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Bengals safety George Iloka: Philosopher to the league

In a recent MMQB post from Robert Klemko, the author notes two pieces of sage wisdom offered up by the Bengals' fourth-year safety. He, like many other young stars on the roster, seems to get what it takes in the NFL.

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A professional athlete's job can be taken away in the blink of an eye. Whether it's easing up on their competitive edge and/or falling a little bit out of shape, or suffering an injury, the dream can vanish. if you were to look at the slate of preseason Week 2 games this past weekend, you'd see some stars suffering the latter fate.

Current Bengals safety George Iloka knows the heartache that comes with an injury as well. While vying for a starting spot in 2013, Iloka got into a Training Camp spat with a teammate. After throwing swings at Jordan Campbell's helmet, he lost his early bid to get the starting job because he broke his hand.

Fortunately, Iloka learned from the mistake and ended up playing very well for the Bengals' defense the next season. He's now viewed as one of the leaders on the unit and one of the best players in a talented secondary. If Iloka needed a reminder, he received an ironic one on Monday Night against the Buccaneers, as he suffered a knee cap bruise while attempting to break up another skirmish.

Robert Klemko with the MMQB website chimed in on the "Things I think I know" bit which website founder Peter King has made famous in NFL media circles. In it, Klemko notes that some quotes he gathered from Iloka while roaming around many different Training Camps this summer, are some of the most intelligent remarks he has heard from a player this year.

1. I think the smartest thing I heard all training camp about fighting in practice came from George Iloka, the Bengals’ rising star at strong safety who infamously broke his hand in a practice fight that was featured on Hard Knocks in 2013. The fifth-round pick was in a three-way competition for the safety job in his second season with Shawn Williams and Taylor Mays when he got into it with Jordan Campbell during a special-teams drill.

"I had a slight edge in the safety competition," Iloka says. "Then I got into the fight, and I punched him with a closed fist in the helmet three times, and broke my hand on the third swing.

"Your window of opportunity is so small, and I broke my hand. Now I’m watching practice from the bench. Coach [Marvin] Lewis came up to me one day, and he was like, ‘Do you know who Wally Pipp is?’ "

"No," Iloka said.

"Exactly," Lewis replied. "He started at first base for the Yankees for 10 years. He got hurt one day, and they put in a kid named Lou Gehrig, and you never heard of Wally Pipp again."

Says Iloka: "That stuck with me. It made me feel like I just f----- up my only opportunity. I came back and ended up starting the whole year and had a better third season last year. Now they use me as an example for rookies, and I’m cool with that. I’m not even a fighter, but I broke my hand on a helmet like an idiot."

Ah, Wally Pipp. The age-old sports metaphor used as cautionary tales for the issues mentioned above with athletes. "Getting Pipped" has become common vernacular in the sports world, with one of the more popular references in recent history centering around Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady.

Klemko doesn't stop there, though. The contingent of Bengals fans who have clamored for the team to replace Andy Dalton might want to avert their eyes at the next statement by Iloka, as he notes the team's playoff failures are a total team collapse.

2. I think the second smartest thing I heard all training camp also came from George Iloka, who put Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s playoff struggles in context. While Dalton carries a 57.8 passer rating in four playoff appearances—all losses—the Bengals have given up an average of 390 yards per loss and produced just two turnovers.

"Our playoff losses have been team losses, not on one particular person," Iloka says. "There’s no, I lost or he lost. We all lost. We all left unhappy, and nobody got a Super Bowl ring. When we got to the playoffs, nobody took their game to the next level. It’s a new season, so we’ve got to get there first and foremost, and then when we get there, try to right our wrongs."

While Dalton's play takes center stage in these contests, Iloka is correct in pointing out other issues. The defensive units, which were stout throughout entire regular seasons, inexplicably collapse. Dropped passes, fumbles and other offensive issues have plagued the team in their past four appearances. Let's also not forget questionable and predictable game plans, as well as a lack of preparedness and perceived confidence issues of the team.

Monday night's preseason contest against the Buccaneers was a microcosm of the regular-season primetime and playoff issues this team has experienced. Dalton throws a perfect pass to A.J. Green, it goes off of his hands--pick-six. The subsequent possession had Dalton throwing a terrible, high pass to Tyler Eifert for another interception. After Tampa Bay scored again, Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball away. Want more? The starting defense decided they didn't want to tackle Doug Martin.

Something has to change in these big moments. And, Iloka's correct in his assessment. It starts with Marvin Lewis and his staff, down to the quarterback play and the rest of the team. Everybody has to do better if the Bengals are to seize the opportunity with this championship window that might start closing soon.