CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor was not surprised when Ted Karras was selected by his peers to be a captain before he played a game with this new teammates.
Karras brought a unique energy and passion for his job as an offensive lineman that had been missing from that group, and he won over the rest of the team almost as soon as he walked into the building as a free agent addition this past offseason.
Now as the Bengals set to face his former New England Patriots on Saturday, they are especially appreciative of what he’s brought to Cincinnati’s offense.
“He gives added leadership, which we’re always wanting to take,” Taylor said. “He’s all about ball. He loves to talk protections. He loves to talk run game. That’s what I think is so exciting. You need that in a center. It’s awesome to just be around his infectious energy at all times. On top of that, he’s just an awesome human being. … That’s why a guy is elected captain right when he walks through the door. Just because he has that effect on players and coaches and a city, really. And people back in New England and Indianapolis and Miami would say the same thing too on their interactions with him. Just a special human being and we’re lucky to have him.”
Karras spent five of his seven NFL seasons in New England, beginning in 2016 when the Patriots selected him in the sixth round of the draft that year. After his rookie contract expired, he spent one season with Miami in 2020 before returning to New England last year.
Cincinnati acquired him this offseason as part of their rebuild on the offensive line, and he’s started all 14 games at center for the 10-win Bengals and brought a winning mentality he first learned in New England. Karras was a part of three straight Super Bowl appearances to begin his NFL career, including winning championships in 2016 and 2018, though his role was limited those seasons.
“One of my goals coming in, when I was signed was … I wanted to assimilate into a culture that already had success,” Karras said. “And I’m very happy that I’m here. It’s an amazing locker room to be in. That being said, I was raised for many years in that system, and a lot of the tenets that they believe in, I wholeheartedly believe in as well. So obviously you take the good and learn from Zac, and now this new program has been very advantageous for me.”
Karras, who went to high school at Cathedral High in Indianapolis, not only quickly settled into his new team, he’s made Cincinnati a home and the fanbase has embraced him as well. Since launching his “Cincy Hats” charity less than four weeks ago, Karras has raised more than $300,000 to support The Village of Merici, an Indianapolis-based non-profit living community and service provider serving adults with developmental disabilities.
The Bengals’ center said he wanted to give a gift to his new teammates, which was how he came up with the idea for the hats, and the project took on a life of its own after fans and media started asking about where they could get one too. The charity came together with the help of childhood friend Matt Renie, whose mother founded the Village of Merici.
“They do so much good and being a small part of it, it’s been really special,” Karras.
Taylor mentioned Karras’ charitable giving as an example of the character he has and that the Bengals wanted on their roster.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said Karras was exactly what the offense needed in a center.
“You could tell he was going to bring a lot of energy and that’s something we didn’t really have on the O line before that,” Burrow said. “It’s been great to have him, because when you have a guy like that on the front, not just in game, but in the locker room where I’m always talking about how great our locker room is and how important that is to winning, Ted is the ultimate locker room guy and that’s what you need out of your center.”
As Karras prepares for his homecoming at Gillette, he has no ill feelings toward New England for not extending his contract last year. He became a full-time starter for the Patriots in 2019 as a center for Tom Brady in his last season with New England, then departed for Miami and still made his way back to the organization that drafted him for one more season.
Karras will be a key to helping Cincinnati crack a tough Patriots defense on Saturday.
“I don’t think it’s any revenge tour,” Karras said. “I have a ton of love and respect for all my teammates that were there. Just how it played out, I’m wearing a different color on Christmas Eve in Gillette Stadium. So it’s very exciting, not revenge. That organization gave me two shots, two opportunities, so I always have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach (Bill) Belichick and Mr. (Robert) Kraft, and everyone involved in that organization.”
“I think one of the things that stuck with me the most, as far as from a football standpoint, is a big Bill Belichick adage: You can’t win until you keep from losing. And I wholeheartedly believe in that.”
Bengals at Patriots, 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7
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