CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 16: Sam Hubbard #94 of the Cincinnati Bengals fights through a block by Brandon Parker #75 of the Oakland Raiders to knock down an attempted pass by Derek Carr #4 during the first quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on December 16, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Versatile rookie Hubbard blossoming for Bengals

When Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor walked through the locker room after Sunday’s win against the Oakland Raiders , he paused behind a small group of media members interviewing defensive end Sam Hubbard, caught his attention and mouthed, “I tried.”

Hubbard laughed and shouted back, “Next time!”

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The one thing Hubbard hasn’t accomplished yet during a spectacular rookie season just barely escaped him Sunday when he reported as an eligible receiver and got his first target but just missed what would have been a touchdown. The next play, Joe Mixon ran it in from the 1-yard line with Hubbard leading the way as a blocker.

Hubbard showed his value regardless of not making the catch, as he appeared in all three phases of the game, including at defensive tackle and end, and finished with two sacks, a forced fumble, three quarterback hurries and a tackle for loss. He saw three snaps at fullback, played 61 percent of the defensive snaps and was in for 45 percent of special teams play, where he recorded a key block on a 77-yard return by Alex Erickson to set up the game-sealing touchdown in the fourth quarter.

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“It’s what I try and hang my hat on,” Hubbard said of his ability to fill multiple roles. “Anything they ask me to do, I want to do it to the best of my ability. Obviously it can help win games. … The defense played great, but I really wish I had that touchdown on offense.”

The Cincinnati native and former Ohio State University star has given the Bengals perhaps even more than they expected when they took him in the third round of the draft this spring.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said that versatility has proven helpful, especially with so many injuries this season on both sides of the ball. Hubbard has now played 12 snaps on offense.

“He’s a big athlete, he can run, he’s smart enough to handle the insertion of the offense they give him each week, and he embraces it” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “He’s done a great job of it. When we go to 46 (active) guys on Sunday, we need some able-bodied guys who can do a couple different things.”

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Lewis compared Hubbard to former Bengals linebacker and 2005 first round draft pick David Pollack, who showed tremendous potential as a rookie as well before his career was unfortunately cut short by injury his second year.

Pollack had 4.5 sacks, 28 tackles his rookie season. Hubbard has 6.0 sacks, 34 tackles and one defensive touchdown, which came in a 27-17 win against Miami in Week 5 when he grabbed a ball that popped up after a Dunlap sack and returned it 19 yards for the game-sealing score.

“Sam has hit the ground running, no doubt,” Lewis said.

Hubbard has been a bright spot among a slew of disappointments for the Bengals this season, and his play Sunday helped the Bengals end a five-game losing streak as they head into Sunday’s Battle of Ohio at Cleveland looking to avenge a 35-20 loss in Week 12.

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His first sack in the first quarter Sunday caused Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to lose a grip on the ball, and defensive end Carlos Dunlap recovered it. The Bengals ended up turning the ball right back over but managed to still flip field position to set up a 55-yard scoring drive to open the scoring.

Hubbard’s second sack, late in the second quarter, moved him into third place among NFL rookies with six on the season, and he nearly had a third but it was credited to Geno Atkins. With two games left, Hubbard is chasing Dunlap’s franchise rookie sack record of 10. Carl Lawson had 8.5 last year as a rookie.

“As a defensive lineman, everything revolves around getting to the quarterback,” Hubbard said.

Dunlap said he is rooting for Hubbard to break the record, but Hubbard likely will need another big game agasint the Browns to have a chance at it. The Bengals close the season at Pittsburgh on Dec. 30.

“It would be a bittersweet thing, but at the end of the day, it will help me too,” Dunlap said. “They will have to pay more attention to him, so that is one less series, one less snap that might be going his way instead of mine, and I like my chances in that situation. That would be great for him, I would be happy for him, and I couldn’t think of a more deserving guy.”

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