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Bengals DE Michael Johnson Hopes Bigger Is Better

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 30, 2012 – 4:50 pm

The Bengals current roster lists Michael Johnson at 267 pounds.  That was his listed weight last year, but the 25-year-old defensive end appears noticeably bigger as he prepares for his 4th NFL season.

On Tuesday, I asked the former Georgia Tech standout if he had gained any weight.

“A little bit,” said Johnson.

“How much?” I asked.

“A little bit,” he repeated.

“Are you closer to 270 or 280?” I persisted.

“I’m not saying,” Michael said with a grin.  “It’s over what was listed on the roster last year and we’re going to try to keep it there the whole year.”

While his actual weight remains a mystery for now, it’s obvious that the former high school valedictorian has worked hard in the off-season to add bulk to his lean 6’7” frame.

“He has gotten heavier and really worked hard in the off-season trying to gain weight, maintain weight, and maintain strength,” said defensive line coach Jay Hayes.  “That’s something that he’s really worked on and you can see it.”

“It will help me hold up,” said Johnson.  “We play in one of the most physical divisions in the NFL and anytime you can add body armor it can’t do anything but help.  That’s how I look at it – I’m putting more armor on.”

Did the added “armor” result from lifting weights or a change in diet?

“A little bit of both, but I’d say mostly diet,” said Johnson.  “It’s a matter of learning how to eat the right stuff at the right time.  I’ve never been a bad eater.  I’m a naturally lean guy and I have a feeling that it’s going to help me when I’m done playing, but right now, I need to keep the weight on.  I’m just trying to eat right, lift, and do the right stuff.”

Johnson is coming off of his best NFL season as he finished third on the team in sacks (6), third in tackles-for-loss (8), and fourth in QB pressures (11).  One of his goals for 2012 is to maintain his level of play over the course of the entire season.

“Just be more consistent throughout the whole year and go from there,” Michael told me.  “I’m going to continue to do what they ask me to do and just improve each day, each week, each year.  If I keep doing that, I’ll be alright.”

“He had a couple of nuisance injuries and it’s tough to play a whole season without anything bothering you,” said Coach Hayes.  “That’s why he’s been working so hard to add the weight and add the strength.  He’s doing everything that he can to be sure that he’s prepared.  That’s what we want.”

“I’m still not where I want to be,” said Johnson.  “I’m sure that I’m never going to be comfortable with whatever I do, but I’m going to continue to keep working.  As a professional athlete, you have to be your toughest critic and I feel like I am.  Each year, I’m going to critique myself and try to become better at the stuff that I’m not good at.  That’s my goal – to find stuff that needs to be improved upon and get it done.”

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A.J. Green on Mohamed Sanu: “He’s Going To Be A Special One”

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 26, 2012 – 10:25 am

Members of the media were allowed to watch one of the Bengals three practices this week, and I came away very impressed by rookie wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.

But what do I know?

Seeking an expert opinion, I asked A.J. Green for his initial impressions of the third round draft pick out of Rutgers.

“Man, that guy is smooth,” said Green.  “He works the middle really well.  A lot of people have questioned his speed, but the guy has ‘football speed.’  It’s just like myself.  A lot of people say that he didn’t run the fastest, but you see him on the field and he’s fluid in-and-out of his breaks, he catches everything with his hands, and he attacks the ball.  He’s going to be a special one.”

I guess my impression was accurate.

In the Bengals first practice of the three-week OTA period, Sanu caught a long touchdown pass from Zac Robinson and several intermediate throws from Andy Dalton.

“I felt good out there,” Sanu told me.  “I’m just trying to do my job because that’s what you have to do to be successful in this league.  I’m going to learn as much as I can and do my job to the best of my abilities.  It’s all about understanding and knowing where you fit in.”

“I’m excited,” said quarterback Andy Dalton.  “He’s definitely showing some good things out there, and once he gets a good feel for everything, I think he’s going to be a good player for us.  He has a bigger body and he has some shiftiness to him.  And he does a good job of coming back to the ball.”

Sanu lined-up in a variety of spots, and appears to have the ability to contribute both wide and in the slot.

“They have me inside and outside, so I’m going to do whatever they want me to do and try to help the team out as much as I can,” said Sanu.  “I definitely think that that’s one of my strengths.  I think I can use that to my advantage and be productive inside and outside.”

“You can tell that he’s done some of the things that we’re asking him to do before,” said Dalton.  “He’s a friendly target out there.”

“I’m asking (Dalton) a lot of questions and making sure that we’re on the same page,” said Sanu.  “I’m trying to learn from him because he’s been here for a year, he’s done it, and he knows the offense like the back of his hand.

