Just days later, the Bengals signed former Ohio State player Nate Clements. It’s like being home, Clements said with a smile, even though his hometown of Shaker Heights, Ohio, is still more than 200 miles away.
But at least it’s like home, he said, especially compared with San Francisco, where he played the past four seasons.
“It feels good,” the 31-year-old said. “My family’s a lot closer. I think they’re just as excited as I am.”
After the San Francisco 49ers dumped Clements in a salary-cap move in July, the Bengals pounced on him, signing him to a two-year, $10.5 million deal.
He still performed well, but his numbers were never eye-popping. In 54 games, Clements had 10 interceptions. He has put that part of his career behind him.
“I really don’t see it in a negative light,” he said. “You know the old saying, ‘Before it gets good, it’s going to be bad or it’s got to get worse.’ ”
His new coaches hope he can rekindle some of the spark that helped him rank among the league’s best at the beginning of his career in Buffalo, the same type of play that earned him that eight-year, $80 million contract from the 49ers. Clements never missed a game in six seasons in Buffalo and recorded 23 interceptions.
“When you’ve played as long as he has at a high level like he has, there’s a reason for it,” said Kevin Coyle, the Bengals’ defensive backs coach. “One is the physical tools he has. No. 2, you have to understand the game — you have to understand how teams are trying to attack you. And he does. Nothing catches him off guard on the field anymore.”
The Bengals will look for strong play, but his addition could mean more. For a defense with an average age of 25, the 11-year veteran brings leadership and a cool head.
Coyle said young players are already looking to Clements. From the first day of training camp, he has taken an active role in team meetings, making notes on the playbook and discussing schemes with coaches.
With Clements’ versatility — strong cornerback play from the right or left side and as a nickel back — Coyle implemented a new plan. Clements and Cincinnati’s other starting corner, Leon Hall, will play on either side of the formation.
“It was at first a little uncomfortable,” Hall said. “When John Jo was here, we just went strictly right-left, but I think a corner should be able to play both sides.”
The growing pains soon dissipated. The two now have a great working relationship, knowing they can lean on each other in the secondary.
There’s just one thing still standing between them. Hall played at Michigan from 2003 to 2006.
“I’ve had to give him grief already, you know, and shoot a little shot in here and there,” Clements said. “I ask him how many times he beat O-State. They don’t like to hear that.”
For the record, Hall was on Michigan’s roster in 2003, the last year the Wolverines defeated the Buckeyes.
“There’s been nothing too harmful yet,” Hall said. “Things might heat up around November, though.”