Bengals' Undrafted Rookies Bring Character, Toughness to Cincy

Jason SingerContributor IMay 26, 2009

Chris Pressley wasn't drafted.

Adversity? Not really.

For a young man who overcame homelessness, broken bones, and early fatherhood while still managing to earn two college degrees, football seems like a vacation.

Just ask University of Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, who oversaw the 5'11", 257-pound fullback in college.

"He's one of the more impressive young men I have come across," said Bielema in a phone interview. "As soon as he is done playing football, I have people lined up that want to hire him in the business world."'

For a team that has become known more for its off-the-field troubles than its few on-the-field successes in recent years, Pressley brings a welcomed maturity and perspective to the Bengals.

Bielema, like others who have known Pressley, said the young man could succeed in any sector of life but loves to play football.

He won't carry the ball. He won't catch the ball. But he'll strike the fear of God into opposing linebackers, inflicting pain and opening running lanes in the opponents' defenses.

"I'm really anxious to get the pads on and show the coaches I've got the pop that they're looking for," Pressley said during rookie minicamp. "That's my game. Being physical, running into people.

"It's a position you want to be intimidating out there. Teams don't want to play against [you] knowing [you're] being reckless."

The Philadelphia native has proven he's willing to sacrifice his body to help the team.

One week before the 2008 season opener at Wisconsin, Pressley broke his thumb. That didn't stop him from starting all 12 games. The fullback also overcame a broken ankle his sophomore year.

His toughness comes from his childhood.

As a freshman in high school, Pressley endured a spell of homelessness after his family was evicted from their home. It happened again three years later—his senior year.

Adding to his responsibilities, he became a father that year. Yet he still never earned a grade less than an "A" in high school or college, even with added obstacles.

Earlier this month, he graduated from Wisconsin with a bachelor's degree in marketing and consumer science and a master's degree in life science communications.

"I remember when we lost our house, and I knew I had to be one of those people that would have to become stronger from that situation," Pressley said. "What won't break you will make you."


Skuta Brings Same Toughness

Like Pressley, Dan Skuta was overlooked at the NFL Draft, despite phone calls from Dallas, Indianapolis and Cincinnati in the days preceding the event.

And like Pressley, being an undrafted rookie won't bother him one bit.

"They say a guy from a small school needs to come in with a chip on his shoulder," said Skuta, a four-year starter at Grand Valley State. "Well, I look at it, my chip just got bigger."

Skuta won two national championships at Grand Valley State as the main cog in the Lakers' defense.

The Lakers lined him up at linebacker, then defensive end, then defensive tackle and then switched him back to his initial positions depending on the situation.

The instability didn't affect him: He finished as the all-time sack leader for Grand Valley State (33.5) and is third all time in Division II.

Cincinnati, which finished tied for second worst in the NFL in 2008 with just 17 sacks, could use Skuta's insatiable motor.

"They gave me a shot, and it's up to me to take care of the rest," Skuta said. "It puts you even with the free agents and the other players trying to make the team. That's the way I'm going to approach it."

The good teams—which Cincinnati has not been in recent years—often find gems in the rocky terrain of undrafted free agents.

Just look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, who turned undrafted players James Harrison, Willie Parker, and Jeff Reed into Pro Bowlers on a Super Bowl team. Harrison even won Defensive Player of the Year last year.

"Even if you stack your [draft] board well, there are going to be some leftovers after seven rounds, guys who have a chance to play in the league," Carolina Panthers coach John Fox said.

The Bengals hope Pressley and Skuta are two of those guys and can bring their character and winning ways into Cincinnati's locker room.


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