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Jermaine Gresham, Frostee Rucker looking for strong game in reunion with Bengals

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Cincinnati takes on Arizona with several former Bengals getting a shot at their old team after signing with the Cardinals in recent years.

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When the Bengals take on the Cardinals this week, it will be a game full of storylines under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football.

A matchup of two playoff teams and possible title contenders is the main story. Carson Palmer playing against his old Cincinnati team is easily the next biggest storyline, but two other former Bengals are also getting a shot at their old club. Jermaine Gresham is one of them, and as he told 98.7 FM in Arizona, it's a special moment for him getting to face the team that drafted him.

"It’s going to be fun," Gresham said."Just seeing some of the people that I spent so much time with in the past five years. It’s going to be good to see them. I’m just going to just cherish the moment and just have fun with it. Seeing those guys every day in practice, actually getting a chance to compete against them, I’m just going to have fun with it."

With the 21st-overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft, Cincinnati drafted the former All-American Oklahoma tight end. They did so in hopes the 6-5, 260-pound physical specimen would become the big, long and athletic target Palmer had lacked for most of his career in Cincinnati outside of Chris Henry.

With Gresham, the Bengals thought they were also getting a beast of a tight end who could be a mauler in run blocking and hold up in pass protection. After five NFL seasons with the Bengals, Gresham averaged 56 receptions with 544 yards receiving per season to go with 24 combined touchdowns.

However, Gresham's numbers took a slight dip to 62 catches for 460 yards and five scores in 2014. His inability to be a consistent threat over the middle and as a blocker left mixed results and some within the organization wanting "nothing to do with him".

To be fair to Gresham, he did improve his blocking significantly during his final two years, but still had far too many issues that led to Cincy allowing him to become a free agent this offseason, with little-to-no interest from Cincinnati. Having tight end Tyler Eifert, who the Bengals drafted with the 21st-overall pick in the 2013 draft also helped to make not re-signing Gresham an easy decision.

"I think everything worked out well," Gresham said of the Bengals. "They got what they wanted, next guy up with Tyler (Eifert) and everything. It’s a business and I understand that part of it so I can’t be mad about it. They gave me the opportunity to feed my family for five years, and feed them well, and I have no regrets about it."

After the Bengals let him go, Gresham visited a few teams including the Raiders, who many thought he was going to sign with after a very lengthy visit with the team. But, the visit actually ended with him learning he'd need back surgery, which kept him from generating much interest around the league until July. That's when Palmer, now with the Cardinals, began urging his team to sign Gresham, and the rest is history.

After a slow start to the year while still healing from the back surgery, Gresham is up to 13 catches for 158 yards and one score this year. The Cardinals haven't featured him much with so many other big-time pass-catchers in this offense, including Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd. But, he is getting more action lately which was aided by Darren Fells missing some time due to injury.

"A lot of it is what coverages they play and where the ball goes," head coach Bruce Arians said of Gresham being integrated more into the offense. "We do not traditionally throw it to the tight ends. We pay Larry (Fitzgerald) and those guys too much money to throw it to the tight ends. They’re here to block, but he is a very capable receiver when he gets his opportunities, which they’re starting to grow. He’s played well."

Gresham is becoming a bigger part of the offense now that he's getting adjusted to the Cardinals' system. He's caught eight passes for 107 yards and one score over his last three games, and will be a bigger part of the offense Sunday if Floyd is out with a hamstring injury.

Palmer and Gresham aren't the only former Bengals now playing for the Cardinals. Defensive end Frostee Rucker was a prominent member of the Cincy defensive line from 2006-2011 after being drafted 91st overall out of USC in 2006. Though he only racked up seven sacks over 53 career games in the Queen City, Rucker's impact was much more felt toward the end of his career once Mike Zimmer came in and better utilized him.

"It’s almost like you get labeled just a first- and second-down guy, because they always bring in a speed guy or they drafted someone to do a certain job," Rucker said, via The Arizona Republic. "My game has always been just to play football. I think my last year in Cincinnati they finally realized I could play football, and it took them six years to figure that out."

Now in the desert, Rucker has already reached eight sacks in 40 games with the Cards as a rotational lineman. While he may not always be hitting the quarterback, defensive coordinator James Bettcher likes what Rucker is giving his unit.

"He’s by far playing the best ball that he’s played here," Bettcher said. "He’s as disruptive a defensive lineman as we have."

This season, Rucker has 18 total tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. This comes after he notched five sacks and two forced fumbles a year ago, a solid line for a backup lineman.

"I do put a lot into my craft," Rucker said. "The proof’s in the pudding."

While these may not exactly be earth-shattering numbers for Rucker or Gresham, it's good to see the former Bengals still making a living in the league, even if they'll be on the opposite sideline this Sunday.