped me a couple of times. Three tech, nose. The majority of the year I went three technique … Coming into my senior year a lot of guys told me that I was probably going to be a nose tackle in the NFL. I kind of constructed my body to get ready for that.”
It’s a long way from that day before graduation from Elkton High School, when he got the scores he needed, but all the big-school scholarships were gone. And Scott felt he was a good enough high school student that shouldn’t be sent somewhere else.
“I think I had a 2.8. It was decent. I felt like I didn’t deserve to go to community college, I feel like I deserved to go to university,” Scott says of his grade point average. “I feel like going to Frostburg was probably the best decision I ever made, quite honestly. I felt like a lot of schools wanted me to go to a community college or something like that … They kept telling me I needed to get this score. I probably took it four or five times until I actually got the scores. When I got the scores, you know how that goes. They’ve given away all the scholarships the day before graduation … I felt like I had a good GPA. I felt like I was smart enough to go to university. That’s why I chose to go to Frostburg. I haven’t looked back since then.”
Everybody has a story.
These guys just so happen to be writing a good one at the end of a season on the back of an NFL roster. Maybe they get to keep writing.