Devon Still had an offseason unlike any other player on the Cincinnati Bengals.
While Still was indeed training like his teammates, working out regularly and shedding more than 25 pounds, he also was by his daughter's side as she battled Neuroblastoma, a form of pediatric cancer, from which she is now in remission.
Last year, heading into camp, Leah Still's diagnosis was still fresh on her dad's mind. In June 2014, Devon Still revealed via Instagram that Leah had been diagnosed with cancer and given a 50 percent chance to live. As you can expect, when training camp rolled around in August, Still had more important things on his mind than football. Still was subsequently cut from the team in late August, but signed to the practice squad. The Bengals gave Still the ability to keep an eye on his daughter, traveling to see her on a weekly basis while still being on the team (and keeping his health insurance.) But, it wasn't long before Still was added back to the 53-man roster. Before Week 2 of the 2014 season, when the Bengals played the Falcons at Paul Brown Stadium, Still rejoined the team.
At the time, Marvin Lewis said, "We have an open roster spot, and this is the best football move we can make to fill it. We think Devon is ready to rejoin our line rotation and be productive. It already was stated that a big reason Devon opened on the practice squad was that he couldn’t fully focus on football this preseason. He had to take care of his daughter (Leah, four, diagnosed with cancer). But Devon has told us he feels ready to contribute now, so it’s the right move at the right time. And we’ve told Devon he can still be afforded the personal time he needs to attend to his daughter’s care."
In 2014, Still had a football year to forget with just 11 tackles and 8 assists. But, now that Leah's cancer is in remission and was confirmed last week to be staying away, Still has a more optimistic outlook and a clear mind. And, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is taking note.
"He looks good. He's in good shape," Guenther said Monday via ESPN. "He's probably in the best shape he's been since he's been here. He's a man on a mission; he's trying to win a spot on the team just like these other guys, and he's doing pretty good so far."
For Still to win a spot on the team, he'll need an impressive showing during training camp and the pre-season. At defensive tackle, Geno Atkins and Domata Peko are locks to make the roster, while Marcus Hardison (rookie), Pat Sims and Brandon Thompson all have a good shot, too. Kwame Geathers, Kalafitoni Pole (rookie) and DeShawn Williams (rookie) round out the position group fighting for likely 5 DT spots on the Bengals' 53 man roster.
"If I'm going to leave [Leah for training camp], I have to go out here with a purpose and do it for a reason," Still said to the media at the start of camp. "She wants a big princess room in a newly built house, so I have to go get that for her."
Still is going to work as hard as he can to earn a roster spot with the Bengals this year. Reverting to the practice squad is no longer an option for the fourth year player.
"Obviously, he had a lot on his mind last year, and he's coming in here and he's got a different mindset," Guenther said this week. "He's all about work, and his focus is on football. He'll have a chance to see what he can do in the preseason."
If Still keeps getting sacks like these two in training camp and into the preseason, there's a good chance he'll remain a Bengal this season.