Posted by hobsonschoice1 on June 21, 2010 – 2:11 pm

A few final impressions as the Bengals head into summer vacation.

DEFENSE SNIFFS ELITE: The numbers suggest what the practices have shown. Mike Zimmer‘s unit is on the verge of – dare we even think it – pushing Pittsburgh and Baltimore as the best defense in the AFC North.

After climbing from No. 27 to No. 12 to No. 4 under Zimmer in two seasons, the third year brings the exact same starting lineup and coaching staff and that has allowed Zimmer to reinvent his playbook without missing a beat. Someone on offense said two-thirds of what the defense showed them this spring was completely different. That is going to be a major pain for offensive coordinators.

They are playing fast and with confidence and versatility. Of course, they face a backbreaking schedule in the last two Super Bowl quarterbacks (Drew Brees and Peyton Manning), the guy who leads all active QBs with rings (Tom Brady), as well as a two-time ringmaster in Ben Roethlisberger.

But the Bengals have a lot more answers than most and it starts at cornerback. If Adam Jones stays clean, they’ve got three guys that can cover better than anybody. It is also time to extend both starters. Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall as a tandem are as important to this team as quarterback Carson Palmer. And their young linemen (Peko, Mike Johnson, Pat Sims, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap) to go along with the Geathers, Fanenes and Ruckers give them some explosive depth up front for the first time since maybe ever.

This has always been an offensive franchise.  But last year is proof that you can win a division title with a good defense and a mediocre offense.  The Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason years showed it is too hard the other way around. This is the unit, the 2010 defense, that turns it into a defensive franchise and it doesn’t mean Palmer is a lesser quarterback. If he cashes the wins, everybody is legit.

RECEIVERS UNDER GUN: Is there some uneasiness out there about what Palmer has at wide receiver? There are some questions that linger into summer. But this is also a better crew than he had last year. Antonio Bryant is better than Laveranues Coles, Andre Caldwell is better than Andre Caldwell, and Jordan Shipley is better than anybody they had in the slot last year.

Bryant looked good early, but when his knee began to give him some trouble last week, he ended the camps looking like he had all the elusiveness of the anchor formerly known as Coles. They think he’ll be OK once he gets proper rest and some rehab, and it also shows they’ve got a tenacious, conscientious guy that tried to stay on the field so he could learn the offense. If he gets the proper rest, he should be OK, but it makes the sun a little hotter.

The Ocho looked good in five practices but is that good enough to be a No. 1 receiver? He looked quick and energetic, but when you struggle surrounding your No. 1 guy like they have the last two years, he can look like a No. 2 because the defense can take him away. It’s not five years ago, but he does look like he can still be a handful if they don’t let double teams swallow him.

The best receiver in camp was Caldwell. He can play outside, inside, he knows all the spots, and he’s physical. You also wish he was more consistent catching the long ball. But he’s going to disappoint the Andre-haters out there because he looks like he’s ready to emerge in that third season.

You’ve got to love the rookie Shipley and, for that matter, Jermaine Gresham, the rookie tight end. But how much can we expect in 2010? Rookie receivers historically struggle and the slot guy and the tight end have the most on their plate mentally in the pass game besides the QB because of all the adjustments to defenses, and hot reads necessitated by playing inside. How much can rookies produce at those spots?

That said, these two guys are keepers. Gresham is the next Rodney Holman and Shipley has the tools to be a clutch third-down receiver.

But when?

So, at wide receiver, The Ocho, Bryant, Caldwell and Shipley, right?  Who are the last two to make the roster? Anybody’s guess. After running by people the first couple of weeks, Matt Jones hasn’t been as visible and they worry about his quickness in getting available in time for blitz reads. Still, he and improving Jerome Simpson give them something they haven’t had (size and hands) since Chris Henry’s injury in Game 8 last year.

How much can a 20-year-old Dez Briscoe, the sixth-rounder, reasonably help them right now? He looks good, but when?

Which seems to be the theme of it all. There is more talent at this position than in’ 09, but will we see it in ’10?