“Football is football.  You have to learn the system and there are differences, but most of the systems are similar.  You just have to learn your assignment and figure out where you fit in.”

And the word appears to be spreading that Sanu could be a perfect fit Cincinnati.

“(Sanu) is already off to an impressive start, easily standing out at last weekend’s Bengals rookie minicamp, drawing both praise and a prediction of early contributions from head coach Marvin Lewis,” wrote Don Banks from SI.com.  “Cincinnati has a decent history of rookie impact from receivers, getting that monster debut season from first-rounder A.J. Green last year (65 catches for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns), and a seven-touchdown showing from third-rounder Chris Henry in 2005.  Sanu is an ideal complement to Green’s outside speed and vertical game, and he’ll work the inside and underneath routes with both precision and determination, pulling down plenty of catches in a crowd or despite solid coverage.  NFL scouts worried about his ability to separate this spring, but come September, Sanu will be putting plenty of distance between himself and most of the league’s other rookie receivers.”

“I’m telling you – a lot of the older guys here compare him to T.J. Houshmandzadeh.,” said Green.  “He can stretch the field and I think he’s really going to help us out this year.”

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ESPN Analysts Pick Bengals To Return To Playoffs

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 24, 2012 – 8:46 am

Last year the AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs – Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.  ESPN analysts Bill Polian, Herm Edwards, and Marcellus Wiley only expect two of the three to make it this year.

But here’s the catch:  They say that the odd team out is Pittsburgh.

(Watch the predictions here)

On Tuesday night, ESPN aired a one hour special on the AFC North that ended with the analysts making their predictions for the division standings.  Polian picks the Bengals to finish first, while Wiley and Edwards pick Cincinnati to finish second behind Baltimore.  All three analysts have the Steelers finishing third.

“I believe that the Bengals – because they’ve had such a great off-season – will win the division,” said Polian.  “I think the Ravens will be a close second and be reckoned with in the playoffs.  I think the Steelers had too much change.”

“Baltimore will win the division,” said Wiley.  “We saw that this team was one play away from being in the Super Bowl.  Then the Cincinnati Bengals…9-7 last year and they improved.  They’ll have the same record as the Steelers, but they’ll win the tie-breaker.  I’ll go with that because it sounds like heresy to say that the Steelers are third in their division.”

Host Trey Wingo raised the possibility of the Bengals taking a step backward in 2012 if Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have sophomore slumps, but none of the analysts expect that to happen.

“I don’t expect either one of these players to have a sophomore slump,” said Wiley.

“There won’t be a sophomore slump with Green because he can run past the slump,” said Polian.  “He’s got the speed and no one can cover him.  Speed kills, and he will kill his sophomore slump by catching long passes.”

At this time last year, the Bengals were widely expected to be among the worst teams in the NFL, but they made a five-game improvement from 4-12 to 9-7 to make the playoffs.  A big goal this year will be to perform better within the AFC North after going 0-4 vs. the Ravens and Steelers last year.

“If I know Marvin,” said Edwards, “he’s preaching this in this OTA period:  ‘Men, we were 2-4 in our division, first of all.  We didn’t really beat winning teams.  That’s what we have to improve on if we want to be the team to win this division.’  So I think Marvin Lewis is going to say, ‘We did a good job and got into the playoffs at 9-7, but men, here’s the reality of it – let’s not live off of our success.’”

“This is a young team that got an awful lot better in this off-season,” said Polian.  “An awful lot better.  I think they had the best off-season in the National Football League.”

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Jones’s talent never under radar

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on May 23, 2012 – 5:47 am

Adam Jones

This is how much talent Adam Jones has:

Think of all the headlines he has generated down through the years. From being the sixth pick in the draft in 2005 to being suspended for the 2007 season, to his comebacks with the Cowboys and Bengals, to his two neck surgeries the past two years.

And now he slides under the radar for the first time in his career and he’s still big news as the Bengals open their voluntary on-field sessions.

With starting cornerbacks Leon Hall (Achilles) and Nate Clements (abdomen) on the side rehabbing, Jones got plenty of work Tuesday in the first workout. After an offseason he signed a low-profile one-year deal while the Bengals went out and signed two more veteran corners in Terence Newman and Jason Allen, Jones quietly talked about what he hoped to accomplish in his third season as a Bengal at age 28.

He knows he’s no longer Pacman Jones in more ways than one.

“I don’t want to be known as just (a) talent right now. I want to make sure I’m covering everything else,” Jones said. “Of course I have great talent but right now I’m working on my head, being a lot smarter and just play the defense. I feel comfortable with the defense and I’m playing a little bit faster.

