Early in the 2019 college football season, then-LSU quarterback Joe Burrow rolled out of the pocket to the sideline in the first quarter against Vanderbilt. After the game ended, according to former LSU tight end Thad Moss, Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said something to Burrowfired up the quarterback and inspired a near-perfect play for LSU’s offense.
Burrow passed for 398 yards in LSU’s 66-38 win over the Commodores. Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase had the breakout game where he showed he could be the best receiver in college football, losing 229 yards to Vanderbilt and scoring four touchdowns.
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On the other side of the story, the losing side of the story, was Vanderbilt cornerback Allan George. Three years later, George got his second chance against Chase at Cincinnati Bengals training camp.
After a Bengals practice last week, where George got some first-team reps with the Bengals defense, George remembers the worst day of his football career. He always calls it a sore subject.
“It really is,” George said. “Anyway it’s ok.”
Prior to that game against LSU, George was Vanderbilt’s cornerback. He had played in midfield his entire football career, and George was looking forward to his game against LSU slot receiver Justin Jefferson.
At the time, Jefferson was considered the Tigers’ best receiver. In their season-opening win over Texas, Jefferson led LSU with 163 receiving yards. But in that game on Sept. 21, 2019, Chase caught two touchdown passes in the first quarter.
Mason didn’t think Vanderbilt’s outside cornerbacks were going to be able to stay with Chase. So he asked George to switch positions in the middle of the game.
“It was my first time playing in the (away) corner,” George said. “I was lost. I had no idea what to do. It was a rude awakening.”
George also had no chance of keeping Chase. On one play, with Chase one-on-one, Vanderbilt’s blitz forced Burrow to blind throw Chase down the right sideline. Chase boxed George, climbed the ladder and landed the acrobatic hold.
Later in the match, Chase used his precise road running skills to separate from George on an oblique route from the right side of the field. George attempted a diving tackle, but what he caught instead was a full turf face as Chase ran for a 51-yard touchdown.
In an attempt to stop Chase, George played outside cornerback for the first time in his life. His first assignment was against future NFL Rookie of the Year.
“I was doing my job,” George said. “And then Ja’Marr went for two touchdowns.”
“Ja’Marr really hadn’t turned like that in a game,” said Moss, now a Bengals tight end. “I remember Ja’Marr going crazy. At the start of the game, Jefferson was up for the Biletnikoff (college football’s top receiver award). (LSU receiver) Terrace Marshall was top 3 in the nation in touchdowns. Everything Ja’Marr touched in that Vanderbilt game, he got it and walked away. He couldn’t hurt in this game.
Looking back, George realizes he learned several valuable lessons from babysitting Chase. Playing against the best receiver in college football, George learned how completely different being an outside cornerback was from being an inside cornerback.
Inside, George was used to having to “help everywhere”. If he lost his game, George could expect a linebacker or safety to take over his mission, and George would move on to another part of the game.
Guarding Chase, George saw how you are on an island as an outside cornerback. He said he learned that outside cornerbacks “have more time to make mistakes”, and George made a lot of them in coverage against Chase.
“It made me better,” George said. “I saw it for what it was. I learned to be more patient. I learned that you’re not out of the game until he catches it or until that you knock it down. This game and the games to come have really prepared me for all of this in the NFL.
“It would have taken a direction or two (for George),” Moss said. “That would have been a red flag or he would have hidden his tail. Ja’Marr had almost 300 yards. It’s good for (George). It is difficult to change positions at all levels. Not to mention you switch positions against a top 5, rookie of the year and Biletnikoff winner.
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After that game, George stayed in the outside corner. Three years later, after playing much better games against top receivers in the SEC, the Bengals signed him as an undrafted free agent to add depth at the cornerback position.
George hosted a few first-team Bengals representatives in practice last Thursday, lining up against Chase a few times. This time George held on. During a play with the second team, he played tight outside coverage and deflected a pass to one of his teammates for an interception.
Since then, as cornerbacks Eli Apple and Tre Flowers recovered from minor injuries, George slipped down the depth chart. He’s probably looking for a spot on the Bengals practice squad or any job in the NFL, but he wouldn’t even have made it here if not for the terrible game he had against one of the best offenses in the game. history of college football.
“I thought I was going to have to go down this road as an undrafted free agent,” George said. “A lot of guys that I looked up to from Vandy went that route. It’s not uncommon when coming from Vandy to have to grind and get out of the mud. I accept it for what it is. Ultimately, I will keep trying to make myself proud and my family proud.
Bengals training camp observations
• Last year, the Bengals turned to running back Chris Evans as a kick returner for Week 18 and the playoffs. He impressed in that short stretch, and now Evans looks like the Bengals’ best option for the role. His comfort on the kicks, his explosiveness as a runner and his ability to read blockers stood out.
• The position where the Bengals have the least depth is at defensive tackle. Specifically, they are looking for another player who can rush the passer to the inside defensive line. Rookie Zach Carter and second-year defensive end Cam Sample both have a chance to play a regular role as an inside pass thrower. They both receive opportunities and compete for this important role in defense.
In almost every practice, second-year defensive end Joseph Ossai showed off-the-charts speed that few other players on the team can match. He constantly breaks free against the offensive tackle and shows impressive closing speed to hunt the quarterback. Despite this success, Ossai said he expected more from himself.
“A lot of work,” Ossai said. “Game form, game form. Get in shape. Doesn’t peel off. Stay, fight. Happy with my health, but there is a lot to work on. Play the run better and get to the rush pass.