Playing in Jacksonville on Sunday brought back memories for Bengals teammates Reggie Nelson and Carlos Dunlap.
However, those recollections are a little different for the former Gators.
While Nelson couldn’t help but reminisce on his three years as a Jaguar, Dunlap couldn’t help but recall one particular game as a freshman at UF in 2007.
That’s because two of Dunlap’s current teammates won’t let him forget.
Receiver A.J. Green and defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who was on the Georgia team that beat Florida 42-30 in 2007, make sure to remind Dunlap about their alma mater’s infamous team celebration in the end zone after the Bulldogs’ first touchdown that day.
“They still bring that up,” Dunlap said. “Geno claims he ran out there. I don’t think Geno had that type of heart, though.”
Nelson, who was a rookie safety with the Jaguars that season, still hears plenty from the two Georgia players.
“We get mess from A.J. and Geno about Georgia,” Nelson said. “But you know, we don’t care too much about Georgia. We don’t care too much about no Dawgs. It’s all about The Swamp, man.”
Dunlap says the four will likely get together and watch the Florida-Georgia game on Oct. 27.
“Him and Geno are already talking about how they’re going to beat us and stuff.”
Despite their division of loyalty in college, the group is building something together with the Bengals, who are 3-1 after losing their opener against the Ravens.
Nelson’s career is back on the upswing in Cincinnati after an up-and-down three years in Jacksonville, where he was taken in the first round of the 2007 draft. Last season, the six-year veteran recorded 85 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and four interceptions (one returned 75 yards for a touchdown at Seattle in Week 8).
Cincinnati rewarded the “Eraser” by inking him to a four-year, $18 million contract in the offseason. Nonetheless, the deal was invaluable to Nelson, who felt greatly appreciated by the franchise. As a result, Nelson turned down other interested teams, including the Jets.
“It means a lot when you’re wanted,” Nelson said. “I felt comfortable coming back to the Bengals. If it ain’t broke, it doesn’t need to be fixed. There wasn’t anything broken, so I just stayed here and came back to the Bengals.
“There was a lot of stress here (in Jacksonville). It’s always for the better. They wanted to move on, and there’s no hard feelings or nothing. I’m happy as heck with the Bengals, not that I wasn’t happy here. I enjoyed it. They gave me a fresh start.”
Through four games this season, Nelson is second on the team in tackles with 29.
Meanwhile, Dunlap and Atkins are key components to a Bengals defense that leads the NFL in sacks (17). Although Dunlap is dealing with a knee injury that he sustained in the team’s preseason opener, the third-year defensive end has recorded a sack in each of the past two games since his return, while adding a forced fumble and recovery at Washington.
Dunlap had an outstanding rookie season, notching 9.5 sacks despite only playing 27 percent of the defensive snaps. Last year, he didn’t play a significant role on the team early in the season but eventually earned one toward the end and recorded 4.5 sacks in the last five games.
Dunlap, whose knee was being worked on after Sunday’s 27-10 win over the Jaguars, says nothing is holding him back from having a breakout year as long as he’s 100 percent.
“My main thing right now is getting healthy and staying healthy, and I feel like everything else will fall into place.”
Both Nelson and Dunlap feel like they’re part of a young, up-and-coming team in Cincinnati, which made the playoffs last year under then-rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.
After the game, the two Gators raved about Dalton’s 18-yard touchdown that was thrown on a rope down the sidelines to Green in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
“Now you see how hard the DBs have to work guarding A.J. and Hawk (Andrew Hawkins), Armon (Binns) and Marvin (Jones), even the rookies, man. We’ve got a good group of guys,” Nelson said. “I’m with an organization that, we got goals and we’re trying to make them.”