Free agent addition Sheldon Rankins: ‘Super Bowl or bust’ for Bengals

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

CINCINNATI — Sheldon Rankins always intended to show up to Cincinnati Bengals offseason workouts before they became mandatory but late enough that he could take care of his body the way he sees fit in his preferred environment to spend time away from football.

After arriving at Paycor Stadium on Monday, this week is proving especially important for Rankins to get acclimated to his new team before mandatory minicamp June 11-13 and training camp at the end of July.

The veteran defensive tackle was still getting his work in away from campus while teammates have been participating in the voluntary offseason program the past seven weeks, but Rankins said there is no substitute for actually getting onto the field with his team.

“Especially the last four years of my career, I’ve always stayed away from OTAs until a certain point,” Rankins said. “I pretty much always kind of show up around this time, you know, just to kind of get acquainted with everybody, get familiar with the surroundings, and just kind of get ingratiated with the players and kind of fit myself in, and obviously get the scheme down and different things like that and just get back to the football mindset. You can train as much as you want to train when you’re away elsewhere, but to be in a football building, doing football things with football players, there’s nothing like that.”

Rankins, who is going into his ninth NFL season, was still able to watch tape from walkthroughs, study the playbook and work out while he was away. Although it’s “100 percent different” doing it individually or even with a personal trainer and other athletes, he doesn’t feel he is behind, nor is he any less committed than those who were in attendance every practice to this point.

“Every year I’ve ever played in this league, it’s Super Bowl or bust every year until it’s not, you know, so I take that approach in every offseason with how I take care of my body, to how I’m training, to the things I’m doing to put myself in the best position to when I get here, I’m hitting the ground running, and being exactly who they think I am or even better,” Rankins said. “So it doesn’t change the thought process.”

Rankins was already familiar with Bengals defensive line coach Marion Hobby from his high school football days when Hobby was at Clemson and trying to recruit Rankins before he signed with Louisville. Some of what the Bengals do defensively also compares to how the New Orleans Saints ran things during Rankins time there from 2016 through 2020.

However, there is still a lot to catch up on in terms of the little details to Lou Anarumo’s schemes and how things are called. That’s why Rankins showed up Monday.

“To get out there and hear things being called, gotta get lined up, hear all the checks,” Rankins said. “When you’ve been out of football for a while, in the sense just because it’s the offseason, you know, getting back into the first bit of real football activities, at first, it’s a lot, but everything slows down really quickly and then you’re able to grasp it. … Once I get in the meeting room, like I have these past couple of days with the guys, with the coaches and hearing how they break it down hearing how they say things, understand the terminology, understand how things are gonna flow once we’re out there, you know, it’s coming back fast.”

The Bengals signed Rankins, who had six sacks with Houston last year but also has been part of strong run defenses in the past, to a two-year deal to help fill the void left in the departure of defensive tackle DJ Reader, who went to the Detroit Lions in free agency. They then drafted two defensive tackles in the first three rounds to add to the rotation, where the team also lost Josh Tupou and needed more depth anyway.

Rookies Kris Jenkins, a second-round pick out of Michigan, and McKinnley Jackson, a third-round pick out of Texas A&M, were both known as run stoppers in college but bring different things to the table. Jenkins is expected to develop more in the pass rush, while Jackson’s stout body resembles more of what Reader provided plugging gaps in the run defense.

Rankins said he’s been impressed by both players and looks forward to helping them adjust to the NFL and to be prepared for their opportunities to contribute. He’s not personally coming in to “take over anything” but to “add a presence.” He does have high expectations for how he can fit in, though, as both a run stopper and pass rusher.

“I think I can do it all, no doubt about it,” Rankins said. “I have zero doubt in myself to be a dominant three-down guy to be out there, go play against the run, and on third down make money as a pass rusher. So yeah, no, zero doubt in anything I can do at this point in my career. I think I do it all well. I think, you know, sometimes analytics or whatever get involved in the way we look at tape. But, you know, anytime I step out there and put my hand in the dirt, I feel like I’m a dominant three-down guy, and I look forward to continuing that thought process and putting it on film for display.”

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