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Lil' Ray comes out to play in debut


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Most of the following was already included in Bengals.com write-ups (and in previous posts), but I found it encouraging to see the enemy (in the form of a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter) take notice . . .

Lil' Ray comes out to play in debut

Monday, September 12, 2005

Dennis Manoloff

Plain Dealer Reporter

Asked about his teammate, rookie middle linebacker Odell Thurman, Bengals receiver Chad Johnson chuckled.

"Who? Lil' Ray?" Johnson said.

That's Ray, as in Ray Lewis, one of the game's all-time best, with plenty of mileage remaining.

"Odell will need to do a lot to accomplish what No. 52 has in Baltimore, obviously," Johnson said. "But he's got the same drive, the same ambition, the same passion. He's got the physical skills, everything you need to be special. Now all he has to do is get it to where he dominates every week."

Thurman did not dominate Sunday in the Bengals' 27-13 victory over the Browns in Cleveland Browns Stadium. But No. 51 made his presence felt with several punishing tackles, an interception and smack -- volumes and volumes of smack. It was easy to see why Thurman, a second-rounder from Georgia, has been projected for big things in the NFL.

"I'm very confident in myself," he said. "One hundred percent confident."

Confident enough to treat his first pro start as if it were a video game amongst friends in the living room. Thurman playfully took offense when asked if he had been tight in the hours leading up to kickoff. "Nervous? Not at all," he said. "I've been playing football my whole life. It was just another day to do my job. If you get nervous, you're going to be uptight and won't be able to do what you do best."

Thurman specializes in hard hits, such as the one he laid on running back William Green midway through the second quarter. Green gained 1 yard and no doubt heard Thurman flapping his gums.

"The talk comes out of my mouth on its own," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to say. It's all in fun."

Later in the drive, quarterback Trent Dilfer connected with Frisman Jackson moving left to right. Having beaten Thurman, Jackson turned the short pass into a 68-yard touchdown to help Cleveland tie the score, 10-10.

"That's all on me," Thurman said. "I had him man-up, he did a shake route and got me. He beat me, plain and simple."

With the Bengals leading, 24-10, midway through the third quarter, Thurman intercepted Dilfer at the Cleveland 27. He returned the tipped pass 13 yards before Dilfer ran him out of bounds; the Bengals converted the turnover into a field goal.

"I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time," he said. "I thought I could go all the way, but Dilfer is a little faster than I am, I guess."

A pick and a victory already in his pocket, the affable Thurman kept reporters entertained in the locker room long after the game ended with his unbridled responses to questions. He was unconcerned about what NFL opponents might think of perceived brashness manifested in smack.

"I respect every opponent, and you won't see me taking shots at people in the papers before or after the game," he said. "If I stop talking on the field, though, I'll stop playing. You talk trash, they talk trash, and whoever gets the best of the other guy gets to talk more. The more plays I make, the more guys will hear from me."

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