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Moore Hopes To Fill Piece In Bengals Puzzle

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 28, 2015 – 2:00 pm

Raise your hand if you expected the Bengals to select a wide receiver in one of the early rounds of last month’s NFL draft.

I’ll admit that my hand is up and while Cincinnati did grab West Virginia speedster Mario Alford with their final pick, it’s worth noting that there’s another new receiver on the roster with the proven ability to stretch the field.

26-year-old Denarius Moore signed a one-year deal with the Bengals as a free agent in early April after spending his first four NFL seasons in Oakland.

“I’m loving it so far,” Moore told me. “I like everything that I’m seeing and it’s a great environment. The people here welcome you with open arms and make sure that you’re comfortable.”

Denarius Moore (440x294)

Moore made several catches on Tuesday when the Bengals opened OTAs – the only practice this week that reporters were allowed to attend.

“I think he did some good things,” said offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. “Obviously he has to continue to learn to play at our pace and adjust to the way we go about doing things. Maybe things are a little bit different than they were in Oakland, but I think he has talent.”

“You see glimpses of it,” said receivers coach James Urban. “He’s not consistent enough yet, and he would be the first person to tell you that, but there are glimpses where you say, ‘That’s the guy.’ We just need to keep trying to get to the point where it’s showing up more and more.”

The Raiders drafted Moore out of Tennessee in the 5th round in 2011 after he averaged 17.9 yards per catch in his college career and was timed at 4.39 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day. Jackson was Oakland’s head coach in Moore’s first season, and was a key reason why he wanted to play in Cincinnati.

“That was huge,” said Moore. “I feel like he understands me and understands what I can do.”

“I know there are things that he does really well, and we’re going to put him in those situations,” said Jackson.”

“Early in his career when we was with Hue it clicked for him,” said Urban. “Hopefully we get the same result. That’s why you take a guy like him who has some experience. You hope that it clicks again.”

Moore had 33 catches for 618 yards (18.7 ypc) and 5 touchdowns playing for Jackson as a rookie in 2011, but posted even better stats under Dennis Allen the next two years when he averaged 48.5 catches for 718 yards (14.8 ypc) and 6 TD. But his numbers plummeted last season when Allen was fired after four games as Denarius finished with 12 catches for 115 yards and 0 TD.

“I’m still trying to figure it out, but at the same time I’m trying to forget about it,” said Moore. “I guess I let it mess with my confidence which I’m trying to get back now.”

“He was a very productive guy for a couple of years and then it sort of got away,” said Urban. “I’m just hoping we can get it back. That’s the goal. You’ve got a veteran guy who knows how to play and it won’t be too big for him. Maybe we can get back whatever what was lost.”

“It starts with making plays,” said Jackson. “That’s the case with any good football player. When you start to make plays, the confidence starts to come and he made some big catches today. It was good to see. But he has to continue to grind and we’ll build this thing over time.”

The Bengals typically keep six wide receivers on the 53-man roster and A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu are locks for half of those spots if healthy. That puts Moore in the mix for one of the final three openings with (alphabetically) Alford, Cobi Hamilton, Jake Kumerow, Tevin Reese, Brandon Tate, and James Wright.

“Any time before you come in and sign a contract, you look at the depth chart and see who you’re going to be competing with,” said Moore. “I don’t really know where I am on that depth chart right now, I’m just looking to come in and compete.

“I’m looking forward to training camp. With the defense we’re in right now, you really can’t see that much until we put on the pads. That’s the time when I can really showcase my talent.”

“We’ve got on our shorts right now and we’re trying to learn our system and how we do things, but as we get closer to training camp, that’s when guys really have to show what they have,” said Jackson. “I think he has some abilities, so we’ll see how it all unfolds.”

After injuries devastated the wide receiver corps in last year’s playoff loss to the Colts, the Bengals are determined to improve the depth at that position this season.

Can Moore return to the form that he flashed in his first three NFL seasons?

“Yes, but that was in the past,” said Moore. “This is a ‘what have you done for me now’ type of league, so I’m just looking forward to a new start. I worked as hard as I could in the offseason and I’m coming back strong. “

“I think he’s going to be good as soon as he gets comfortable with everything that we’re doing,” said Andy Dalton. “Obviously he’s been in Hue’s system before and he played well in it. The more he gets thrown in, the more we’ll be able to see from him, but I think he’s going to be a good help for us.”

