St. Xavier High School's Sean Clifford never quarterbacked a game in his hometown at Paycor Stadium before becoming Penn State's all-time passing leader, but this week's local pro day workout might have been even better.
"It's a great chance to be able to be coached by the same guys coaching one of the best in the NFL," said Clifford before heading back to Pennsylvania to go to the Eagles' pro day.
And Clifford knows all about Joe Burrow even though Burrow is nearly two years older.
"When I was at St. X, I was always tracking guys in and around Greater Cincinnati. Athens falls in there," Clifford recalled. "I heard about him when he was in high school and when he went to Ohio State. So I've known about him for a long time."
He's known the Bengals longer and even held a season ticket for a year with his dad John and brother Liam, his "best friend." He says he and Liam became "super close," during that season and Liam ended up following him to Penn State as one of his wide receivers.
"I can point them out. Right there," said Clifford of seats near the north end zone.
With two quarterbacks under contract and free-agent Brandon Allen still an option to return for a fourth season as Burrow's backup, Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin confirmed this week that while the position isn't in play early in next week's draft it is later on.
The 6-2, 218-pound Clifford is viewed as a late-rounder, but he's got the kind of productive-chip-on-the-shoulder resume scouts love to find as the draft grinds on. His 51 games of experience during six seasons. He's one of only two four-year captains in Nittany Lions history. And his non-invite to the NFL scouting combine.
"More fuel for the fire," Clifford said.
He plays the one position where his age of 25 doesn't hurt but helps. His teammates talk about his worthy intangibles, but in this age of Burrow, Patrick, and Hurts, he also wants to show he can create and move. By all counts, he had a good day in his return to Paycor.
"I want to show my athletic ability. My ability to make a play. I think I proved that at my pro day," Clifford said. "I'm trying to do out here what I did on tape. Just moving around. Being very fluid. Just showing them the little details I've been working on for accuracy, being a professional quarterback able to push the ball down the field."
In front of the scouts last month at University Park, Pa., he showed he could move. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds, which would have made him the fifth fastest quarterback at the combine, just behind the 4.56 of UCLA's Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He also ran the 3-cone drill in 6.87 seconds and according to reports drilled a perfect roll-out pass to the sideline.
In a quarterback league, he's drawn attention. Clifford says he's heard from the Cowboys, Giants, Jets, and Ravens. When he got back to Philly, Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel and his offensive coordinator were on hand.
STILL ON RADAR: Depending on how the draft unfolds, the Bengals could end up re-signing some guys. Besides Brandon Allen, they could also bring back cornerbacks Eli Apple and Tre Flowers, tight end Mitchell Wilcox and linebacker Clay Johnson. Wilcox and Johnston are undergoing extensive rehabs.
LC UPDATE: There's been a lot said about right tackle these days because the Bengals have a lot of options. But Jonah Williams has apparently told them he doesn't want to play it, Jackson Carman has yet to play it in a game, and Cody Ford and Hakeem Adeniji have played more guard than tackle in the NFL.
Even though he's the one guy that has consistently done it at right tackle, not much has been said about La'el Collins, the nine-year veteran who provided the ballast over there that had been missing since the Andre Smith days. (Riley Reiff had it, too, before he got hurt in 2021.) Collins also got hurt late this season, suffering a devastating season-ending knee injury on Christmas Eve in Foxboro during the win over the Patriots. He says he tore the big three. The ACL, MCL, PCL. And that's why much hasn't been said. The climb is long and he's quietly grinding.
He spent Christmas morning immobilized while his two little kids ran their new toys into him, shrieking, "Daddy, that's your broke leg." But, as usual, he's upbeat. He's vowing to give an Opening Day return a shot. Given his surgery was in mid-January, that's a Herculean task. But at the very least he says he'll be back for the stretch run.
"They have been my support group. My family has kept me going," Collins said this week after rehab session. "I'll find a way. That's what I'm all about. I have a don't-be-denied mentality."
Collins missed the 2020 season in Dallas with hip problems, but he says that injury was more restrictive than this one. He says Nick Cosgray, the Bengals director of rehab, is working wonders with him.
"Right on schedule. Everything clicking the right way. No setbacks. No pain. I think I'm in a good place," Collins said. "I've felt like I've been one of the best in the game. That comes with a little wear and tear, but the best ones figure out how to play through it."
Collins, who turns 30 the week training camp opens, says the upcoming season is motivation enough.
"When you're on the type of team we have," Collins said, "knowing how close we were and knowing how good we can really be and also knowing we have the talent to be able to go get a championship, that will continue to push me."