I hope you got a chance to read my stories from Cincinnati the past couple days: Part 1, which ran Tuesday, is a general look at the Georgia Bengals, and life in the NFL. Part 2, which ran Wednesday, is a mini-profile of each of the seven players.
But there was some other good stuff that couldn't make it into either story, so I thought I'd pass it along here:
Shawn Williams on the defense
The Bengals rookie strong safety was usually the most candid player in the locker room at Georgia, for better or worse, so fans might be heartened to hear what he says about the Bulldogs defense in 2013.
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“They’re gonna be good," Williams said last week, as he walked off the field after Bengals practice. "They’ve got a great coaching staff that is gonna get them in the right system, get them lined up in the right places, so they can just go play ball.”
Again, you wouldn't expect a player to say his former team is going to stink. But given Williams' history of blunt honesty, and his familiarity with nearly all of Georgia's defensive personnel, his opinion is worth at least passing along.
No regrets from Williams
Williams was quickly earning respect around Bengals camp, and could end up being the only rookie who starts. (The team's first round pick, tight end Tyler Eifert, is behind Pro Bowler Jermaine Gresham.) Williams is still learning the defense, but head coach Marvin Lewis and his teammates have been impressed with Williams' intelligence, and he's made some plays in practice.
“I think he’s gonna be a good solid player for us for years to come," defensive tackle Geno Atkins, another former Georgia star, said of Williams. "I think he’s hungry, willing to work. He’s a yes sir, no sir, type of guy.”
Williams said he'd like to be "the underdog for awhile," kind of like he was at Georgia, where he didn't become one of the big names until late in his career.
“I wanna earn it," he said. "I don’t want them to just give it to me. I want to feel like I competed my butt off and earned my spot, and take it from there.”
I asked Williams how he reflects on his "playing soft" comments last season, his pre-Florida rant that appeared to galvanize the team. When he saw his comments the next day, Williams had some regrets, and was reluctant to speak with the media again, doing so only one more time last season. (Believe me, he was requested a lot more than once.)
But Williams is fine with what he said now.
“I don’t look back and regret anything or say I shouldn’t have done it,” Williams said. “I mean, you have to make choices and deal with them, and kind of sort them out as they go.”
Williams isn't chasing around reporters in training camp, looking to dish out quotes.
“I try to stay away. I don’t want to get fined or anything," he said, smiling. "I need that money to save.”
Robert Geathers on Kwame's future
Cincinnati and former Georgia defensive end Robert Geathers comes from a big football family. (His son is Robert Geathers III. Yes, the next RGIII.) His younger brother, Kwame, just wrapped up his Georgia career, but was undrafted after leaving school early. Robert Geathers also left after his junior year, thinks Kwame will be okay. “He’ll do well,” he said. “He’ll go on and have a good NFL career. This league is about getting in at the right place at the right time. You have first-round picks who sometimes have a hard time sticking around. As long as you get an opportunity and take advantage of it, and I think he’ll definitely take advantage of his opportunity he’s got. It’s fine.”
Three of the former Georgia players on the Bengals' roster turned pro early: Geathers, A.J. Green and Orson Charles. So far it's looking good for the first two, but questionable for Charles, who says "everything happens for a reason."
But Clint Boling, the offensive linemen who left Georgia after his senior year, doesn't blame anybody who does leave early. Boling points to all the other distractions at the college level, most related to academics: Study hall, mentors, tutors, and going to class, of course.
“You have class-checkers making sure you go to class,” Boling said. “You know, the regular students, if they’re not gonna go to class then they’re not gonna go to class. Like, nobody’s getting on them, nobody’s saying anything to then, it’s not a big deal. At the same time (as an athlete) you have to go to classes, they’re almost asking more out of you than a regular student. And on top of that you have to play football, and all the hours you have to dedicate to that. So I mean it’s tough. But being up here, it’s obviously nice, it’s football all day, every day, which helps you focus on it a lot more.”
Boling went on.
“The whole reason is to make a living and provide for yourself and your family,” Boling said. “And that’s what those guys did. You always have the option to go back to school. I didn’t graduate when I got drafted, so I ended up going back to school and getting my degree afterwards. So it’s one of those things where if Orson couldn’t play football more he could still go back to school and get his degree, and do everything he needs to do, and he’s got a head start on everyone in the working world, financially. I would never criticize anyone for coming out early.”
Van Halanger's role
I thought it was notable that when I asked Lewis about the input he receivers on Georgia players, he mentioned Dave Van Halanger, Georgia's former strength and conditioning coordinator. Van Halanger is now in a player development role. Lewis knows him well enough to just refer to him as "Coach Van."
Georgia head coach Mark Richt called Van Halanger the team's "liason" to the NFL scouts and other personnel people.
"Being the strength coach you tend to deal with pro scouts, period, and of course being the strength coach you tend to deal with a lot of pro scouts, period," Richt said. "And of course with his career as a strength coach he's probably met every pro scout you can imagine, because they wanna talk with the strength coach about guys."
Lewis said he has spoken with Richt "at times" about his players, though not before this past year's draft.
"But Tony Ball is a guy we know on the staff," Lewis said.
As for current Bengals players from Georgia, and whether they get sought out for advice on their former teammates, there was a mixed response. Most players said they never heard from coaches or management, finding out a former teammate had been drafted the same way everyone else did.
But Geathers and Atkins say they’ve been sought out for at least some advice. Geathers said they asked him in 2005 about David Pollack and Odell Thurman.
“There were a lot of questions about them, and Thomas (Brown),” Geathers said. “But I think they’ve got a good relationship now where they can call coach Richt up and get all they need.”