Bengals host area college products at annual pre-draft workout

CINCINNATI — Lakota West High School graduate JJ Ross said it was an honor to get a chance to participate in the Cincinnati Bengals’ annual pre-draft local players workout.

Ross, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound cornerback out of Western Illinois University, grew up watching the Bengals and enjoyed the experience putting on team-issued gear for a brief workout Tuesday morning at their indoor practice facility. The workout focused mainly on individual position group drills, and Ross was among about 30 players from local colleges and high schools to participate.

“Getting this invite was something big for me and my family, so it was definitely important for me to come make a stamp today,” said Ross, who began his career as a third-team All-American at Eastern Illinois in 2019 but transferred to Western Illinois in 2021. “Like I said, being a hometown kid, it’s surreal. I’ve been wanting to do this forever so it would be lovely if they grab me.”

Other local participants included former Fairfield High School and University of Cincinnati defensive end Malik Vann, former Franklin High product and University of Cincinnati running back Ryan Montgomery, former Lakota West High School and University of Pittsburgh defensive tackle Tyler Bentley and former Fairfield High and Davenport University wide receiver Peyton Brown.

Four players from Miami University also participated, including safety Michael Dowell, wide receivers Miles Marshall and Joe Wilkins Jr. and cornerback Yahsyn McKee, and five players represented Ohio State, including linebacker Steele Chambers, wide receiver Xavier Johnson, guard Matt Jones, safety Josh Proctor and halfback Miyan Williams.

Ross, who graduated from West in 2019, said he has been training in Arizona to get ready for workouts like his Pro Day and the one with the Bengals on Tuesday and he felt prepared to do his best. He’s not ranked on major draft boards but projects as a possible free agent pickup.

“I just wanted to come in and be myself,” Ross said. “I do this all the time, every day, so just do what I do and not think about it too much, just play. It was a good experience, especially being with the hometown team, so I had fun.”

Ross was hopeful his athleticism for a big cornerback helps him stand out to teams looking at his body of work. A self-described “ball player,” he moves around well for a player of his size, as he has clocked a best 40-yard dash time of 4.60 seconds. Ross was a Division I All-Ohio defensive back as a senior at West in 2018 when he led the Greater Miami Conference with six interceptions, and he recorded a career-best four picks as a freshman at Eastern Illinois in 2019.

“It’s been a good journey,” Ross said. “It’s been surreal. I’ve been waiting on this since I was 7 years old, so now that it’s here, it feels good. I’m just trying to take it day by day. That’s really it.

“Just waiting to see who wants me now,” Ross added. “I’ve been talking to a few teams, and now it’s here in like 10 days so it’s a waiting game now. I feel like I did all I have to do to mark myself. Now the waiting is the nervous period because it’s out of your control but I feel good about it. I put the work in, and now I’ve just got to let God work.”

Vann, a 2018 graduate of Fairfield, didn’t grow up a Bengals fan but feels connected to the organization as a local prospect. He also has worked out with several of the current players during his offseasons and more recently while preparing for the draft.

Locally, Vann works out at Black Sheep Performance, where Joe Burrow, Sam Hubbard and Joseph Ossai have trained, but he also spent time training in Charlotte at the same facility where BJ Hill works out during the offseason. He’s also friends with Bengals backup offensive lineman Jackson Carman, with whom he played at Fairfield. Vann said he’s taken the opportunity to ask questions about how those players have gone about building a professional career and how they’ve sustained that.

Vann is hopeful he gets an opportunity himself, and Tuesday was a small taste of a day in the life of a Bengals player. He finished last season with the Bearcats rated by Pro Football Focus as the Big 12′s eighth-best edge rusher and remains a fringe late-round draft pick or college free agent prospect.

“Being here, being coached by a professional coach who might be my coach one day, it’s a good experience,” Vann said. “It was a good time. I feel like I got to show the quick flash of my hands and my power, just coming off my stance and at the point of attack so I’m happy with what I showed today. I was additionally happy with my Pro Day, so we’ll just see when the time comes next week.”

“It would be huge for me if I ended up with the Bengals, obviously getting to fulfill my childhood dream and being in my hometown. Back in high school I helped make a change for my program, stayed home (for college) and if I get to come here, they are among the best in the league, best in the business so that would be great to get a chance to help them hopefully win a Super Bowl.”

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