You often hear about the Cincinnati Bengals heavily vetting incoming rookies before the NFL Draft. Leading up to their respective drafts, the majority of players on the current roster who were drafted by the Bengals visit Cincinnati, have workouts with and go to dinner with coaches, meet coaches and scouts at their pro days, interview with the team at the NFL Combine, or some combination of those options.
Not J.J. Dielman.
The Bengals’ rookie offensive lineman did not meet with the team at all before the draft, other than a potential informal combine interview, which he isn’t even sure occurred.
So when a Cincinnati number flashed on his phone screen during Round 5 of the 2017 NFL Draft, Dielman just thought it was a random person calling, not someone from the Bengals’ coaching staff.
“Going into the day I really had no idea what was going to happen,” Dielman said in an exclusive interview with Cincy Jungle. “During the process, you get phone calls and text messages and things like that and I hadn’t received a lot from them. But I got a phone call from a random number in Ohio. My first thought wasn’t the Bengals, it was ‘who’s calling me from Cincinnati.’”
Once he answered the phone, he realized it was the moment he’d been waiting for his whole life.
“I got up, answered it, and the rest of the day was really good. I was with my mom, dad, sister and a couple of cousins, and all my best friends,” Dielman recalled.
Dielman was selected by the Bengals in fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft after five years spent with the Utah Utes. He redshirted during the 2012 season before playing one game in 2013 at right tackle. In 2014, he started all 13 games at right tackle and led all Utah linemen in total plays (852) during the regular season. In 2015, he was named All-Pac 12 second team after again starting all 13 games at right tackle. In 2016, the Utes needed help at center and moved Dielman to the position. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending foot injury in just the fifth game of the year.
That impacted his draft stock and he was only able to participate in the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine, where he recorded 27 reps. One criticism scouts had for him before the draft is he'll need to bulk up more to succeed at the NFL level. He's currently listed on the Bengals’ roster at 6'5" and 309 pounds.
Dielman was unable to participate in rookie minicamp and OTAs due to the Lisfranc injury he suffered in 2016 at Utah, but he’s now feeling healthy and ready to go.
“The recovery kind of varies depending on the severity,” Dielman said of his injury. “A Lisfranc injury can vary from being a sprain to blowing your foot out and your career is over. So, my timetable was 6 months to one-year and I fully expect to be ready for training camp. I’m able to do everything now and continuing what I was doing in Cincinnati.”
One of the reasons the Bengals likely selected Dielman is his versatility as both a right tackle and center. The Bengals could use help at both spots as Jake Fisher is taking over the starting duties at right tackle, and he’s expected to be backed up by 12-year veteran Eric Winston. Winston won’t stick around forever and the Bengals could use some youth behind Fisher. At center, Russell Bodine is entering the final year of his rookie deal and has struggled for the entirety of his time in the NFL. If Dielman can prove himself at either position, he should have a promising career ahead of him in Cincinnati. The Bengals also have questions at the guard position after Kevin Zeitler’s departure this offseason and interestingly, Dielman says he may practice at the guard position, too.
“I think center and guard are the plan,” Dielman said of where he’ll be practicing during training camp, “but I’m prepared to play any offensive line position. My goal is to contribute to the team in any way possible as a rookie. It’s a competition and the talent has skyrocketed. I really just want to help the vets and coaches who have been here for so long to achieve the ultimate goal.... which is the Super Bowl.”
The Bengals currently have 15 offensive linemen on the roster, including Dielman (who’s listed as a center), but much of the talent is inexperienced at the NFL level. Bodine, fellow center/guard T.J. Johnson, left guard Clint Boling, Andre Smith (who's expected to move to right guard after spending his entire NFL career at right tackle) and Winston are the only players with four or more years of NFL experience. Because of that, there’s a lot of opportunity for the other 10 young linemen to prove themselves this summer and make a statement to the coaching staff.
“I just want to show coach he can trust me and that I’m prepared both physically and mentally,” Dielman said. “I want to be a good teammate and earn the trust of my teammates because that’s one of the most important things if you’re going to play offensive line.”
We’ve often seen young Bengals linemen struggle in getting adjusted to the NFL level and the Bengals’ playbook. Most recently Bodine, Cedric Ogbuehi and Fisher come to mind in that regard. While Dielman has found it challenging to learn the Bengals’ offense, he likes what he’s seen when it comes to the team’s plans.
“It’s definitely a very challenging playbook and I think it’s intense and a lot different than college,” he said. “But I think what (the Bengals) are doing and what they’ve been doing is very cool and I’ve completely bought in.”
The Bengals’ rookies report to Cincinnati for the start of training camp on July 25, at which point we’ll get our first glimpse of Dielman in stripes.