Blogs

Dennard Hopes That Wait Is Over

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 25, 2015 – 10:14 am

Last year while fellow 2014 first round draft picks Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, and C.J. Mosley were playing starring roles as rookies, Darqueze Dennard mostly watched and waited.

Darqueze Dennard

The 24th pick in last year’s draft made a significant contribution for Cincinnati on special teams, but only played 77 snaps on defense. For the sake of comparison, Mosley played 1,243 snaps on defense for the Ravens.

“I continually tried to tell myself, ‘Patience is a virtue. Patience is a virtue.’” said Dennard. “Sometimes I want things to happen how I want it and when I want it, but it doesn’t always happen like that.”

“He wanted to play and was frustrated last year,” said defensive backs coach Vance Joseph. “But watching Terence Newman, Leon Hall, and Adam Jones is going to help him be a better player.”

“We didn’t have to throw Darqueze in the fire,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “We stayed fairly healthy at the spot and didn’t have to do that.”

And as Coach Lewis is fond of saying: “That’s a good thing.”

Rookie cornerbacks rarely excel. It’s interesting to note that the last 16 Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookies of the Year have been defensive lineman or linebackers. The last cornerback to win the award was Charles Woodson in 1998.

“I think if cornerbacks or quarterbacks play too early and have negative experiences – that can really ruin a player,” said Joseph. “But if he watches for a while, learns how to play, and plays well when he gets a chance to play, it carries confidence throughout his career.

“I am in a great situation,” said Dennard. “I didn’t get thrown into the fire too early. You see a lot of first round corners thrown in too early and they fade out of the league. You don’t hear too much about them anymore.”

Instead, Dennard learned from a trio of cornerbacks that ended last season with a combined 28 years of NFL experience.

“I knew a lot about the college game, but the NFL is completely different,” Darqueze told me. “Having guys like Terence, Leon, and Adam helping me out by coaching me, showing me how to watch film, and staying on top of me about playing with good technique helped me out a lot. I really appreciate those guys looking out for me last year.

“The older guys did a great job of telling me that things happen for a reason. Just continue to work on your craft. This is a time where you can go back to the lab and get better. When you get an opportunity, you can make the best of it.”

“He got a chance to learn behind some great pros and we’re reaping the benefit now,” said Lewis.

One of the biggest lessons that the former Michigan State star learned from the veterans was how to take care of his body.

“I’ve been taking precautions to make me better,” said Dennard. “I’m not eating bad food, stretching daily, doing yoga, and things like that.”

“Last year he had a college football player’s body and this year he has an NFL body,” said Joseph. “His body fat is down and that’s a big deal because now he’s running better and he can run fast for a long time now.”

After the 36-year-old Newman signed a one-year deal as a free agent with Minnesota, there is an opportunity for more playing time this season for Dennard and 2012 first round pick Dre Kirkpatrick.

“They’ve been taught to do it the right way, they’ve been taught to earn it, and they’ve got a solid foundation when they get out there,” said Lewis.

“The competition is high, everybody is making each other better, and that’s going to make the team better,” said Dennard.

The 23-year-old from Dry Branch, Georgia made a positive impression during the Bengals mandatory minicamp in June.

“He had a good spring,” said Joseph. “The last two weeks he came on strong. He had four or five interceptions, he’s playing nickel and outside corner, so I’m excited about Darqueze for training camp.”

Biding his time as a rookie wasn’t easy, but Dennard can see the benefits now.

“I had four first round picks (including Kirkpatrick) in front of me that have all been in the same shoes that I’m in,” Darqueze told me. “Having those guys tutoring me is going to help me out a lot.

“And not playing defense meant less stress on my body. I was playing special teams, but it wasn’t like I was playing 80 snaps a game, so hopefully it will add a year on to my career.”

“It’s OK that he hasn’t played yet, because he’s going to be a great player in the future,” said Joseph.

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

If you’re on 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 Work Of Art…By Sam

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 16, 2015 – 4:57 pm

I am not a big sports memorabilia collector, but last month at the annual Marvin Lewis Community Fund Golf Classic, there was an auction item that I was thrilled to purchase.

