Bengals Move On Without Johnson and Zimmer

Posted by Dan Hoard on April 28, 2014 – 12:40 pm

Last year the Bengals knew that they would probably lose Michael Johnson to free agency at the end of the season. For several years, they’ve known there was a decent chance that Mike Zimmer would leave for a head coaching opportunity.

Johnson and Zimmer (356x269)

But when the players returned to Paul Brown Stadium last week to begin offseason workouts, they faced the stark reality that Johnson and Zimmer are gone.

“It was pretty sad,” said Carlos Dunlap. “Mike (Johnson) was my guy. We had a great thing going, but he got a great opportunity down in Tampa and couldn’t pass it up. It’s part of the business.

“And losing Zim is most definitely going to be different. It’s probably going to be quieter.  Obviously Zim got a head coaching job which he’s worked hard for and was well-deserving of, but now (Coach Guenther) gets a great opportunity to step up and try to fill the role of the guy he coached with.”

In Johnson, Cincinnati is losing a defensive end who was productive and durable. ranked him 4th among NFL defense ends in 4-3 schemes last year. Fortunately, the loss comes at a position group where the Bengals have Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt, Devon Still, and Brandon Thompson waiting in the wings and Geno Atkins and Robert Geathers returning from injury.

“We’re going to miss Mike a lot, but it is part of the business,” said Geathers. “We figured it was probably going to happen after he got the (franchise) tag. We attack it by committee anyway. We have a good group of guys and really good depth so I’m pretty sure there’s going to be even more competition.”

“Geno Atkins is the best defensive lineman in the league and to get him back healthy will make our rotation second to none,” said Dunlap.

In Zimmer, Cincinnati is losing a coordinator that guided the Bengals’ defense to top 10 finishes in yards and points allowed in four of the past five seasons. But the players say they’re confident that former linebackers coach Paul Guenther is ready to take over.

“It’s definitely going to be weird,” said Still. “Zim was our defense and taught us basically everything that we know. But Paul studied under Zim and he’s a helluva coach himself. I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like to be coached by him this year.”

“Experience is the only difference,” said Dunlap. “I feel like Paulie G. has been with Zim for so long that he knows his X’s and O’s. He just hasn’t been a defensive coordinator and being ‘the guy’ is different from being one of the guys.”

“He’s very confident and knows what he’s talking about,” said Gilberry. “They definitely passed the torch to the right guy.”

The changes in personnel haven’t changed the bottom line: To get back to the playoffs and finally get over the hump in the postseason.

“It’s a new year and you have to do it all over again,” said Geathers. “It doesn’t matter what we did last year or how it ended. It’s a new season and nobody cares what we did last season. Nobody cares that we were undefeated at home or none of that stuff. We have to start all over and get back to where we want go.”

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Defending Dalton

Posted by Dan Hoard on April 23, 2014 – 3:08 pm

I feel the need to defend Andy Dalton.

Dalton black uniform (440x330)

Not for his play. I think most reasonably-minded fans agree that he’s been good in the regular season and bad in his three playoff games. As a result, I understand why many people question the Bengals’ stated desire to extend Dalton’s contract now instead of allowing him to play out the final year of his deal like the Ravens did with Joe Flacco before he led them to a Super Bowl title.

But I’m bothered by the reaction to Andy’s comments on Monday when discussing his contract status with a group of about seven reporters (myself included).

For example, Dalton saying, “I do” when asked if he considers himself to be the face of the franchise.

On the surface, it might sound arrogant. What about A.J. Green or Geno Atkins or Marvin Lewis?

Here’s the backstory. The Enquirer’s Paul Dehner Jr. asked Andy if he ever gets wowed by the amount of money that NFL quarterbacks make.

“It’s a quarterback-driven league, so quarterbacks get rewarded a lot of money,” Dalton responded. “If you’re the quarterback of the team, you’re the face of the franchise. These teams obviously believe in their guy so they’re going to pay him that way.”

At that point, ESPN’s Coley Harvey asked the natural follow-up: “Do you feel you’re the face of this franchise?”

“I do,” Dalton said. “And I feel like everything that Marvin’s said and Hue’s said and everybody here has told me that.”

Is that arrogant? Or obvious?

Dalton is basically saying he believes he’s a franchise quarterback and the coaching staff has given him every indication that they agree.

A few minutes later, I brought up Flacco’s defiant attitude during his walk year in Baltimore. More specifically, how the Ravens’ QB publically referred to himself as an elite quarterback and basically said “screw you” to anybody that disagreed. I then asked Andy if he ever felt like saying the same thing to his critics.

“I’m very confident in what I’ve done,” Dalton answered. “The critics look at all the negative – they don’t look at all of the stuff that I’ve accomplished. They don’t look at the fact that I’m one of three quarterbacks in the history of the NFL to do certain things. They don’t look at that kind of stuff. They want to find ways to tear me down. I’m not worried about any of that. They can say anything they want. All that matters is what everybody believes in this organization and what I believe in myself.”

If you only read his answer, it might come off as whiny, but Andy was specifically responding to how he deals with criticism.

Paul Daugherty wrote a story today in the Enquirer making the case that Dalton needs to be a better leader by taking more blame when things don’t go well. It’s a case that Doc has made a few times since the Bengals’ playoff loss to San Diego.

One of the reasons why Paul is a great columnist is that he has strong opinions and expresses them well. In this case, I think Andy has already realized that he needs to change.

In another interview session on Monday with local TV reporters (you can watch it here), Dalton was asked about last year’s playoff failure and said, “I didn’t play my best and the team as a whole didn’t play its best.” Later he added, “I could have played better.”

