As the radio voice of the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox for the last six summers, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know some of the best young talent in the game including Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz.
I hope I’ll be saying the same thing about my new job.
As lousy as we’ve all felt after each of the last two games, it’s easy to be encouraged by Cincinnati’s young nucleus and optimistic about the potential of the AFC’s youngest roster with an average age of 25.74.
“They are young, but boy are they talented,” said six-year veteran Thomas Howard. “From Andy to A.J. to Gresham…they’re going to be good for a long time. You’re going to watch those guys score a lot of touchdowns. I’m definitely excited about them.”
But let’s face it – there is going to be a learning curve. Whether it was the two false starts by A.J. Green, or a pair of 4th quarter interceptions by Andy Dalton, the Bengals made mistakes against the 49ers that come with inexperience.
“We’re all learning a new offense, we have a rookie quarterback, rookie receivers and first-year receivers playing, so we’re going to have some growing pains,” said Green.
“Sunday they weren’t their best of course, but I was really impressed by what they did in Denver and they’ll just continue to get better,” said Howard. “This is the National Football League and you want things to go perfectly but they don’t.”
The key is to learn from those mistakes, accept responsibility, and get better.
“Things that were done early on my part hurt the team,” Jermaine Gresham told me after the game. “Key blocks in the run game and things like that. To be honest with you, I’m hurting the team right now. I need to reevaluate things and put more into the week and help out a little more and be consistent.”
The kiddie corps would also be wise to study a respected veteran like Nate Clements who is in his 11th year in the NFL.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Clements. “I go out there every day and prepare myself for practice and go out there and play hard. Hopefully the way I carry myself and approach this game is contagious and rubs off on guys.”
“These young guys are professionals,” said Howard. “They do a good job of taking care of their bodies and they understand how important it is to get in the cold tub and stretch extra – I didn’t do that my first couple of years. They get it – they’re being pros and they’re going to be good for a long time.”
That’s the goal…as long as it’s not a long time until they’re good.
“I’m happy with a lot of the things we’re doing,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “I know our football team will work, we’ll play physical. We’ve just got to make sure we execute for 60 minutes, we don’t beat ourselves by penalties or turnovers or missed assignments. Just keep doing that and we’ll be fine.”
“Everyone is holding everyone else accountable,” said Howard. “I like it man.”
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I hope you’ll join Dave Lapham and me for Bengals Game Plan on Wednesday night from 6 to 8 on ESPN 1530-AM. Our guests will include the Voice of the Buffalo Bills John Murphy.
I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net
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And I’m on Facebook. Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.
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A few takes looking back and ahead:
» Kevin Huber is angling for a breakout year and next to defensive lineman Jon Fanene, probably should have got the game ball in the 13-8 loss to the Niners. Huber’s first three punts pinned San Francisco inside their 20, giving him a tie for the league lead with seven.
» The word in San Francisco is that the Niners let go Bengals cornerback Nate Clements because of his 31-year-old legs against young speed receivers. Well, the longest catch by a 49ers wide receiver was Josh Morgan’s 12-yarder and speedy Ted Ginn had no catches.
And Clements threw his body around in the running game like he always does. The Niners weren’t surprised at all when made a hellacious hit on quarterback Alex Smith running out of the pocket.
Former Bengals defensive end Justin Smith, now playing tackle for the 49ers, couldn’t say enough good things about Clements before the game after playing with him the previous three seasons in San Francisco.
» Two guys the Bengals need to play up to their No. 1 pick status are tight end Jermaine Gresham (2010) and right tackle Andre Smith (2009).
Gresham candidly said after the game if he blocked better on the first series the Bengals would have scored a touchdown and he’s talking about running back Cedric Benson’s four-yard run from the Frisco 6 that got tripped up at the 2 and the ensuing snap in which Benson got stacked up for a three-yard loss.
On the first one Gresham didn’t get enough of a piece of the DB at the tail end of the run, although Benson said he should have kept his balance. And on the loss, Gresham didn’t set the right edge on outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks and Brooks gummed up the play.
Then on the next snap Smith let Brooks get around him on the right edge and forced quarterback Andy Dalton into an incompletion and near interception in the end zone.
It also appeared Smith gave up a sack to Brooks on first down later in the game. A tough sequence for a team that used a third-round pick on Brooks in the third round in 2006 and let him go working against their top young guys.
But, rightfully so, they’ve got a lot of faith in Gresham and Smith, two excellent talents. And it’s a matter of consistency. Both played well in stretches in the first two games. And Smith is a great student who the Bengals think is finally getting into a groove with his first real NFL training camp and early season. When he gave up a sack in Denver last week, he knew what technique caused it and was able to correct it in game.
UPDATE: OK, this is Exhibit A of why you can’t watch a game and make a massive conclusion without checking with the decision-makers. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said Monday that Smith didn’t give up the sack to Brooks, that Brooks was someone else’s responsibility. And while Smith allowed that pressure to Brooks on the goal line, it didn’t help that someone else was lined up wrong on the play.
» The Bengals didn’t show much patience with fourth-rounder Clint Boling. They pulled him from right guard after the second snap of the second series and went with veteran Mike McGlynn, the four-year vet picked up from the Eagles on waivers just before the season. Defensive tackle Ray McDonald had just beat Boling to apply pressure on Dalton and he had to hurry an incompletion. On the first series McDonald got past Boling to force Dalton into an off-balance throw that wide receiver Andre Caldwell turned into a sliding 14-yard catch.
» Great to see Bengals all-time passing leader Ken Anderson at the game with his family in a 50-yard line box and the crowd’s response to the video boards salute, as well as the No. 14 banner hung by fans honoring his Pro Football Hall of Fame bid. He told Bengals staffers it’s the first time he’s watched a game live with all three of his children. That will happen when you play and coach in the NFL for 33 years.
» There had been criticism of the Bengals offense in the past few seasons of not being quarterback-friendly. The critics have some fodder with MVP candidate Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Bills, headed here this Sunday.
In Fitzpatrick’s 12 starts with the Bengals in 2008, his yards per attempt was 5.12 with eight TDs and nine picks. In his first three games with the 3-0 Bills this season, he’s thrown nine TDs with three picks and a yards per of 7.58.
To be fair to former offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, Fitzpatrick got a new running back in the middle of the year in Cedric Benson, had two grouchy veteran receivers in Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, two rookies in Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell, and Fitzpatrick didn’t get many snaps in that preseason in training camp because Carson Palmer was the man.
But the numbers are so stunningly different.
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