Pass rusher hopes to continue growing with Bengals

For Larry Ogunjobi, it was a little bittersweet officially signing his contract with the Cincinnati Bengals on the same day they cut his mentor.

Ogunjobi, a former Cleveland Browns’ free agent, took time during his introductory press conference Friday to thank 11-year Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, whom the team had just released to free up cap space in an effort to get younger up front.

Atkins, who turns 33 this week, was like a “big brother” to Ogunjobi, as they trained together in 2017 and 2018. Ogunjobi would send Atkins film of his pass rushes and things he was working on, and Atkins provided feedback to help him in his development his first two years in the league.

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“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with (Atkins),” Ogunjobi said when asked if he was looking forward to playing with Atkins. “It would have been amazing to play with him. At the same time that’s the nature of the business. It sucks, but it’s one of those situations where it’s time. So, love that guy.

“He gave me a lot of life lessons. A lot of nuggets. We spent a lot of time together during the offseason just talking about life, progression and how to become a great player. And I’m still going to be talking to Geno all the time. Just to have somebody who did it that well. You are talking about a Hall of Famer here. Somebody who has done it at the highest level consistently. To have him in my corner is a blessing.”

The Browns’ 2017 third-round draft pick played 14 games with one start as a rookie, then made big strides in Years 2 and 3 as a full-time starter, recording 5.5 sacks during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Last year, his production dropped off with just 2.5 sacks, but Cincinnati is hoping the pairing of him and D.J. Reader proves beneficial for both. gave Ogunjobi a grade of 53.0 after he also recorded 39 tackles and one forced fumble in 2020.

“A guy like D.J. (Reader) who is gonna command respect and now Larry (Ogunjobi), and you put Trey (Hendrickson) on the outside and Sam (Hubbard),” Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “Hopefully you’re gonna get some one-on-ones there. He’s got the ability and athleticism to win. He’s proven that and that’s what we’re excited about.”

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Ogunjobi brings plenty of familiarity with him, besides a relationship with a future Hall of Famer. He was on the other side of the Battle of Ohio rivalry the past four years with the Browns, and Taylor said Ogunjobi “has been a pain” for the Bengals.

Statistically speaking, Ogunjob didn’t stand out in those games last year but had an assisted sack, three quarterback hits and 15 combined tackles over two matchups in 2019. He also had a sack, a quarterback hit and six combined tackles in the final meeting of 2018, a game Taylor would only have seen on film.

Ogunjobi said he liked the idea of staying in the AFC North as he was making his decision to sign with Cincinnati.

“Just playing in the AFC North is hard-nosed football,” he said. “It gets cold out here. It’s just a different type of ball. You fall in love with it. The last four years I wouldn’t change it. It’s an amazing opportunity to stay in the division and I took advantage of that.”

Going from not liking the Bengals the last four years to now being part of the team, Ogunjobi said any bias he might have had goes out the window.

“We can talk about trained not to like somebody but football is a business at the end of the day and you know it’s a revolving door at times and your rivals become your teammates,” Ogunjobi said. “End of the day you know it is all love. I feel like that’s how it has always been and will continue to be. Vonn Bell, DJ Reader, I trained with Vonn every morning at 5 a.m. These are guys I consider my close friends. This wasn’t hard for me.”

Ogunjobi said he already can tell how badly the Bengals “want to win and want to be around guys who talk about camaraderie and bringing the team together.” They are developing pieces to be successful, he noted, and that was “very big” for him in his decision.

A nose guard for Cleveland, he will be switching to the three-technique with Cincinnati. That challenge also was something that factored into his signing, as he can bring a different approach to the position having seen where schemes and blocking protections are coming from a different angle.

Ogunjobi believes he can be more productive in the pass rush because of that, now having the ability to get into a better position to make his move for the quarterback.

“It gives me more ability to use my ability,” Ogunjobi said. “A guy in D.J. who can really stop the run and is a premier run defender, I just think this pair can work out really well. We prepare with each other, we work off each other. We can make a lot of plays together.”

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