QB Pike getting another chance with hometown team
It was a temporary nameplate, but that was fine by Pike, who is getting a chance to revive his career - and have a memorable weekend - with his hometown team.
The former University of Cincinnati star was invited to rookie minicamp over the weekend to show how far his throwing elbow has recovered from two operations to fix a nerve problem. There's a chance they could sign him to a deal if they think he's healthy and see potential.
Even if it's only for the weekend, Pike is enjoying each practice in the stadium where he watched the Bengals play as a fan.
''It was a lifelong dream all rolled up in an about hour and a half out there,'' he said after practice. ''With me growing up in the city and supporting the team, wanting to be part of it, it was pretty special.''
Given how his career has gone, Pike is relishing every chance to throw a pass with someone watching.
He grew up in a suburb and regularly attended University of Cincinnati games when the Bearcats were trying to make their football program relevant. He stayed at home for college and led the Bearcats to their greatest moments, back-to-back Big East titles under Brian Kelly and berths in the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl.
Pike did it despite breaking his left forearm twice - once as a junior, again as a senior. His history of injuries weighed against him in the NFL draft. Teams liked his ability to see over the line at 6-foot-5, but were wary of his thin build and his non-throwing forearm, which has a plate for protection.
Carolina picked him in the sixth round in 2010 and gave him a deal that included a signing bonus of $81,145. He got into one game as a rookie. A sore throwing elbow forced him to miss most of training camp the next year, and he wound up needing surgery to fix a nerve in the elbow.
It was a risky operation for a quarterback. When the first operation didn't help much, he had another involving a slightly different procedure. That seems to have taken care of the problem.
''I feel a lot better,'' Pike said. ''After the first surgery, I knew something wasn't taking right. I had it redone. As of now, my strength is pretty much all built up. My accuracy is fine.
''Occasionally I'll get a little numbness, but it comes and goes real quick. I'm told that's just the nerve healing. Another week or two of throwing at this pace and I should be 100 percent.''
Pike is getting five practices over the weekend to convince the Bengals he's worth signing to a deal and taking to training camp. They're set with Andy Dalton as the starter and Bruce Gradkowski as the backup, so Pike would be looking at the No. 3 spot.
He knows he won't get any favor for being a hometown player.
''In a camp like this, I come in with the mindset that I have to prove myself,'' Pike said. ''Obviously what you did in college is what you did in college. I've had a year off from football, and it's just about getting back out there. Unfortunately, it's only 2 1/2 days to bring it all back together.''
The Bengals brought him to camp with an open mind.
''He's been cleared and recovered,'' coach Marvin Lewis said. ''He's trying to give it a go and see what he can do.''
Pike was rusty at the start of camp, though that was expected. He'd been getting his arm back in shape by throwing to high school receivers. Plus, he didn't get the play book until the night before camp opened. He didn't have his usual velocity on some passes, a sign his arm isn't all the way back.
His goal was to convince the coaches that he's healthy enough to earn another look.
''That's my mindset going in, to leave everything out there and come Sunday see what happens,'' he said.