“If you want to be a good player or a great player in this league you can’t just rely on talent. In the past I have done that. Now I’m just getting better every day, staying in my playbook, trying to understand what the offense is trying to do against different defensive calls.”

When he signed here two years ago just in time for the OTAs, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer insisted Jones reign in that enormous talent and fire and play within the defense. Jones indicated Tuesday it has been sinking in.

“There’s a time and a place for everything,” he said. “I know my role on this team. I’m going to sit back and keep my mouth shut and let my play speak for itself.”

Maybe no play spoke louder about what he can do with the ball in his hands than last year on Oct. 30 in Seattle, when he got his hands on it for the first time in 13 months. He took a punt 63 yards for the club’s longest return in eight years and would have scored if he didn’t pull up with a hamstring/groin injury that took him out of the next two games and lingered.

The play signified both what Jones can do and what he hasn’t been able to do because of injuries and why he thinks if he can stay healthy he’s still a very good starting corner.

“Of course I would have been able to turn the corner on that one. I couldn’t do it with the injuries, torn hammy and torn groin. I had to choke it down,” he said.

He admits last year was tough as he started for Hall in the last seven games while he battled rust and his body. But Jones says this is the best he’s felt in years. He’s put on some bulk and it’s the first time since ’06 he’s heading into a season without a layoff or injury.

“This is the best I felt since ’06,” he said. “Body weight, strength, I’ve gained five or six pounds to 187. I feel good, man.”

Combine that with the talent that just never goes away and his huge competitive streak and Jones is going to make it all very interesting. While he returned only one more punt last year (for four yards), wide receiver Brandon Tate set the team’s single-season record for punt return yards and attempts.

“Oh yeah. I really want that punt return job,” Jones said. “I want that job. I want both jobs, but I really want that job, too. The coaches pretty much know I want to be back there on punt return. We’re all competing. We have a long time before summer gets here. I’m just going to try to get better and better.”

No matter what happens, it will be a headline. That’s how much talent there is.


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A Start For Zeitler

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 22, 2012 – 6:16 pm

When the Bengals ran their first play from scrimmage during the opening practice of OTAs, rookie Kevin Zeitler was the starting right guard.

“I think it’s good that when we went out for the first huddle he was in there,” said quarterback Andy Dalton.  “Up front it’s all about getting a feel for everybody.”

But Zeitler didn’t put much stock into being part of the starting lineup in the first full-squad practice of his NFL career.

“It’s cool to be up there getting some reps, but I have a long way to go,” Zeitler told me.  “If they did put me with the first unit – great.  If they didn’t, I would have just tried to work my way up.  I just try to do my job and try to get better.”

The Bengals drafted the former Wisconsin standout with the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft with the expectation that he would compete for a starting spot as a rookie.  As a result, Zeitler drew plenty of attention from teammates and coaches when practices began on Tuesday.

“He did pretty good for a rookie, but that’s a loaded comment,” said offensive line coach Paul Alexander.  “He obviously is going to be a good player but has a lot to learn.”

“He’s trying to do all the right things.” said Dalton.  “He doesn’t want to mess up right now and once he gets it all down and gets into the groove, I think he’s going to be just fine.”

“This was his first time working with the first unit as a whole and he’s doing a tremendous job,” said right tackle Andre Smith.

“It’s a starting point and I know that I can only get better,” said Zeitler.

The Bengals will hold 10 practices over three weeks during OTAs, giving Zeitler an opportunity to learn the playbook while growing comfortable with the other members of the offensive line.

“Every play that we run here, we basically had the same thing at Wisconsin – the only difference is terminology,” said Zeitler.  “It’s just good to work on communication with the other offensive lineman and work on seeing different looks and different blitzes.  I wish we could have had these in college.  A couple of practices during the summer would have been nice.”

“Every day, me and him are going to get better together,” said Smith.  “There are growing pains because we all do things a certain way and have to adapt to each other.”

And while it’s hard to draw too many conclusions based on one limited-contact practice, Zeitler is off to a good start.

“He is as smart a young guy as I’ve ever been around,” said Alexander.  “He scores A-plus in effort and toughness and he’s going to be fine.”

“He’s really powerful and he’s smart too,” said Smith.  “He is going to be a tremendous offensive lineman I think.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Scott Hopes For Bigger Role In Bengals Backfield

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 14, 2012 – 5:22 pm

When Terrell Suggs, the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon in late April, it was obviously a major blow to the defending AFC North Champion Baltimore Ravens.

But even though the injury could shift the balance of power in their division, Bengals running back Bernard Scott was in no mood to celebrate when he heard the news.

