Updated: 5-8-12, 7:15 a.m.
Carlos Dunlap, the third-year Bengals left end who has racked up 14 sacks on his 507 career rushes, is looking to play a lot more.
Those 507 plays account for about 70 percent of his plays, but only about 25 percent of his defense's snaps in 2010 and 2011 in analyzing data from profootballfocus.com.
"I'm looking to start," Dunlap said Monday before his workout at Paul Brown Stadium. "I know Uncle Geathers isn't going to give it away. That's why I have to earn it in training camp."
That would be Robert Geathers, the starting left end for the past six seasons and the dean of the Bengals as the last man standing from the 2004 opener. Dunlap shot onto the scene with a Bengals-rookie record 9.5 sacks in just about 27 percent of the snaps. His encore last year was hampered by a hamstring injury that cost him four games in a season he finished with 4.5 sacks playing about 43 percent.
Now he's eying at least 60 percent of the plays that would put him on the field in run and pass situations. Pointing to tackle and fellow 2010 classmate Geno Atkins's team-high eight sacks last season, Dunlap thinks the extra snaps will help him get a better feel for the flow of each particular game.
In an effort not to repeat the hamstring issues of last season, Dunlap chose to get right into the weight room shortly at the end of the season instead of going back to the University of Florida. He says he's leaned up his 6-6 frame to 283 pounds.
*TOPIC OF DEBATE: *Last week backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski celebrated brother Gino, a guard out of Delaware, coming into the NFL as a fourth-round pick of the Ravens. He's pleased despite the rash of concerns about head trauma in the wake of Junior Seau's suicide.
"I've wanted to talk to him about it because as an offensive lineman he gets his head pounded more than I do," Bruce said. "I want to make sure he's cautious because he's just like me and is going to try to play right through injuries. I also want him to be smart about it. 'Hey, that's your brain we're talking about. Stuff could happen later on in your life.' I just want to make sure he handles it the right way.'"
Gradkowski believes the right way to do it is how the NFL is now handling head injuries. He says if it's handled the right way, he'd let his own children play.
"I'd let my kids play football. I'd let them do what they want to do," he said. "I think the main thing is making sure we have the right equipment, which we do, and making sure everything is done the right way. If you get a ringer, or a headache, make sure it's not a concussion and the important thing is making sure you get the right rest before you come back if you do have one."
Gradkowski says he doesn't see the game dying on the vine because of concussions ("I don't see the NFL going anywhere," he says) and left tackle Andrew Whitworth agrees.
"It's just too wonderful of a sport. That would be like saying Batman or Superman is going to die. It's never going to die," Whitworth said. "Every kid grows up wanting to be the baddest guy in the room. Every other sport has a lot of cool things, athleticism and all that. But football, when you're the baddest dude on the football field, you're a superhero because it's the nastiest, toughest and most physical game you can play with the best athletes. Kids are always going to grow up and say 'I wish I was Terrell Suggs. Man, I wish I was a beast.' Guys like Larry Fitzgerald who are physical freaks."
Whitworth, the Bengals representative to the NFL Players Association, has two little boys, the youngest born last month, and he has no problems with them playing football. His only restriction is that they start when he did (eighth grade) or even older at 13 or 14.
"I'm not worried about the head trauma as much as being clumsy going through the growth process," Whitworth said. "It's a little young to be colliding and falling into piles. I'd like to see them moving around, playing basketball, tennis, working on hand-eye coordination, getting in some conditioning. Football is a great game, but it's a man's game. You need to be more in control of yourself when you're younger. I think it's one of those games as long as you get into it by your junior or senior year in high school, you can pick it up fast enough to play at this level if you're talented because at the end of the day, these aren't normal human beings. These are pretty special athletes."
Whitworth isn't worried about parents not allowing their kids to play. Everyone has a right to an opinion, he says, and he can understand their concerns. He says there has to be stricter regulations when it comes to youth football and the coaches they allow to coach and how they treat children with concussions and the symptoms of concussions. He's particularly hard on the NCAA.
"The NCAA is such a stickler for making sure where the money goes, but how about the brutality they let college football players go through without any regulations? From running hundreds of sprints to carrying (equipment) ... it's basically like torture to teach these kids to be tough football players. They don't regulate any of that. But they're so worried about guys getting money in their pocket."
Whitworth understands if a parent doesn't let a child play football, but he also believes he's never had a concussion. He's never had to stop playing because of a blow to the head and "I've played a lot of football," he said.
He does believe if the game is taught and played the right way on the youth level with more regulation and awareness it would be a safer game. Whitworth believes the concussions on the lower levels come from fatigue, lack of technique and laziness. He looks at how awareness and regulation have helped improve the treatment of concussions in the NFL the past few years.
But he just doesn't see the popularity of the game vanishing any time soon.
"I believe the game of football is a man's game that kids are going to grow up wanting to play," Whitworth said. "Every kid looks at superheroes, every kid plays gladiators. That's what NFL football is. That's why taking care of the players is a key thing, but taking away the physicalness and the nature of the game is kind of dangerous because you're taking away what makes this game special.
"I don't remember any guy that played football except Mean Joe Greene, Randy White and the Beast of the Day. This generation is going to remember Terrell Suggs and James Harrison. They're not going to remember the left tackle for anybody. Every kid I see ... 'Did Ray Lewis ever hit you? Did you almost feel like you were going to die?' That's how they think ... it's touchy ground to say (you can't) play with that mentality. That's what this game was built upon."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» NFL Network reveals a Bengal in its top 100 rankings of the league's players Wednesday at 8 p.m. in a slot between 80 and 71.
With the only hints it is an offensive player not on last year's list, that would suggest the Pro Bowl rookie tandem of wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton. If they come out rated higher, then it's probably Whitworth.
» Talk about a small world. According to ProFootballTalk.com, Jordan Palmer, brother Carson's backup in Cincinnati for his last three years, stuck with the Jaguars after a tryout and rookie camps last weekend in Jacksonville. One of those cut—Dan LeFevour—gives Palmer a good shot at being the No. 3. Jordan was the No. 2 and LeFevour the No. 3 in Cincy in 2010, and when the Bengals were able to make their first moves of 2011 under new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden they involved cutting Palmer and LeFevour and signing Gradkowski.