Blogs

A Stanford Reunion And A Big Game For Whalen

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 27, 2012 – 9:26 am

Bengals wide receiver – and Stanford grad – Ryan Whalen has a personal connection to one of the biggest recent newsmakers in sports.

But I’m not referring to his former college teammate and current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

One week ago, former Secretary of State –and Stanford professor – Condoleezza Rice accepted an invitation to become one of the first two female members of Augusta National Golf Club.  When Whalen was a Stanford student, he had the privilege of having dinner with Rice.

“One of my teammates had scholarship donors who were friends with her and knew her from the Hoover Institute at Stanford,” said Whalen.  “Once or twice a year, scholarship donors were allowed to have their players over for dinner, so he invited a few of us to attend.  There were maybe 10 people sitting there having dinner with her and it was great to take part in the conversation and ask her whatever.  She is a great woman and it was definitely a great dinner.”

Rice is a big Cleveland Browns fan and was briefly engaged to former NFL wide receiver Rick Upchurch.  So did she ask Whalen and his teammates football questions at the dinner table?

“I think it was more a case of us asking her questions,” said Whalen with a laugh.  “But she is a big football fan.  She had been our honorary captain a few times and came to all of our games and I believe that her father was a football coach.  You would see her on the sidelines – that was really neat to see.”

This Thursday, Whalen is looking forward to seeing three of his former Stanford teammates – including Luck – when the Bengals face the Colts in Indianapolis.  All three play on offense and Ryan says he’ll attempt to watch from the sidelines when the Colts have the ball.

“I’ll try to follow it as much as I can,” Whalen told me.  “Coach Simmons is always getting us ready on the sidelines for special teams, and you’re catching a break during that time, but I’d like to watch Andrew, and Coby Fleener, and Griff Whalen (no relation).  They’re good friends and great players so it should be really fun.”

Before the Colts selected Luck with the first overall pick in this year’s draft, one NFL scout told me that the rookie quarterback was the best college prospect that he had ever seen.  Did Whalen realize he was playing with a potential superstar when they first met at Stanford?

“Yes I did,” said Whalen.  “Not based on any expertise that I have because I’m not a quarterback expert, but it was just based on the way that our staff at Stanford spoke about him.  Between what Coach Harbaugh and Coach Shaw said about him and what I saw at practice, I could definitely see that in the making from the time that he walked on campus.”

After making four catches in the regular season as a rookie and two more in the Bengals playoff loss at Houston, Whalen is battling for a roster spot in his second year in Cincinnati.

“You can’t let yourself start thinking about those things because some of those things are out of your control,” said Whalen.  “All I can do is focus on my effort, how I’m going to execute the plays, and going out and making plays.  I trust God with what’s going to happen and I’m going to go out and do everything that I can to help myself and help the team and then let the chips fall where they may.”

“Any time that you want to show somebody how to run a route, you’re going to watch Whalen run it,” said quarterback Andy Dalton.  “He runs it perfectly every single time.  He has a great understanding of leverage and where to attack.  He’s put a lot of time in and understands route running really well.  I think that’s why he’s able to do the things that he’s able to do.”

Ryan has practice squad eligibility, but the Bengals fear that he’ll be claimed by another team off of waivers if he is not kept on the 53-man roster.  So while the final preseason game is not crucial for established veterans, it is important for Whalen.

“In the position that I am in, this is a huge game,” Ryan told me.  “We have a ton of depth and the receivers are having a really great camp and there’s a lot of competition.  It’s a last chance for this team to see what we can do and what I can do – as well as any other teams that may be looking.  It’s important for guys in my position to go out and put it on film in that last game.”

With four former Stanford players in action in Thursday’s Bengals-Colts game, perhaps Condoleezza Rice will be looking for highlights or checking the box score to see how they did.  As a matter of fact, another famous female golfer could be doing the same thing.

“One of my friends and teammates who was in my class is dating Michelle Wie, so I was friends with her and would see her around campus,” said Whalen.  “It was great to meet these people.  It wasn’t like anyone was treated like they were famous or a superstar – you could be who you are around campus and people like that felt comfortable.  That was a really cool thing to be able to see people in their own skin.”

