Lucas at Large: Zeitler left lasting impression on Bengals

FB_120427_Zeitler_Kevin.jpgWisconsin right guard Kevin Zeitler made a point of shaking everybody's hand after his April 4 workout at the McClain Facility. More than a dozen NFL teams were represented, including the Cincinnati Bengals, who sent their veteran offensive line coach, Paul Alexander, to evaluate Zeitler.

The 52-year-old Alexander, who also carries the title of assistant head coach (to Marvin Lewis), has been with the Bengals for nearly two decades. Alexander is no stranger to the Big Ten brand of hard-nosed football. He served as a grad assistant under Bo Schembechler and Joe Paterno.

You can understand why he would like what he saw out of Zeitler, a throwback, who doesn't have any frills to his old-school game or his blue-collar personality. That was the statement that Zeitler was trying to make when he personally thanked each of the coaches who had traveled to Madison.

"I was always told that you want to make a good impression with your handshake,'' said Zeitler, explaining his vice-like grip that had strangers counting their fingers when they were eventually able to pull away from him. "But I'm not trying to break anybody's hand.''

At least that was not his intent. "I try to have a nice firm handshake -- hoping that I will impress people -- hoping that they will remember me,'' said Zeitler, adding that he wants to send out this message, "I'm here to play or something like that.''

When asked if he felt like there were any questions that he still had to answer for all of these NFL teams that were working him out, he paused to collect his thoughts and then said, "Can I be a first rounder, I guess? That would be the question. So I'm trying to prove that I'm a high pick.''

Zeitler admitted that he had no idea where he might land in the draft. He wasn't even sure who really liked him. "Sometimes it's the people who don't talk to you who draft you,'' he said. "It's going to be a nice surprise for me whenever I do get taken. I'll be happy no matter where it is.''

Zeitler is very happy today after being a first round draft pick (No. 27 overall) of the Cincinnati Bengals. Before the selection was announced, Jon Gruden took the ESPN audience inside Cincinnati's war room; suggesting the coaching staff was deciding between Zeitler and Georgia's Cordy Glenn.

The Bengals had to address a pressing need at offensive guard, Gruden said.

Someone, after all, has to block the likes of Baltimore's nose masher Haloti Ngata, he added.

That someone turned out to be Zeitler.

After ESPN host Chris Berman complimented Gruden for foreshadowing the selection, Gruden countered, "I don't know anything about the draft process. I do know that Kevin Zeitler is another Wisconsin Badger that can come off the ball and do some things athletically.

"He can play in a zone scheme. He's an athletic puller. He can find his target. He can redirect. At the end of the day, he can thump you. I think the Bengals knew that the Ravens were looking at Zeitler later in this round (at No. 29) to replace Ben Grubbs (a free agent).

"We already talked about the lack of guards on the Bengals football team,'' Gruden went on. "(Quarterback) Andy Dalton needs firm protection, so he can step up in the pocket. Zeitler is a good athlete. He's not an elite athlete. But he's an every down wrecking machine that works to finish.''

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper noted that the Chicago Bears drafted a "mauler'' in former UW offensive tackle Gabe Carimi in the first round of the 2011 draft. "That's what Kevin Zeitler is -- a true mauler,'' said Kiper. "He's powerful in the upper body and he will battle ...''

Scratch and claw were the words that Kiper used to describe Zeitler's competitiveness.

"He gets the most out of his talent,'' he continued. "He's not real athletic. But I'll tell you what, he played at a very high level and there were a lot of teams late in the first round that wanted him to be a part of their offensive line.''

Zeitler was one of two first round picks for the Bengals; the other was Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis said, "Both players have opportunities to start and work their way into the lineup. We drafted both of them to play.''

This is only the second time in franchise history that the Bengals have drafted an offensive guard in the first round. In 1984, they took North Carolina's Brian Blados with the 28th selection overall. Cincinnati does have some history with hard-nosed Badgers, though, most notably Tim Krumrie.

In addition to Krumrie, who spent many memorable seasons as a nose guard and defensive line coach in Cincinnati, the current Bengals staff features Jay Hayes, a former UW assistant under Barry Alvarez, whose son, Jesse, is a freshman defensive end with the Badgers.

Zeitler should feel right at home, too, in the company of a couple of his new Cincinnati teammates: defensive tackle Nick Hayden and fullback Chris Pressley. Both are former Badgers. In the end, Zeitler obviously made a lasting impression on his new position coach, Alexander.

"When we went to work him out in Wisconsin,'' Alexander recalled, "we called him and he came down and met us at the car ... he's a wonderful guy. He's as good as guy as there is, and he's a good player. I think when you get a chance to take a guy like that; he helps your whole team, not just his spot.

"He's a great program guy, team guy. He's the type of guy if you went fishing at the lake all day, some guys after an hour; you want to throw them in the water. But this guy is more along the line that you can just sit out there all day with him.

"He's going to work like that in terms of football.''
ON WISCONSIN