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LBs in the youth-veteran debate

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on July 31, 2011 – 10:49 am

The Bengals are mulling the backup linebacker situation and if there’s any case that highlights the daily internal debate between youth and experience, this is it.

Before Roddrick Muckelroy tore his Achilles Saturday night, they thought he was on the verge of backing up all the spots while reprising his role on special teams after he was runnerup to Dan Skuta for the tackling title.

With Skuta shaping up as one of the starters at outside backer, the Bengals need backers that can run and cover on special teams and while you’d love to have him for all his intangibles and leadership, Jones may not fit the bill. As a 33-year-old who has tackled the globe on TV, he’s also got a lot of NFL mileage.

Skuta has been a Mr. Everything for special teams coach Darrin Simmons, but now that he’s going to be a head-banging-first-and-second-down guy from scrimmage, he won’t be. Go young or veteran? It’s not baseball where you can send them down and develop them while the vet plays. But except for the preseason, all the games count, so how do you find out who can play without getting smoked?

Skuta, middle backer Rey Maualuga, and newly-signed outside backer Thomas Howard look to be the starters. Third-rounder Dontay Moch, a college defensive end making the switch to the outside, is the fourth guy who’ll have to be a special teams staple while he’s brought along slowly in this fast-forward preseason.

(The Bengals have two other rookies who have never played the position in a pair of undrafted defensive ends: Kentucky’s DeQuin Evans and Baldwin-Wallace’s Keith Darbul.)

So there are four locks. Now you have to find two more guys active on game day and one should be able to back up Maualuga in the middle. Vincent Rey, a free agent from Duke who flashed when he was active last year as a rookie, looks to be more suited to the outside. He’s instinctive, but can he play? There are a slew of backup special teams/linebacker types out there in free agency, but do you sign them and bench your kids?

Maybe you do, but that means Rey’s development is nipped.

Plus, there’s the unsigned Brandon Johnson, an extremely valuable third-down player and special teams player. When the Bengals won the AFC North in 2009, he may have been their most productive backer and while his play may have fallen off last year as he gamely battled some nagging injuries, the guy is your special teams captain and a valued elder. Always hard to put a specific price on that. If they can’t re-sign him, is Rey versatile enough to handle it? How do you know if you can’t play him?

So it goes as they look for two more linebackers. Are they here or elsewhere? In the end, do they return to what they know in Dhani, opting for familiarity over youth and special teams? Here we go. Five more hours to the next practice.


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A few observations on dealmaking

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on July 25, 2011 – 9:58 am

With the lockout seemingly in its last hours, a few observations:

» Great day. The game is back. But it’s a little unsettling. What does it say about a society where a sports league gets a CBA before the government gets an agreement on the debt crisis? The answer will be in your next quarter’s 401k.

» Amazing how the media could report on the negotiations while at the same time patting themselves on the back. NFL Network and ESPN did a hell of a job, but they didn’t have to keep telling us they did.

» Is there any doubt now that the NFL is truly a deadline league? The true drop-dead date had to be Monday or Tuesday all along if the idea from the get-go was to keep the preseason schedule intact. Quite ironic since everyone seems to agree the preseason works for no one and that this one is going to be one of the first casualties of the new CBA. But who can be surprised? The only time anything seems to get done in free agency, signing rookies, coaching searches, anything, it always goes down to the last minute.

» One nice thing about the fast-forwarded timeline is that there isn’t going to be time for those numbing free-agent tours. It melts down to the two things that only matter in free agency: Money and playing time. The Bengals should do OK in the hunt for a running back even if they sign Cedric Benson. An appetizer at the Georgetown Applebee’s and a glance at offensive coordinator Jay Gruden’s playbook designed to protect a rookie quarterback should guarantee plenty of work. Plus, Gruden loves to throw to his backs.

» The powers-that-be have changed the game dramatically with the new practice rules and reduced offseason. By the time this CBA expires a decade from now, we could be watching a game that more resembles flag football than what Paul Brown brought from the AAFC to the NFL in 1950. And that is the best thing for the health of players, which is what has to be the No. 1 priority of everyone in the league. The league and players should be applauded for it. But it is also going to make for a different game and it’s going to be riveting to see how the game evolves over this CBA.

» We’ll know when the new league starts. Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. It’s the day the Bengals officially tell teams they’re not trading Palmer.

» How many players do you take to camp? Do you take the maximum 90 for fear of injury? Or do you take fewer than 80 because you have to give the Opening Day players most of the reps because they have had none since January? Throw in a new offense and just how many players do you take?

» The new rookie pool is an intriguing item. The reports keep saying there is anti-holdout language, but that there is plenty of room to negotiate a deal. Those two don’t seem to follow.


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Offseasons don’t carry day, but it’s a start

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on July 20, 2011 – 6:14 pm

With the NFL about to explode in Caddyshack-like fashion at the hands of a free agency period seemingly inspired by the hair-brained Carl Spackler blowing up Chuck Rodent, the Bengals hope to pick up where they left off last offseason.

Of course, if a 4-12 season, a 131-day lockout, and a disgruntled franchise quarterback don’t cause amnesia, what will?

But think back to those first heady days of the last training camp. The Bengals were coming off a division sweep and Georgetown College had turned into the set of VH1 with the arrival of Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens. Local and national media were handing it to the Bengals. Owens looked as if he were the final piece for a Super Bowl contender after an offseason the Bengals made all the right moves.

The reason they went and got Owens was the only downer. The four-year, $29M deal they gave the man they chose over Owens at the beginning of free agency, Antonio Bryant, blew up with his knee. They had young guys like Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell and Dez Briscoe in the wings, but the club reportedly listened to Palmer’s lobbying for Owens and opted to take a one-year shot on the controversial and mercurial receiver.

