Shirley meets questions

Updated: 6:10 p.m.

Jason Shirley stands 6-5 and weighs 329 pounds. During his career at Fresno State he showed to be disruptive in the middle of a defensive line.

But when the Bengals chose to take Shirley in the fifth round of Sunday's NFL Draft, the first question had nothing to do football. It was about an issue the Bengals and the entire league has become all too familiar with addressing: off-field conduct.

Shirley was kicked off the team last season and has a May 21 court date in Fresno to face charges from last Oct. 8 that include DUI, driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher, and hit and run. That case was to have been heard last week but prosecutors asked for a delay.

For a team such as the Bengals that has had to deal with more than its share of the bad publicity that comes with players who have run-ins with the law, the question is why?

Head coach Marvin Lewis acknowledged the team is taking a risk with the drafting of Shirley but is confident the team has done its due diligence and homework.

"Obviously he's got the case and it's been continued but we feel the outcome of the case will be in his favor," Lewis said. "We've done considerable research on everything. He's been here to visit us and we've had him through a number of evaluations that way so we feel good about it. But he does have that in his past.

"There are a lot of guys who have gone over the last two days who have more substantial things hanging over their heads. At this point in the draft we felt that his ability and potential and what was pending that we were able to deal with it."

The Bengals were among a handful of teams that spoke to Shirley prior to the draft, according to his lawyer Charles McGill in a story published last week in the Fresno Bee.

"I want to thank the coaches for the opportunity to come to Cincinnati and show what I can do," said Shirley. "I understand the questions about my off-the-field issues, but all that is behind me now. I'm ready to move forward and contribute to the team any way I can."

Shirley played in all 12 games for Fresno St. as a junior in 2006, starting seven times. He finished the season with 20 tackles, two sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and three blocked kicks. He blocked two field goals in one game against Hawaii.

Shirley played in just three games as a senior. His season began with a two-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. He was suspended again following the Oct. 8 incident in which police reported he crashed his car into an apartment complex. He appealed the suspension, according to the Fresno Bee, by providing medical documents that claimed he had suffered a concussion a few days prior to the accident. His appeal earned him a reinstatement but within a few days after returning to the team he was charged with driving under suspension and an expired registration.

This time he was suspended from the team for good.

"It was hard on me, but I kept working out and stayed in school," said Shirley, who says he is just four classes shy of earning his degree in African-American studies. "I'll be graduating next spring. It was hard, but I had the support of my family, coaches, and teammates. In the end, it helped me a lot because it's made me work harder."

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