Ogunjobi big part of Bengals’ defensive transformation

Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (65) hits Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) as Roethlisberger passes during the second half an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (65) hits Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) as Roethlisberger passes during the second half an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Credit: Gene J. Puskar

Credit: Gene J. Puskar

Cincinnati has more sacks through seven games than it did all of last season

CINCINNATI -- Larry Ogunjobi doesn’t know what the Cincinnati Bengals should expect from New York Jets quarterback Mike White after he was thrust into the starting role following a knee injury to rookie Zach Wilson against New England.

But just like the Bengals (5-2) don’t want to be “lulled to sleep by records” with the Jets struggling through a 1-5 start, they have to be careful not to overlook a backup quarterback, Ogunjobi said.

Cincinnati travels to play the Jets on Sunday.

White, a third-year player out of Western Kentucky University, was named the starter this week after Wilson sprained his PCL in a 54-13 loss to the Patriots. New York traded for veteran Joe Flacco on Monday but he isn’t expected to join the team until Friday.

“You always have to be on your Ps and Qs with that because you just don’t know what they’re going to do,” Ogunjobi said. “Once again, it’s just staying focused, seeing what they do well, check down, run game, all those kind of things, just playing our keys and playing football.”

“They’re a solid team,” he added. “They’ve had a good amount of turnovers, which is usually the deciding factor (in their losses). Not a team to sleep on. Gotta stay focused. Gotta handle business and find a way to win.”

White threw for 202 yards and one touchdown Sunday when he came in off the bench to replace Wilson, and he was sacked once. The Jets have allowed 20 sacks this season, seventh most in the league.

The Bengals’ defensive line has been feasting this year on opposing quarterbacks, recording 19 sacks, which ties for fifth most in the NFL this season. They had just 17 sacks in 2020, but the free agent signing of Ogunjobi has been a big part of the improved pressure up front.

Ogunjobi has 2.5 sacks, including 1.5 against Lamar Jackson in a blowout win Sunday, and he’s helped open things up for teammates to get to the quarterback.

“I think I’m just playing free -- free, focused,” Ogunjobi said. “Like I said atmosphere, energy is very important to me, and I just enjoy being here. I got great guys around me and it’s just fun. Football is a fun sport and it’s a lot better when all the guys around are making plays. We got a great locker room, coaches, the culture we’re building is something special.”

Ogunjobi joined the Bengals this offseason after four years with the Browns. His production dropped off statistically in 2020 after back-to-back 5.5-sack seasons, but Cincinnati gave him a one-year contract to test out how productive he could be.

The “prove it” deal isn’t necessarily the driving factor for his strong start this season, though.

“I think for me it’s always been proving it to myself,” Ogunjobi said. “I’ve always known what I can do and being able to showcase it in the best possible way is another way of telling myself I know what I can do. So going out there and being able to produce and play well is a blessing. I’m going to continue to work hard, lay the foundation and stay focused.”

Ogunjobi also has been helped by a transition back to the 3-technique spot he played in college at Charlotte. He was playing mostly a nose tackle with the Browns, but he knew coming to the Bengals he would be switching back to his more natural position.

He credits the players next to him, particularly D.J. Reader, Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard.

“Obviously, playing (my) natural position, the 3-technique fits my role, my body-type, my skillset a lot better, but (also) just the guys, the coaches, the atmosphere, the energy -- I feel like this is just a great team to be around, very unselfish team,” Ogunjobi said. “Guys just playing for each other. I think that’s really important. Allows everybody to play really fast and really well. So, we feed off each other’s energy and that’s the most important thing. My success is through my teammates, and vice versa.”

Upon signing with Cincinnati, Ogunjobi had said he was watching how Zac Taylor was trying to rebuild and believed the team was making the right moves to be competitive. He was looking forward to being part of the turnaround.

Ogunjobi had been a part of the Browns return to the playoffs last year for the first time since 2002 and can see some similarities in the Bengals now making that push to contend.

“Definitely as far as that turning point,” Ogunjobi said. “Those close games, that Packers game that we ended up losing, (you) kept getting that feeling that we can do it. Once you break through and start winning these big games you start to build that momentum, that’s all it takes. (We) got the right culture, you got the right players, you got the right team chemistry and that’s when it starts to build and blossom into something special. Right now, it’s about keeping the main thing the main thing and just taking it one week at a time.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Jets, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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