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

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1


Posted in Heard It From Hoard | No Comments »

A Loss Doesn’t Matter, But Lessons Do

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 24, 2012 – 10:37 am

So what should we make of Thursday’s 27-13 loss to the Packers?

Beats me.

I learned my lesson in last season’s preseason opener.  After the Bengals got stomped 34-3 in Detroit, I remember people joking that Cincinnati was “on the clock” to select Andrew Luck with the first pick in the 2012 draft.  Instead, the Bengals went to the playoffs and sent rookie quarterback Andy Dalton to the Pro Bowl.

In other words, there’s no reason to panic after a preseason loss.

But the Bengals have to learn from it.

Perhaps the biggest lessons were provided by Green Bay’s defensive coordinator Dom Capers who did not go with a “vanilla” game plan for week three of the preseason.  Capers hit the Bengals with a wide variety of looks and blitzes that limited the Bengals first team offense to two field goals and five first downs in seven possessions.  Capers’ 3-4 defense is similar to what Cincinnati will see in the regular season opener at Baltimore.

“They have a lot of young guys defensively and (Dom) is trying to get those guys playing,” said Marvin Lewis.  “They have the whole gambit going right now in order to evaluate players and get them going for the season.  We have to do a better job of protection and make sure that we give our quarterback an opportunity.”

“In a 3-4 defense they have a lot of options and they played well,” said rookie Kevin Zeitler.  “I give them a lot of credit. Their scheme was good and we have a lot of work to do as a team.  It’s nice to see the weaknesses now so that we can improve for the regular season.”

One of the Bengals weaknesses last year reared its ugly head again vs. Green Bay – the inability to score touchdowns in first-and-goal situations.  Last year, Cincinnati only scored a TD on 14 of 26 (54%) first-and-goal opportunities to tie for 24th in the NFL.  In contrast, the Packers scored touchdowns on 80% of their first-and-goal chances.  That’s one of the reasons why the Bengals signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis as a free agent and his imminent return from a foot injury should help, but that’s no excuse for having it first-and-goal at the one yard line and losing 11 yards in three plays.

“What we’re doing is different from what we would do in the regular season, but we still ought to be able to score a touchdown from the one yard line,” said Coach Lewis.

“As an o-line, you always feel like you should be able to get at least one yard,” said Zeitler.  “Stuff happened and we have to figure out how to improve so we can get it next time.”

The other valuable lesson on Thursday was provided by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers who gained 52 yards on six scrambles, including a pair of rushing touchdowns.  With games against Robert Griffin III, Michael Vick, and Ben Roethlisberger on the regular season schedule, the Bengals will have to be able to contain mobile quarterbacks.

“It’s tough to win when you allow the quarterback to run,” said Terence Newman.

“We needed that as a defense,” said Taylor Mays.  “We’re trying to figure out what we need to get better at and that’s something that we definitely need to get better at as a whole. We’ll watch the film and find out how we can get better at that, because we can’t win if we don’t get better when the quarterback runs the ball.”

“We did a good job in coverage, but we have to do a better job in containing the quarterback,” said Coach Lewis.  “We were making him put it down and run it, but we weren’t put together well enough in the back to do that.”

After dropping their first two games, including an embarrassing 35-10 home loss to Cleveland last week, the Packers responded with their best performance of the preseason on Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium.  We’ll see if the Bengals bounce back from their first loss with a solid showing next Thursday at Indianapolis.

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

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1


Posted in Heard It From Hoard | 1 Comment »

Anderson Gets Reminder Of Skinnier Past

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 21, 2012 – 10:06 am

While the NFL replacement referees have not been receiving rave reviews for their work during the preseason games, one ref did provide a fond memory for Bengals defensive end Jamaal Anderson.

“Last week when we played Atlanta, one of them actually came up to me and said that he was one of the refs when I was playing wide receiver in high school,” said Anderson with a laugh.  “He remembered when I was 205 pounds.  It’s so funny that it’s such a small world that you’re able to run into guys like that.”

At 6’6”, 280 pounds, it’s hard to picture the 26-year old as a wide receiver now.  But according to his 2004 Scout.com recruiting profile, Jamaal ran a 4.6 40-yard dash in high school and was the “big, physical, and quick type of wide receiver that both college recruiters and NFL scouts are looking for.”

