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Strange scenes as March 4 looms

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on February 28, 2011 – 1:39 pm

If March 4 comes and goes without a collective bargaining agreement, we’re going to see some strange things when the NFL wanders into the Land of the Lockout.

We already have.

How about this scene from a hotel lobby at the NFL scouting combine?

When a coach was asked how the lockout is going to impact his implementation of upgrades on his side of the ball, he pulled a page out of his notebook and read straight from the Talking Points Handbook:

“Our job is to have the team ready and that’s what we’re going to do within league rules and that’s what we are working towards. We will plan for all scenarios and be ready to go. We have plans in place and are ready to go no matter what.”

Or, how about this?

Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth going out to dinner with offensive line coach Paul Alexander knowing that could be their last supper for awhile. Once March 4 comes, players and coaches can’t talk if The Iron Curtain falls.

More lockout fallout:

Injured players can’t rehab with club personnel, playbooks and revisions can’t be sent to players, and teams can only add players through the draft.

For instance, the Bengals don’t truly know if their prime free agent, cornerback Johnathan Joseph, is going to be a free agent. If the lockout goes long enough, or somehow they extend the same system in which only six-year players are free agents, Joseph becomes a fifth-year restricted free agent.

Strange.


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Harbaugh on West Coast invasion of AFC North

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on February 24, 2011 – 12:11 pm

INDIANAPOLIS – At least one AFC North head coach thinks Carson Palmer is going to be the Bengals quarterback in 2011. Although you couldn’t blame John Harbaugh if he hopes he’s not since Palmer is 9-4 against his Ravens.

The question came up here Thursday morning at the NFL scouting combine when Harbaugh was asked about the introduction of the West Coast offense in Cincinnati and Cleveland.

“Everybody around the league is doing it. It’s not something we haven’t seen before,” Harbaugh said. “But it’s a great offense. It’s a ball control offense. It expands on the running game. It has a controlled passing attack with what they call extended handoffs. That’s something we want to build into our offense. It will be a big challenge for us. (The Browns’) Colt McCoy is a good young quarterback and Carson Palmer, I think, is one of the best in the league. The Bengals have a team that’s very talented.”

If Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden are talking about getting the ball quickly out of the quarterback’s hand, so is Harbaugh. He says he wants to help out Joe Flacco by installing a better “quick game.”

But he also strenuously defended Flacco the day a great stat came out from Fanhouse.com via ProFootballTalk.com. It reflects how long quarterbacks hold on to the ball before taking a sack. As the story points out, more than three seconds usually indicates the sacks are on the quarterback and Flacco led the NFL this past season with 25 of his 40 sacks coming after he held on to the ball for at least three seconds.

(Yes, the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger was second with 20.)

“He’s a creative playmaker,” Harbaugh said. “(Flacco) is a big, strong guy who shrugs off a lot of guys and he’s only going to get stronger. He’s way more athletic than you think. He made more of those plays down the stretch and we’re encouraging him to make those plays.”

Here may be a reason Lewis and Harbaugh want it out quickly: According to Fanhouse, Palmer had just four of his 26 sacks when he held it longer than three seconds.  Only two starters who played all 16 games – both Mannings – had less.  The other 22 sacks came when he held it for three seconds or less.


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Blast from combine past

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on February 18, 2011 – 11:36 am

Forgive me for sounding like a bourbon-encrusted-cigar-chomping-gangster-hunting city editor straight from the ’30s, but it sure sounds that way when you start talking about the evolution of the NFL scouting combine.

The NFL Incubator in Indianapolis has turned into covering the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the World Series. The media room looks like the Pentagon during an air strike. There are more news conferences than a C-Span marathon. The blanket of security makes the TSA look like frat house bouncers. NFL Network televises everything from three-cone drill to the bench press to the stretch.

It’s been 20 years since I covered my first combine as the Bengals beat reporter for The Cincinnati Post, that genre of afternoon newspapering that is deader than land lines and love letters. The NFL didn’t want you anywhere near the place. You didn’t need a credential, but a flak jacket would have been nice.  You had to smuggle out the 40-yard dash times in your left shoe. Now you can check one of the TV monitors.

Now, the prospects’ hotel is cordoned off like a presidential visit. Then, I and the seven other guys that were covering the thing had free run of the place. The lobby. The curtain behind it, where all the teams set up their offices for the week in the rooms lining an indoor courtyard. And if you couldn’t pick off Eric Swann or Huey Richardson or Ted Washington or Alfred Williams or any other highly-rated pass rusher from that ’91 draft, you did what I did in ’92 and got Wisconsin cornerback Troy Vincent on the house phone.

(Not a bad call two months before the draft with the Bengals picking No. 5. Two days before the draft, even defensive coordinator Ron Lynn thought they were going to take Vincent. Then he was informed the pick would be Houston quarterback David Klingler.)

Back then, the problem was hoping the guy from the morning Enquirer didn’t get Vincent because he hit the streets before you did. If he didn’t, you had a nice get. Now, I can immediately tweet LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson’s thoughts. But so can 250 of my closest friends because the only place you’ll be able to get him is that news conference unless you can get his agent. And, besides, NFL Network will have him live as if he’s the secretary of state.

