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Carter Making Case For Hybrid Role

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 30, 2015 – 10:04 pm

In their 2010 season opener at Fresno State, the UC Bearcats were simply unable to protect Zach Collaros. The UC quarterback was sacked eight times, including three times by one of the Bulldogs defensive ends.

Chris Carter vs UC

His name was Chris Carter.

Five years later, Carter’s pass rushing skills are the biggest reason why he’s staging a strong bid to make the Bengals 53-man roster as a hybrid linebacker/rush end.

“I had some really crazy coaches when it came to pass rushing back in high school and college,” Carter told me. “It was all about repetition. Don’t get tired. Wear them out with your speed. And then wear them out again, and again, and again. Eventually they’re going to get tired and before you know it, you’ve got a sack.

“That’s a skill that I’m really trying to capitalize on, but at the same time, I have to keep throwing other things in there as well – playing in space, playing linebacker, and that’s something I’ve been improving on as well.”

Carter vs Bucs

The 26-year-old leads the Bengals in the preseason with 2.5 sacks, and would have had another in Saturday’s win over the Bears if not for a penalty in the secondary. Carter has also consistently flashed his speed rush off the edge throughout training camp.

“Any time you step on the practice field you want to make sure you get noticed by the coaches, scouts, and all of the staff,” said Carter. “I just come out here every day with my hard hat on ready to work.

“Fortunately, I’ve been able to come out and stack good days on top of good days. That’s the goal. To continue to be consistent with that and to show my worth on the practice field and in the games.”

“Chris Carter has done a nice job all training camp and this preseason,” said Marvin Lewis.

After recording 19.5 sacks and 38 tackles-for-loss in his four seasons at Fresno State, Carter was drafted by the Steelers in the fifth round in 2011. After battling hamstring and abdomen injuries in his first two seasons, Carter appeared in 13 games for Pittsburgh in 2013 including a start at outside linebacker.

But last year, the Steelers waived Carter just before the start of the season. He was quickly picked up by the Colts and spent several weeks with Indianapolis before being waived again. The Bengals signed him in early December and Chris played in the final three games of the regular season and the Wild Card playoff loss.

“A lot of guys can get discouraged when you kind of become a journeyman,” Carter told me. “I spent three years with Pittsburgh, a short time with Indy, and hope that I’ve found a home here.

“I respected the Bengals when I was in Pittsburgh. I don’t think many Steelers will say that until they get out of the program, but when I was there, any time we talked about the Bengals there was a great amount of respect because we knew it was going to be a physical game. We knew that we were going to be hurting on the Monday and Tuesday after that game. So I was excited to come here and when a lot of the Steelers guys found out that I signed here, they were excited for me because they have a lot of respect for the coaches and players here.”

While playing for Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh, Carter says he learned an important lesson that he is keeping in mind during his strong preseason showing with Cincinnati.

“They told me, ‘One day you’re drinking wine and the next day you’re crushing grapes,’” said Carter. “So don’t ever get too high on yourself. Just stay humble, keep your nose to the grindstone, and your eyes to the sky and you’ll be alright.”

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A Familiar Name Returns To Tampa

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 19, 2015 – 11:25 pm

In Cincinnati, James Wilder is the name of a young Bengals running back fighting to make the roster.

In Tampa, that name is football royalty.

James Wilder Sr.

James Wilder Sr. is the leading rusher in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history (5,957 yards) and the former NFL record holder for most rushing attempts in a game (43) and in a season (407).

“People always tell me great things about him,” said James Jr. “They say if I’m half of what he was, then I’m pretty darn good. To follow in his footsteps and do the kinds of things that he did in his career is my goal.

“I grew up watching him all the time on tape. He retired before I was born, but that’s who I idolized and modeled my game after. Same size, same height, same playing style.”

“He’s a very determined kid,” said James Sr. “Ever since he’s been playing ball with the Boys and Girls Club he’s been very determined and that continued in high school and college. He’s a hard worker. I’m saying he’ll be better than I was if he gets the opportunity.

“Gosh, his athleticism and preparation are a whole lot better. The game is faster; the guys are a lot stronger, so physically he’s ahead of me. It’s just the mental aspect of getting to know the game.”

James Jr. was a member of Florida State’s 2013 National Championship team and averaged 6.0 yards per carry in his three years with the Seminoles. The Bengals signed the 6’3”, 232 pound running back as a college free agent last year and Wilder spent his rookie season on their practice squad.

