Devon Still is ready to play football again.
As free-agency begins its inevitable transition to a trickle, what's becoming plainer and plainer is that A.J. McCarron is going to have a great shot at winning the No. 2 job behind quarterback Andy Dalton.
Jason Campbell, last year's backup, is still unsigned. With Colt McCoy headed to Washington, the veteran crop is so picked over that the Bengals may be content to find that No. 3 quarterback in the later rounds of the April 30-May 2 NFL Draft.
The Bengals seem to be encouraged with the state of McCarron's throwing shoulder, as well as his approach to the offseason that includes three scheduled visits with Dr. Tom House, the noted quarterback guru working at USC.
When McCarron isn't in Los Angeles, he's in his hometown of Mobile, Ala., working at the University of South Alabama with quarterbacks coach David Morris.
After his first visit to House last month, McCarron emerged encouraged about changes that had been made and said he pretty much has a new throwing motion that takes pressure off his shoulder.
"It's somewhat brand new. They've helped me tremendously," McCarron said back then. "There had been some stuff I'd already been working on and they've changed some little things in my mechanics."
With the 33-year-old Campbell apparently mulling his options and the Bengals down to minimum salaries after $23 million worth of work in free agency, the Bengals look like they want to find out about McCarron, their fifth-round pick from a year ago. They still could go the veteran route, but they've only got four years to find out about a draft pick and McCarron already missed most of his rookie year with shoulder tendinitis. He did practice for the last month late in the season.
STILL WATERS RUN DEEP: On Tuesday night, Bengals backup defensive tackle Devon Still said he planned to return to the Bengals when tests on his four-year-old daughter Leah took a turn for the better and showed cancer wasn't active in her system.
After a visit to the hospital Thursday to confirm Tuesday's findings, Still did a conference call with the Bengals media to talk about the one-year deal as he waited on results expected in a few hours or Friday.
Still had a message for Bengals vice president Troy Blackburn after he signed what is believed to be a minimum deal.
"I just really thanked them for the opportunity because I know they didn't have to do it," Still said. "They already did enough in my situation, with my daughter's situation. That to give me another opportunity to prove myself really says a lot and it definitely says a lot about that organization."
Still is trying to regain the form that made him the Big Ten Player of the Year at Penn State and the Bengals' second-round pick in 2012. A dislocated elbow in 2013 wiped out four games and a back problem that took him out of the season's last three games led to off-season surgery. Then came the devastating news last June that Leah had a Neuroblastoma tumor in her abdomen and was in Stage 4 cancer.
"It's great to have Devon back with us," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in a news release. "We know it has been a very difficult journey for him the last year. Devon remains focused on Leah's recovery and on furthering his NFL career, and we're excited to be able to provide that opportunity."
Still was cut at the end of training camp, but was promoted to the active roster from the practice squad after the first week of the regular season and went on to play 12 games before the coaches made him inactive for the last three.
"I let (the Bengals) know that at the end of the day I have to look in the mirror at myself and be honest with myself," Still said. "Because of the position I'm in with my daughter and being blessed to be in the situation I'm in as far as finances, you don't have a lot of people around you who will be honest with you. So you have to be honest with yourself.
"Coming off of a season where I had a difficult year with elbow and back surgery in the same season and followed that up with a year my daughter being diagnosed with cancer, I definitely didn't warrant a new contract with the Bengals. But they gave me another opportunity to go out there and prove myself. And with my daughter's treatments going good and I'm finally back to being 100 percent, I was able to put in a lot of time working out this offseason, I'm definitely looking forward to a way better season than I've had thus far."
The Bengals are looking for a fourth defensive tackle behind Domata Peko, Geno Atkins, and Brandon Thompson and Still is going to get another look, as well as maybe another veteran and possibly a drafted rookie as well as an undrafted rookie.
He believes he can have a better year than 2014 because he's been through it once. Now, he says, he knows how to focus.
"When everything happened, I would like to think so just because of the type of person I am. I don't like for things to hold me down or hold me back," he said. "When I went into the season I was hoping I would be able to focus on football, but as I started to understand what the process was of what my daughter was going through, it definitely became hard for me to focus on football."
He says the great vibes of the last 48 hours or so have been another whirlwind of support.
"It definitely blew my mind all over again just to see how many people were happy with the results of my daughter's tests," Still said. "I honestly felt like for that day, my daughter had the whole word smiling the way everybody was writing me, talking about how happy they were."
GHEE RETURNS: Still's deal was expected. Not so the deal for backup cornerback Brandon Ghee after he left the Bengals last season and tried to hook on with the Chargers via free agency.
After spending the preseason with the Chargers, he was released and surfaced in Tennessee for six games and played a career-high 82 snaps before the Titans released him on Dec. 3.
A third-round pick of the Bengals in 2013 out of Wake Forest, Ghee struggled to stay healthy. He missed the first two games of his rookie season after taking a hit in the head in the pre-season finale and went on to get just 13 snaps in seven games.
Ghee only got two snaps the next year in 2011 when injuries hampered his preseason and he was on the practice squad for the first half of the year. Activated when cornerback Leon Hall went down with an Achilles' injury, Ghee played special teams down the stretch for seven games and in the Wild Card Game.
After an encouraging spring in 2012 when he looked ready to emerge with more snaps, Ghee suffered a season-ending broken wrist at the end of the first week of training camp. He returned to play his Bengals-high 80 snaps in 2013 and according to prootballfocus.com, Ghee had the third highest coverage grade for a Bengals' corner next to Hall and Adam Jones.
The 6-0, 200-pound Ghee has the dimensions the Bengals covet on the outside and they're in the market for backup corners with Terence Newman moving on. They've got four first-rounders in Hall, Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard. They've also got backup veteran and special-teamer Chris Lewis-Harris, as well as Onterio McCalebb, a college running back in his third year of switching to corner. OTHER ADDS? After spending more than they wanted in free agency, the Bengals have now turned their attention to saving room for free agents after this season, with calls needed in the next month on cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and right guard Kevin Zeitler, eligible to have sizeable options.
The Bengals would like to re-sign a niche player like safety/linebacker Taylor Mays and special teams co-captain Cedric Peerman, but not for much more than minimum. Mays is on the Michael Johnson Tour in Minnesota with head coach Mike Zimmer Wednesday and Thursday and he could also be in line for a visit to Washington, according to published reports.
The Bengals' reasons not to pursue former Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy have played out the last couple of days. While the Cowboys are getting questions from all over for signing him, the Bengals waited for the Michael Johnson card to be played.