As recently as 1999 (when the lobby was still open), you could still stop Champ Bailey, the best cornerback in his draft, on the way to the restaurant. Hell, even in 2003 you could run across the street and get Carson Palmer as he ever so briefly emerged from the RCA Dome from his workout and got in a car to the airport.  But now you might be cut down by a sniper.

It’s all good. It’s just different.

Back when they didn’t want you, they took the chairs out of the lobby and I remember writing on my computer sitting on the edge of a potted plant. Those were the old Radio Shack computers with slits for screens. They were sturdy, though. When I needed a quote from an expert, I jumped up when I saw a GM walk by and the computer fell out of my hands. It bounced back up off the floor like the ball first baseman Pete Rose would slam into the Astroturf after a third out, and I grabbed it. The GM still didn’t want to sign me even though the computer never blinked and the story stayed on the screen.

The media had unfettered access to team officials and coaches up until a few years ago, when they switched up the entrances to the workouts and interviews. But you can still find them at their entrance, in hotel lobbies and on street corners. I still remember a defensive coordinator named Pete Carroll playing a late-night piano solo on a lonely ballroom floor of The Omni. That might have been the same year I chased around San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk at the same place before he offered that, sorry, he didn’t quite know what to think if the Bengals drafted him No. 1.

And you can still get some help from your friends. It had to be 2000, the year Bengals running back Corey Dillon was a restricted free agent and there was a report the Chiefs might sign him. That might have been the first year I had a cell phone. I was walking out of The Westin and an NFL writer called to tell me a Kansas City official was just coming into The Omni as if barking orders into a walkie-talkie. A couple of a sub six-second 40-yard dashes later and I got a no comment.

The combine is still one of the great events. Even if it’s now an event.

 


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Congratulate The Whits

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on February 16, 2011 – 12:21 pm

No roster moves Wednesday, but two significant transactions when Melissa and Andrew Whitworth welcomed their twins: Sarah Elise (four pounds, three ounces) and Andrew James Jr., (four pounds, one ounce). Whitworth reports mother and babies are well.


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FAQs: Looks like no tag

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on February 14, 2011 – 4:28 pm

On this first week after the first weekend with no football, here are some Frequently Asked Questions in Bengaldom:

DO YOU THINK CARSON PALMER WILL RETIRE IF HE ISN’T TRADED?

Never known Palmer not to be upfront, so I take him at his word.

The guess here is that he has privately told the Bengals to take it or leave it, because only “those close to him” have dropped the “R” word publicly. The other guess is that Bengals president Mike Brown, who has always thought highly of Palmer as a person as well as a player, is going to hold fast to the belief that there can be some kind of reconciliation because of the commitment the club showed him when it made him the highest paid player in the NFL.

But that’s only a guess, kids. Neither Brown nor Palmer has talked since The Mobile Manifest of Jan. 24.

The CBA stalemate begs a compromise. The Bengals can’t trade him even if they wanted to and they can’t get a veteran to replace him. Plus, if they draft one high, they can’t even teach him the offense. It would almost seem best for both parties to do the Boomer Bridge option and have Palmer in place one more year before the deal is done. That could change, but anyone see a CBA resolution before March 4?

SPEAKING OF THE CBA, WHAT’s UP? WILL THE BENGALS PLAY TAG?

Nothing. So trades and free agency look to be null and void come March 4 unless the talks heat up. Best-case scenario is they get close, extend talks for a couple of weeks, and then get something done around March 20. (The NFL meetings are the week of March 21 in New Orleans.)

But no matter what happens, don’t look for the Bengals to use the franchise tag on either of their two key free agents, cornerback Johnathan Joseph or running back Cedric Benson. They want to sign both to long-term deals with sane salary cap hits. But not before the CBA is done because they want to make sure the deals fit whatever system they get.

WHAT IS THE CLUB’S BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF THE LOCKOUT?

New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is doing it. He’s pumping out the playbook as soon as he can so the players will have it in their hands before the lockout commences and teams are no longer allowed to communicate with players.

The problem is, it’s not like the last work stoppage. In 1987 it came early in the season and the Bengals were already in town. And quarterback Boomer Esiason kept them together and working out. Now, the Bengals will be spread out all over the country and their offense is in transition with Xs and Os and maybe at quarterback.

They’ll have time to get together before some kind of season starts.

But will it be for three weeks or three months?

WHERE ARE THEY IN COMPLETING THEIR COACHING STAFF?

They’ll need to find a new receivers coach (Mike Sheppard is the new Jacksonville quarterbacks coach) and a new defensive assistant with assistant secondary coach Louie Cioffi expected to be named the secondary coach in Arizona on Monday.

Even though the team is staring at no football indefinitely, it figures to replace the two rather quickly. Conventional wisdom is that head coach Marvin Lewis is looking for a guy that is familiar with Gruden or with the concepts he’s running. With Chad Ochocinco’s status seemingly up in the air, this could be the youngest (and least dramatic) group of receivers the Bengals have had since 2002. The Ocho led the team with 69 catches in his second season, followed by Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans in their third seasons, with  T.J. Houshmandzadeh, also in his second season, hitting cleanup.

