Linebacker Chris Worley was promoted from the practice squad this week after linebacker Malik Jefferson went on injured reserve and he isn't just thankful for the opportunity. He's prepared to be the next in a long line of Bengals who went from an undrafted free agent to a regular contributor on the 53-man roster.
During Wednesday's open locker room session Worley was calm and poised befitting his big-school pedigree from The Ohio State. Yet when asked about finally realizing his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL, Worley's eyes filled with joy, opening as wide as the Bengals locker room.
"I'm excited, not just for me but for my family," Worley said. "I've been working my butt off. It's good that something comes of it. I'm just ready to prepare and play the way I know I can play."
After Worley signed following the draft, he signed to the practice squad Sept. 2 after being waived on final cuts. The roster promotion not only is validation for Worley, but to all those who helped him in his journey.
"Super instinctive player," said Steven Radicevic, the Bengals pro scouting director. "He did a great job of reading offenses. He was a highly productive player at Ohio State and we all had pretty high grades on him coming out. He was a guy we talked about taking as the draft went on. We were surprised he fell through, we were lucky to get him as a free agent and he's done a nice job here."
Worley played inside and outside linebacker for the Buckeyes and recorded 153 tackles, two sacks, one interception and four forced fumbles during his collegiate career. There was some speculation that Worley could be drafted, but that's never been a requirement in the Bengals linebacker room.
The Bengals showcase a recent history of developing undrafted free agent linebackers like Vontaze Burfict, Brandon Bell, Vincent Rey and Hardy Nickerson. The linebacker development through the years and Worley's relationship with coaches Marvin Lewis and Jim Haslett were important factors for him signing with Cincinnati during the offseason. When Worley impressed them early on with his intangibles and productivity, it was a fit.
Ironically, the first game the Cleveland native is able to play with the Bengals could be against the Cleveland Browns Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Cleveland.
"He's hungry to get an opportunity," Lewis said. "Sometimes you get a chance to go in and play. We'll see what happens on Sunday, whether he's up and active, and maybe he gets a chance to replace Malik in some of things on (special) teams."
Photos from the Bengals' practice in preparation for the Week 16 matchup against the Cleveland Browns.
While he was finishing a workout in the weight room Tuesday, Worley received a number of texts from friends and family congratulating him on the promotion. Among those texting were University of Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell, one of his coaches in Columbus. He knew he had a good shot at being promoted based off of previous conversations with the coaches and staff. Now after a six-month journey and spending the first 16 weeks of the season practiced, Worley is focused, excited and ready.
"It's just exciting to see how my family will react," said Worley. "Me coming back home, Christmas, first game, all those things, family and friends. It's funny how the cards were dealt in this situation. To have the opportunity to play, I'm just blessed and grateful. It's up to me to go out there and provide my thanks and prove it with my play."