WCPO's Mike Dyer spent 2018 taking a behind-the-scenes look at how Cincinnati Bengals rookie Sam Hubbard adjusted to life in the NFL, both on and off the field. The stories chronicled how the former Ohio State and Moeller standout progressed with on-field play, interactions with teammates and coaches and his day-to-day experience of life as an NFL player. Click here to read previous stories in the series.
CINCINNATI — By his own admission, Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard is letting his guard down a bit this week.
Now that the team's season is over, Hubbard is planning to take a few vacation trips soon to catch up with family and friends -- and he'll be able to have a hamburger or two after several months of eating performance-based foods such as fish, lean white meats, rice and vegetables up to five times daily.
The discipline on and off the field was well worth it as a rookie, he said.
“In the NFL, any team can win any game any time,” Hubbard said. “Every week, you got to bring your best stuff or you are going to lose your matchup. You really got to spend a lot of time keeping your body healthy, staying sound of mind and body and being ready to perform every week because you are going into what feels like Week 100. That’s how it goes.”
The former Ohio State and Moeller High School standout knows how important the time investment is to being successful in the NFL.
“This is Day 2 or Day 3 of recovering, and it’s pretty awesome,” he said Wednesday morning. “I am sure after a week of this I will be ready to get back to the weight room and get ready for next year.”
The year he's leaving behind was a long one, he admitted. The Bengals went 6-10 — a result so unsatisfactory to management that it cost head coach Marvin Lewis his job.
“I think I handled it well – getting a lot thrown at me and different positions and coaches and the season not going the way we wanted it to," he said. "I came in ready to handle a lot. I really had a lot thrown on my plate. I think next year – whatever gets thrown at me – I will be ready to handle it.”
The team understands how valuable the 2018 third-round draft pick is to the future.
“I watched a guy (Sunday in Pittsburgh) in Sam Hubbard who is going to win in this division,” Lewis said at his outgoing news conference. “And that’s awesome.”
Lewis also lauded the 6-foot-5-inch, 265-pound Hubbard starting last summer, saying the rookie was "way ahead of the curve" in mandatory minicamp in June.
Hubbard quickly made an impression in front of hometown fans in September when he had five tackles (two for a loss), one sack and a quarterback hurry in a 34-23 win over the visiting Baltimore Ravens.
The Bengals started with a 4-1 record. Hubbard's versatility allowed him to appear in certain offensive situations and on special teams.
“A lot of things motivate me,” Hubbard said. “I want to be great personally as a player and also represent my family and friends well. Being in the hometown, I want to represent my hometown. I just got a sense of pride. Any time I step out there, I want to put my best stuff on tape.”
He scored his first career touchdown (NFL, college or high school) in early October when his 19-yard fumble return late in the fourth quarter sealed a win over the visiting Miami Dolphins. At the time, Hubbard said the season was going better than what he could've dreamed.
“Everything is setting the standard for next year,” he said in December. “Personally, me, I had a good rookie year, but more importantly I set the foundation for where I want the rest of my career to go.”
Hubbard finished with 39 tackles (27 solo, seven tackles for loss), six sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
“Sam came in with a really solid foundation of how to study, how to evaluate opponents as far as tackles or guards or whatever the case may be,” Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney said. “So he is obviously a student of the game. That’s why he can go over to the offensive side and have success in what they are asking them to do, because he studies enough to where football is not too difficult when it comes to the competition. So all the big stage and the bright lights — that doesn’t apply to this guy because he spends time away from here on football. That’s the difference between Sam and maybe some other people.”
Hubbard had to adapt when the Bengals dismissed defensive coordinator Teryl Austin on Nov. 12, a day after Cincinnati allowed 51 points in a loss to the visiting New Orleans Saints.
“It’s tough when you are in the middle of the season and you got different guys calling your plays without a camp to prepare for,” Hubbard said.
He relied on veteran players such as defensive end Michael Johnson, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap for guidance.
“They’ve been doing this for nine or 10 years,” Hubbard said. "They’ve seen it all. They saw a lot more than I saw this year. Whenever I had a question they had the right thing to say, how to handle something. Even on plays when I wasn’t sure how to play it, they knew how to play it. They were basically coaching themselves.”
Hubbard said he will feel much more comfortable for his second season.
“It’s been really rewarding and we’re excited for him,” Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton said. “He’s been productive as a player in a lot of areas. He’s been one of our foundational guys as a first-year guy. I think that’s a credit to Sam.”