“I thought that I was going to be a receiver in college,” said Anderson.  “When I stepped on to campus at Arkansas, they told me that I was a defensive end.  I had to go to the equipment manager and change my shoulder pads, my facemask, my low-top cleats, and prepare for a whole new transition.  I had my rough patches, but I had a great supporting cast around me that kept me motivated.  I had to binge eat and eventually I put on weight and got comfortable at the position and was able to become an NFL defensive end.”

After having 13.5 sacks for the Razorbacks as a junior, Anderson entered the NFL draft and was selected eighth overall by Atlanta.  Jamaal started 46 games in four years for the Falcons, before spending last year with the Colts where he recorded a career-high three sacks.  In March, he signed a two-year, $5.5 million free agent contract with Cincinnati.

“It made perfect sense for me to come here to Cincinnati,” Anderson told me.  “I had a great relationship with (defensive coordinator) Mike Zimmer and because of that familiarity and where this team seem to be headed, the arrow was definitely pointed up.   There is a great feeling around here in Cincinnati from what they accomplished last year and I definitely wanted to be a part of something special.”

Anderson was signed to help the Bengals maintain their defensive line depth after the departures of free agents Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene, and his value quickly become evident after preseason injuries to Carlos Dunlap and Robert Geathers moved Jamaal into the starting lineup.

“It seemed to be a type of a curse on us when four guys (Dunlap, Travelle Wharton, Rey Maualuga, and Taylor Mays) went down in the first preseason game within five to seven minutes,” said Anderson.  “But the NFL motto is ‘Next Man Up.’  There really are no backups in this game with the type of injuries that occur and the brutal force that we face each week.  You have to be prepared for that.  I’ve been a starter in this league before so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

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

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1


Posted in Heard It From Hoard | 1 Comment »

Sanu Looks To Answer Call

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 18, 2012 – 5:03 pm

Remember the cruel prank call that Mohamed Sanu received during the first round of the NFL draft from someone pretending to be from the Bengals?

Well, Sanu’s phone was blowing up again after Thursday’s win in Atlanta, but this time the calls were appreciated as friends and family reached out to congratulate him on his touchdown catch against the Falcons.

“I got something like 70 to 80 text messages,” Sanu told me.  “Everybody was happy for me and just saying, ‘Keep up the good work, and keep working hard.’  It feels good to know that you have a lot of people pulling for you and supporting you.  I just want to thank everybody back home.”

The 12-yard touchdown catch (you can watch it here) was Sanu’s second reception of the game and his first TD in NFL preseason action.  The pass was thrown by seven-year veteran Bruce Gradkowski who also tossed A.J. Green’s first regular season touchdown grab in week one at Cleveland last year.

“It was a beautiful pass by Bruce and I was in the right place at the right time,” said Sanu.  “He put it where it needed to be and I went up and made the play.”

“A.J. said, ‘You like throwing the young receivers their first touchdown pass don’t you?’” Gradkowski said after Thursday’s win.  “I just laughed.  Those young guys do a great job.  Mohamed and Marvin Jones are doing a great job as rookies and we have a lot of talent at receiver.”

The emergence of Sanu and Jones obviously played a role in Friday’s release of Jordan Shipley.  Jones has hauled in catches of 40-plus yards in each of the Bengals two preseason games, and Sanu’s ability to play multiple spots gives the Bengals a solid compliment to slot receiver Andrew Hawkins.

“Hawkins right now is our inside guy,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.  “But you’re going to need more than one.  He gets gassed sometimes.  He’s up and down on the kickoffs, he’s on punt return, and we need another one and a different body type.  That’s Sanu – he’s a great fit.”

“It’s up to coach to figure out where he can use me the best, and I’ll play whatever he wants me to play,” said Sanu.  “I have to step up to make sure that I help this team in any way possible.  If they need me to play inside, I’m definitely happy to play inside and I’m going to do everything that I can to be the best that I can be.”

Last year, the former Rutgers star made 115 receptions to shatter Larry Fitzgerald’s Big East record of 92, but a poor 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine (4.67 seconds) caused some scouts to question Sanu’s NFL prospects.  Mohamed ran much faster at Rutgers’ Pro Day (4.41 and 4.48), and the Bengals grabbed him in the third round.