Wyche and Boomer

Former Bengals coach Sam Wyche has created 150 unique works of art – at least for avid football fans. They are diagrams of plays meticulously drawn with a white marker on a black canvas. Each drawing is approximately 16 by 20 inches. Another one will be up for auction at the Marvin Lewis Football 101 event on Wednesday, October 21st.

“They are plays that were used in Super Bowls that I was a part of,” said Wyche. “Super Bowl VII when I was a player with the Washington Redskins – that was the year that Miami had the perfect record so that tells you how we did in that game. Super Bowl XVI when I was the director of the passing game under Bill Walsh with the San Francisco 49ers. We won that game with Joe Montana against the Bengals. And of course, Super Bowl XXIII when I was the head coach of the Bengals.”

Wyche play (640x480)

I was able to purchase #90 in the series. It’s labeled the “best basic run in 1988.”

“That play helped take us to Super Bowl XXIII down in Miami,” Wyche told me. “We had a zone-blocking running game under Jim McNally – probably the best offensive line coach of his day and maybe ever. He was certainly as good as any of them. We probably had the best offensive line in football that year if you think about it. Anthony Munoz, Bruce Kozerski at center, Max Montoya and Bruce Reimers at guard, Joe Walter at tackle, and some guys that would come in that were just as good. So we would take good splits, take a little drop step, and then we would – as Jim McNally used to say – cover up the guy in front of you. If he wants to go to his left, take him farther to his left than he wants to go. If he wants to go the other way, take him farther that way. But cover him up and let James Brooks go downhill. He would line-up deep in the backfield in an offset ‘I’ and come downhill. He could hit the hole off tackle, off guard, cut back over the other guard, or cut back all the way over the other tackle. After James got tired we gave it to Ickey, and if he got tired we gave it to Stanley Wilson or Stanford Jennings. We had fresh guys that could run that, and all they did was run downhill and look for the crack in the offense. We didn’t try to push them back; we tried to push them where they wanted to go which created seams. Then we let the running back pick the seam. We were the number one offensive in the National Football League several times during the eight years that I was there and it was mainly because we had a great offensive line, terrific running backs, and deep threats running down the field.”

In the 20-16 loss to the 49ers, the Bengals were held to 106 rushing yards after averaging 155 per game during the regular season. Wyche thinks they would have fared better if Wilson had not succumbed to a cocaine relapse the night before the game.

“I think Stanley Wilson would have been a difference maker because the field had not been watered properly and it was coming up in 18-inch chunks because they re-sodded the whole field,” said Wyche. “For our big backs that took away their quickness, their speed, and their decision making somewhat. Stanley was more of a Barry Sanders-type runner – feet real close to the ground, wide stance, dance on a dime. He could have made them miss that day I think.”

Kicker Jim Breech didn’t miss that day, as he drilled three field goals including a 40-yarder that gave Cincinnati a 16-13 lead with 3:20 remaining.

“I still remember Cris Collinsworth coming over and poking me with that bony old elbow that he got at the University of Florida and saying, ‘Sam, I think we left too much time for number 16.’ That was the way he worded it. Number 16, of course, was Joe Montana.”

Montana led San Francisco on an 11-play, 92-yard drive that ended with a game-winning touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left.

Wyche says he regrets that he was not able to hand the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the man that signed him as a player and hired him as a head coach.

Paul Brown black and white

“Paul Brown had been – by poll – a national champion high school coach, won a national championship at Ohio State, and his Cleveland Browns teams were World Champions back in those days when they didn’t have a Super Bowl,” said Wyche. “The only trophy he didn’t have was the Super Bowl trophy. That meant something to the players. Obviously they wanted to win it for themselves too, but it meant something to them to try to get that trophy for Paul Brown. It certainly meant something to me having played for him. I was a free agent when he, Mike, and Pete Brown gave me the opportunity to come to camp in 1968. I really wanted that trophy to be one repayment for a favor that led to a career for me. We fell 34 seconds short.”

Cincinnati returned to the playoffs two years later under Wyche and beat Houston in the Wild Card round 41-14. The Bengals have not won a playoff game since.

Much of the criticism for their last four playoff losses has been heaped on Andy Dalton, but Wyche remains supportive of the Bengals quarterback.

