Odd couple helps shore up Bengals secondary

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Adam Jones (24) and Clayton Fejedelem (42) wear the same numbers and their hearts on their sleeves.

Adam Jones calls Clayton Fejedelem "White Chocolate," and not because he's the only white guy in the Bengals secondary.

"Because he's got a lot of soul," Jones is saying before a practice this week. "Good dude."

Jones should know since he counts Fejedelem as one of his best friends on the team. Which officially makes them frontrunners for this season's Bengals "Odd Couple."

"I'm not surprised how well we get along," Fejedelem says. "But I'm surprised why a guy who has been in the league for so long would want to hang out with a rookie. That's cool."

Fejedelem is the first to correct you that he's no longer a rookie. And he's proven it in the last two practices when he's been rotating at safety with the starting unit in the absence of five -year starter George Iloka, sidelined for a week or so with what's believed to be a hyperextended knee.

"As far as the Xs and Os go, I had to know everything last year to be a reliable backup, so I'm not worried about any of that kind of stuff," Fejedelem says. "It will be nice to be able to communicate and make checks with the first teamers just to get used to their speed."

He's done what he did in Baltimore last season when he was summoned when Shawn Williams went down and he responded with three tackles, one for a loss, on his first nine NFL snaps from scrimmage. Even before then the coaches were talking about how they needed to get the seventh-rounder from Illinois on to the field. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons already had, deploying Fejedelem at key spots in all four phases for what would amount to a team-high 318 of the 442 plays in the kicking game.

"He plays hard and physical," Jones says. "He came in against Baltimore and did the job. He knows what he's doing out there. We're going to get nicks during camp, but he can step in and do the job."

The 6-0, 225-pound Fejedelem caught their eye long before the seventh round. Midwest scout Bill Tobin had him targeted during the season and that's when Robert Livingston, a veteran of the Bengals personnel department who helped rank the defensive backs, noticed him. They ended up calling Fejedelem in for a pre-draft visit.

"The Big Ten always seems to have a game on at noon on Saturdays and that's when we've got two hours to kill before (going to the airport)," says Livingston, now a secondary coach. "And you start wondering about who this safety from Illinois is making all those plays."

Livingston still speaks in the short-hand of personnel from one of his reports: "Phenomenal story. Started off at a Division III school. (Chicago's St. Xavier.) Walked on at Illinois. Becomes a captain. Leads the Big Ten in tackles. You look in his eyes and you see how much the game means to him. His personality is Type A. An Alpha male."

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The debut of "White Chocolate," in Baltimore last season was sweet. 

Which is maybe why Fejedelem and Jones have hit it off.

"Our personalities match up," Fejedelem says. "Passionate. We're passionate about what we love. Every now and then it doesn't maybe come out the most politically correct way. That doesn't mean you're a bad person. Like me, some people might say I have a short fuse. I'm just passionate about what I do."

Jones' fuse is famously short and has gotten him into trouble. He'll miss the opener because of an NFL suspension, in part, stemming from that temper. But it's also the passion that makes him extremely popular in the secondary and a student of the game.

"It's rare to see someone that knows so much on pre-snap reads," Fejedelem says. "You can say you've been in the league forever, but when we go in the (secondary) room upstairs to watch film, he'll give a little talk. During the season when we see a team for the first time it's amazing how fast he can recognize it.

   "You learn how to study the game when you watch it with a guy like that. Just being able to break down the pre-snap reads."

Jones says their bond was cemented last year when after Fejedelem made the club out of preseason they were locker mates. Now cornerback William Jackson is in between Jones and Fejedelem.

"Which is great," Fejedelem says. "Now I have the two messiest guys right next to me instead of just one."

But it's a neat nickname. "Only Pac calls me 'White Chocolate,'" Fejedelem says.

Here's a top ten pick, a decade-long cornerback in the league, coming off a Pro Bowl season, an African-American raised on the hard streets of Atlanta. Here's the team's last pick, a white safety born and bred in the suburbs of Chicago with all the benefits.

"Here I am a seventh-rounder," Fejedelem says. "He never saw any of that. He opened up right away. Arms wide open.  Great guy. Great leader."

There's been barbecue at Jones' home, where they've had swims with his daughters. There's been impromptu dinners downtown after a practice. And there's always golf.

"When we play golf, we're always talking crap," Jones says. "We just kind of clicked."

Fejedelem says his background is "very suburb," but he likes to hunt and fish and says he may try to talk Jones into putting a tree stand in his backyard, which is secluded by trees. But it sounds like he's joking. Too close to the golf course.

"There's a nice creek back there," Fejedelem says. "He could get it in there pretty easily if he wanted to."

But for the moment, they'll stick to golf, where Jones has the edge. But for the first time this offseason, Fejedelem has his own clubs and got them fitted. He's coming after him.

"If you're in his circle, he takes care of the close ones," Fejedelem says. "The way he treats me, you would think (he's in it) … Above all, we're teammates. Teammates who became friends. You don't care about anything else."

Cincinnati Bengals host Training Camp at Paul Brown Stadium Practice Fields 7/31/2107

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