“It took a toll on me mentally,” said James Jr. “I’ve never been in a position where I was toward the bottom of the depth chart trying to work my way up. I’ve always started out near the top of the depth chart. But talking with the coaches and talking to my dad, you just have to be unselfish and control what you can control. Every time your number is called, go out and do what you’re supposed to do and handle your business.”

“I’ve seen a lot of growth,” said James Sr. “I’ve seen him adapt and see what it takes to prepare himself now that he has that year under his belt.”

James Wilder Jr.

In Cincinnati’s preseason opener against the New York Giants, Wilder led the Bengals with 14 carries for 53 yards, including a two-yard touchdown.

“I thought I did well,” he said. “Watching the film, there were a lot of things I can polish up – I left a few yards out there and things like that. There are a few things that I can fix. That’s what the film is for and that’s what practice is for.”

“He’s got to have the confidence that every time he touches the ball he’s going to make something happen,” said James Sr.

This coming Monday night, James Jr. says it will be a dream come true when he plays in the same NFL stadium where his father spent the final two seasons of his nine years with the Buccanneers.

“Growing up always being around it and the fact that Pops played there, it was definitely a dream of mine to be able to play there,” said James Jr.

And he’ll do it with his father in attendance.

“He definitely informed me that he’ll be on the Bucs side in a Bengals jersey,” said James Jr. with a grin. “I’m sure he’s going to hear about it a little bit if he does that.”

“Hopefully he can do what he does best,” said James Sr. “I’m behind him 100 percent.”

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

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An Impressive Debut For “Baby Geno”

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 15, 2015 – 9:11 am

Leave it to Lap.

A couple of hours before kickoff on Friday night as we discussed some of the players we were looking forward to seeing in the preseason opener, my broadcast partner Dave Lapham brought up defensive tackle DeShawn Williams, the undrafted rookie out of Clemson.

“He’s going to kill them if he’s in there against the third string,” said Lapham.

Good call.

DeShawn Williams

Williams (#69) entered the game with 9:33 remaining in the fourth quarter and quickly got to quarterback Ricky Stanzi as he released an incomplete pass on third down and seven.

“He was right there in my lap,” said Williams. “I wish he would have held the ball a little longer – then I would have had two sacks.”

On the play, Williams was double-teamed by center Brett Jones and guard Michael Bamiro, but kept fighting until he got to Stanzi as the quarterback rolled to his left.

“There’s a young man I noticed right away in camp,” said analyst Anthony Munoz on the TV broadcast. “The thing that I noticed was his speed, his quickness, and he goes 100% the whole time. He never stops.”

“On that play, he rolled out and I just gave great effort,” said Williams. “Things might not always go good as a rookie, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving effort.”

The 22-year-old got his first sack on the Giants’ next offensive snap when he nailed Stanzi for a nine yard loss.

“The guy’s got a motor and when he separates he can accelerate,” said Lapham. “He’s always penetrating, showing up, and making plays.”

Williams was on the field for 11 plays and hit the quarterback twice.

“I just waited for my opportunity,” DeShawn told me. “Even though I didn’t get that many reps, I prepared like I was a starter. Then when my number got called, I tried to just go out and play ball and have fun. That’s what Coach Guenther and Coach Hayes told me to do. Just go out there and attack.”

On his sack, Williams again beat two blockers to get to the quarterback, using an inside move to blow by right guard Eric Herman before brushing aside running back Akeem Hunt as he tried to help.

“I knew that my reps would be limited so I had to give it my all,” said Williams. “And that’s true whether it’s one rep, two reps, or 70 reps. Give it your all because coaches are looking for guys that are going to give effort. Nobody can measure your effort – that’s on you. That’s the man in the mirror. I never want a coach to say, ‘He’s not an effort guy.’ That speaks a lot about you. I want to give it my all so that they can count on me when I get in the game.”

“They’re teaching them right down at Clemson,” said Lapham. “They’ve got something like six or seven guys from last year’s defense in NFL camps.”

Williams appeared in 53 games for the Tigers during his college career to tie for fourth-most in school history, but still wasn’t drafted. According to his NFL.com draft profile, DeShawn is “shorter than desired checking in at under 6-foot-1 and a little top heavy.”

