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No I in Huddle


Andy Dalton is checking out the nooks and crannies of the B that is the Bengals logo on his phone while Adam Jones has left the orange bench they're painting to wash out some brushes.

"See how rough it is?" Jones asks, holding one up. "You can't paint a good line."

The Bengals drew another good line through the heart of the community Tuesday during the NFL's Hometown Huddle.

The Marvin Lewis Community Fund stepped up again in concert with the Cincinnati Recreation Commission and flooded the East End with volunteers and about 30 Bengals to build Inclusive Playground at the LeBlond Regional RecPlex. Along with constructing a play area designed to fit the needs of people of all ages and abilities, volunteers worked on the expansive surroundings doing landscaping and planting as well as painting benches and picnic tables.

This is why Dalton and Jones are looking at the bench like it is a Jay Gruden rollout or a Mike Zimmer blitz. They want to paint the B just right and they're getting plenty of advice from their spouses and the other members of their group, safety Taylor Mays and fullback Chris Pressley.

Jones, a noted artist who draws elaborate pictures of "Dora The Explorer" for his three-year-old daughter and illustrates poems and love notes to her mother, has a discerning eye.

"I'm going to let 1-4 lead us," Jones says, referring to Dalton's uniform number.

The metaphor is easy, but putting the tape of the B's outline on the bench, painting over the lines and then stripping off the tape isn't so much. The Bengals three-game winning streak may be all nailbiters, but everyone needs their fingernails for this.

"The more you are around guys, the more they understand who I am and the more I understand guys," Dalton says, ballcap turned backward and paint under his fingernails. "I'm in a leadership position on this team. Whether it be on the field or something like this, I like to take charge."

This is Dalton's first Hometown Huddle in his three seasons. Tuesday, the weekly Bengals off day, is usually reserved for the quarterbacks to watch film.

"We just decided to do it a little bit later," says Dalton, who'll end up lunching with wife Jordan before heading to put in some time at Paul Brown Stadium.

Dalton has arrived out here by the empty LeBlond pool at the high tide of his reign. He heads into his 40th start Sunday at PBS against the Jets as Cincinnati's winningest quarterback ever at any point in their careers, not to mention the AFC's fourth-rated passer.

"We need to continue to give him the opportunity to lead," says left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who has just finished bolting together a slide, "and that takes all of us playing well around him."

The metaphor is complete, just like 66 percent of Dalton's passes, seventh best in the NFL. The Hometown Huddle is a community extension of what Lewis hopes to craft in his locker room: selfless actions for the greater good. Teamwork in the truest sense, whether it's defensive tackle Domata Peko helping lift up a slide so a volunteer can drill holes into the bottom, or center Kyle Cook putting his Michigan State construction management degree to use in the middle of one of the playground's apparatus, or safety Reggie Nelson leading his group of volunteers with a mulching rake.

"I always look forward to this day," says Peko, who has brought wife Anna. "It's a great way to help the kids. You're helping build something that's going to help them for a long time."

Just like all good teams, this one is working in shifts. The veterans with four years in or more are working the morning. The young guys work the afternoon. But running back Giovani Bernard, who has brought his girlfriend, is a little early because he must be on rookie time.

"It's nice to see everybody away from football for a little bit," Bernard says. "We're around it so much."

Bernard is in time for the group photo, just in time to get busted by Whitworth as Bernard gets placed in the row in front of him.

"That's OK. You can stand up. You don't have to kneel. You won't block anybody," Whitworth tells the 5-9 Bernard.

Kevin Huber is quietly in place. Just like he has been the last three games in the last two minutes, when he's let go with three punts that have won it for the Bengals. From the 57-yard cannon shot against the Patriots in a cyclone to last week's indoor 45-yard chip shot that pinned the Lions inside their 10.

"Think about it," Huber says. "The defense forcing the punt. The punt return. The passing game. If one of our phases falters, we lose the game."

This is familiar territory for Huber. He's an East Side guy who grew up in Anderson Township before punting for the University of Cincinnati. He's been driving down Eastern Avenue as long as he can remember. And he lived out this way when he first broke into the NFL and before he bought a home in Hyde Park.

"This is still the way I drive to my parents' house, but I've driven past this place numerous times for four, five years," Huber says. "I first noticed it when they put in the baseball field. It's been great to see it developed. Now they've got this playground and it just adds to it. It looks a lot nicer now."

The older you get, the more you start to notice.

"You think more about who it affects; the people that can benefit from it," he says. "Something like this helps a lot of people and it gives the kids a great place to play. I did some landscaping and we put that fence up over there. Now I'll notice that when I drive by."

Like his game, Huber spreads his philanthropic chores through the team. When a teammate calls for a particular event, he answers. He's also involved in the Kicks for Kids program that former Bengals kickers Doug Pelfrey and Jim Breech have made a community staple and he's helping them with a new project.

"We just had the first meeting a few weeks ago," Huber says. "We're trying to get kids involved in the community earlier. We're looking for high school and college punters and kickers to go out and get sponsors. Maybe they get so much (donations) for punts inside the 20, or something like that."

Which begs the question. How much is a punt inside the 10 with 1:52 left in a 24-24 NFL game worth?


"I don't know," says Huber with a laugh. "We'll have to talk about that one."

Over at the orange bench by the pool, the Bengals B is coming out well. Dalton is asked to make an appearance elsewhere on the grounds and Jones tells him, "That's OK. While you're doing that, I'll paint our numbers."

Dalton politely defers the offer.

"We're rolling pretty good here," he says. "I'll be right over after we're done."

Jones draws Dalton's 14, his 24, Mays's 26, and Pressley's 36 in the bench's corners. Dalton, with the aid of Pressley and Mays, is trying to figure out how to spruce up the middle of the B. Maybe some black slashes.

"It's a little easier than that," Dalton says with a laugh, studying it like a game plan. "I'm definitely a perfectionist. Whatever it is, I like to do a good job. And we wanted the bench to look good."

"Our bench," Jones says.

About a half-hour later, the pool area is empty, except for Bernard and his girlfriend. Everyone else is either gone or eating lunch indoors before the afternoon shift starts. No cameras. No quarterbacks. No artists. Just paint.

"We already ate before we came over," Bernard says.

They are working on the orange bench with the four numbers and the B. They are painting the bottom and Bernard is streaking green so it looks like vines.

Jungle vines.

"They told us not to ruin it," he says.

Like everyone else in the East End on Tuesday, he's standing tall.

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