“That sucks,” said Scott.  “You don’t want to see anybody go down like that in the off-season.  That’s the nature of the game, but you don’t want anything bad to happen to anybody even though we go against him twice a year.”

While Suggs vows to be back on the field by November, Scott is simply hoping to be on the field more often.

Last year, Scott typically replaced Cedric Benson on the Bengals’ third offensive possession of each half and Cedric finished the season with 161 more carries than Bernard (273 to 112).  After electing not to re-sign the 29-year-old Benson in the off-season, the Bengals inked 26-year-old BenJarvus Green-Ellis to a reported 3-year, $9 million contract in March.  Green-Ellis shared carries in New England – without complaint – with Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead, and Scott is hoping that the Bengals adopt a similar approach.

“I’ve been hearing that we’re going to use a ‘running back by committee’ so that’s exciting,” Scott told me.  “That’s going to help us last longer and give other people a chance to touch the ball.  We all have the same goal – just to get the ‘W’ so that’s all that matters.

“Going into my exit meeting (last year), Coach Lewis told me they were going to bring in running backs.  They have to make it a competition so you know that they are always going to bring in somebody.  It makes you work harder to compete for the job.”

The former sixth round draft pick out of Abilene Christian has rushed for exactly 1,000 yards in his first three seasons in the NFL and finished last season with a career-high 380 yards.  Bernard appears confident that he can make a bigger contribution in 2012.

“I feel like my opportunity is going to come,” said Scott.  “If I come into camp in shape and prepared to handle my business, I think that I’m going to get more opportunities.”

Baltimore will begin the season without Suggs.  Pittsburgh released aging stars Hines Ward, James Farrior, and Aaron Smith and is hampered by serious salary cap issues.  Are the youthful Bengals capable of topping the Ravens and Steelers and winning the AFC North for the second time in four years?

“I think we have one of the best quarterbacks and receivers in the game,” Bernard told me.  “We have a lot of young, hungry guys on our team and everybody has a lot that they want to prove.  We’re confident but we’re still hungry because we still have a lot to prove.  I’m looking for big things this year, so we’ll see what happens.”

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Binns Ready To Graduate — On and Off The Field

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 10, 2012 – 4:08 pm

In February, near the end of a long interview with Marvin Lewis during the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, I asked him how Armon Binns progressed last year as a member of the Bengals practice squad.

“I think Armon made great strides,” said Lewis.  “Our offensive coaches at the end of the year wanted me to put him in the game.  They wanted to not only dress him but, ‘Can we start him?’  There’s another player that we identified last year as a good prospect.  We’re not afraid to play young players if the guy can do it.”

It didn’t take long for those words to get passed along to the former UC Bearcat.

“It felt good to know that the coaches had confidence in me – especially the head coach – and that the work that I was putting in at practice was paying off,” said Binns.  “It makes me feel good to know that the coaches here believe in me and think that I can help this team win games.”

He’s about to get his chance to prove them right.

After losing Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell as free agents, the Bengals have an opening for a #2 wide receiver opposite A.J. Green.  Binns will be one of several candidates battling for the spot, including recent third round draft pick Mohamed Sanu out of Rutgers, and fifth rounder Marvin Jones out of Cal.

“There’s an open spot out there and you just have to go out there and compete and go get a job,” Binns told me.  “I’m very eager.  I sat back for a year and got to learn and watch everybody.  It was kind of like a redshirt year for me and I’m just ready to get back out there and play the game again.”

“I got to sit back and watch how the NFL game goes and how to be a pro.  I watched how NFL corners are playing and how defenses are so much more advanced and sophisticated.”

Binns continued to study after the season, but the subject wasn’t just football.  Armon, who majored in criminal justice at UC with a minor in sociology, returned to the classroom in the off-season and will go through graduation ceremonies on June 8th

“It’s huge,” said Binns with a grin.  “I’ve been in Cincinnati for so long and to come away with a degree is going to mean the world to me and my mom.  I was a student-athlete again so it’s all good.”

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Andrew Whitworth Tees Off…Literally

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 7, 2012 – 12:19 pm

If you’re at a Cincinnati-area golf course and see a 6’7”, 335 pound behemoth approach the first tee you should look closely – it might be Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth.

Photo courtesy of ggriggscpa.com

Whitworth, recently ranked 82nd on the Pro Football Focus list of the Top 101 players in the NFL, is one of several avid golfers in the Bengals locker room.

“Oh man., I love the game and play every single day after our workouts,” Andrew told me.  “I play about four or five days a week.  I’m about a nine handicap I would guess.

“I actually played a little bit in college for about two years and then I stopped until last year.  Since January or February of last year, I’ve played a few times a week.”

