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Carlos Dunlap still learning and focussed heading into 8th NFL season

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Dunlap has become one of the better edge rushers the NFL has to offer, but he wants to be the best.

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Dunlap has never been shy to share his lofty goals.

When you’re among the best players at your position, it’s reasonable to set goals that include record-breaking milestones. When Dunlap first began his career as a second-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals out of Florida in 2010, he wanted to break Jevon Kearse’s rookie-record of 14.5 sacks for the Tennessee Titans in 1999.

Dunlap didn't quite get there, but his 9.5 sacks as a rookie in just a part-time role playing in 12 games was still very impressive. However, injuries would help limit Dunlap to just 10.5 sacks during the next two seasons.

But ever since 2013, Dunlap has appeared in every game while racking up an average of 9.3 sacks per year. Making it to his eighth season in the NFL is something in which Dunlap takes pride.

“Coming in, one of the first things that I did was look up the average NFL career because everybody says that NFL stands for ‘Not For Long,’” Dunlap told Bengals.com. “I looked up the average and it was like 3 ½ years or something like that. To get to eight years is amazing.

That’s impressive, but it’s not good enough for Dunlap, who hopes to accomplish more than just lasting in the NFL as a good pass-rusher. Last year, Dunlap stressed his desire to break Michael Strahan’s single-second sack record of 22.5 with the New York Giants in 2001. He reiterated that this offseason at Taste of the NFL to Cincy Jungle.

Dunlap didn’t get quite near 22.5 sacks in 2016, as he notched just eight sacks while being heavily game-planned against by opposing teams. That was a lot easier for defenses to do with Dunlap being the only reliable edge rusher last year, but with newcomers like Carl Lawson, Jordan Willis and Chris Smith, the hope is Dunlap will have more freedom this season.

It also helps that Dunlap still has the mentality of a green talent and wants to hone his craft more and more each year.

“I’m only 28 years old and I’m still learning at this age,” said Dunlap. “If it was anything else in the world I would still be considered a rookie. But in the locker room they consider you a veteran. I came in at 20, so I have eight years under my belt.

“I feel like I’ve got a lot of ball left and I look forward to making these next few years my best. I’ve had some good ball up to this point, but I still feel like I have a lot of room for growth.”

As for the franchise's all-time sacks king, Dunlap technically holds that honor, though Eddie Edwards should hold the title. The former Bengals lineman has 47.5 sacks officially recorded, but all of those came from 1977-1988. The NFL did not begin recognizing sacks as an official statistic until the 1982 season. That means sacks recorded during his first five seasons are not officially part of his official career total.

Considering he averaged 6.8 sacks per season when they were officially recorded, it's safe to assume Edwards' true sack total should be somewhere in the 80s (Bengals.com has it at 83.5 and others have it at 87.5). That would put his record in a range where Dunlap would need several more good years from a sacks standpoint to comfortably reach the record.

That said, Dunlap is on pace to record 80+ sacks in his NFL career. Entering 2017, Dunlap sports 57 career quarterback takedowns, which is actually just five ahead of teammate Geno Atkins, who joined the team the same year as Dunlap.

That means Dunlap needs to keep playing at a high level just to stay ahead of Atkins, who has 20 sacks during the last two seasons. Compared to Dunlap’s 21.5 in that span, this is going to be a fun competition for Bengals fans to enjoy watching for at least two more seasons, as both Dunlap and Atkins are signed through the 2018 season.

All told, Dunlap isn’t worried about personal milestones and record. He just wants to see the Bengals winning football games.

“I’ve been fortunate to be part of eight years of this decade,” Dunlap said. “We’ve done some great things, but there are Bengals teams that have done better things than we’ve done. We want to leave our legacy. The majority of the team is probably averaging a half a decade here so we want to leave our mark.”

Since Dunlap came into the NFL, he’s experienced just two losing seasons, the second of which came last year with the team’s 6-9-1 disaster. If the offense hits expectations and Dunlap and Atkins continue playing at a high level, the Bengals should be back in playoff contention this season.