Perhaps that’s not the “This one’s on me” tone that Doc is looking for, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.

After listening to Andy’s press conferences for three years, it’s clear that he’s been well-trained to avoid providing bulletin board material (Bill Belichick would approve). He keeps things pretty generic and generally talks about the team instead of himself. But I don’t ever recall hearing Andy throw a teammate under the bus. Has he ever complained about a bad game by the offensive line? About a dropped pass or a poorly run route? While it would probably play well in the locker room if he accepted the lion’s share of the blame after playing poorly in a loss, I am not under the impression that his comments have caused locker room friction. At least not yet.

Let’s face it, what Andy Dalton needs to do is lead the Bengals to postseason success. Period. Everything else – including his comments on Monday – is just talk.

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Cobi Hamilton Says He’s On The Right Track

Posted by Dan Hoard on April 22, 2014 – 1:25 pm

It’s not unusual for NFL players to work out at their former colleges in the offseason, but in Cobi Hamilton’s case, there’s a bit of a twist. When the wide receiver returned to Arkansas after his first year with the Bengals, he worked out with the Razorbacks’ track team, not the football team.

Hamilton vs Dallas (440x315)

“With the new football coaches at Arkansas, I guess I’m more comfortable with the track coaches because I ran track for two years and those coaches are still there,” said Hamilton. “I drop in on the football coaches every now and then, but there are a lot of new faces so it’s kind of weird. So I work out and lift weights with the track team because there’s a comfort level.

“Some of the same guys that I ran with my freshman and sophomore years are seniors now, or may be going into the pros. Two or three of those guys are really fast, so I work out with them and it benefits me a lot. It’s not the same as football conditioning, but it keeps your legs in shape.”

Hamilton was listed at 6’2”, 205 pounds last year and says that he’s probably dropped some weight as a result of the track workouts.

“I stay in contact with the fellas during the offseason, so I knew what his plan was,” said wide receivers coach James Urban. “We talked about how important this offseason was going to be for him.

“He had to get himself in a little better shape which he’s done. He looks great now and really embraced it in the offseason.”

The Bengals drafted Hamilton in the sixth round last year after a prolific senior season at Arkansas in which Cobi finished with 90 catches for 1,335 yards. After making seven receptions in the preseason last year including a 4-yard TD catch against Dallas (watch it here), Hamilton spent the regular season on Cincinnati’s practice squad

“Cobi made as big of strides from the beginning of training camp to the end of the season as anyone I’ve ever been around,” said Urban. “It was learning the system…learning how to practice…learning how to compete daily…just learning how to be a pro. There are some guys that come ready-made for it and some guys that take a little while. We’re excited about him.”

“It took a lot of reps, but things started coming a little bit easier for me towards the end of the season and I started to make more plays,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton in rain (440x297)

With the loss of Andrew Hawkins to Cleveland in free agency, Hamilton will be looking to break into the wide receiver rotation this season under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

“Hue pulled me aside last year when he was the running backs coach and encouraged me to get better,” said Hamilton. “He was always whispering in my ear, ‘Do you know how good you can be?’”

Cobi received similar encouragement from his position coach.

“He just wasn’t quite making the plays that I saw him make at Arkansas during training camp and the early part of the year,” said Urban. “So I kept saying, ‘What do we have to do to get you to make the plays that I know you can make. I know you can make them.’”

Now the former 200-meter runner at Arkansas says that he’s on the right track to contribute at wide receiver in Cincinnati.

“Now I know what it takes to be an NFL player,” Cobi told me. “I’m excited for this season and I’m ready to get going.”

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Bernard Making Childhood Dream Come True

Posted by Dan Hoard on April 21, 2014 – 2:03 pm

When the Bengals returned to town on Monday to begin off-season workouts, one of the first players that I wanted to talk to was running back Giovani Bernard.

Not about his outstanding rookie year.

Not about new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

And not about his hopes and expectations for the upcoming season.

The number one topic was this hilarious drawing he made as a 7-year-old that was recently posted on Instagram by the NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala.

Bernard 7 year old drawing (440x440)

“They came over to my home in South Florida,” said Bernard. “I haven’t even seen that thing in years, but they were able to find it in a locked-up place.

“My family saved it and tried to embarrass me, but it was cool to see it.”

Kinkhabwala and an NFL Network crew recently accompanied Bernard on a trip to Haiti where Gio’s family is helping to build a school in honor of his late mother Josette.

Despite finishing with 1,209 combined rushing/receiving yards and scoring eight touchdowns as a rookie, Giovani is still anonymous in his parents’ homeland.

Green Bay Packers v Cincinnati Bengals

“They don’t know anything about American football there,” said Bernard. “If I was a soccer player they would probably know me, but since I’m an American football player they don’t. It was good to go somewhere where nobody really knows you and just experience it. It was good to give back to the community and the school.”

The trip was part of a feature story on Bernard’s inspiring journey to the NFL. It you haven’t watched it already, here’s the link.

Now that Gio is back in Cincinnati to begin his second NFL season, there is strong speculation that he will be the featured running back under Hue Jackson. Last year, Bernard finished with 226 “touches” (170 carries and 56 receptions) while BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 224.

“I’m not going to expect more touches or less,” said Bernard. “For me, it’s whatever the situation dictates and Hue will decide. You just go from there. I’m real close to BenJarvus and I really admire what he does on the field. We’re both good players and can be on the field at any time, so it’s Hue’s call.”

That’s a unselfish attitude. It didn’t make his list as a 7-year-old, but it’s another thing that makes Giovani Bernard special.

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