After a surprising AFC North title and Super Bowl appearance in 2021, tight end Drew Sample and the Cincinnati Bengals are marked men in 2022.
That means an offseason full of hard work and preparation for Sample, a 2019 second-round pick heading into his fourth NFL campaign. The University of Washington product fuels his workouts with NOW Foods, a company he has so much faith in, he's decided to partner with them.
"Almost two years ago, I had my first full offseason after my rookie year and I was looking to take the next step as far as my nutrition," Sample told The Spun during an interview this week. "I was looking for a company that was clean and really where I could get everything that I needed in one spot. My nutritionist told me to check out NOW. I went on there and they really had everything, all the supplements that I needed.
"Since we've partnered with them, it's been really easy. I get all my products in one spot and I can focus on the important stuff: the training, the route running, the practices, things like that."
When we caught up with Sample recently, we not only discussed his partnership with NOW Foods, we touched on what the Bengals can do for an encore in 2022, what stands out about Joe Burrow behind-the-scenes, his role moving forward and more.
Let's get started:
The Spun: In 2021, the Bengals went from worst to first in the AFC North and then advanced to the Super Bowl. You definitely took some people by surprise, but could you and your teammates sense the breakthrough coming?
Drew Sample: I think for us, the last three years, we had been making some moves. Obviously, we got Joe [Burrow], we got weapons, we signed free agents on defense. I think in camp, we felt pretty good about our team. In my first two years, we didn't win a lot of games, but we were also in a lot of games. A lot of close games that we just couldn't quite get over that hump. We knew the talent was there, we just had to go and finish some games out.
I think we were able to come together as a team, and those 50-50 games, we started to win them. We got some momentum at the right time and we were able to carry it throughout the playoffs. I think ever since Joe got there and [head coach] Zac [Taylor] has done a great job of putting our team together and getting a lot of good players, I think we've kind of had that confidence, like "Hey, we've got the guys, we just have to go prove it on the field."
The Spun: After the run you guys had last year, you won't be sneaking up on any teams this fall. What is the team's approach now as one of the "hunted" in the NFL?
DS: I think that's a fun spot to be in. Obviously, there's never any easy games, but just knowing you have to bring your best every single game. We're the defending AFC champs. We're going to play a No. 1 division schedule, a lot of good teams. I think we're excited about that. We're excited about the challenge. We know we're a good team. Obviously, the goal is to go back to the Super Bowl and win it. We know it's not going to be an easy task but we feel we have the talent and the team to do it.
The Spun: In 2020, you caught 40 passes. That number dropped to 11 last year. What kind of role are you expecting this season with C.J. Uzomah no longer there but Hayden Hurst now in the mix?
DS: I think for me, every year, one of my strengths is being an all-around tight end. That means being able to go out and catch passes when given an opportunity and also helping in the run game and pass pro, things like that. Hayden is an awesome guy. I think we'll be able to do a lot of great stuff together. Obviously, we lost C.J. who was a big part of our team. I'm happy for him, but we've got to fill that role. I think for us, we're trying to be one of the best units we can. We're trying to help the team win however we can and just be ready for our opportunities.
The Spun: Everyone sees the stats and the wins, but what is something that people who aren't around Joe Burrow every day might not know about him?
DS: I think a lot of people, they see the success that he had coming up through college, winning the Heisman and winning the national championship, and then after the injury he won NFL Comeback Player of the Year last year, I think people don't realize the amount of work that he puts in behind the scenes. That was one of the things that we knew immediately: that he was going to be our guy and he was going to be able to take us to where we went last year. The first day I met him, yeah he was Joe Burrow, first-round pick but he got to work like everybody else. He brings that mindset every day like 'I'm going into work, I'm going to get better.' A lot of guys see that and that's how they model themselves.
Not only is he super talented on the field, but just that work ethic he brings off the field that he put in to get to this point. It gives us a lot of confidence as a team.
The Spun: Ja'Marr Chase put up huge numbers as a rookie but is already saying he has loftier goals for 2022. What areas can he actually improve in after such a great first season?
DS: Obviously, he made a ton of plays last year and had an incredible season. I think even he would tell you that he's excited to get into more detail, what things he can do against different coverage, different types of coverages he's going to get, different techniques from the defensive backs. In year two, you feel more comfortable in the offense. So, instead of thinking about where I'm supposed to be, now I can take it to the next level with how can I beat this coverage, how can I adjust this route. I think that's everyone in our offense knowing we're going to get different looks this year with the weapons that we have.
The Spun: A couple of months back, you and your wife were in the media trying to extract some of her family members out of Ukraine. How has that been going? Are there any updates with them?
DS: It was tough. There's certain things where as a football player, I'm in a position where I can do things that maybe other people can't, but when you're talking with countries on a world level, it's kind of a helpless feeling. It's hard. We're still in contact with them and they're in a relatively safe but unstable place. Just to have the ability to still check in and communicate with them is amazing. We're trying to support them however we can, but it was hard. That's my wife's family, that's my family too. That helpless feeling and uncertainty of it was hard, especially at the beginning. It definitely puts things into perspective about what is important.
You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.