BY GEOFF HOBSON - GEORGETOWN, Ky.
How tough is Ron Dugans?
Tough enough that on his first play as a Bengal in pads today, the 6-2, 206-pound Dugans threw his body at a safety crashing down on Mike 16 Chase, one of their bread-and-butter running plays.
Tough enough that last month the 23-year-old rookie climbed the golden stairs to talk to the man himself about his contract. And Bengals President Mike Brown was glad he did.
Tough enough that he sat out the first five practices of training camp because he didn't like the "Carl Pickens Clause," even though he could have had the money a month ago. And tougher still to admit the best thing for his career was to sign the clause and get into camp.
But maybe the toughest thing about him is that he doesn't mind being Peter Warrick's conscience. He won't bat an eye if he thinks his superstar friend isn't working to super standards. It might be Dugans swinging by his place for an early morning workout, and when Warrick says he doesn't feel like it, Warrick drags himself out of bed when Dugans says, "Get up."
"And he'll do it to me at midnight if he says, 'Let's go to the track,' " Dugans said. "He knows I'm always going to get on him just like he'll get on me. We'll get on each other, make each other pick it up. We've been doing it since we got to Florida State and we'll continue to do that."
They started getting on each other right away when Dugans showed up about 15 minutes late for practice after signing his contract. Warrick didn't think he'd ever see his buddy so soon. He'd been talking to him every day and figured it would be Wednesday. The Bengals never thought they would see a No. 81 report to practice pledging to do whatever he could to help the team. Carl Pickens was best known for riding rookies. This No. 81, Dugans, volunteered to lead them, even though he didn't have a name on his jersey yet.
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"I think I can help right away in different forms as far as being a leader on the field and off the field," Dugans said. "I'm not going to wait until my second and third year to call myself a vet and try to help the guys up and talk to them. I'll do anything to help Darnay (Scott), Akili (Smith), Pete. If I be the go-to-guy or if I'm not the go-to-guy. Or possession receiver. Special teams. Anything to help the ballclub get turned around."
At least publicly, the Pickens Clause hasn't driven a wedge between Dugans and the Bengals. The club has upset the NFL Players Association and agents by transferring loyalty language from the collective bargaining agreement and standard player contract into the signing bonus. The Bengals want to be able to get back part of a player's signing bonus if he pulls a Pickens by ripping coaches and management in an effort to get out of a long-term contract.
Agent Jim Steiner joined the agents for rookies Curtis Keaton, Robert Bean and Neil Rackers in filing a protest with the contract. Steiner said today he disagrees with the clause but didn't want to hurt his client's career taking the fight to the Bengals. Dugans shrugged and Brown doubted the issue would ever surface with Dugans.
"He's an independent guy. He's bright. He wants to know things," Brown said. "He wanted to know about our salary structure and how we do things and I'm always glad to let them know what we're doing."
Dugans just figured, "I was part of the agreement. I'm the main part of the contract," and he should know as much as he could about the three-year deal with a $492,000 bonus and minimum salaries. So he went to talk to Brown. Now he wants to know as much about the Bengals playbook, where he's got a great shot at starting the season as the big, physical third receiver in a three-receiver set playing the X spot while Warrick moves from X to the slot.
He figures today was the first time he'd been in full pads since the Senior Bowl, an all-star game where the Bengals thought he was the best receiver on the field. And one of those last game in pads was early January, when his touchdown catches of 63 and 14 yards helped the Seminoles beat Virginia Tech for the national championship.
"The first day, you're always a little nervous," Dugans said. "Everybody is watching to make sure you still know the plays and that you've been in your playbook. I think I had a pretty good first day of practice. . .I felt pretty good. I've got a lot of work to get with the rest of the team. I'm not in real good shape, I'm in good shape. You can never be in too much shape. I needed to work today."
Warrick jumped around when he spotted Dugans stretching on the field and greeted him with a roundhouse handshake and, "Let's make some plays." Wide receivers coach Steve Mooshagian says they feed off each other and that the friendly competition with Dugans helps the easy going Warrick focus.
"Peter picked up his game a little bit today," Mooshagian said. "It just might be because of Ron's presence."
When asked about that, Warrick wrinkled his nose and said, "I don't know about that."