ANDRE SMITH: The Blind Side is turning out to be a better read than The Down Side. The thing is, we just don’t know enough about Smith to know what they’ve got.  Is he going to be Chris Perry or J.Joe? Is he going to be David Pollack or Leon Hall?  Is he going to be known for his play or for getting hurt?

Marvin Lewis said Smith will be back for training camp and if he can string together six weeks of practice without his foot bothering him, they’ve got a force. When he did play last year, he flashed enough to make you think they’ve got quite a specimen here that can be a factor for a long time if…

Backing him up right tackle, they’ve got a big, physical presence in the 6-9 Dennis Roland that has earned the rep as a superb technician that can tilt the running game. There is also the athleticism that makes Anthony Collins a good pass protector. It worked rotating them last year.

KICKERS: Can you go off practice where nobody is rushing and a miss or make only means the difference between when practice is over? Maybe. At the very least it has to be encouraging that Mike Nugent and Dave Rayner combined to go 23-for-24 last week and the only miss was Rayner’s 54-yarder. Shayne Graham has never made a 54-yarder, so who knows?

But you do get the sense they may be OK there. The one question is if they’ll extend the competition to training camp. With a bunch of roster battles and five preseason games, can you have two spots taken for kickers? They could decide no.

GEORGETOWN: Could we be heading to the last training camp as we know it? If the season is delayed in 2011 because of labor strife, the school won’t be an option because it will be back in session. And if the new CBA in 2012 moves back the start of training camp to accommodate an 18-game regular season, same problem. So camp would be, presumably, at Paul Brown Stadium. But that’s a big what if, isn’t it?

SPRING BALL: Good riddance. Playing football in shorts, helmets and shoulder pads is pseudo football.  Even the media controversies in May and June struggle for legitimacy, never mind the play.

In what other sport is the practice version so different than the game version?

In some sports, you can qualify for the pole and the U.S. Open in what amounts to practice sessions. In baseball you can tell if a guy can hit left-handed pitching or play the outfield as opposed to first base in simulated situations or even batting practice or infield practice. In basketball you know if a guy can shoot free throws or play defense from a simple shirts-and-skins scrimmage.

But football? If you’re not wearing pads, you’re not playing the sport.

Fourth-round pick Geno Atkins looked unblockable this spring. He looked like he was wearing the QB’s jersey he looked so alone. They think Gresham can block, but they don’t know. They think safety Roy Williams’ healed broken arm will hold up, but it hasn’t been hit consistently yet.

In the spring, the questions around an NFL team always seem to be like your lawn. They just keep growing.

Posted in Hobson's Choice | 12 Comments »

12 Responses to “Impressions”

  1. By 34inXXIII on Jun 21, 2010 | Reply

    As if there aren’t enough questions in this entry already….

    Barring a significant change of heart, it appears the Jeremi Johnson era has ended in Cincinnati, so where does that leave the fullback position. I’m admittedly biased towards Fui Vakapuna following his Hard Knocks exposure last season and having met he and his remarkable family in Minnesota last season. Does the lack of attention the position is garnering mean that Fui (or anyone else) has a firm grasp on its roster spot or is there simply noone stepping up enough to cool speculation that a mid-training camp veteran acquisition could be a valid option?

    It was certainly nice to see Chase running routes and making plays during the OTAs and minicamp, but he sure seems destined for the practice squad again. Obviously this depends greatly upon Reggie Kelly’s return from the achilles injury, but I’ve got to think they’re comfortable enough with Reggie’s progress to expect to have his immense veteran presence in the starting lineup September 12th. If not, though, would they dare go with 0 NFL experience at the tight end position out of the gate?

    Wither Quan Cosby? No doubt the numbers game can be cruel in the NFL. There’s an overflowing stable of receivers in camp and a number of talented return men. Cosby may be overmatched talent-wise in both categories, but is there anyone in either group with as much heart and the effectiveness on special teams both with and without the ball?

  2. By hobsonschoice1 on Jun 21, 2010 | Reply

    R.C.: They’ve looked into getting Jeremi back a couple of times this offseason and I would think if he’s not here by now, he’s not coming back. But you know how that goes. People on either side can change their minds and often have.