“Here’s what the Bengals are getting,” Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood told me recently at Big East Media Day.  “They’re getting an elite-level character person first.  I said this before the draft to a number of NFL people that asked me questions about Mohamed:  ‘I’m telling you right now that for all the reasons you love Ray Rice, you’re going to say the same things about Mohamed Sanu in a couple of years.’  I think the Bengals are really going to love the person and I think they are going to be excited about what he can do for them on Sundays.  And I think he’s going to be a positive part of that community for a long time to come.”

“The Bengals got a steal in the third round,” said Sanu’s former Rutgers teammate Mark Harrison. “They are getting an animal, a monster, and a go-getter.  He is just an awesome guy with a great personality and he knows how to attack that ball.”

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

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1


Posted in Heard It From Hoard | No Comments »

Jones Looking To Make A Name For Himself With Bengals

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 13, 2012 – 2:49 pm

When the Bengals named Marvin Lewis as their head coach in January of 2003, it caught the ear of a 12-year-old kid in California named Marvin Lewis Jones.

“I was really small and I was watching TV and they said, ‘Marvin Lewis,’ and I was like, ‘What?’ said the Bengals wide receiver.  “That was the first time that I heard his name.  It’s kind of ironic now.  I get ‘Marvin Lewis Jones’ a lot now that I’m with Cincinnati, so I’m never going to hear the end of it.”

The rookie out of Cal is off to a solid start in his first NFL camp.  Jones led the Bengals in receiving yards in Friday night’s win over the Jets, finishing with two catches for 48 yards.

“It was definitely a thrill,” said Jones.  “When you go through rookie minicamp and OTAs, you just want to go out there and cut loose on the big stage.  It was definitely a good start to have two catches in my first game – it doesn’t get much better than that.”

“I thought Marvin went out and played in that game kind of how he’s practiced,” said Coach Lewis.  “We know that he has great physical tools out there.  He plays fast and he’s been able to exhibit that on the field.”

When the Bengals drafted Jones in the fifth round this year, NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock called it a steal since he had Marvin graded as a third round pick.  Rob Rang from CBSSports.com, wrote that Jones could pay “surprising dividends.”

“At least partially due to poor play at the quarterback position, Jones didn’t generate a great deal of buzz a year ago in the Pac-12,” wrote Rang.  “Given an opportunity at the Senior Bowl, however, Jones was spectacular, demonstrating the straight-line speed, balance and quick feet as a route-runner, body control to contort to poorly thrown passes, and soft hands to develop into a legitimate NFL starting receiver.”

“It was a little bit frustrating,” said Jones when asked about the draft.  “I expected to go higher than I did, but once I got the call that all changed.  It’s not how you get here, it’s all about the opportunity that you have and trying to capitalize on it.  That’s how I took it – I’m here and I’m trying to make the best of my opportunity.”

The battle for wide receiver spots on the Bengals 53-man roster is one of the most heated at training camp.  Jones is trying to avoid playing the numbers game.

“When you get up here, you’re just thankful for the opportunity to be in the NFL,” Marvin told me.  “You just control what you can control – that’s going out on the field and doing what they expect you to do.  That’s making game-changing catches and making big gains to help out your team.  Once you do that, everything will fall into place and that’s what I’m trying to do now.”

In other words, he’s trying to catch the eye of the coach whose name caught his ear.

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

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1


Posted in Heard It From Hoard | 3 Comments »

Tears For Binns…Cheers For Burfict

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 11, 2012 – 11:25 am

One of the most interesting sights in Friday’s preseason opener against the Jets occurred during the National Anthem.

As a TV camera panned the Cincinnati sideline, it zoomed in on Armon Binns who appeared to have tears in his eyes and he approached his first game in a Bengals uniform.

“It was such a big moment,” Binns told me after the game.  “I’ve been through so much the last couple of years and to be here with this opportunity – nobody would have thought that I would have been here.  It felt great man.  I’m so blessed to be out here with this team and to compete for a spot on the roster.”

The former University of Cincinnati star had not appeared in a game since last preseason when he went to camp with Jacksonville as an undrafted free agent.  Armon had two catches for 24 yards in his Bengals debut, and also had a 19-yard grab wiped out by a holding penalty.

