Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 5/11/13
CINCINNATI Brandon Joiner first stepped into the Bengals locker room at Paul Brown Stadium a year ago. Every time he enters the stadium he still has a sense of awe. Its a feeling he doesnt want to go away. The Bengals signed Joiner as an undrafted free agent last year. He was a defensive end from Arkansas State and had been named the Sun Belt Conferences Defensive Player of the Year. Joiner first walked into PBS during the teams annual three-day rookie mini-camp. Those three days would be the only time he was in the building last year. Joiner was released on parole from prison on Jan. 15 after serving nearly eight months of a three-year plea bargain sentence on an aggravated robbery and felony drug charge in 2007. Joiner was 18 and in his freshman year at Texas A&M at the time of the incident. He was being red-shirted from the Aggies football team during that season. According to police records, Joiner and a former Texas A&M teammate broke into the apartment of a known drug dealer and robbed him at gunpoint. A police search of Joiners home turned up illegal drugs. I just made stupid decisions, said Joiner. The Bengals arent the ones giving Joiner a second chance; he got that when he went to Navarro (Junior) College and then to Arkansas State. As part of his plea deal he would spend holidays in jail and perform community service while still being allowed to go to school and play football. He earned his bachelors degree from Arkansas State. The Bengals are giving him a chance at continuing this new life. Joiner, now 23, is being converted to play outside linebacker. Hes part of the rookie mini-camp again this year. Its starting over, basically. Its like any other rookie. Hes really starting over. Basically he had three days last year. That was it, said head coach Marvin Lewis. Joiner was re-instated to the Bengals offseason roster in February. Hes been working out at the PBS facilities and getting tutelage from linebackers coach Paul Guenther and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. The Bengals have put Joiners past behind them and see the appreciation he has just to be in this situation. Im sure hes been told this before but every day is a new day for him, said Zimmer. Hes got to stay on the same path. Hes been a good kid around here. Whatever happened a long time ago, I wouldnt know anything about that. The Bengals didnt have to stick by Joiner. They couldve easily released him. I thank God every opportunity I get to come out here and play for the Bengals and the organization, its a great day, said Joiner. Im really grateful for them. I just want to show them that they did the right thing. I feel like Im in debt, that I owe them everything I have and I want to give them everything I have for this team. Joiner is 6-foot-3 and weighs 245 pounds. He had 13 sacks and 19 tackles for loss his senior season. Moving to a new position will require a learning curve but the Bengals have openings in their linebacker room and room for developing players. Vontaze Burfict, Vinnie Rey, Dan Skuta and Emmanuel Lamur all played for the Bengals last season after starting their careers as college free agents. Skuta has moved on, signing with San Francisco as a free agent, while the Bengals signed James Harrison another former college free agent from Pittsburgh to join Burfict and Rey Maualuga in the starting lineup. There is no guarantee for Joiner when it comes to making the roster. He does have an opportunity, however. Thats more than he couldve hoped for when he went to prison last May. I manned up to it, I took my licks but I look at life differently, too. I understand how important this is, said Joiner. I understand that football is an exceptional thing and its not just given. Everybody cant do this. Its a great opportunity. Every time I walk into this locker room I still have that awe factor, that man Im so happy to be here and I pray I never lose that.
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