When defensive end Michael Johnson left the Cincinnati Bengals after five seasons to sign a free-agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he left not one, but two gaping holes behind.
And defensive end Carlos Dunlap did his best to fill both.
The four years they played together in Mike Zimmer’s defense, Johnson was strictly a right end and Dunlap never strayed from the left.
But under first-year defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, Dunlap is lining up on both sides, which is something he was eager to tell Johnson about last weekend when the two met up at Dunlap’s camp in North Charleston, S.C.
“I told him ‘They got me over there getting adjusted to your (side), playing right end,’” Dunlap said. “Then I talked with him about the stuff I’m doing in the community, and I joked with him saying, ‘Yeah, I’m also picking up for you off the field.’ ”
Johnson was not only one of the team’s more active players in the community, he frequently urged his teammates to do more as well. And Dunlap has received the message.
In addition to putting on the Twin Towers Camp with his former high school teammate Robert Quinn of the St. Louis Rams, Dunlap started the Carlos Dunlap Foundation, which has a mission of working with communities to provide literacy education.
Last Thursday, Dunlap’s foundation teamed with Boys Hope Girls Hope – an organization that, according to its website, helps academically capable and motivated children-in-need to meet their full potential by providing value-centered, family-like homes, opportunities and education through college – and treated 40 scholars from the program to a day at the Reds game.
“The kids had a blast and after the game some of my teammates and I talked to them about some of the adversity we overcame and how we used it to our advantage,” Dunlap said.
Joining Dunlap were teammates Sam Montgomery, Christo Bilukidi, Zach Minter, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Larry Black, David King and Brandon Thompson.
“My upbringing was pretty normal,” Thompson said. “Both of my parents were educators, so they stayed on me hard and made sure I had the grades to get where I wanted to go. But not everyone is blessed with parents like that, so it’s always good to give back to kids who don’t have that. It helps you appreciate your own situation and where you came from. It’s a great thing Carlos is doing.”
And the Bengals are hoping that making Dunlap more versatile on the line leads to some great things on the field as well.
“You can keep the offense guessing where guys are coming from, and it causes a second of hesitation for the quarterback or the receivers or whatever it may be — that’s what we’re trying to do,” Guenther said. “Everyone is playing both sides, so it’s not like there’s a left or right end right now. It’s good for him, and this is the time of year to experiment with that.”
Dunlap forced four fumbles in a six-game span last year because of his ability to swing his long right arm down on the ball carrier from behind. Rushing from the right side – the blindside for most quarterbacks – will give him more chances to separate the ball.
“Where I got it from was a lot of guys who were on the blind side,” he said of his tomahawk swat. “So hopefully I can mimic what they did, as well as what I did on the left side.
“I haven’t done it since college, but I did it all throughout college,” he added. “This is the only place I’ve played one side. I’m excited about being able to play both because it gives me different looks as well as the offense different looks.”
And if it all goes according to plan, an offseason of giving back will be followed by a fall full of takeaways.