“It took me a couple of series for the game to slow down,” said Binns.  “It was great to be out there and I had so much fun.  It was cool.”

“I thought Binny came in and did what we expected him to do,” said Marvin Lewis.  “He did a nice job on third down catches and routes.  You know, when they run certain coverages, you have to have other people that can beat the coverages.  I thought he and (tight end Jermaine) Gresham did a nice job on that drive to keep the drive alive and keep it going.”

Binns and Brandon Tate are the leading candidates to start opposite of A.J. Green at wide receiver.  Tate also finished with 2 receptions for 24 yards against the Jets, and rookie Marvin  Jones led the team with 48 receiving yards on two catches.

“We’re really deep at this position,” said Binns.  “Tate is a great player and brings a whole different dynamic to the position.  The more guys that we have – the better our team is going to be.

“We’re only going to get better.  It’s so early.  It was the first preseason game and we were really vanilla with our play-calling.  The more we’re out there working together and the closer we get to the opening game, I think we’re going to hit the ground running.”

After spending last season on the Bengals practice squad, Binns appears to be a lock to make the active roster this season.

Does he feel like he’s clinched one of the wide receiver spots?

“I don’t ever want to feel like that,” Armon told me.  “I just want to keep chipping away.  When the regular season hits and I’m here, that’s when I’ll feel like I’ve made the team.”

Don’t be surprised to see a tear rolling down his cheek during the Star-Spangled Banner on September 10th in Baltimore.

*******

If any football fans outside of Cincinnati were wondering whatever happened to former Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, they ought to know now.

After all, there probably isn’t a better way for a defensive player to be seen repeatedly on ESPN than to intercept a pass thrown by Tim Tebow.

“Man, it’s amazing,” said Burfict.  “I have the ball right there in my locker and I’ll probably treasure that for the rest of my life.  (Tebow) is on Sportscenter every time that you turn it on, so this is wonderful.”

Burfict also intercepted an Andy Dalton pass in the Bengals mock game last weekend, and the undrafted free agent has had a very solid training camp.

“Coach Zimmer always says bust your tail to the ball and good things happen,” said Burfict.  “He’s always on us in the film room to read your keys and go where you’re supposed to go.  Just handle your job and everything else will work out.  That’s what I did – I handled my job and got an interception off of Tim Tebow.”

My radio partner Dave Lapham noted on Friday’s broadcast that Vontaze has an instinctive “nose for the ball” that all great defensive players have, but Burfict does not agree.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Vontaze told me.  “Coaching is key to me.  Listen to what the coaches tell me to do.  A lot of people say that I was uncoachable and I’m trying to prove them wrong.   I’m listening to what the coaches tell me to do and I bust my behind to get to the ball and try to make plays for my defense.”

That certainly doesn’t sound like the guy whose disastrous performance at the NFL combine and history of personal fouls at Arizona State caused his stock to plummet among NFL scouts.  The Bengals elected to give Burfict a second chance, and so far, he’s quieting his skeptics.

“The past is the past and I don’t even look back anymore,” said Burfict.  “I just want to get better as a football player.  There are always going to be haters so it doesn’t really bother me.  People talk and most of the time it isn’t true, so I’m just trying to go day-by-day and be a better player and teammate.”

Vontaze cherishes one of his critics:  Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

“I’m very comfortable here,” said Burfict.  “Sometimes I mess up in practice and I’m kind of scared to go into Coach Zimmer’s meeting because I know that he’s going to get on me, but he’s just trying to make me better.

“That makes me want to play harder – knowing that I have to do my assignment because I have him on my tail and if I don’t do it, he’s going to yell at me.  That makes me a better player.”

Burfict is off to a good start in Cincinnati.  He has a football in his locker and a Sportscenter highlight to prove it.

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

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1


Posted in Heard It From Hoard | 1 Comment »

Dhani tackles Bengals training camp

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on August 8, 2012 – 9:11 pm

Mike Brown offered Dhani Jones a ride in his golf cart Wednesday during practice so he could get close to his old mates  and say hello.  Jones eyed the Bengals president with a mischievous smile.