“I’m just looking to be another piece of the puzzle,” Moore told me. “If they’re missing a piece, I’d be more than happy to apply for it.”

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

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Will Williams Emerge In Third Season?

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 26, 2015 – 4:18 pm

While the Bengals suffered a rash of injuries at two position groups last year – linebacker and wide receiver – their starting safeties were remarkably durable.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, George Iloka only missed 12 of 1,222 defensive snaps, while Reggie Nelson missed a mere 25. That means the two of them were on the field for 98% of Cincinnati’s defensive plays.

The safety duo was nearly as durable in 2013 as Iloka and Nelson were on the field for 94% of the Bengals’ defensive plays.

As a result, there haven’t been many opportunities for Shawn Williams to play safety in his first two NFL seasons. The former Georgia standout has been a key contributor on special teams, but has only seen 39 snaps on defense.

“I understand what’s going on and I respect the guys in front of me,” said Williams. “George and Reggie are two very good safeties, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be ready when my number is called – whenever that may be.”

The third-round 2013 draft pick got the call to practice with the first team defense when the Bengals opened OTAs on Tuesday as Iloka sat out with an undisclosed minor injury.

“Shawn’s doing good – really good,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “George (Iloka) is a little dinged-up, so Shawn has the opportunity to run in there and get a lot of snaps. It’s a big time for him. It’s his time to make a move.”

That’s not the first time that a Bengals coach has mentioned that it’s time for Williams to play a more significant role. In an interview with Bengals.com editor Geoff Hobson and the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Dehner Jr. at the NFL Owners Meetings in March, Marvin Lewis brought up Williams when asked which young players would be expected to emerge in 2015.

“I think Shawn Williams now is going into his third season,” said Lewis. “He’s a little different than Darqueze (Dennard) – he’s like where Dre Kirkpatrick was. He’s done everything we have asked of him on special teams. He’s a guy who in practice does a great job. I think he does things in practice that ought to transition well onto the playing field. This season he’s got to challenge Reggie and George and give them everything he can to work to play.”

“I feel like I’ve grown and matured and I’m doing everything I can do to show that I’m dependable,” said Williams. “I have to stay focused and be ready for whenever my time comes.”

Williams faced a similar situation in college. Shawn only started three games in his first two seasons at Georgia, before starting 27 of 28 possible games at a junior and senior.

“Patience is hard for me,” said the former Georgia captain. “But I feel like I’ve been put in that situation before so I have to take it in stride. That’s part of being patient, growing, and learning.”

Nelson and Iloka are both due to be free agents at the end of the season, so the Bengals need to know if Williams is capable of taking over in case either does not re-sign.

But for now, Shawn is simply focusing on being ready if his opportunity to play arises.

“Reggie is awesome and George has had two very good years,” Williams told me. “I respect their work. So for me, I have to back up both of them and be ready in case anything happens.”

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

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Battered Linebacker Group Helped Flowers Grow

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 24, 2015 – 4:29 pm

Last season, the Bengals starting linebacker trio of Vontaze Burfict, Rey Maualuga, and Emmanuel Lamur missed a combined 17 regular season games due to injury. If you’re looking for something positive that came from their absence, it meant that the team’s younger backups were able to get significant NFL experience.

“Now those are some rose-colored glasses right there,” said linebackers coach Matt Burke with a laugh. “I certainly wasn’t feeling blessed about it at the time.”

But it was a blessing in disguise for rookie Marquis Flowers, a sixth-round draft choice who appeared in every game and got 22 snaps at linebacker in the playoff loss at Indianapolis.

“I ended up getting a lot of snaps and one of the biggest things that I learned is that you’ve got to be ready,” said Flowers. “Obviously you always want to play, but I wanted to be ready. You don’t want to go in there and feel like you did badly.”

“He actually played all three spots at times for us last year,” said Burke. “That’s tough for a rookie, but I threw him in and at least he has a little bit of a foundation everywhere.

“Part of my approach this offseason is rolling guys through. Every one of them is playing at least two of the positions to cross-train them.”

The adjustment to the NFL was especially big for Flowers because he only played linebacker at the University of Arizona for two seasons after beginning his college career at safety.

