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Roster gets Full Nelson

Tom Nelson

Posted: 6:50 p.m.

There might be some other moves made Sunday (a veteran cornerback off waivers would be nice), but it looks like Tom Nelson's girlfriend can start looking for jobs in the local school districts.

Nelson got the call from head coach Marvin Lewis on Saturday morning that he had completed one of those longshot journeys from college free agent to member of a 53-man NFL roster as one of the Bengals 10 defensive backs.

"It was a 513 number I didn't have in my phone," Nelson said Saturday afternoon. "I didn't know what to think when it was him. He said, 'I know it's been a nervous couple of days, but you're on the 53,' and it's an honor and a privilege to be on the Bengals."

Nelson has been getting a lot of air time on Hard Knocks and the cameras recently captured a wistful moment when he and Jenny Hill were taking a horse-drawn carriage ride in downtown Cincinnati. When asked if they were on vacation, Nelson mentioned they were both "job searching" since Hill is down here looking for a teacher's job.

It was Nelson's ability to do two jobs, safety and cornerback in the nickel package, that got him here. As well as a confident mindset coming out of Illinois State. One he began to get just before the Aug. 14 preseason opener in New Orleans.

"Getting off the bus and walking into the stadium, that was different," Nelson admitted. "But once I started going through my warmups, going through my drills and catching some balls, I felt like it was just football even though it was in the NFL."

But Nelson and agent Chris Murray had a plan when he didn't get drafted back in April. After hearing from about three-quarters of the league, they honed in on Cincinnati as director of football operations Jim Lippincott spoke with them.

"We knew they were heavy with safeties, but he was versatile and we knew they'd like that," Murray said Saturday. "We liked the special teams situation because of Coach (Darrin) Simmons and because they needed a punt returner and we were looking for a team that (valued) that. And Jim Lippincott did a great job walking us through what could happen there for him."

Murray said that Nelson was valued enough by one team to approach the Bengals about trading for him Saturday but got turned down. Versatility is going to be hard to find on the waiver wire the next day or so, but playing corner wasn't foreign to Nelson when he got here. He played some nickel corner in college and got even more comfortable playing it behind starters Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall.

"It's easy learning that position when you watch J-Joe and Leon," Nelson said. "They're two of the best out there and they've been a big help."

Nelson comes from the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, Ill., and spent a lot of his youth heading to Soldier Field to watch the Bears. It is starting to hit him that he is not only in the NFL, but there is a Paul Brown Stadium game against a certain team Oct. 25.

"I have to be quiet because we play them this year," he said, "but I grew up a big Bears fan."

On Saturday, a lot more than that changed.

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