Dalton vs Jets (440x293)

“It’s an 11-man operation every time the ball is snapped,” said Wyche. “The guy that gets most of the credit or blame is the quarterback because he’s got the ball in his hands on virtually every snap. He’s got the close-up shots on him, but viewers don’t see the routes that are run, the coverages that are good, the pressure from the defensive line – a lot of things happen to the quarterback. After watching Andy Dalton, I see a good quarterback.

“Quarterbacks have to be two things – they have to be accurate and they have to be smart. When I say smart – they have to be poised, they have to be able to get you out of trouble with an audible, and they’ve got to be able to go the right receiver at the right time. A lot of that last point – going to the right receiver at the right time – is experience. Andy is now an experienced guy. I think he’s definitely accurate and I think he’s definitely a smart guy. From the little bit that I’ve talked to him, I have no doubt that he can handle the pressure. The comments always circle around the quarterback – that’s just the way it is – but I think he’s good enough not only to take them to a playoff win but well into the playoffs. Then, of course, it’s a single elimination tournament and you’re playing the best teams that year so you may or may not win.”

Cincinnati did not quite win Super Bowl XXIII, but under their innovative head coach, the Bengals pioneered the use of the no-huddle offense, led the league in scoring, and even introduced the “Ickey Shuffle.”

For Bengals fans, it was a work of art.

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

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

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


Tags: , ,
Posted in Heard It From Hoard | No Comments »

Special Teams Will Be Key For Keo

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 5, 2015 – 1:57 pm

When the Bengals signed free agent safety Shiloh Keo five days after last year’s playoff loss in Indianapolis, the news didn’t get big headlines.

Shiloh Keo

After all, the four-year veteran didn’t play last season after being released by Houston following the fourth week of the season.

“We brought him in for a workout about mid-season and he wasn’t healthy (calf injury) so we didn’t sign him,” said defensive backs coach Vance Joseph. “But we knew that if he was healthy enough to play in the spring that we would sign him and he’s been a plus for us.

“He’s a reliable guy. He’s very smart and very tough. As a safety, he has all the qualities you want. He tackles well, he’s got ball skills, he plays hard, and he loves to play. He’s a great addition.”

Joseph was on the Texans’ coaching staff two years ago when Keo started 11 games at safety. But the former fifth-round draft pick in 2011 made his biggest impact on special teams. Shiloh was named Houston’s special teams captain midway through his second NFL season.

“We played against him several times when he was in Houston, and I knew that he was a good special teams player,” said special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. “He was a tough, hard-nosed guy that was in the middle of their group. He was an impact player for them and it was exciting to see when we picked him up. He hasn’t disappointed.

“He’s behind right now in the terminology and knowing exactly what we want to do, but it’s just a matter of him learning it. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to pick it up quickly.”

“Whenever you’re not a starting guy you have to make it on special teams – especially if you’re a veteran,” said Keo. “I had a lot of experience on special teams in Houston and did a good job there. I just want to carry-over what I did there and take it one step further.”

“That’s where he’s made his name,” said Joseph. “If he can be a good special teams player for us and be a reliable backup at safety, it’s a plus having him on the team.”

With Reggie Nelson and George Iloka entrenched as Cincinnati’s starting safeties, and Shawn Williams expected to be the top sub, Keo will go to training camp in a likely battle for the final safety spot with sixth-round draft pick Derron Smith and college free agents Floyd Raven Sr. and Erick Dargan.

“That fourth safety spot is critical because of the special teams value,” said Joseph. “You want the guy who is the best of both worlds.”

“He has to be a dominant special teams player,” said Simmons. “That’s where a Pro Bowl-type special teams player comes from – that fourth safety spot, or fourth receiver, or fourth corner. That slot is where those guys come from.”

Keo obviously has a fan in Vance Joseph and the feeling is mutual.

“He’s hands-down the best coach I’ve ever had,” said Keo. “He’s so detail-oriented and makes sure that everybody is ready to play. He gives the same coaching to everybody – whether it’s a first year undrafted guy or a 10-year vet. He expects everybody to play at a high level and I definitely think that he brings the best out of everybody. I’m really fortunate and blessed to be here with the Bengals because I really like Vance Joseph and like I said, he’s the best coach I’ve ever had.”