    The big question on Fui is his physicalness as a blocker. I think that’s a spot like the fourth running back behind Benson, Scott, and Leonard. If you’re not satisfied, it could be filled on the waiver wire late in training camp.

    The fullback usually suffers from a lack of attention, given he plays less than 30 percent of the time and rarely carries the ball.

    I think the way it’s going to shake down on the tight ends is that they usually keep three and the leading candidates heading into camp would be Gresham, Kelly, and Coffman.

    What do you do with Cosby if Shipley is the better receiver, Adam Jones is the better punt returner, and Bernard Scott is the kick returner?

    I think there still could be a spot for Cosby with all that said. Shipley and Jones, theoretically are going to be playing a lot of snaps, and Darrin Simmons loves not only Cosby’s decision-making returning punts but also his ability to block and cover on teams.

    Jerome Simpson, Matt Jones, and Dez Briscoe all bring something to the table but those guys can’t bring you nearly what Cosby does on teams. Cosby’s problem is those three guys can be dangerous down field from scrimmage.

    Sorry, RC. I know you want some answers. But a lot of times in June there just aren’t any.

  3. By 2ndboot on Jun 21, 2010 | Reply

    Well this looks like half a dozen of one and six of the other. What say they keep a half dozen and let the other six stay with the team?
    If they go to an 18 game season it may well turn out they will have to keep everyone because injuries could potentially wipe out many teams by seasons end if they don’t.
    But, we’re not there yet so that leaves Marvin, Brat and Zim along with Mikey to ponder what to do, what to do..
    I’ve been rooting for Jerome Simpson since day one and even when he was declared by all means an absolute bust and let’s face it, the Bengals have a lot invested in that young man to just toss him under the bus at this point and the same really goes for Cosby who has proven to much to toss him out like yesterdays garbage.
    All in all, even if they can’t keep everyone it sure looks like they have plenty of trade bait if nothing else does it not?

  4. By 2ndboot on Jun 21, 2010 | Reply

    Something I wonder that hasn’t been brought up is are they ever going to get a legit backup for Carson in the event of another catastrophic injury? It’s not as if he’s never been hurt badly and JT just doesn’t instill confidence so that begs the question of whether Carson’s little brother is ever going to have the talent to step into his big brothers shoes? OR, do they just keep throwing the dice and hope and pray Carson’s injury days are over? That’s a tough bet to make and one I don’t think I would care to make with my own money. If it’s someone else’s money fine, but…. this is OUR Bengals and we’ve seen more than one season turn to the dogs because of those injuries.

  5. By coachwine on Jun 21, 2010 | Reply

    There have been a lot of football teams prove that a lot of defense and “just enough offense” can win a Super Bowl. That is a good and most important, deep defense. The lack of Chase Coffman talk during the mandatories disappoints me because I could see 2 strong receiving tight ends in a red zone offense causing lots of problems. Of course the difference in an offense with TJ and one with Coles showed why it’s so important that Bryant be healthy. I know I’m glad I’m not the one trying to settle the roster spots at receiver.

    As I said to Coach Simmons as we watched his daughter and my granddaughter play softball a few weeks ago, ( he probably groaned because I bothered him, but I’m juiced! I vowed to leave him alone in the future) if special teams gets it done, this is going to be a very special team. Huber is a quality performer, Nuge made enough huge kicks for the Buckeyes in clutch situations to warrant an incredible second round pick. This change of scenery will be as good for him as Rackers got in Arizona, or if Rayner is good enough to beat him out, they could be solid in the kicking game Ie: clutch–when it really counts.

    I wish your blog could have closed some holes to leave us in a less anxious state, but as always, you tell it as you see it and that is appreciated and makes you better than the other sites I infrequently look at. Fortunately I know more about baseball than I do about football, but I love the Bengals and like what I see in this talented and deep team.

  6. By tepidfan31 on Jun 22, 2010 | Reply

    Geoff, nice to hear that Caldwell is having a good Spring, but still want to see more than 2 yds after a catch. What I would really like to know is how do the other draft choices look; there has not been a single word about Ghee, Hudson, Muckeloy, or Stephens. How do the Bengals feel about them, busts or real nuggets?

