Bengals’ Alexander on track to make a difference

Mackensie Alexander was just settling into the Cincinnati Bengals defense when he received a worrisome call that led him to miss more than a week of practice.

Now, the Bengals' new slot cornerback says he is back on track and ready to make a difference Sunday in the opener against the L.A. Chargers.

Alexander took a brief leave of absence from the team after learning his father had gone missing in Florida while on a berry-picking trip Aug. 24. In Florida to help search for his father, Alexander was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery for an alleged physical confrontation with the man who had driven his father on the excursion but fortunately Jean Alexandre – a Haitian immigrant who uses the French spelling of his family surname – was found safe Aug. 27. Alexander was released from jail on a $2,000 bond on Aug. 26.

“God put me into a position to where my family is a priority, and God put me into a position to where I’m the head of the family,” Alexander said this week in his first interview since the incident. “No decision goes without me, and my parents, that’s all I really have at the end of the day. Most people have got a huge family, but I’ve got an immediate family that’s very small and very intimate. My parents have an immigrant background, and I’m there for them 24/7 whenever they need me. It was a tragic call, for sure. Nobody could understand my situation and being in my shoes at that point. It was crazy.”

The family is doing well now, according to Alexander, and he is glad to be back to work. He returned to the team Sept. 2, then participated in a mock game the next day as the Bengals wrapped up their preseason ahead of final roster cuts and prepared to turn the focus toward the Chargers this week.

Alexander said he was mostly focused on his family while away but upon returning to Cincinnati and while waiting on clearing COVID-19 testing protocols, he had time to refocus. He didn’t feel like he missed too much.

“I kept my mind in it a little bit, but I was just trying to limit as much distractions as possible throughout that process,” Alexander said. “When I came back, I just stayed into it, so I knew what was going on. I kept my mind into it. I had a lot of time to really reflect on that and make sure that it was still important to me and kept it a priority for myself.”

As the son of immigrant parents who worked as agricultural pickers, Alexander said he carries a lot of pressure to help the family to a more comfortable lifestyle. His parents picked oranges, squash and peppers for $300 a week combined when he was young and Jean Alexandre traveled 80 miles to pick palmetto berries – another low-paying job – when he went missing.

Alexander said his background impacts him every time he steps on the field.

“It’s different because when I cross them lines, it’s not for me,” he said. “It’s not about who’s better than who and the big name and what’s going on. For me, my fight is a little bit different than everybody else’s fight. My fight is for freedom, being able to come out and be free and have fun. I have a lot of pressure on my back each and every week, so I carry that load with me, which most players don’t. They’re background demographically is a little bit different, so they don’t have to do as much. For me, the fight is a little more. The fire is there for sure. My fire is big. I’ve got parents that don’t understand. They know I’m in the league but they don’t understand what I’m actually doing and how I’m changing our generation. We’re beating these curses and trying to elevate the family to a whole other mindset financially, emotionally, spiritually, all of it. My fight is big.”

Alexander said his parents went to see him play in Minnesota quite a bit, but they won’t be there Sunday as no fans will be in attendance.

The Bengals signed Alexander in free agency as part of their overhaul of the defense, so he’s among several newcomers on that side of the ball, including three new starters in the secondary. Alexander said they will be challenged by some talented players on the Chargers' offense, specifically pointing out quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who can use his arm and legs, as well as wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and running back Austin Ekeler.

Alexander is known as one of the league’s best tackling cornerbacks, and that’s just what the Bengals need to shore up a defense that got burned down the middle of the field last year.

“It’s just laser focus, understanding what’s gonna happen and just bringing the guy down solidly,” Alexander said. “Whether he catches it on you or whether he’s in the open field. Just bring the guy down and be consistent. I was on a good team and now I’m here. We’re bringing that over here, too, so I’m kind of excited.”

SUNDAY’s GAME

Chargers at Bengals, 4:05 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7