Best of the Zoom news conferences Thursday ahead of the Bengals Super Bowl LVI berth Sunday in Los Angeles against the Rams at SoFi Stadium:
Tight end C.J. Uzomah went down in the AFC championship game with a knee injury and he has been trying to come back ever since. He practiced for the first time Thursday and was limited.
Uzomah: "I feel good. As good as I can given the circumstance. In my head, I'm not missing the biggest game of my life. We'll see how it feels today when I go out there (at practice). We're having really big strides in the right direction. … I'm looking forward to getting out there with the squad today."
Uzomah initially on the injury: "I was thinking, '(Crap). I'm not going to be able to play for the rest of this game and possibly the Super Bowl. So this sucks.' That's why I was crying. That's why the emotions were kind of coming out of me just because, obviously, I got hurt like anything. But, I was just bummed that there was a possibility that I wasn't going to be able to play and that I might need surgery."
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER DOLLAR
The Bengals are treating Super Bowl LVI like every other game.
Uzomah: "This is another week and we're treating it as another week, another football game, another the opportunity to go out and put our best foot forward and win just on a grander scale. … We haven't been more or less locked in and we've been the same.
"That's what you want going into a big game. You don't want there to be nerves or jitters or a level of, 'Woah,' this is a rollercoaster ride where one day everyone's hyped up and the next day it's kind of like, 'Oh wait, what just happened to that energy?' It's constant which I love."
The tight end position has taken the limelight from the fullback position recently and the players have basked in the glory.
Uzomah: "If punters got as much recognition as (tight ends are) getting right now, Kevin (Huber) would be the happiest person. I have a smile on my face all the time just because everyone's like, 'Oh, the tight end, the tight end.'
"Like everyone's talking about the tight end. We get to play the game we love and things like that. I'm just like, 'Yeah, it's amazing. Are you kidding?' I'm juiced, I'm jacked. I think guys like (George Kittle, Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski) and guys that came before them, they're kind of revolutionizing the position. I'm wanting to be amongst those names."
KICKING WITH CONFIDENCE
The praise for rookie kicker Evan McPherson has continued to come in for being clutch in the playoffs. McPherson is 12-12 on field goals including three from 50 yards plus.
Punter Kevin Huber: "I've never seen anything like it before. His confidence level in his ability is something that I've never really witnessed. The closest, I've said before, is Justin Tucker. I've got a chance to play against Justin for eight or nine years now. I've gotten a firsthand witness of how he carries himself and Evan's very close to that kind of mentality and that demeanor.
"I wouldn't call it really a cockiness that Evan has. He's just really confident in his abilities. He knows what he can do. He knows his leg strength. … If he kicks the ball, he knows like kind of how it feels on his foot which you don't typically see that right away with rookies.
"Just where he's at mentally and where he's at with the knowledge of kicking, it's something I've never really seen before and he's really using it to his advantage."
Huber on McPherson from distance: "He just goes out there and slings hard. I'm sure it helps him a lot that (Clark Harris and I) have been together for the last 13 years so he's not worried about the snap or the hold or anything like that. He's able to focus on what needs to focus on and just kind of go do his job. That way you can just go out with every kick and just do what he knows how to do and stick to the details of kicking."
11-MAN WRECKING CREW
No matter what side of the ball the players play on, they're all rooting for each other.
Uzomah: "We expect and we know that in a tight situation, if we're behind in the game or not, we're not out of the game because we know our defense is going to step up, make stops, get us the ball back and we're going to be able to go out there and score."
"I get the pleasure of talking about the offense. People come to me and they're asking questions about the offense and I love that but, watching the chemistry and seeing the chemistry and seeing the bond that the defense has is incredible. It starts with your leaders, obviously, we've got Jessie (Bates III) and Vonn (Bell) and Trey (Hendrickson) and Sam (Hubbard) and Logan (Wilson). I could literally name every single player right now.
"They're a bunch of dogs. Every single one of them is a dog and they're playing for one another. They know where one another is going to be within the scheme that they're playing. … It's fun to watch those boys ball out."
Many fans know that Huber has called Cincinnati home for his entire life.