  7. By mula4305 on Jun 22, 2010 | Reply

    I am really impressed with our team this year it looks like this will be the best all around team we have had in the Marvin Lewis era. But it is one thing that really scares me and that is Antonio Bryant’s knee. Do you think its more serious than originally thought? i mean we really need him as our #2 guy out there and him not being healthy can really hurt our offense. If the surgery was minor why is it taking soo long to heal? Am I worrying too much or is this really a big problem?

  8. By feltsphoto on Jun 22, 2010 | Reply

    I too am very excited about this year. I do find myself more and more concerned about the Ocho though. We have always known that he does not always make the best choices when it comes to treating his diet (i,e. his love Mcdonalds) but I’ve been following him on Facebook and Twitter the last several months and I am a bit amazed how this world class athlete treats his body. He’s staying up all night, forgetting to stretch before workouts, skipping meals… basically he’s eating and living like a college kid. How long can he continue to do this at his age and not feel any repercussions from it. We have seen him suffer from many cramps. My question is if he doesn’t change lifestyle, what can be expected next?

  9. By theredbengal on Jun 22, 2010 | Reply

    I’m extremely hyped for the defense. It was solid last year. The return of all starters, plus the addition of depth at every position, especially in the DB category is huge. That DB depth is key in my opinion. The past two times the bengals went to the playoffs, their starting safeties were hurt. So having those 4 cats with starting experience (Roy, Crock, Chinny, G. Wilson) beats the heck out of a Tom Nelson or Ifeanyi Ohalete

  10. By overthroensamoan on Jun 22, 2010 | Reply

    This defense could put up numbers never thought possible if and it’s a big IF they hit the QB. I think Matt Jones will be the odd man out. He has the great size & speed but has always struggled getting off the line. Simpson gets one more year. I feel we lost our best FB when they let Pressley walk. The guy was a true beast. Could be the next Lorenzo Neal.

  11. By hobsonschoice1 on Jun 22, 2010 | Reply

    Nuggets or busts? You won’t find out digging on a field with no shoulder pads. Ghee looked as advertised. He’s a gifted athlete but you know Zimmer is going to want him to hit and I’m sure he will but we won’t see it until August. And it would be negligent to make a call on a rookie linebacker or offensive lineman without seeing them play in pads.

    Just going by the numbers, Ghee figures to be one of the six corners and Muckelroy is going to have to grind to make a dent in a deep field of backers.

    They’ll get a better read on Bryant’s knee at training camp. There doesn’t seem to be a sense of panic with the belief rest and moderation are the answers.

    As far as The Ocho, I’m not sure we can judge his lifestyle via Twitter. He showed up last week and looked good for a guy they don’t think did any football for six months, so I don’t think he was abusing himself. Of course, it’s not ideal. But if you’ve got a definition of ideal, it’s probably different than mine and everybody else’s.

  12. By coachwine on Jan 13, 2011 | Reply

    I’ve been a Bengals fan from day 1. I have been a season ticket holder since moving into Riverfront. Yeah, I stopped for a couple of years in the Klingler era, but came back before the demolition of Riverfront and moved to Club seats when the Bengals signed Marvin. Know what? as good a web site as you have Geoff (and it’s really good), this is the first time in 5 weeks that I even cared to look at it or a Bengal and tonight only to see if there is something going on that may bring a brighter tomorrow–doesn’t seem to be. I gave my tickets away for the last 3 home games and didn’t miss a heartbeat. I haven’t thought about the draft. When I hear that everything is staying the same, my heart–that had been ripped out of me half a dozen times already this year was laying on the ground, Mike Brown stepped on it saying to me and the rest of Cincinnati that he is either nuts or a complete ego maniac that need never give an answer for the organizations ineptness.
    I just don’t care about who they sign, who they draft or whether there even is a next season. Pretty bad for a guy who has always looked at the world these 64 years through a glass 3/4 full perspective. If there’s a cure, I don’t see it on the horizon.

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