“My rookie year was a big learning curve,” Flowers told me. “I learned from the older guys that it’s a long season and you have to take care of your body and be patient. I’m glad my locker is right next to Vinny Rey’s because he helped me out tremendously last year. He could tell when I came back this year that I’m a lot more comfortable. But I’m still young and I’m still learning.

“I got a chance to get on the field last year so this year I know what to expect. I know what the game is like and what the speed is like and this year I’ve got to be more comfortable with the playbook so that the coaches will trust me and can call whatever they need to.”

His position coach has already noticed a difference.

“We gave the whole defense a test in a meeting the other day and he got a 100% on it,” said Burke. “He was one of three linebackers that got ‘em all right.”

“We’re going to put it to the text next week when OTAs start,” said Flowers. “I’ve been doing well and have (the defense) down, but it’s all about what happens when it’s ‘go time.’ I’ve done a lot of studying and I’ve been preparing, so we’ll see next week.”

The 23-year-old returned to Cincinnati for voluntary workouts noticeably larger than last season when he was listed at 230 pounds coming out of college.

“I actually put on 17 pounds,” said Flowers. “I plan on dropping four or five to get to my playing weight, so everything is falling into place. It’s year two and I’m a lot more comfortable in everything that I do. I definitely know what to expect.

“I basically wanted to get my body right and get stronger in the offseason. I ended up having a great offseason. I got bigger, faster, and stronger.”

“The work that he put in the offseason really shows,” said Burke.

Flowers definitely does not resemble a safety anymore.

“The safety in me has been gone since college,” he said. “I started eating like a linebacker since I moved to the position.”

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

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Hawk Enjoying Fresh Start In 10th Year

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 22, 2015 – 8:31 am

A.J. Hawk is 31 years old, has nearly a decade of NFL experience, and has started 147 games including a Super Bowl win.

“I like being ‘the old guy,’” he said with a laugh. “People say it like that’s a bad thing, but I don’t mind it at all. Physically I feel great, and mentally as well.”

AJ Hawk (440x319)

But as one of the Bengals newcomers taking part in the team’s voluntary offseason program, he sounds like a rookie.

“It feels like when I started out in Green Bay,” Hawk told me. “Most of these guys have all played together for a while and they know what’s going on. So I’ve been picking their brains and asking them questions about how they do certain things.

“Everything is obviously new to me, but after being in one place for nine years, it feels good to come to a new team and feel the energy of a lot of young guys and a lot of great players. Every day is a learning experience for me – that’s for sure – and I’m just trying to do my job and be accountable to everybody. But I’m having a good time honestly. I’m having a lot of fun.”

The former Ohio State star signed a 2-year, $3.25 million contract in March as the Bengals looked to shore up their depth at linebacker after the position group was hammered by injuries last season. Although he didn’t miss any games, Hawk also dealt with an injury in Green Bay last year, resulting in surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle after the season.

“I feel really good moving around now,” said Hawk. “It was something that I knew I had to have fixed and get cleaned out, and as soon as I got done with the surgery with Dr. (Robert) Anderson down in North Carolina, he said, ‘Trust me. I think we got what was bothering you.’ So I feel really good. I haven’t been limited at all and I’ve been full-go since I got here.”

“He’s been moving around well,” said linebackers coach Matt Burke. “I’m excited and happy to have him around.”

While the Bengals remain hopeful that Vontaze Burfict will be ready for the start of the season as he recovers from microfracture knee surgery, Hawk gives Cincinnati a veteran capable of starting at any of the linebacker spots if needed.

“Obviously he’s a professional in every sense of the word,” said Burke. “He’s really intelligent and he’s played a lot of ball in the league. For him it’s just translating to our language a little bit. He understands it all; it’s just what we call things and how to communicate it.”

Hawk went to the playoffs in seven of his nine seasons in Green Bay, winning the Super Bowl in his fifth NFL season.

So having played on a championship team, do the Bengals have what it takes to contend?

“Everywhere you look there are stud players,” said Hawk. “They have crazy athletic ability and talent and it’s a really tight team too which is good to see. Everyone knows that the best teams that they’ve been a part of – whether it’s sports, business, or whatever – they enjoy being around each other and trying to make each other better. I’ve seen that from day one here.