Three-time Pro Bowler Geno Atkins received a similar scouting report before the Bengals selected him in the fourth round in 2010.

“They call me ‘Baby Geno’ in the locker room, but I haven’t done anything yet to reach that status,” said Williams. “I try to learn from him each and every day. Just to have an All-Pro in your room – you get star struck and I’ve got nothing but praise for him. He’s a wonderful teammate.

“I’ve never met a guy like Geno. He’s just a freak of nature man. One day I hope I can reach his status but it’s going to take some work.”

Williams isn’t likely to be as great as Atkins, but his NFL career and the Bengals season got off to a good start against the Giants.

“This is something to build on, but we haven’t done anything yet,” he said. “We still have to work but it feels good.”

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

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Dawson Trusts His Instincts

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 7, 2015 – 11:47 am

When the Bengals chose P.J. Dawson with the final pick of the third round in this year’s draft, NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock called him, “the most instinctive linebacker I saw on tape this year.”

Three months later after OTAs, minicamps, and a week of training camp, Bengals players and coaches are saying similar things.

P.J. Dawson no helmet

“He’s a savvy player and knows how to get to the ball,” said linebacker Vinny Rey. “He understands football – I can tell he’s been playing football for a while.”

“The knock on him coming out of TCU is that he didn’t test well at the combine, but every linebacker coach around the league that watched the film said, ‘This kid is the best player,’” said linebackers coach Matt Burke. “He naturally has a feel for the game. He sees plays develop and has an understanding of route concepts and that stuff can be hard to teach.”

Dawson says that his instincts on defense are the product of playing on the other side of the ball.

“I feel like it comes from me playing wide receiver in high school,” he told me. “Being on the offensive side helped me learn how offenses work. They don’t do things for no reason. Wherever they send the fullback or the puller, that’s usually where the play is going. I try to make it as simple as possible.”

But learning an NFL defense in your first training camp is anything but simple.

“It’s the normal learning curve for all rookies,” said Burke. “He has to learn the details and make sure he’s on the same page with what we’re trying to get accomplished. Right now he might be doing his own thing when he goes and makes a play.”

“Even though he’s learning all these things for the first time he still maintains his savviness,” said Rey. “He’s not playing like a robot.”

The 22-year-old says that the Bengals defense is actually easier to pick up than the one he learned before earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors at TCU last year.

“It’s the wording,” said Dawson. “Just the terms that they use and learning the minor details. It’s the language – that’s all it is.”

With experienced linebackers like A.J. Hawk, Rey Maualuga, and Vontaze Burfict on the roster, Dawson has plenty of available teachers.

“They help me with anything that I need and I appreciate that,” said Dawson. “I feel like I’m going to do the same thing for the next group of rookies coming in.

“I’m also spending a lot of time with the coaches before and after practice trying to get every little extra thing that I can so that I can be ready.”

“I can tell that he’s a quieter guy, but there’s comes a point where you’ve got to start meeting with the coach more and meeting with other guys that see the game from the on-field perspective,” said Rey. “He’s doing that more and more.”

Dawson led the Big 12 in tackles (136) and tackles-for-loss (20) last year and added four interceptions. He’s been compared to Burfict for his playmaking ability and considers that a high compliment.

“I remember when I was watching ‘Hard Knocks’ I saw him and said, ‘Man, that 55 is pretty good.’” said Dawson. “I didn’t even know his name, but he stood out to me. Then I finally met him and I was like, ‘It’s crazy that we’re on the same team.’ It’s a blessing to be here and I’m glad that I can learn from him.”

Dawson is hoping to stand out as well. It’s one of the reasons why he asked be listed as “P.J.” instead of Paul after joining the Bengals.

“I feel more comfortable with P.J. – plus there are a lot of ‘Pauls’ here,” he said. “I didn’t want to be confused for anybody else, so I felt like that would be better.”

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

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Healthy Eifert Could Have Huge Impact

Posted by Dan Hoard on July 31, 2015 – 1:16 pm

During training camp I’m often asked, “What player has been the most impressive?”

In each of the last two years, my answer has been Tyler Eifert.

But don’t take my word for how good the tight end looks at practice. Just listen to former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

The 2007 Pro Bowler served as a coaching intern during the Bengals’ June minicamp and wore a GoPro camera on his chest during a workout for Bengals.com. Houshmandzadeh could be heard gushing about Eifert as he watched him run pass patterns.

