CINCINNATI -- Carlos Dunlap's first order of business when he entered the NFL in 2010 was to look up the league's rookie single-season sack record.
As he began his career, the Cincinnati Bengals defensive end wanted to chase down quarterbacks better than Jevon Kearse did in 1999, the year Kearse posted a rookie-record 14.5 sacks for Tennessee.
Dunlap didn't quite get there. His 9.5 sacks as a rookie were certainly commendable, but they weren't record-worthy. No worries. All he had to do was settle his sights on a few other individual milestones.
Like any pass-rusher who entered the league after Michael Strahan's record-breaking 22.5-sack 2001 season, Dunlap's biggest motivation has been to get to 23. Now that he has checked off a pair of other big items on his career goals list, besting Strahan's record has become the great carrot he's chasing.
"I look at the big one and I work for the big one and hopefully catch a couple of them along the way," Dunlap said about the hierarchy of goals he has hunted down the past six seasons.
He scratched off two key items last season when he went to the Pro Bowl for the first time and set a new official Bengals sacks record. Dunlap's 13.5 sacks in 2015 edged the 13.0 that Eddie Edwards had for Cincinnati in 1983, one year after the NFL's current guidelines for tracking sacks was put in place.
Before those changes, former Bengal Coy Bacon was credited with 26 sacks in 1976. That number is regarded as the Bengals' unofficial record. Because defensive record-keeping was so shoddy back then, some of Bacon's sacks were rewarded years later after a team official re-examined incomplete stat books and game film from each Bengals game in 1976. Bacon's sacks that year also were recorded before the NFL started adopting the practice of rewarding half-sacks, meaning even if was just around the quarterback during a sack, he was given credit for a full sack.
Dunlap doesn't think a 23-sack season is impossible in today's NFL. But he recognizes that because he's rushing alongside the likes of Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson and Domata Peko, getting to 23 could be difficult. Last year alone, Atkins had 11 sacks to go along with Dunlap's 13.5. Johnson has had a double-digit sack season before, and Peko had a career-high five in 2015.
"It's hard to get [20 or more]," Dunlap said. "Most of the guys who get those 20 sacks, they're like the only one [on their team] at plus-10. When you've got three guys who can get 10 sacks and a nose tackle who can get five, it's spreading the wealth. So that's good for our team."
What's also good for the team? Setting individual goals like these, Dunlap said. Yes, his biggest concern is getting the Bengals a Super Bowl trophy, but he contends players need other motivation, too.
"Along with the team goals, you've got to have your personal goals that will help you obtain the team goal," Dunlap said. "My personal goals is to get that sack title at the end of the season, one, and then two, to get Strahan's record."
NFL Network's Twitter account gave Dunlap some love last month, highlighting him as one of the active players most likely to one day overtake Strahan. That recognition came a couple of days before he was named the No. 70 player on NFL Network's top 100 players countdown. That list was voted on by current players.
Pictured or not, player most able to break Michael Strahan's single-season sack record? pic.twitter.com/qjh0luJRIJ
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) May 23, 2016
Pleased to be recognized by his fellow players, Dunlap says his mission is to keep impressing them by putting more quarterbacks on their backs.
"I'm still shooting at that 23," Dunlap said.