The Bengals may not necessarily be looking for another secondary coach on defense. They have high regard for secondary coach Kevin Coyle’s ability to coach both cornerbacks and safeties.


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Follow the Pack?

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on February 7, 2011 – 2:46 pm

New Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden brings his version of the West Coast offense to town Monday.  Let’s hope the passing game has some of the elements Green Bay used to knock off the Steelers in Sunday’s Super Bowl.

That’s not to say what the Packers run is anything near the West Coast, which seems to be all things to all people. Certainly Sunday’s running game was nowhere near what Gruden envisions. After a postseason the Packers flummoxed foes with a Wishbone of sorts, on Sunday they sat one fullback (Quinn Johnson) and barely played the other (John Kuhn) in calling just 11 runs and never tried to “pound it” as Gruden says he wants to do.  Plus, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t do any bootlegs or sprintouts that are usually associated with the West Coast.

But the Pack did some things that have become principles of any version of the West Coast, be it the branch of Bill Walsh, Mike Holmgren, Jon Gruden or Brian Billick. Even when he was in shotgun, which was most of the time, Rodgers got rid of it fast to receivers running quick slants and angled crossing routes that emphasize yards after catch. And even though they didn’t run much, the game’s first TD, a bomb to Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson, came off a run fake, another Coast staple.  

One criticism of the previous regime had been the slow amount of time it took for routes to develop downfield, such as comebacks, digs and outs, putting the quarterback under duress to make perfect throws.  To be fair, they had that guy in Carson Palmer. But when the pieces around him started to be replaced in 2006, it never quite fit again.    

Yet with tight end Jermaine Gresham and wide receiver Jerome Simpson emerging as YAC guys, maybe visions of Nelson and Greg Jennings can dance in the head.


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Subdued Ocho takes to Super airwaves

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on February 1, 2011 – 12:40 pm

Ochocinco

The Ocho says he may even stick around after the Bengals tell him he’s gone.

“Cincinnati is all I know. The fans are all I know,” he told NFL Network Tuesday at a Super Bowl media day appearance. “I’m a Cincinnati Bengal until Mike Brown or someone else tell me my services are no longer needed. And if someone does, I still might not leave.”

The Ocho, the anchor of OCNN, said he thought the firing of offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski was a first step in accommodating Carson Palmer: “They’ll do whatever it takes to keep him.” But he said he didn’t know why Palmer was fired.

“We had some of our best years ever with him at the helm,” The Ocho said.

He seems mystified by Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis’ public shots, saying it started late in the season when he was playing on a bum ankle.

“He’s a father figure to me,” The Ocho said. “You don’t reprimand your son if he’s not out of line … but I’ll always love Marvin Lewis.”


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T.J. salutes Brat

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on February 1, 2011 – 12:12 pm

As always, former Bengals wide receiver T. J. Houshmandzadeh has an interesting take. The firing of Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski is no exception.

“I’ll always remember I made my mark under Brat, believe that,” Houshmandzadeh said Monday night from Los Angeles. “I didn’t realize what a good coach he was until l left. Other guys will see that if they leave because he’s all they’ve known. Chad, Carson. In Cincinnati, there’s a tremendous amount of attention to detail. It’s sad, but it happens and things change. If you’re a player you’re going to be  excited because it’s going to be new and different.”

Yet Houshmandzadeh said he thinks that Bratkowski’s firing won’t be enough to get Carson Palmer off his trade request. As he does with everybody, Houshmandzadeh talks to Palmer frequently, but he hasn’t talked to him since the trade request became public because it was also the day his third child was born.

“Just knowing how quiet Carson is and how he never, ever says anything, it shows you how serious it is,” Houshmandzadeh said. “I mean, he’ll sit there and always take the blame no matter what it is. And for him to go and do that, it makes me think it’s a lot bigger than the offense. No, I don’t see him changing, but that’s me.”

Houshmandzadeh was known to drive the coaches nuts with his penchant to challenge but he felt like Bratkowski followed through on what he saw on the practice field and looked beyond his seventh-round status to give him the playing time. He is now the third-leading receiver in Bengals history.

It was during his first draft in Cincinnati when Bratkowski excused himself from the room during the 2001 seventh round and called Houshmandzadeh’s coach at Oregon State to double check some things. Bratkowski had worked under Dennis Erickson and had already been suitably impressed with Oregon State wide receiver Chad Ochocinco for the Bengals to take him in the second round. Satisfied, Bratkowski returned to the room and urged the pick for Houshmandzadeh.

“Brat liked Chad. I had to prove myself,” Houshmandzadeh said. “I didn’t think he liked me.”

Look for an official announcement to replace Bratkowski on Wednesday. When he arrived, it marked the first time ever the club had gone to a scheme outside the West Coast developed by Paul Brown and Bill Walsh in the early days of the franchise. Knowing that wide receiver Jerome Simpson struggled to pick up the system for a few years and they drafted key receivers last year, Houshmandzadeh wondered, “If there are a lot of changes to the new system, will that be a step back for their young guys?”


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