Whitworth recently joined Hyde Park Country Club but plays a variety of Cincinnati-area courses with his Bengals teammates.

So who are the best golfers on the team?

“I would probably say Zac Robinson…Leon Hall…Kevin Huber,” said Whitworth.  “I hear that Terence Newman is good, but I haven’t played with him yet.  Oh, Clint Boling – he’s a good one.  We have some guys that like to play.  We have a group of about four or five of us that play every day.”

On the surface, football and golf would not appear to have much in common, but Whitworth says the challenge of blocking guys like Terrell Suggs and James Harrison is similar to hitting a little white ball.

“The violence and physicality are different, but in some ways, being a left tackle and facing elite pass rushers all comes down to your technique,” said Whitworth.  “Offensive linemen have to be able to play with the exact same technique 70 to 80 times in a game.  A golf swing is the same – you have to be able to make your body do exactly what you want it to do over and over again.

“For me to be able to kick out of a stance and be in the exact position that I want to be in is the number one key to blocking elite pass rushers.  It’s no different than standing on the tee box and trying to hit the most accurate drive that I can when the pressure is on.”

Whitworth estimates that his best drives exceed 310 yards (Bengals.com editor Geoff Hobson says he can attest to it), but the 7th-year pro out of LSU says he does not try to “grip it and rip it.”

“People expect to see me swing violently at a golf ball, but I value learning the proper techniques of the swing,” said Whitworth.  “I worked with the pro at Maketewah (Country Club) last Thursday and he laughed and told me it’s the best swing he’s ever seen from a 6-foot-7 guy in his life.”

You can see for yourself at the 1:10 mark of this video

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Pike Grateful For Bengals Opportunity

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 2, 2012 – 6:46 pm

All Tony Pike wants is a chance – and he’s about to get one from his hometown team.

On Wednesday, the Bengals announced that Pike is among the unsigned players who will attend the team’s May 11-13 minicamp on a tryout basis.  After spending the 2010 season as a backup with the Carolina Panthers, the 26-year-old quarterback missed all of last year after having elbow surgery.

“I’ve been back in Cincinnati rehabbing for a long time and the Bengals reached out to my agent with some questions about my health and when I was going to get back to 100%,” said Pike.  “After that, it was just a matter of me getting healthy and the timing being right for the mini-camp.  It’s an unbelievable opportunity.  Growing up in Cincinnati and being a Bengals fan, it’s been a life-long dream to be a Bengal.  For them to give me that opportunity to come into mini-camp and see what I can do means a lot.”

After leading the UC Bearcats to a perfect regular season and trip to the Sugar Bowl as a senior, Pike was selected by Carolina in the 6th round of the 2010 draft.  Tony appeared in one regular season game as a rookie, going 6-for-12 for 47 yards in a loss to New Orleans.

But last July, Pike needed surgery to fix a nerve injury in his right elbow.  When the first procedure didn’t correct the problem, the former Bearcat had a more extensive operation eight weeks ago.

“On the second surgery, they cut the muscle in my forearm and they tucked the nerve underneath the muscle,” said Pike.  “Then they sewed the muscle back together to protect that nerve from moving around.  It was a more painful procedure, but with my history at UC, it’s nothing that I haven’t been through before.  The end result was a lot better than the first procedure, so I’m really happy.

“I saw (Cincinnati Reds) Dr. Kremchek here in Cincinnati and he said he does this surgery every year on pitchers here.  He told me it’s something that pitchers come back stronger from and that’s how I feel right now.”

Pike broke his left arm in his junior and senior years at UC, but bounced back quickly to lead the Bearcats to back-to-back Big East Championships.  Tony says that he has completely recovered from his elbow injury and is ready to show the Bengals the powerful arm that tossed 29 touchdown passes and only 6 interceptions in his final college season.

“I feel great,” Pike told me.  “My strength and accuracy are back.  That was the biggest thing with the elbow – the nerve was causing my accuracy to go down a little bit, so with that being back, I feel great about my chance here.

“The frustrating thing about the nerve surgery was that we couldn’t really give teams a timetable for when I would be healthy.  The Bengals rookie mini-camp fell at just about the right time.  I just saw the doctor (Wednesday) to get cleared.  I’ve been throwing a lot and staying in shape.  I’ve actually been going over to Elder a little bit to throw to my brother and some of those receivers.  So, it’s been a long process and a slow process, but it’s all coming together at just the right time.”

Pike might seem like a longshot to make the Bengals roster, but keep in mind that he began the 2008 season as the fifth-string quarterback at UC before becoming the starting QB and leading the team to the Orange Bowl.

All he needed was a chance.

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