Former Buckeye Hubbard hopes to be Bengals’ captain ‘for many years’

FILE - Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (94) talks with a teammate before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Cincinnati, in this Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, file photo. The Bengals on Monday, July 26, 2021, announced a four-year contract extension for Hubbard.(AP Photo/Bryan Woolston, File)
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FILE - Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (94) talks with a teammate before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Cincinnati, in this Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, file photo. The Bengals on Monday, July 26, 2021, announced a four-year contract extension for Hubbard.(AP Photo/Bryan Woolston, File)

Credit: Bryan Woolston

Credit: Bryan Woolston

Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell, Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd and Kevin Huber also earn nods from teammates

CINCINNATI -- Sam Hubbard wasn’t necessarily aspiring to be a captain when the Cincinnati Bengals drafted him in 2018, but it was something he recently started thinking about as a goal to become a better leader.

On Monday as the Bengals officially began game-week preparations for the opener Sunday against Minnesota, players voted Hubbard as one of seven captains, joining Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell, Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd and Kevin Huber in those duties for 2021.

Being named a captain is just the feather in the cap for Hubbard, who earlier this summer signed a four-year contract extension ahead of the final season on his rookie deal.

“First you get here, you’re kinda holding on for dear life,” Hubbard said. “I think as the years have gone on that’s something I’ve had my sights set on. Hopefully a captain here for many years. It’s a great honor.”

Hubbard said he’s not sure there’s a greater honor he could have earned at this point, knowing his teammates are willing to put that kind of trust in him. He hopes to pay them back this season, he said.

“I think there’s a lot that goes into being a captain,” Hubbard said. “Every situation should be handled differently. You got 53 guys that look to you in good times, bad times, how you carry yourself, how you come into work every single day. I think just consistency and holding each other accountable, but also being the one that has the example that they can set their example off of.”

The Bengals are counting on Hubbard for more than just leadership.

Cincinnati finished dead last in sacks in 2020 with just 17, and the organization brought in defensive end Trey Hendrickson and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi to try to beef up the pass rush. Hubbard’s $40 million extension is a sign of faith he can produce as well. With rookie Joseph Ossai out for the year, Kahlid Kareem on the three-game injured reserve list and not many other proven players ready to step into a rotational role, there’s more expectation on the starters to get the job done.

Hubbard said he doesn’t feel pressure because of that.

“I think being pressured is just from lack of preparation, so all we’re doing is just being prepared,” he said. “We got some guys in that are gonna help us a lot with depth. And I think we’ve heard the outside noise about the defensive line and us needing to step up for a while now. So we’ve taken that upon ourselves and really put in a lot of extra work to fix that.”

Asked when the defensive line started paying attention to outside noise, Hubbard said “you just hear stuff.”

“Obviously, our production was not good enough, so there’s a reason for it,” Hubbard added. “We’ve addressed it. And we’re going to show why we addressed it.”

Last year, the Bengals tried to focus on improving the run defense with the addition of D.J. Reader. During Hubbard’s three previous years, Cincinnati has been inconsistent in that regard, and that still remains a key for the defense, especially in the AFC North.

Stopping the run will be the biggest point of emphasis against Minnesota, as well. Dalvin Cook led the league with 328 rushes last year and was second in rushing yards (1,557) and rushing touchdowns (16).

“It starts with their running back,” Hubbard said. “Probably one of the best backs in the league. Very hard to tackle. You have to swarm and gang tackle him. They’ve got a great running scheme. An offensive that’s very physical and obviously a veteran quarterback (Kirk Cousins) who can get a lot of things done, and weapons on the outside. So, we’ve got a challenge ahead of us, but we’re excited to play at home six days from now.

“It all starts with their run game. You’ve really got to stop him before he gets going. That’s what they want to do. Thy want to run the ball with Dalvin Cook. Stop the run, then we can get to rush the passer.”

The Bengals ranked 28th in run defense last year, allowing 148.0 rushing yards per game.

“I think we’ve got a lot of guys on the inside,” Hubbard said when asked why this run defense could be different. “We added Larry (Ogunjobi). We’ve got Josh Tupou back. We’ve got big guys up in the middle and some young linebackers that have really matured and who have a feel for the defense and the scheme. We’re trying to just jell together and everyone knows where they’re supposed to be. It really has just been a process to get where we are right now. It didn’t happen overnight. You felt like it would with all that work we put in, but it was really a process to keep growing together as a unit and I feel like we’re probably getting there.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

VIkings at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7