Stone ‘easing in’ to role with Bengals after 4 years with Ravens

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

CINCINNATI — Geno Stone said he hadn’t even thought to check the schedule when it came out last week to see when the Cincinnati Bengals will be facing his old team. Right now, he’s just locked in on settling in with the Bengals after spending his first four professional seasons with the Baltimore Ravens.

The Bengals host the Ravens on Oct. 1, then travel to Baltimore for a Thursday Night Football matchup Nov. 7. Stone, the team’s new free safety, admitted those primetime atmospheres are an advantage for the hosts, and Baltimore beat Cincinnati the past two years in those situations — a Sunday night game in 2022 and a Thursday night game last year.

This year’s road matchup falls almost exactly a year from the 2023 game when Joe Burrow tore a ligament in his wrist to end his season in Baltimore’s 34-20 win. Asked what that was like to witness as the opponent, Stone said he wasn’t even aware at first that Jake Browning had replaced Burrow.

“For me, I just go out there and play my game, but we were on the sideline after that, and they were like, you know, Burrow’s done,” Stone said. “I felt bad for him. I saw him on the field after the game and you know, it sucks. Injuries suck in this league. So I felt bad for him. I went through that my first few years with Lamar (Jackson), where he was out, and it’s never good to lose your key quarterback.”

Stone had intercepted Burrow in the first matchup of last season, one of the seven picks he made in a breakout fourth season in the NFL after gradually building up his playing time as a former seventh-round draft pick in 2020.

The Pennsylvania native went from a virtual unknown his first three seasons to recording the second-most interceptions in the league and earning a two-year, $14 million contract with Cincinnati this offseason. Now he comes into a team that had clear problems at the safety position last year, and Stone has a chance to prove his 2023 performance was no fluke.

For the first time in his career, he’s coming in with expectations placed upon him and he will be looking to live up to those. Stone is getting a jump start with the team’s voluntary offseason workout program.

“I mean, really I’m trying to build off that,” Stone said. “I don’t want to be complacent because I signed a new deal or had the year I had. I always want to get better. As I was saying earlier, in this league, everyone’s trying to take your job each day, you can’t get complacent. There will always be competition, no matter who’s in your room. How I learned was, you know, people would get injured in this league so whenever opportunities open up you’ve got to make the most of it. That’s what I did to get where I am now. And you know, at this point, I’m just gonna keep doing my job and keep building on what I did last year.”

Stone played just two games as a rookie and was cut, picked up on waivers by Houston, then dropped a week later and re-signed to the Ravens practice squad. In 2021, he played 15 games with one start and by 2022 he was able to start seven games.

As a newcomer to the Bengals, it would be easy to feel like he was starting all over again, but that hasn’t been the case.

“I feel like I’m easing in,” Stone said. “You know, it’s like my first time going on a new team in four years so you know it’s different being in a different building for so many years and knowing what to expect, so my thing is coming in here, trying to learn everybody. I knew Vonn (Bell) for a long time, so I try to hang around him and he kind of guides me around and helps me learn everything here so you know it’s been fun so far though.”

Stone said he’s leaning on guys like Bell and linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson to get a better understanding of Lou Anarumo’s system and how he likes to do things. He’s trying to watch as much film with them as possible.

Some things are similar to what he did in Baltimore, but it’s still a lot to learn. The main thing is figuring out the little intricacies that make Anarumo’s system different and his terminology.

The biggest emphasis for the safeties, Stone has noticed, is the need for better communication. That was an issue last year with first-year starter Dax Hill at free safety and rookie Jordan Battle taking over at strong safety midseason after Nick Scott struggled to hold down the job.

Stone never thought of himself as a leader in Baltimore but now finds himself expected to fill that type of role. Vonn Bell also was brought back to Cincinnati after a year away with Carolina to provide a veteran presence, but Stone is enjoying the idea of playing that part as well.

“On the back end, get everyone lined up, we make the big plays and being leaders in the back end,” Stone said. “You know, I play next to more the vet side of the room right now with me and Vonn probably leading. It’s kind of weird. I haven’t been an older guy in the room my whole career and now I’m like probably the second oldest in the room, maybe third behind Mike (Hilton). It’s kind of weird. But that’s the main thing being leaders on the back end, making sure everyone’s doing their job, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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