But it will obviously be important for Keo to impress his new special teams coach as well.

“He’s at a point in his career where it’s kind of ‘go time’ for him,” said Simmons. “It’s a spot where guys either propel themselves forward or fall off a cliff. He’s smart enough and has been around long enough to see that. He’s a good kid and a tough guy and those are the kind of guys we want. I like guys that I know where they’re going to be and I can count on them.”

“I think this is a great fit for me,” said Keo. “I think they expect me to come in here and help the team out in any way that I can – whether it be defense or special teams – and that’s what I want to do.”

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

If you’re on 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 »

Zeitler On Quest To Be The Best

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 3, 2015 – 10:17 am

Paul Alexander is in his 21st season on the Bengals coaching staff. Before that, the offensive line guru was an NFL assistant with the New York Jets and coached at the college level for Penn State, Michigan, and Central Michigan. In short, he’s worked with hundreds of guards, tackles, and centers.

But he’s never coached anybody quite like Kevin Zeitler.

Zeitler at OTAs (440x375)

“He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever been around – he really is,” said Alexander. “He’s a pleasure to coach, loves to work, and has aspirations to be great.”

Zeitler earns similar praise from Dave Lapham who spent 10 years on the Bengals offensive line and is heading into his 30th year in the broadcasting booth.

“In some ways he reminds me of Anthony Munoz,” said Lapham. “Anthony wanted to be the best and physically did everything he could to try to get there. I think Zeitler is doing that, and I think his preparation with studying film and things like that are extraordinary as well. That’s high praise to put him with a perennial Pro Bowler and Hall of Famer, but I think that’s where he wants to be. And that’s where his preparation and work ethic are trying to take him.”

Since being drafted in the first round (27th overall) in 2012, Zeitler has been one of the Bengals biggest and strongest players. But when the players returned to Cincinnati in April for the start of voluntary workouts, Zeitler was visibly bigger in the upper body.

“This last offseason I worked really hard,” Kevin told me. “I did double-days for two straight months which actually put me in a bad position where I reached an overtraining phase. But I’ve healed from that and I’ve definitely put on some muscle. I got down to 12% body fat where I had a six pack showing for a while. Now I’m performance eating and having a few more carbs than I normally have.”

But his offseason work went beyond the weight room. Zeitler asked a member of the Bengals staff to provide video of the best guards in the NFL.

“I think I must be a jealous person in general,” said Zeitler with a laugh. “I’ve watched a lot of film this offseason and I see other guards do so many things so well. I just really want to do it at the top level, and whatever I have to do to reach that, I’m willing to put in the time.

“I love what we do here, but it’s always nice to see little things that other people do. I’ve watched San Fran, Seattle, Dallas – you can pretty much name any O-line and I’ve tried to learn something from each of them. You can always learn something.”

Last season, ProFootballFocus ranked Zeitler as the 9th-best guard in the NFL (#5 among right guards). Baltimore’s Marshal Yanda was ranked first at the position by a wide margin. In fact, PFF ranked Yanda as the fifth-best overall player in the NFL.

“Yanda is definitely one of my favorites to watch,” said Zeitler. “He’s just so smooth, so strong, and he’s always in the right place. That type of consistency is invaluable in the NFL and there’s a reason why he’s an All-Pro.”

So how close is Zeitler to playing at that level?

“We’ll see this year,” said Alexander. “I think he’s made a jump every year. He’s always been good and gotten better, but I think this year may be his biggest jump.”

“He wants to be the best there is,” said Lapham. “He’s so driven and I think he’s very hard on himself. It’s a good attribute to be your own best critic, but I think sometimes he takes it to the point where it can be a little bit harmful. It’s a balancing act and I think he’s doing a better job of finding that line. He’s not beating himself up over something he thought he could have done better. Sometimes you just have to move on. I think that’s where he can probably get better. In every other area he’s a pro’s pro in every sense of the word.”

“I have perfect images in my mind of how I do everything, and my only goal is to work every day to get there,” said Zeitler. “I doubt it will ever happen, but I’m going to be the closest I can get to that every day.”

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

If you’re on 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 »