* Left end Carlos Dunlap is tied for the NFL co-sack lead.*
Carlos Dunlap II has been "chasing 23," for months now and it's not been much different from chasing Carlos Dunlap Sr.
From the time he can remember, the NFL's current co-sack leader watched his father's every move, much like a right tackle's each twitch and tendency. The first lesson may have lasted the longest.
"I had to count the money no matter how old I was," the son recalls this week. "He wouldn't come in and count behind me, so I had to get it right."
He got enough of it right that he has gone back to school to pursue his master's in business, the first step in inheriting the family business in Charleston, S.C., Dunlap Bail Bonding.
"That's something he wants. But that's not something I want him to do," says the father. "I think he feels obligated to do that because he knows how hard I worked."
The way the son admiringly remembers it, his father went from living on the streets to the Air Force to the Navy (where he served as a body guard for the wife of the late Strom Thurmond) to the business that began in a van parked outside a jail. He dumped his entire 401K ("on faith") into that first office and now has three offices for a company registered in 43 of South Carolina's counties.
"My sister called me just a few days ago and told me that she always knew I would be be fine," says Dunlap Sr. ' "The other kids in the neighborhood would always be playing football and basketball and you'd play football and basketball, but you were also babysitting other kids to make money and when you were 12 you bought a lawnmower to cut grass and make more money.' I've been doing it my whole life."
The son mirrored the father this offseason. After another solid-but-out-of-the-money eight sacks, Dunlap not only stayed in Miami to train under Pete Bommarito, he took NFL-sponsored MBA classes at the University of Miami. He thinks that might have helped narrow his focus as he also pursued a master's in NFL Pass Rush with a minor in mistakes.
"I did a lot more studying myself in the offseason," the son says. "I saw the close plays, the near misses, the ones you don't do well on. I focused on my mistakes and tried to limit them. I was getting there half-a-second late. I was looking to turn those pressures and sacks into hits."
After the first five games, only Dunlap and Detroit defensive end Ziggy Ansah have five sacks. In the last two weeks at Paul Brown Stadium, Dunlap has been virtually unblockable with the game on the line. Working against converted Penn State tight end Garry Gilliam last week at right tackle, Dunlap defeated the old college try with a relentless six hits of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson that may have been more impressive than his 1.5 sacks.
"He's been unbelievable,' says nose tackle Domata Peko. "And he's been making more plays in the run game, too."
The son not only studied, he put in what his father calls, "the grinding." He cut eight pounds from 288 in an effort to find those slivers sewn in a second at the snap of the ball. Dunlap also chased tennis balls and tried to catch them before they hit the floor while also running the first 10 yards of sprints with the wide receivers and running backs during conditioning drills.
When pass rush coach Chuck Smith visited Bengals training camp back in August, he suggested some changes in Dunlap's stance.
"I'm not giving up any secrets," Dunlap says. "But the get-off is huge. I took bits and pieces from what Chuck told me with the whole idea to cut that half-second and turn the hits into sacks.
"I feel lighter. I've got more energy," Dunlap says. "But to have a healthy (defensive tackle) Geno Atkins back in the middle means everything and the guys in the back end have been covering great. (Cornerback) Adam Jones is having a great year."
If it sounds like Dunlap is talking like a locker-room leader, he is. To a man, those in "The Brotherhood' of his defensive line, from Peko, the senior member, to his fellow end Michael Johnson, say you're looking at guy that has simply matured. He was a mere 21 when he rung up all 9.5 sacks in the last eight games of his rookie year in 2010, still his career high.
"Every year since high school I've seen him grow in an area," the father says. "When he decided to leave Florida early, he promised my wife and I he'd go back to school."
When he signed his first Bengals contract after the 2010 draft, he phoned his father from Gainesville to ask him why he should be sitting in a class where he was making more than the professor. Carlos Dunlap Sr. hesitated and told him, "I'll call you back.' When he did, he painted the picture:
"Son, if you don't get your education, when you do own your own business, someone is going to be smarter than you. You blink an eye, someone is going to take that money from you."
They didn't take it from him before the 2013 season. After the 2012 season and starting at the contract year, the father advised the son to devote his off-season to training to secure his financial future. School would always be there. And they ended up not taking the money away with a five-year, $40 million extension.
"You can't be the dumbest guy in your board room,' is another thing his father tells him.
He also tells the son he has to stay sharp. Senior figures he has helped train 15 or so bails bondsmen who are now his competitors.
And Dunlap II listens. He listened to his father tell the stories of the military.
"One day I was in the Air Force and when I got out the next day I was in the Navy. I was just looking for what was best for me,' the father says. "One of our assignments in the Navy was guarding Strom Thurmond's wife. I like to look for adventures and I thought I'd like to do that."
Since the son can remember, the father took him and his older brother to work. It wasn't dangerous, he says. It sounds more exciting and instructive.
"I think that's where I got my love and responsibility for the family business,' the son says. "He wouldn't let us go if there was anybody out on bail on a weapons charge and he wouldn't go himself. I remember once he and my uncle kicked in a front door and the guy ran out the back."
If it's one thing the son remembers is the father "always got his man. By any means necessary." It sounds like Carlos Dunlap Jr.'s current job description, particularly with five quarterbacks accounted for. You have to use all your savvy.
"The craziest one, I wasn't there, but my friends told me about it," Dunlap Jr. says. "He was at the mall when the new Jordans came out and he recognized a guy that had jumped bail. He closed the gate behind him. He did what he had to do,"
Which is what the son did when he let the world know a few months back his season's goal is 23 sacks. That would break Michael Strahan's 2001 NFL record of 22.5.
"Speak it into existence," the son says. "If you keep the goal in mind, it helps you on a daily basis. If you just write it down and put it aside, sometimes you lose focus."
That was the knock on him coming out of Florida. Perhaps a lack of focus. Maybe a lack of down-to-down intensity. He couldn't figure that out. They said the same thing about Mike Johnson, the very portrait of a try-hard guy.
"They don't know you personally. I've never done anything half-heartedly in my life," Carlos Dunlap Jr. says. "There's only so much you can do playing on one side. It's not like you're a point guard or playing quarterback. You're playing on one side and if they know you're going to be there, they're going to be avoiding you. They said the same thing about Michael Johnson and a lot of guys on our D-line. But you see how we play. You see how we play every Sunday."
Ferociously. With Atkins still on the mend from his ACL injury last season and Johnson in Tampa Bay, Dunlap got swallowed up. His eight sacks by far led a team that only had 20. Now after five games this season, they're already five sacks away from matching that.
"We're all eating,' the son says. "Domata has two sacks. Geno has four. Wallace Gilberry and Will Clarke have sacks.
"I know I need a few two-sack games," Dunlap says of the record. "But as long as we're winning, I don't care."
Carlos Dunlap Sr. has done it again. He's got his man. Just like a young man building a business, the objective is the highest it can be.
"It's all about leverage," the father says. "Ninety-five percent of your tackles are somewhere around 6-3 to 6-6. You have to get lower than them. Sticking and moving."