“For that one team that finds the way to win it all, everything kind of clicks at the right time. So why not us? We should be in that group of teams that are competing for the Super Bowl for sure.”

Hawk’s transition to a new team has been made easier by its location. He grew up about 45 minutes from Cincinnati in Centerville and maintained a home in Columbus while playing in Green Bay.

“The great thing is that I don’t have to take any flights,” he said. “Normally at this time when I was in Green Bay, I would fly back to Columbus every weekend to be with my family. So I’ve been driving back and forth to Columbus every week and I’ve also been to Centerville multiple times because my parents and my brothers are all there. It’s still weird for me to be back in Ohio and knowing that this is where I’m working.

“I’ve always wanted to get back to Ohio and now I’m here. It’s exciting.”

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

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Healthy Hopkins Ready For Roster Battle

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 13, 2015 – 12:57 pm

When the Bengals opened the preseason at Kansas City last year, center Russell Bodine was not the only rookie that started on the offensive line. Trey Hopkins lined up next to Bodine at left guard.

Hopkins and Bodine

“He was doing a good job at camp and all of the sudden I threw him in there with the first group,” said offensive line coach Paul Alexander. “Clint (Boling) was still coming back from his ACL repair, so Trey got a lot of reps. He was looking really good. He had a good chance to help us last year.”

Unfortunately, Hopkins suffered a broken leg in Cincinnati’s third preseason game.

“It was just on a combo block,” said Hopkins. “I plant-stepped and it just kind of shook and popped. At first it felt a little numb and I got up and tried to jog it off, and that’s when I knew it was bad.”

But Hopkins says his leg is fine now.

“I’m 100%,” he said. “I got cleared in the last week of December. There were still a few limitations then, but they gave me the go-ahead to start training in the offseason. For the past couple of months I’ve been pushing it and haven’t had any problems.”

“He’s moving around and it looks like nothing is bothering him,” said Alexander. “He’s missed a few days because he’s been back at school finishing up to graduate, but most of the time he’s been here and looked good.”

Despite being a two-time All-Big 12 selection and starting 42 games at Texas, Hopkins went undrafted last year before being signed by the Bengals as their highest-paid college free agent.

“I used it as motivation,” Trey told me. “It’s disappointing when you don’t get that call. You see your buddies get those calls and you want to be happy for them, but there’s always that biting feeling in your stomach because you’ll never know how it felt to celebrate with your family on that day. But you still have an opportunity if you got invited to camp and get to participate in OTAs. You just have to use those opportunities.”

The biggest challenge for the 6’3”, 310-pound guard was to change the footwork that he had learned at Texas.

“He was taught different techniques in college that I thought would hinder him in making the transition to the NFL,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham. “He unlearned and relearned about as quickly as any young guy that I’ve seen. He’s got good overall athletic ability. He’s got the ability to finish blocks, good hand placement and feet, and has some strength to him. He’s just a good prospect.

“In my mind it’s hard to project how quickly a guy will be able to go through the process of unlearning and relearning. You wonder if he will go back to his old ways in the heat of battle and Trey proved to me that he was capable of putting those away. He did a really good job of that.”

“Last year I worked hard, studied a lot, and put a lot of effort into learning the techniques that Paul teaches,” said Hopkins. “I’m pretty much going to have to do the exact same thing again. But I’m not starting from complete zero. Now it’s just training that muscle memory again and getting used to the techniques for the steps and pulls and stuff like that.”

“He has a combination of very good athleticism, excellent intelligence, and want-to,” said Alexander. “The want-to kind of puts the other two together and he did a really good job.”

The Bengals typically keep nine offensive lineman on the roster and Hopkins will have to earn a spot in training camp. After missing an entire season, Trey is looking forward to the battle.

“You always kind of wonder what your life would be like without football,” said Hopkins. “Sometimes it’s really a grind, but when it gets taken from you, you really start to appreciate the fun in it. You play football since seventh grade – even before that for some people – and I don’t think you ever realize how different your life will be when that’s over with. It may be refreshing for a little bit, but after a while it’s maddening because you’re just itching to be part of it.

“My goal right now is to get back into the swing of things. It’s been almost a year since I’ve done any of this, and even when I was healthy I had a lot of room for improvement.”

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

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