Even when the Bengals are here going through the paces in May and June, it is surreal football without pads.
Take last spring’s headlines, when head coach Marvin Lewis called wide receiver Andre Caldwell his most improved player and Jerome Simpson looked good playing in Chad Ochocinco’s X receiver spot. But both weren’t seen until The Ocho and Terrell Owens were iced by injury in December. Or take the Michael Johnson experiment at SAM linebacker and how it all blew up in August with injuries to a slew of defensive lineman.
Oh, sometimes you can tell things in the spring. You saw cornerback Adam Jones still retained some elite athleticism despite an 18-month layoff, saw their concern for wide receiver Antonio Bryant’s knee grow more and more real as they gradually backed him off, and saw that No. 1 pick Jermaine Gresham was Mr. Obvious as he worked at tight end.
But if you went to see Midnight in Paris on the big screen this weekend, you don’t have to be Robert Redford to know that Rachel McAdams steams with sulk and Owen Wilson is no Woody Allen.
The nuances and subtleties are very rarely revealed without the pads, so you wonder exactly what you can find out during the voluntary voluntaries that were held last week and are on again this week.
They’re not even wearing helmets in these things and there’s not a coach in sight, even though the scribes say offensive leader Andrew Whitworth looks and sounds every bit the part and defensive captain Domata Peko would make a great intern for public relations chiefs Jack Brennan and P.J. Combs.
That’s just it. From what can be read and heard, you can make at least one substantive deduction away from football.
This team, more than at any point in the nine seasons Lewis has coached it, really seems to have true ownership in it. The lockout locker room, one of those moving exhibits, is bustling with maturity. The locker room has had no other choice in the lockout. They say character is revealed in tough times. The locker room gives you the 45 guys or so that have arrived the last couple of weeks.
It is a locker room that hasn’t been able to fall back on the intervention of coaches. It hasn’t been able to slough it off on quarterback Carson Palmer because of the salary he makes and the position he plays. There is no hiding behind anyone now. True leaders are going to be revealed in a lockout the players only have themselves and they seem to be popping up all over with one of the larger attendance rates in the NFL.
Not just Whitworth and Peko, guys we already know are solid and have gone above and beyond the last couple of weeks according to the news reports.
There is also the stoic dean of the defense that has helped Peko even though Robert Geathers prefers the low profile route. There is a young guy on defense like third-year linebacker Rey Maualuga stepping up even though he’s never played his natural position. There is a guy with just 15 NFL passes taking it upon himself to start a passing camp in Jordan Palmer. There is a veteran linebacker like Brandon Johnson working out even though his contract status is unknown. Yes, there is Adam Jones again, who is out there anyway even though he has yet to be cleared medically as he rehabs from last season’s surgery for a herniated neck disc.
And there is the very tenacious Simpson, the fourth-year wide receiver showing the true meaning of the word “substance.” For the past three years he has taken a lot of slings and arrows from critics and yet he has always studied hard, practiced hard, and contributed hard. He has rallied to rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, reportedly diving for one of his long balls last week on a route not covered by insurance. He has rallied in a community not quite sure what to make of these transition Bengals, showing up at virtually every charity event on the calendar.
You’ve always needed a couple of Master’s degrees to discuss the Bengals locker room because of the myriad of personalities. No question some were divisive, but even if they weren’t they were good guys to blame.
Ever since the 2008 season broke up the ’05 division champs through injury and age, the Bengals have been headed from a locker room where the coaches wielded the say to a room where the coaches would like to see the players to assert more control. Now more of them have been forced to since the coaches can’t be around.
And if Carson Palmer hasn’t been the Hall of Fame leader in the Norman Julius Esiason mold, he has certainly been a big enough guy to hide behind. Palmer doesn’t relish the role. He doesn’t crave it like other franchise quarterbacks. Yet, to his everlasting credit he has tried to lead with grace and passion and he’d be a hell of a lot better at it if he had some more help besides the usual suspects.
Irony of ironies, they seem to be coming out of the woodwork with him in California demanding a trade. Just like the irony that the Bengals are now running a quick-throw offense he knows well from college and just like he now has a stable of talented young targets (Gresham, Simpson, A.J. Green, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley) that would never dream of showing him up on the field. If Palmer told these guys to jump off a bridge, they’d take turns leaping from the Roebling, Taylor Southgate, and Clay Wade Bailey.
No, we may not be able to find out who is going to play on Sunday from these spring flings. But we seem to be finding out this is a group that has enough leaders not to back down from adversity with no coaches and No. 9 around to shoulder it all.
Now let’s see what they do when the helmets come on.
Tags: Brandon Johnson, Lockout leadership Jerome Simpson, Rey Maualuga, Robert Geathers
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