“I’ve never sat in that golf cart. I’ve seen other people in that golf cart, but I’ve never been in it,” said Jones, never carted off the practice field in four seasons as a Bengal. “Do you have a license to drive this thing?”

Jones, 34, is in his second year of retirement since playing his last NFL game as the Bengals middle linebacker in 2010, and he continues to traverse the globe in all sorts of vehicles. But Wednesday was the first time in Mike Brown’s golf cart  and yet it wasn’t their first conversation by a longshot.

” I’d barge into his office from time to time,” Jones said. “Mike’s a driven man. He’s got great intentions for the team and he’s got high expectations for the team.”

They talked about, in no particular order, Brown’s health, his family, maps, and his aspirations.

“I don’t think there’s any NFL owner who doesn’t want to win it all,” Jones said.

One of the reasons Brown no doubt feels so comfortable with Jones is that he’s the embodiment  of the player Paul Brown coveted. Smart, prepared, and a plan for life after football.

Jones is busier than ever with seven shows on channels ranging from The Big Ten to Spike TV, where he’s got two. His Bow Tie foundation for charity also continues to expand with more than 80 organizations involved and the designs just keep coming.

His legacy with the Bengals is just as busy and connected. When the thing began to implode in the dog days of ’07 and ’08, Jones was one of the consummate professionals that kept head coach Marvin Lewis’ principles afloat and set the stage for the ’09 North title, the ’11 Wild Card and the high expectations of ’12.

It was a two-way street. On Wednesday Jones told Brown “The four years I spent here on the field as well as off the field were probably some of the best years I played the game.”

One of the players he watched Wednesday was his old roommate, Vincent Rey, the second-year linebacker who has modeled his life on and off the field after Jones. When Jones retired, Rey asked for and got Jones’ No. 57, and made the team as a special teams maven.  A free-agent from Duke, he’s still here.

“I like watching him play because I remember the things we talked about while we were rooming together and that translates into the way he plays,” Jones said. “My little brother.”

His influence is so directly felt on the man that replaced him in the middle, Rey Maualuga, that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer had to tell him, “Stop trying to be like Dhani.” Jones not only knew what all 10 guys were doing, he desperately had to know.  Zimmer doesn’t think that fits Maualuga’s style of play.

Jones agrees and says he’s talked to him about it.

“I tell him the same thing. He has to be him. You can only be yourself  for that position,” Jones said. “Rey does a great job. He’s got his own style and everybody knows he’s good. He’s got to play like that.

“If he makes the mistake, he’s going make the mistake that might cost you but never cost him. At the same time, he’s a young player on the verge of being a better young player and continuing to get better and better and be a superior player.”

Maualuga’s style?

“Reckless with intent,” Jones said.

Jones didn’t have to tackle the globe Wednesday to view some of his accomplishments. The view was pretty good from Mike Brown’s golf cart.

 


Tags: , , , ,
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 42 Comments »

Destination: New Orleans

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 8, 2012 – 2:14 pm

Sure they made the playoffs last year, but the team was 9-7 during the regular season.

And it was an unimpressive 9-7.

The team was outscored by the opposition during the regular season, did not have a winning record in its division, only had one regular season victory against a foe that finished with a winning record, and didn’t qualify for the postseason until the final game of the year.

Sound familiar?

That team was the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

The Bengals also made the playoffs with a 9-7 record last year and while they are not listed among the preseason favorites to go this year’s Super Bowl, Cincinnati is widely considered to be an up-and-coming team.  Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com picks the Bengals to win the AFC North and advance to the AFC Championship game and ESPN’s Bill Polian also picks the Bengals to win the division.

“I think there are some people that realize that there is a lot of talent in this room,” said seven-year veteran Andrew Whitworth.  “That’s fun.  That’s going to make it exciting and it means there are expectations.  That’s the environment that you love to play in.”

The highest expectations for the Bengals are inside of their own locker room.  The players are wearing t-shirts that include the letters “DNO.”  As NFL.com’s Albert Breer uncovered when he recently visited training camp, those letters stand for Destination:  New Orleans – the sight of this year’s Super Bowl.

“That is nothing new,” said Andrew Hawkins.  “The goal is to be world champs and you have to set your goals high and work toward that goal.  I remember coming into camp last year.  On my first day here, the very first thing that Coach Lewis talked about was going to the Super Bowl.  That’s always the goal.”

