JACKSONVILLE - Now that the Bengals starting quarterback was born the same season Boomer Esiason sat in front of the bus and the club’s Pro Bowl wide receiver was born the year Eddie Brown went to his only Pro Bowl, the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green era looks ready to write the next chapter of Bengaldom.
But an old man beat them to the punch. Cornerback Nate Clements, the oldest man on defense at age 31, born during a season Ken Riley still patrolled the corner, may have had the most to say about the new era last Sunday during halftime of the win over Buffalo.
With the Bengals down, 17-3, and looking more interested in their touches than their team, Clements spoke up. As his teammates gathered in their huddle before going back out on to the field, Clements reminded them in a quick, emotional address that they were still in it and that if they stuck together they could win.
“I was just being myself,” Clements said last week as the Bengals prepared for the Jaguars. “I felt like we needed a jump-start before going out there after what happened early in the game.”
If you’re looking for the biggest difference in head coach Marvin Lewis’ third rebuilding process of his nine seasons, this is it.
In 2003 the first one was built on implementing Lewis’ organization and philosophy for a locker room that had none. Before the start of the 2008 and then hurried along by an unbelievable run of injuries, the second reboot featured an overhauling of a veteran roster that couldn’t get over the 8-8, 7-9 hump. It was turned over to guys like Dhani Jones and Chris Crocker, journeymen veterans thankful for one last shot, and Andrew Whitworth and Domata Peko, young players on the rise that saw where the talented teams failed.
Now you have this one in 2011, marked by a massive personnel change on offense led by Dalton and Green, but along with it the installation of a group of veterans such as Whitworth, Peko, Leon Hall and Bobbie Williams that saw how not to do it in the locker room, and the infusion of professional, solid veterans like Clements, Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson and Kelly Jennings have brought a fresh perspective.
Throw in the departures of long-time locker-room personalities, whether they were positive or negative, and it allowed the new breed to flex its muscles.
It helped that the draft classes of 2009-11 yielded a vein of blue-collar players that have blue chip talent. Ask around the locker room, and the long-timers keep talking about how the young guys always seem to be talking about football and not the complementary items.
The result seems to be, as evidenced by Clements’ Buffalo Address, that the players have taken more ownership than at any point in Lewis’ run. No more passive aggressive. If they don’t like it, they’ll tell their teammates.
“I think there’s more ownership, but I don’t think it’s anything over the top,” Hall said. “There aren’t a whole lot of players that are yelling and screaming. I think you definitely get a sense of ownership.”
Clements says he just did what came natural, which may be the best way to describe how the altered chemistry is bubbling. He didn’t have any index cards.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve done it before, but I can’t remember one particular moment,” Clements said. “I didn’t plan it or rehearse it. Nobody was bickering. Nobody had their heads down. It was just something I thought we needed at the time. It wasn’t to chew anybody out. It was motivation. If you keep playing, the score is going to take care of itself.”
Clements said he had no worries that anyone would object to him speaking up or taking it the wrong way. Indeed, the reaction has been overwhelming positive.
“We all understand each other in here,” Clements said.
That could end up being the ’11 mantra. Right next to Lewis’ “Find A Way” T-shirts.
Tags: Bengals locker room, Leon Hall, Nate Clements
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