“Every time I see that boy run a route I can’t believe it,” said Houshmandzadeh. “I can’t believe that man! He’s too big to be moving like that. That’s crazy.”

On Thursday, I asked Eifert if he had seen the Houshmandzadeh video.

“I have a family friend that sent it to me,” Tyler said. “When he first got here I told him that I want to be coached. Any advice you have for me about route running let me know. He helped a lot.”

Of all of the injured players that the Bengals look forward to having back this season, Eifert could have the biggest impact. Consider that the former first round draft pick was only on the field for eight snaps before suffering an elbow injury in the season opener last year and had 3 catches for 37 yards.

“It was a lot of fun – I remember that,” said Eifert. “The most catches I ever had in a game was five my rookie year, so I was like, ‘This could be a lot of fun this year.’ Then I didn’t make it through the first quarter. Hopefully I can change that this year.

“You really don’t realize how much you miss being out there until you can’t be out there. It was hard and I’m excited to contribute this year and help us win games.”

Tyler Eifert

Those eight snaps in Baltimore provided a glimpse of the wide variety of ways that offensive coordinator Hue Jackson can use the 6’6”, 250 pound tight end. Eifert lined up as a traditional tight end four times, a slot receiver three times, and an H-back once. The Bengals averaged 7.5 yards per play with Eifert on the field and he caught all three passes that were thrown to him. Additionally, Andy Dalton was 8-for-10 for 78 yards before Eifert’s injury.

“It’s good to have him back and good to see that he’s feeling better,” said Dalton. “He’s a big matchup mismatch for us. The more that he can do, the better we’ll be.”

In addition to dislocating his elbow at Baltimore, Eifert tore labrum in his shoulder during OTAs before last season. Both injuries eventually required surgery, but the former Notre Dame standout says they are no longer an issue.

“I feel good,” he said. “I feel healthy, strong, in-shape, and ready to go.

“I saw (4-time Pro Bowler) Jake Long down in Pensacola and every season he’s had a surgery. I’m just going to go out and play hard and not worry about any of the other stuff.”

Although Eifert is only in his third NFL season, he is the Bengals only tight end with regular season experience (not including H-back Ryan Hewitt) following the departure of free agent Jermaine Gresham.

“It is a little bit weird when you put it that way, but I’m confident in what I can do on the field and being a leader in this locker room,” said Eifert.

“I’ve seen him emerge this spring that way,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “That’s a good thing. Another guy who missed all of last year basically and had to sit and watch so it’s been great to see him break out of that and progress the way we want him to.”

If you make it to one of the Bengals 14 open-to-the-public practices during training camp, I suspect that Eifert will stand out as one of the most impressive players.

And if he stays healthy, the 24-year-old could be poised for a breakout season.

“There’s only so much that you can control and getting hurt isn’t one of them,” said Eifert. “And how many balls you get thrown to you isn’t one of them either. It’s just, go out and work hard, understand the offense, and do your job.”

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

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Hunt Hopeful For Rapid Return

Posted by Dan Hoard on July 30, 2015 – 3:28 pm

Remember the “Margus Hunt Show” in the Bengals’ final preseason game last year?

Margus Hunt vs Colts

The 6’8,” 290-pound defensive end terrorized the Indianapolis Colts with three sacks and three additional QB hurries in a 35-7 win.

Unfortunately, one week later, Hunt suffered the first of several injuries that limited his impact as he finished with one sack in 12 regular season games. He added a shared sack in the playoff loss at Indianapolis.

“I was called injury prone a lot, but it wasn’t anything that had to do with me being weak,” said Hunt. “In the first game at Baltimore, Steve Smith Sr. knocked the wind out of me and bruised my ribs. That lingered for half of the season. Then I got hit on the side of the knee in the Tennessee game. It was just all of these little things. An ankle injury kept me out for four weeks – it was just stuff like that. But this is football. Everybody gets hurt.”

The ribs, knee, and ankle have healed. Now the 28-year-old is trying to rebound from a lower back injury suffered in the offseason.

“With an injury like that you have to be really careful, so we were really cautious about the rehab process and the strength process,” said Hunt. “It just takes time to really get it to a point where we can start adding more stuff to it.

“It’s about 80% now if not even more. I’ve been working out really good for a while now, but that is kind of different from what happens on the field.”