Is it a realistic goal?

The Bengals certainly have a talented young nucleus with a quarterback to build around in Andy Dalton, but perhaps just as importantly, the team also has a roster filled with hard-working, no-nonsense pros.

“I don’t think that there are certain guys that are leaders – there are a ton of leaders in this locker room,” said Whitworth.

“We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves,” said BenJarvus Green-Ellis who played in the Super Bowl last year with New England.  “Right now we’re just worried about having a good practice and making sure that we’re dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s.  You don’t win a Super Bowl in February – you win it right now on the practice field doing the things that you’re supposed to be doing.”

The Bengals face a more difficult schedule this year, but it’s worth pointing out that Baltimore and Pittsburgh face even more challenging schedules.  The opponents are the same for all three teams with the exception of the following matchups:

Cincinnati:  Miami (home), at Jacksonville

Baltimore:  New England (home), at Houston

Pittsburgh:  New York Jets (home), at Tennessee

Advantage:  Bengals.

After getting their hopes up in previous seasons only to see Cincinnati stumble, I get the sense that many Bengals fans are reluctant to fully buy-in.  They’ll dip a toe into the water, but won’t dive in head first.

I’m not saying that the Bengals are going to the Super Bowl this year, but there’s nothing wrong with joining the players and coaches in making New Orleans the destination.

“I think every team, every year starts out with the goal to go to the Super Bowl,” said Whitworth.  “We want to go to New Orleans and we want to win it.  I’ve had the luxury of winning a state and a national championship in New Orleans so it would be sweet to win a Super Bowl there too.”

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

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1


Posted in Heard It From Hoard | 1 Comment »

Veteran Bengals Don’t Miss Training Camp Grind

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 6, 2012 – 8:37 pm

Nate Clements, Terence Newman, and Donald Lee remember the old days.

Notice that I didn’t say “the good old days.”

Nate Clements

When the NFL owners and players agreed to a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement last year, it included major limitations on training camp.  There are no true two-a-days anymore (one session must be an instructional walk-through), and the total time spent on the field is limited to four hours per day.

“The young guys don’t have a clue,” said Lee.  “They complain about the heat and how tired they are and how sore they are.  This is like heaven to me because when I first came in, we had two-a-days in full pads with conditioning after every practice.  A lot of times, I would go to practice sort of fearing for my life, not knowing how I was going to make it through.”

“When I was at Ohio State we had three-a-days,” said Clements.  “I survived it, but I was 18 or 19 then.  I think that prepared me for the NFL as far as training camp goes.”

The practice restrictions don’t end at the conclusion of training camp.  During the regular season, teams are limited to a total of 14 padded practices in an effort to increase player safety.

“It’s alarming how many injuries are happening now,” said Newman.  “Guys are bigger, stronger, and faster, so they had to do something to help decrease concussions and ligament injuries.”

While all three players applaud the efforts to lessen the physical demands of practice, each has fond memories of his first NFL training camp.

Nate Clements (2001 Buffalo Bills):

“In my first training camp, I was bright-eyed and wet behind the ears.  I was trying to grasp everything around me.  I was just excited to get out there.  Now I want to be efficient – no wasted steps and no wasted reps.  Now it’s all about dialing-in on the little things and being productive.”

Donald Lee (2003 Miami Dolphins):

“I can remember that it was very hot down in South Miami.  I got to be around a great group of veterans like Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor, Ricky Williams, and Junior Seau.  I didn’t realize how tough it would be to compete at this level.”

Terence Newman (2003 Dallas Cowboys):

“Bill Parcells designated me as his water boy.  That was actually pretty funny.  He had a good way of humbling me, but he also gave me fist bumps when I brought him water so it was actually pretty cool.  It was light-years tougher then.  There was no rule limiting two-a-days, and you could put pads on as much as you wanted to.  It was tough-nosed – especially under Parcells.  He wanted a battle-hardened team.”

With a combined 29 years of NFL experience, Clements, Lee, and Newman have seen it all.  The question is – when they look around the Bengals locker room, do they see a team that passes the eyeball test of a contender?

