When Carlos Dunlap, the Bengals second-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, was inactive on game day during four of the season's first five games, many fans quickly called him a bust. After all, he wasn't sacking the quarterback five times per quarter, so the obviously passionate reaction of dumping him felt justified. Thanks to Jonathan Fanene's injury and Antwan Odom's suspension, Dunlap was finally receiving more playing time. And as he starting growing, his production was becoming noticed.
Mike Zimmer said he's like to "see more passion in practice" from Dunlap in mid-October. Marvin Lewis said that he needs to "learn to prepare and practice in the National Football League to play on Sundays" in early November. A week later, against the Indianapolis Colts with :11 remaining in the first half from the Bengals own 25-yard line, Dunlap sacked Peyton Manning for a four-yard loss, forcing the Colts to kick a field goal to end the half. It was his first career quarterback sack against one of the best quarterbacks of all-time. Note: The Bengals were one of only three teams to sack Manning multiple times in a game. Later Lewis would go on to praise Dunlap's progression as a rookie.
"I think yesterday was a step forward for Carlos. He was sick all week last week and really didn't get to practice. He stood out there and came to the meetings on Thursday, stood out and watched on Friday, and then got the work in on Saturday. But I thought assignment-wise, he did a good job and obviously had a couple of good plays. He's got to keep taking steps forward: Learning how to practice is the biggest thing with Carlos, and what it takes to be a pro. He’s been spending some extra time here on Tuesdays, which is good. He needs to keep taking the steps."
Dunlap struck again against the New York Jets on Thanksgiving night. With 2:26 left in the first quarter, Dunlap sacked Mark Sanchez for a six-yard loss that forced the Jets into second-and-23 from midfield. New York would be forced to punt the football away. With the Jets leading 17-7 and the Bengals offense self-destructing, the defense had to step up and give the offense a chance to rebound. Sixteen seconds left in the third quarter, Dunlap sacked Sanchez for an 11-yard loss, forcing New York to punt from their own one-yard line. The Bengals would take the ensuing possession after a 23-yard Steve Weatherford punt, leading to a Bengals field goal, bringing the team's deficit to within a touchdown.
With three sacks in the past three games, Dunlap now leads the team with the most quarterback sacks -- Chris Crocker ranks second with two sacks. I'm not sure if that's depressing that he leads the team with just three sacks, or if it's not encouraging to see our rookie defensive end, one of the guys expected to expand a mediocre pass rush in 2009, starting to come around and generate enough production to create some havoc.