Former Buckeye excited for ‘fresh start’ with Bengals

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 11: Cole Beasley #11 of the Dallas Cowboys is tackled by Eli Apple #24 of the New York Giants after catching a pass at AT&T Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 11: Cole Beasley #11 of the Dallas Cowboys is tackled by Eli Apple #24 of the New York Giants after catching a pass at AT&T Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals focused on bolstering their cornerback group this offseason after losing Trae Waynes for all of 2020 to a pectoral injury in training camp.

Waynes appears destined to open the season on the sideline because of a hamstring injury that occurred Aug. 25 during practice, and now the Bengals are counting on another player who has dealt with injury issues with former New York Giants’ 2016 first-round draft pick Eli Apple next in line.

Apple was held out of the preseason finale last Sunday, along with all the defensive starters, as a precaution coming off his own hamstring issue earlier in camp and to make sure he would ready for the opener Sept. 12 against Minnesota.

The former Ohio State cornerback has something to prove and says he looks forward to a fresh start with the Bengals. Apple opened last season on injured reserve because of multiple injury issues, and he appeared in just two games before the Panthers released him hours after leaving a Week 8 practice with a hamstring issue.

“New place, new environment,” Apple said. “A lot of familiar faces. Some teammates I’ve played with before and same with coaches. I’m just taking it as a fresh new start and it’s just an exciting time.”

Apple said his hamstring issue this preseason was a “lingering type of thing,” but it feels much better now and he’s able to run and practice in full.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Apple would have played in the preseason finale if Waynes was not injured. As such it was necessary to treat Apple as a starter and rest him like the others. Taylor wasn’t ready to say how serious Waynes’ injury is, but he was working on the rehab field Wednesday and Thursday before the team was given a three-day weekend.

“Any starter that’s got an injury is obviously a concern,” Taylor said after the preseason finale. “But it’s pretty fresh, just happened a couple of days ago. We’ll give it some time here, see how it goes. But again, those things can heal quickly, they can linger, so we’ll see how it goes and take it day to day right now.”

Last year when Waynes went down, Darius Phillips stepped in as the starter for five of the first seven games before an injury sidelined him in Week 8. He returned for the final four games, starting in three of them.

Apple had been a regular starter until last year, spending the first two and a half years of his NFL career with the Giants before playing the final 10 games of the 2018 season with New Orleans. He made 30 appearances of 37 possible during his time in New York, including 23 starts, and he started 15 games in 2019.

“Of course, you want to prove yourself right and be worthy of those (first-round) expectations that are put on you,” Apple said when asked if first-round expectations wear on him. “I just take it day by day and try to get better and get more acclimated with my teammates here and do whatever I can to be the best I can be.”

Apple was on the Buckeyes’ 2014 national championship team with Bengals safety Vonn Bell, and during his five games with the Giants in 2018, his position coach was current Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo.

That made his transition smoother, he said, though Anarumo’s system is different from what he’s been used to.

“It’s a lot of different stuff, and he’s a great coach, great teacher, for sure,” Apple said. “So I mean, I had him for like half a year with the Giants, and it’s similar stuff, but a little different. I’m definitely excited about it.”

Apple is one of three new starting cornerbacks this year. Mike Hilton replaced Mackenzie Alexander in the slot role, and Chidobe Awuzie, who had a solid training camp, stepped into the vacancy opened with William Jackson’s departure.

The secondary should be more versatile in 2021, especially with Hilton’s blitzing abilities, and the energy of the group has been evident in practices.

“We always stressed getting better and being technically sound every play, every day,” Apple said. “We just wanted to continue to push ourselves and continue to do that now and hit our stride going the right heading into this first game.”

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