“The eyeball test is the easiest test,” said Newman.  “You can look around and say, ‘That guy is huge or that guy looks fast.’  The test that’s more important is when you get out on the field you see guys running and jumping.  That’s the eyeball test that I liked when I got here.”

“This team reminds me a lot of when I first got to Green Bay,” said Lee who won a Super Bowl ring with the Packers in 2010.  “We have the guys here where we can really compete for a championship this year.  But we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot.  We have to make sure that we’re mentally strong, and make sure that we don’t hold ourselves back.  This team is young and guys are working hard.  I feel like we’re going to be really good this year.”

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

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1


Posted in Heard It From Hoard | No Comments »

Brown Savors A Life In Football

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 3, 2012 – 7:48 pm

Actor/writer/director Rob Reiner has a great line about following his father – Hollywood and Broadway legend Carl Reiner – into the family business:

“I want to thank my dad for not being a proctologist,” said Rob.

It’s hard to imagine Mike Brown using the same line, but I’m sure that he feels the same way.

Professional football has been the Brown’s family business since 1946 when Paul Brown was hired to coach the Cleveland franchise in the AAFC.

“This whole life is what matters to me,” Mike told me.  “I like the players, I like the practices, I like the coaches, I like the fans, I like the whole show.  Every day is different and thank God for that.”

The Bengals president has been attending NFL training camps since he was 10 years old and he savors the start of another season.

“I’m excited for the same old reasons – there’s nothing new with me,” said Brown.  “I’ve been doing this for 44 years here with the Bengals and I did it before I was here.  I look forward to seeing the players up and at it.  They’re all fascinating to me to watch and we’ll see how the team comes together.  That’s the essence of what I do, so it interests me and I’m excited about it as always.”

After the Bengals went 9-7 and made the playoffs with a rookie quarterback last year, Brown was named NFL Executive of the Year by Pro Football Talk and Peter King of Sports Illustrated.  With a young nucleus led by four Pro Bowlers under the under the age of 25 (Andy Dalton, Geno Atkins, Jermaine Gresham, and A.J. Green), the Bengals appear to be building a team that can contend with Pittsburgh and Baltimore for supremacy in the AFC North.

“We think our future is bright,” said Brown.  “It’s not easy in this league.  Every team thinks that its future is bright at this time of the year, but we’re ready to go with them.  I think they’ll get better and improve and I look forward to seeing how we can do.”

The next big step for the Bengals is to win a playoff game for the first time since 1990.  Until that happens, Brown knows that his critics will remain vocal.

“I think everyone is bothered by criticism, but I was brought up to believe that everyone has a right to say their piece,” Brown recently told Fox 19’s Joe Danneman.  “Nothing says that I have to shut up – I can speak up if I feel sufficiently compelled so I’m not crying about it.  The fact that people feel emotional about it or want to jump in – that’s good.  I want them to be involved, that’s the first step, even if they don’t approve of what you’re doing.”

One of Brown’s critics has been Reds announcer – and Bengals fan – Marty Brennaman.  But the Hall of Fame broadcaster reconsidered his opinion after the two of them met for lunch.

“It was sensational,” said Brennaman.  “That’s the only way that I can put it, and that’s not a suck-up comment.  I was bowled over by his storytelling ability – the stories he told about his dad, and the stories he told about former great players in the National Football League that he’s rubbed elbows with over all the years.  In fact, I told his daughter Katie in the middle of the lunch that he ought to write a book, and he said, ‘I have no interest in writing a book.’

“I’m a Cincinnati Bengals fan and I’m no different from anybody else.  Now maybe I have a public forum that other guys don’t have, but I want them to win.  When they had that long run of futility, I got a little PO’d, and I’ve been very outspoken about him.  I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that after having lunch with him – and we will do it again in the future – that I take a slightly different look at Mike Brown.”

After a lifetime in football, the Bengals president knows that fans won’t be fully satisfied until the team wins a Super Bowl.  He feels the same way.

“I would like to do that in my lifetime and that’s a big goal for me,” Brown told Fox 19.  “You can put that at the top of my agenda.

“People are entitled to see me however they wish to see me.  I’m pleased with the fact that we’ve done better here recently, and we want to do even better.  Our goal is what you would think it is – we want to be the top dog. “

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

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1


Posted in Heard It From Hoard | 2 Comments »