Huber: "It's pretty surreal. I think I'm going to look back 10, 20 years from now and be able to just sit back and realize how cool that story really is. I'm just trying to live it up right now, trying to enjoy every second of it. But it's a pretty unique story and I'm glad that I could be a part of this."
The Bengals have been building this team for years now and it started to come to fruition as of late. Huber has been the longest-tenured Bengal and has been in many locker rooms.
Huber: "(I noticed it) really towards the end of last season. It was our second season in a row where we had very few wins. But, you saw guys at the end of the year last year still playing to win the game and guys weren't checking out."
"I kind of saw that as a bit of a turning point to see that the mentality of the player that is in the locker room now that's actually built, are a bunch of guys that are here to win for the team they're going to o whatever it takes. After seeing that, I knew like, 'Okay, you know, we get a couple more pieces this off-season, I think we have really something special building here.' "
More from Huber: "This is the best locker room I've ever been a part of. (We) have a bunch of former leaders from where they came from. … So you really see that coming out in the locker room and on the field where you really see the locker room taking care of itself. (We) really don't have
any egos in this locker room, which has been a big change from what I'm used to.
"(We) don't really have guys that get upset about something and kind of branch off and almost become a negative energy. That's kind of a testament to Zac (Taylor) and the vision he had and that he was able to create that in the last couple of years."
ATHENS WONDER KID
Praise for quarterback Joe Burrow continues to come in from everywhere.
Huber: "You could tell from day one that he had a little something different to him. He wasn't a huge vocal leader. … He leads by example and just the way he carries himself throughout the day. The way he prepares himself. The way he works out. The way he film studies. The way he practices and just talks to guys and holds people accountable if they're not doing the right thing. Whether it's a wrong route or the O-line does something wrong.
"I just think it's the way he carries himself and the way that he attacks every day is the way that he's really prone to leave the locker room. Guys see how good he is and guys want to do everything they can for him."
Uzomah: "His mind is crazy. His football IQ is off the charts. It's something that is reassuring for all of us because we're like, 'Okay, nice. If we get this coverage, he wants us to do this. He expects us to be there and we're going to do it.' We've talked about it. We haven't necessarily seen it on film but if it happens, sometimes it happens in the game, it's like, 'All right, (cool). We knew this was happening. He knew this was coming.'
"We're going to adjust accordingly. … He's Joe cool. He's out there just like cool as can be. (He) just knows where people are going to be, knows how defenses are going to react to certain things. Just throwing dots out there. He's the man."
Uzomah went on the Pardon My Take podcast and made a deal with 'Big Cat' if the Bengals win the Super Bowl.
Uzomah: "I'll take a bath in chili. I was talking to somebody else. They said, 'Yeah, I'm going to take a bath from the chili if they win.' So I'll join him in that. … I'm wearing swim trunks. (If) you put it in a swimming pool I'll dive in there and I'll eat my way out."
THIS IS FOR CINCINNATI
The Bengals are gunning to win the Super Bowl for Cincy.
Uzomah: "I mean, you saw the 30,000 that were in the Jungle to sit and to give us a sendoff. That was incredible. It was freezing cold. I was out there for like 15, 20 minutes. I was freezing They were out there for a couple of hours. I was stuck in traffic for like an hour and 15 minutes and I live 10 minutes away from the stadium. That gives us a lot of juice. We're happy that they have that."
Huber: "It would be everything. The city would just implode if we win this game. I think it's (been) a long time ago waiting for this moment. Getting there a couple of times but losing, and then that long drought in between the last time they went. … They would be just completely on cloud nine."
THE SPORTS MECCA
Cincinnati has been front and center of the sporting world recently.
Huber: "It's been huge. Cincinnati has been like the center of football this year. Cincinnati loves its sports. That's one thing that the city really joins together on whether it's the Bengals, the Bearcats basketball or football, Xavier, the Reds, and now (FC Cincinnati). They love their sports.
"Just to have a lot of people that went down to Dallas for the (college football) playoff game and those same people are going to go to the Super Bowl the same year. So happy for the fans that could actually have the ability to do that, to experience that. I think it's meant so much to the city."