Hunt will open training camp on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. He can be activated to practice as soon as he is cleared medically.

“I feel positive and confident that I will be back during camp and will be able to play in a preseason game at least – if not two – we’ll see how it goes,” he said. “It’s just a matter of the coaches, the training room staff, and (strength coach) Chip Morton seeing where I’m at with football conditioning.

“We’re still on the rough timeline for where we thought we would be. I was expecting and hoping to be back sooner and being healthy to go right now. But I will be taking part in the conditioning and testing and trying to see where I’m at with that and we’ll go from there.”

The former second round draft pick faces stiff competition for a roster spot in the crowded defensive line room.

“It will be a very competitive camp,” Hunt said. “I have this little setback, but I just feel that if I go out there and do what I’ve been doing and what I can do, I definitely feel positive about still being part of this team.

“We’re at the point right now where I can’t take part in team activities yet, but it’s a day-to-day basis. As of right now I’m still planning on playing in the regular season.”

Hunt would not commit to a specific timetable for when he expects to practice, but the former SMU standout is clearly optimistic.

“I have a good feeling about it being sooner rather than later,” he said. “There is no pain whatsoever right now.”

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

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RIP Van Miller

Posted by Dan Hoard on July 20, 2015 – 10:53 pm

If you live in Los Angeles, you have Vin Scully. If you live here in Cincinnati, you have Marty Brennaman. And if you grew up when I did in Western New York, you had Van Miller.

Van Miller with dates

The legendary Voice of the Buffalo Bills died last Friday at the age of 87 and while I only talked to him a few times, he had a profound impact on my life and career.

When I was a kid, Van Miller was everywhere. He not only called Bills’ games on the radio, but he was also the voice of the NBA’s Buffalo Braves (now the Los Angeles Clippers), the primary sports anchor on the local CBS-TV affiliate, and the host of a televised high school quiz show called “It’s Academic.”

(I actually joined my high school quiz bowl team in hopes of meeting him, but we didn’t advance to the TV round. There apparently weren’t enough sports questions for me to make a significant contribution.)

Van was outstanding at all of those jobs, but you could tell that he loved doing play-by-play of live sporting events the most. It’s one of the reasons why that became my dream job for as long as I can remember.

Like any great play-by-play announcer, Van provided a detailed and accurate description of the game, but what made him one of the all-time greats was his enthusiasm and flair for the dramatic.

Check out his call of “The Comeback” – Buffalo’s record-setting rally from a 32-point deficit to beat Houston 41-38 in the 1992 NFL playoffs.

I get chills every time I hear him say, “It is bedlam! It is pandemonium! It is fandemonium! It is…(slight pause) fantastic.

NFL Films loved using Van Miller’s calls. Here’s what the late Steve Sabol, former president of NFL Films, once told the Buffalo News:

“We have an expression called ‘deliver the moment,” Sabol said. “The ability to rise to the occasion when something great is happening, to deliver the moment that may be engraved in fans’ memories and their ears and eyes forever. You could see a great Bills play and you knew you were going to get something from Van that would match and complement and enhance whatever we were going to do with the music and the picture and the story. Van was like having an Academy Award-winning supporting actor always ready to deliver that moment when you needed it.”

Van was also hysterically funny without being snarky. His humor wasn’t mean-spirited – it was more of a gentle nudge than a shot to the ribs.

I have never consciously attempted to sound like another announcer, but when I listen to old clips of Van, I realize that my style and many of the expressions that I use were heavily influenced by listening to him.

During Buffalo’s run of four straight trips to the Super Bowl, I covered many of their games for WTVH-TV in Syracuse. I introduced myself to Van in the press box and got a big kick out of the full-length fur coat that he wore in the booth when the weather turned nasty in Buffalo (usually about mid-September). But I never had a long conversation with him during those seasons.

Van Miller fur coat

Two years ago when the Bengals played in Buffalo, I finally had the opportunity to tell Van how much I admired his work and that he was one of the biggest reasons why I pursued a career in sports broadcasting. He was delighted to hear that I grew up near Jamestown – not far from his childhood home in Dunkirk. When I asked if he would pose for a picture, Van suggested that we take two – one serious photo and one where we pretend to fight.

Van Miller

The Bengals return to Buffalo this year on October 18th. I’m saddened that Van won’t be there. If not for him, I might not be there either.

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

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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

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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

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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

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