Chris Worley at work this weekend.
If you’re a Bengals fan, what is there not to like about rookie linebacker Chris Worley? And forget that he’s one of four rookies at minicamp this weekend from The Ohio State or that he’s from Ohio or that he helped the Buckeyes win a national title.
Try that while growing up in Cleveland he delighted enraging his family by rooting for the Bengals against the Browns. Or try that his favorite Bengal back then was wide receiver Chad Johnson because despite the histrionics he always showed up to beat you. Or try that he knows all about the Bengals being born because the Browns fired a head coach named Paul Brown.
“Ridiculous but, hey, people make mistakes,” Worley said upon his arrival “Organizations make mistakes.”
The Bengals didn’t make the mistake of judging Worley merely on his athleticism and his measurables, which is one of the opinions why fellow Buckeye backer Jerome Baker went to the Texans in the third round while Worley had to wait for the Bengals to win a bidding war after the draft that made him their highest paid college free agent for what is believed to be about $13,000.
The Bengals looked past the numbers and focused on Worley’s crafty instincts formed in 50 games for the Buckeyes. Not to mention his penchant for physical play and ability to fit into the Bengals scheme at both SAM and WILL right now and the middle later.
“Tough. Hard-nosed. High motor,” said Billy Price, the Ohio State center the Bengals took in the first round, when asked for a scouting report. “Smaller guy. Especially when you look at linebackers, but a guy who gives you his all. One of these pesky linebackers who just keeps coming back. I’m glad he’s on my side.”
If that’s not enough of a reason to like Worley then you have to love the fact that the Bengals have secured some of their best linebackers in the Marvin Lewis Era through college free agency. That’s how Vincent Rey (2010) and Vontaze Burfict (2012) got here and if you listen closely people talk about Worley the same way.
Smart. Versatile. Did we say tough?
“Tough. Physical. Took over from day one,” said linebacker coach Jim Haslett after day two. “I like him.”
That made it easy for Haslett to recruit him hard and he’s a big reason Worley is here.
“Coach Haslett talked to me through the whole process. I came down here for a visit. He came up there for pro day,” Worley said of that Columbus job fair that produced seven draft picks. “It came down to needs. It came down to scheme of things. Like how they run some of the same things as Ohio State.
“I thought this was a better fit for me personally. I love the coaching they have here. Coach Haslett was a big deciding factor.”
Chris Worley became a Buckeye staple in 50 games.
When the last day of the draft rolled around, Worley’s name frequently surfaced and if they hadn’t grabbed Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson in the third round they probably would have pulled the trigger as early as the fifth.
“His measurables are fine. He’s got the same measurables of everyone that was getting drafted in the third and fourth round,” Haslett said. “There are a lot of guys in that position that didn’t get drafted. There were a million DBs, a million offensive and defensive linemen. A lot of quarterbacks.”
Haslett isn’t the only guy in his corner. Try the guy in the corner office. Why not? Worley and Bengals president Mike Brown are a couple of Cleveland kids who moved to Cincinnati and always root for the Bengals when they play Browns.
“I like Worley,” Brown said as he watched him take his first pro steps. “We’ve always liked Ohio State guys. They’ve been good players for us. And good guys. To a man.”
When Brown grew up in Cleveland, he was the son of Browns head coach Paul Brown idolizing his father’s players. Worley grew up idolizing the players that went to his high school, that parade of blue-chippers that barged through Glenville and Ohio State to the NFL.
“Ted Ginn Jr., was probably the first. He was one of the guys that always reached back to me in the process,” Worley said. “He was like a big brother to me when I was younger. He’d take me to go work out. Things like that. Cardale Jones and I grew up together. Marshon (Lattimore) and I grew up together and played together our whole life. Since we were seven.”
His father told him early not to watch teams, but players. That was just fine. He had a problem with the hometown Browns.
“In my family, half are Browns fans, half are Cincinnati fans,” Worley said. “When they used to play each other I always used to go for Cincinnati just because I knew the Browns sucked. So I was like, ‘I’ll just roll with Cincinnati every time.’”
This is where he smiled. That seemed to upset the Browns’ half of the family. Chad made it easy to root for Cincy.
“How could you not love Chad Johnson?” Worley asked of his favorite Bengal. “You could say what you want about him, but once it was time to play football he was a fierce competitor. I always respected that about him.”
Linebackers coach Jim Haslett had his eye on Worley.
That gives you an idea where Worley is coming from. Haslett is lining him up at SAM this weekend, but he also slid inside on passing downs. Both of them think he can play all three spots.
“I’m not trying to do the feeling out process. I’m coming here to compete. That’s why they brought me here,” Worley said. “They didn’t bring guys here to go through the flow. Be the cool guy. At the same time you have to know how to practice. I’m coming here to compete. That’s the only thing that’s on my mind. Compete in different ways. Compete on the field. Compete in the playbook. Leadership role. All that.”
It doesn’t sound like he’ll have much trouble with the playbook. He’s already got the history book down. Thanks to another Bengals fan, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
“When freshmen come in, especially if they’re from another state, they get the whole Ohio history. You better know that. The team up north. The rivalry. They’ve got to know all that. All the great coaches Ohio State has had. They have to know all that.”
So he knows why his new stadium has the name. After all, Meyer knows long before Paul Brown coached the Baby Bengals to the 1970 AFC Central Division title, he coached Ohio State to its first national title 28 years before that.
“I know the impact he’s had on not just Cleveland, not just Cincinnati, but Ohio as a whole,” Worley said. “I’m grateful to be in a state where there’s so much tradition. At this point everywhere I’ve been he’s had an impact. It’s kind of weird to think about it that way. It’s kind of like my grand dad.”
Now Worley knows he needs a roster spot to get in the history.