After playing just eight snaps Saturday in the Cincinnati Bengals’ preseason opener loss to Kansas City, second-year defensive end Sam Hubbard had a chance to soak in the rest of the game from the sideline.
The defense surrendered 400 yards in a 38-17 loss to one of the league’s top offenses from last year, giving fans flashbacks to 2018 when the Bengals ranked last in net defense and 30th in points allowed.
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Although this was just the first game under the new staff and starters were limited, Hubbard said players still “have to look at that performance overall” to see how they can improve. The next chance comes Thursday at Washington.
“It’s the first preseason game, (so) there are going to be a lot of errors, a lot of technique and things to correct, but we played hard and fast,” Hubbard said. “Even the young guys, down in numbers — I think we had four D-linemen for the whole second half and they really grinded it out and played through being tired. We have a lot to correct and that’s what we are doing right now.”
Hubbard, who replaces departed end Michael Johnson as a starter, still believes the defense can be better than last year, and in all reality, Saturday’s game isn’t a fair test of how the Bengals might look Sept. 8 at Seattle. Cincinnati used the game as a chance to give playing time to a lot of young players who don’t have a lot on film yet.
Some players stepped up more than others, and 2018 fifth-round draft pick Andrew Brown was one of them who shined. He made the most of his opportunity, finishing with two tackles, a huge sack for a six-yard loss and three quarterback hits, as he played 79 percent of the snaps on defense.
“It felt so good (getting that sack),” Brown said. “Now I just have to feed off of that energy I had during that game and keep my momentum going forward. … Just finally being able to show that I belong at this level is amazing. But I want to keep doing it. I got to stay consistent.”
Brown never really got a chance to show what he could do last year as a rookie.
He missed most of 2018 training camp and preseason with a hamstring injury, and by the time he came back “it was too late,” he said. Brown played sparingly in the third preseason game and then two quarters in the fourth one, but still wasn’t 100 percent.
The former Virginia player wound up on the practice squad following final cuts, and after 10 weeks there, he suffered a hand injury in a practice Nov. 15 right when he was supposed to be moved to the active roster.
“Truth be told, that was very difficult for me,” Brown said. “Knowing what you can do but having to hold it in. It’s just like a ticking time bomb just waiting.”
The 290-pound defensive lineman believes if he can stay healthy this year, more opportunities will follow.
Brown said he received positive feedback after Saturday’s game and hopes he can keep showing what he can add to the defense. He came back this spring practicing almost exclusively at defensive end after spending most of his time in the three-technique spot last year, and he started out at end Saturday but moved inside when Christian Ringo suffered an injury.
Being able to show versatility should only help Brown’s case among a defensive line group that already features Carlos Dunlap, Hubbard, Geno Atkins, Carl Lawson and Andrew Billings.
“Ringo went down (Saturday) so I had to step up and go to the three, so I went to three and I just kept balling because I’m not new to that position,” Brown said. “Getting moved to end was definitely a good move for me, but also being able to play the three technique only increases my stock. Just staying versatile.”
As for Hubbard, he also looks forward to more opportunity in his second year after a strong rookie season in which he played all 16 games off the bench and recorded 39 combined tackles with six sacks. He hopes to take bigger steps in Year 2, individually and as a team.
“They are definitely going to get the high energy and speed I played with last year,” Hubbard said when asked what fans should expect from him this year. “I’ll be a little bit stronger, and I want to be more dominant in the run game and just make my presence known. Just be a reliable guy out there on the field that’s always going to get to the ball, fly to the ball and make some plays and celebrate with my teammates.”
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