That came at the end of an offseason the Bengals kept defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer by making him the highest paid assistant in club history, as well as re-signing two veterans that were first drawn to Zimmer on one-year deals in tackle Tank Johnson and safety Roy Williams. While re-upping two key locker-room guys on offense in right guard Bobbie Williams and tight end Reggie Kelly for chemistry, they also drafted talent in the weapons everyone said Palmer needed in first-round pick Jermaine Gresham, a tight end, and third-round pick Jordan Shipley, a slot receiver.

And Owens turned out to be their most productive receiver. Of course, as things went south, he also became the most outspoken and critical Sunday Afternoon Quarterback when it came to drilling his own coaches while rubbing some teammates the wrong way.

But if the blueprint had worked the way it was supposed to work…

Well, 2010 proved blueprints don’t win. If the Bengals can accomplish close to what they got done in the last offseason (with no fragile knees), it’s a good place to start. Keeping in mind September depth charts don’t win games.


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Old coach Cooper surprised Vrabel retired

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on July 11, 2011 – 7:29 pm

John Cooper, Mike Vrabel’s head coach at Ohio State, offered a pretty good epitaph for his 14-year NFL career and a benediction for his college coaching career that begins in Columbus this week as the Buckeyes linebackers coach.

“I was surprised he quit. I thought he had one or two years left because he was playing well in Kansas City the past couple of years,” said Cooper, even though Vrabel turns 36 next month. “He’s smart, instinctive, tough, and as good as any competitor I was around up there.

“He’ll be a good coach. But he’ll have to get used to the hours. The pros are used to coming in at eight and leaving at five. College coaches come in at 6 in the morning and leave at 10 at night. No question he’ll help them. As a player or as a coach. He’ll certainly be an excellent in-state recruiter for them.”

The news broke on the weekend Derek Jeter became the first Yankee to get 3,000 hits and it’s not a bad comparison, is it? No question Jeter is the better player, a first-ballot Hall of Famer while Vrabel is borderline at best.

But If Jeter has never been an MVP, Vrabel was only named to one Pro Bowl, in 2007. Both were key leaders on dynasties with talent that could get overlooked by their intangibles. Both were the blue-collar representatives of teams that won on old-school fundamentals. Both had the knack of coming up with their best in the most enormous of games.

Yet Vrabel has a bigger personality. He’s never been a shrinking violet, whether it was giving the owners a piece of his mind early on in these CBA negotiations, or earning enough respect to tweak Patriots owner Bob Kraft about the revenue for the mall at Patriot Place.

“He’s got his own opinions and his own thoughts, I know that,” Cooper said. “He was a very intelligent player for us.”

Cooper, a scouting consultant for the Bengals, says Vrabel is a lot like his former college teammate and the new Buckeyes head coach, Luke Fickell.

“Very passionate,” Cooper said. “The one thing I remember about Mike Vrabel is he never took a play off.”

Vrabel made his mark as the most versatile player in Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s work bench of versatile tools that pounded out three Super Bowl titles in four seasons with remarkable precision from 2001-2005. Vrabel played outside linebacker and inside linebacker and ignited the upset over the Rams for their first Super Bowl title when he ran by former Bengals left tackle Rod Jones to plaster quarterback Kurt Warner and create Ty Law’s interception return for a touchdown.

He also caught 10 TD passes as a tight end, one against the Bengals, a one-yard flip from Tom Brady for the Pats’ first touchdown in what would be New England’s 34-13 win on a Monday night in 2007.


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Johansen to work TV preseason

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on July 6, 2011 – 3:03 pm

Brad Johansen’s return came as quickly as his departure Wednesday when he was named the play-by-play announcer for the Bengals preseason television network based on Cincinnati’s Local 12. Swapping places with Dan Hoard, the man that replaced him in the regular-season radio booth, Johansen reunites with Anthony Muñoz as the Bengals Hall of Fame left tackle heads into his 15th season as the preseason TV analyst.

Johansen, Local 12 sports director, worked with Muñoz during the 1998 and 1999 preseasons before he became the radio voice in 2000. During the development of his foundation that raises money for Cincinnati’s underprivileged, One City Foundation, Johansen has had a lot of contact with Muñoz’s foundation down through the years.

“Anthony and I are long-time friends, so it’s very comfortable in that sense,” Johansen said. “And his style is very laid back and he’s always easy to work with.”

The move shows just how comfortable the Bengals are with Johansen, turning to him just weeks after replacing him in the radio booth with Hoard. And that Johansen is comfortable behind any mike.

“I love to call games. I’m always looking to call games,” Johansen said. “My understanding is that they wanted a guy who is able to do a lot of different things that my TV schedule wouldn’t allow me to do.

“I’m glad we were able to work this out.”

When the Bengals announced two months ago they were moving the production and sales of their radio network in-house, they tapped Hoard for the radio booth in anticipation of giving him a variety of roles on Bengals.com, Bengals Facebook and Twitter, TV spots, and radio shows.

Along with Hoard and Johansen, Muñoz has worked with George Vogel and Paul Keels during the preseason. Mike Valpredo, of the TVG Network in Los Angeles, is in for his seventh preseason as the sideline reporter.

“We are proud to provide our fans with this broadcast team,” Bengals executive vice-president Katie Blackburn said in the club’s press release. “Anthony, Brad and Mike bring a wealth of expertise and true Bengals knowledge. We know our fans like them and trust them.”

The slate of four preseason games, all on Local 12, starts Friday, Aug. 12 in Detroit at 7:30 p.m. The rest are 7 p.m. games on Sunday, Aug. 21 against the Jets in New Jersey, and Aug. 25 against Carolina and Sept. 1 against Indianapolis in Thursday night games at Paul Brown Stadium.


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