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Bengals Put On Tackling Clinic In Grounding Falcons

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 14, 2014 – 11:42 pm

The Bengals should take the game tape from Sunday’s 24-10 win over the Falcons and sell it as a “How to Tackle” instructional video.

“That’s one thing that the coaches here stress – being physical and tackling,” said Adam Jones. “Last week when the Falcons played New Orleans, the Saints missed a lot of tackles so that was a big emphasis.”

Bengals tackle Falcons (440x343)

According to ProFootballFocus.com, New Orleans whiffed on a mind-boggling 16 tackles in last week’s game including six by safety Kenny Vaccaro. PFF credited Atlanta with 195 “yards after catch” in the passing game and 73 “yards after contact” in the running game, helping the Falcons set a franchise record with 568 yards of total offense and score a league-best 37 points.

“That is a good bunch of receivers and they’re going to catch some balls, so when they catch it you have got to get them on the ground,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.

In Sunday’s game at Paul Brown Stadium, I can recall Rey Maualuga missing a tackle on a swing pass to Steven Jackson that the veteran running back turned into a 7-yard gain, but that’s about it. On the remaining 23 passes completed by Matt Ryan, the receivers were typically stopped in their tracks the instant the ball arrived.

“Coach (Guenther) put a lot of emphasis on running to the ball and gang tackling them,” said Emmanuel Lamur. “We did a great job of that.”

One week after posting an NFL-best 128.8 passer rating, Ryan managed a 48.6 rating against the Bengals. Since the start of last season, 8 of 9 quarterbacks to face the Bengals defense at Paul Brown Stadium in the regular season have posted passer ratings under 75 including Ben Roethlisberger (73.1), Aaron Rodgers (64.5), Tom Brady (52.2), and Joe Flacco (49.8).

“Me personally, I try to get those guys on my resume and as a defense we feel the same way,” said Carlos Dunlap.

After converting 6-of-11 third down opportunities last week, the Falcons went 3-for-12 against the Bengals as Cincinnati’s sure tackling led to several third-and-long situations. The average distance of Atlanta’s 12 third down attempts was third-and-10.

“You tackle the catch when it’s second-and-10 and now it’s third-and-eight or third-and-six, as opposed to third-and-one,” said Marvin Lewis. “That makes a huge difference throughout the course of a football game. Even the situation today in the fourth quarter where we’ve got the lead and we’re tackling them and they’re not able to get the ball out of bounds. Those are huge plays in the football game to keep the clock going. If we want to be a great defensive football team, we’ve got to continue to be a great tackling team.”

“I want us to be ‘smart bullies.’” said Guenther. “I know you’ve heard that saying, and what I mean is that we understand football, we understand how to attack offenses, and we frustrate the other team. It’s like playing those guys at the YMCA in basketball that have knee braces on, but you can’t beat ‘em.”

In four of the last five years, the Bengals finished in the NFL’s Top 10 in yards and points allowed under Mike Zimmer, and the defense is off to a strong start under his replacement Guenther. After scoring 16 points on opening day against the Bengals, Baltimore increased that to 26 this week in a win over Pittsburgh. Atlanta’s point total dropped from 37 against the Saints to 10 against Cincinnati.

“They came in as the number one offense and we held them to 10 points and it probably should have been three,” said Jones. “We all have stuff that we have to work on, but if we just keep getting better every week and guys stay healthy, we have a good chance to be in Arizona.”

As in the site of Super Bowl XLIX.

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Dalton Checks Winning In Baltimore Off List

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 7, 2014 – 10:32 pm

Leading the Bengals to a playoff win is obviously the number one thing that Andy Dalton needs to do to shut up his critics. But beating the Ravens in Baltimore was on the list too.

Not anymore.

“Nobody can say that the young guys haven’t won here because they did,” said offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. “Kudos to Andy. I’m very proud and excited about what he did today.”

Dalton at Baltimore 2014 (440x293)

Dalton finished 25-for-38 for 301 yards with 1 TD, 0 INT, and a passer rating of 98.7. If you include the preseason, Andy has completed 68% of his 72 pass attempts without an interception or fumble.

“The biggest thing we’ve been preaching is that if we don’t turn the ball over, we’re going to be hard to beat,” said Jackson.

“That’s the one thing that’s been an emphasis for us – taking care of the ball,” said Dalton.

But avoiding turnovers isn’t always enough to win. In Sunday’s season opener, the Bengals appeared to be in trouble after blowing a 15-point halftime lead, as Joe Flacco’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith put the Ravens in front with 5:46 remaining.

“We didn’t flinch man,” said A.J. Green. “Our sideline was very calm.”

It didn’t stay calm for long as a celebration broke out just 48 seconds later when Dalton delivered a 77-yard strike to Green to win the game.

“We knew all that we needed was a field goal, but we had a chance to hit a big one,” said Dalton. “It comes to executing those and A.J. made a great play.”

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Green. “I was telling the guys that if we want to take that next step toward being great, that this is one of those games that could get us ready for heading into the playoffs in December where everything is not going to go your way. But when your number is called and you’ve got a chance to make a play, then you’ve got to make a play.”

The touchdown went to the same end zone where Green hauled in a 51-yard “Hail Mary” on the final play of regulation to force overtime in last year’s game in Baltimore.

Does Green think Ravens fans are sick of him?

“I hope so,” he said with a laugh.

It was Dalton’s seventh fourth quarter come-from-behind victory and he clearly outperformed Flacco. The Ravens quarterback threw an interception, had a passer rating of 71.0, and inexplicably held on to the ball for the last 8 seconds of the first half deep in Bengals territory to cost his team an easy field goal.

“That was probably the stupidest play I’ve ever made in football,” said Flacco. “I kind of just got caught up in the play and forgot about the situation. There’s no excuse for it – can’t happen.”

Imagine the national bash-fest if Dalton had done the same thing.

Instead he played a smart, turnover-free game and while the Bengals offense obviously has to improve in the red zone, Dalton can check another thing off of his “haven’t been able to do” list.

“There are a lot of tough places to play in this league and this is certainly one of the toughest,” said Dalton. “It was the only place (in the division) where I had not won since joining the Bengals. This was a complete victory by our whole team, but we have to remember it’s just one win and we have a lot of games left.”

“I thought our quarterback played his tail off,” said Jackson.

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Cosell Says Bengals Are Most Talented Team In AFC North

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 4, 2014 – 9:56 pm

Our Wednesday night “Bengals Gameplan” show kicked off this week with one of my favorite guests – Greg Cosell from NFL Films who is also the Executive Producer of “NFL Matchup” (8:30 on Saturday mornings on ESPN2 and 6:30 on Sunday mornings on ESPN). Greg is a frequent guest on Colin Cowherd’s ESPN radio show and for my money, nobody breaks down the X’s and O’s better.

Here’s a slightly condensed version of Cosell’s Q and A with Dave Lapham and yours truly.

You’ve watched new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson call plays at previous NFL stops. Is he a good fit for Andy Dalton and the Bengals offensive personnel?

The Bengals have a lot of offensive talent. I think any coordinator theoretically would be a good fit. This is a team that’s put together all kinds of talent so that they can go with multiple packages. They can run the ball with power with Jeremy Hill. They can put Gio Bernard in there who can certainly run on the perimeter and be used in the passing game. They can go with two tight ends in Gresham and Eifert – two guys that can either line up in-line or be split. They have an excellent wide receiver corps – I know that he’ll be out for a few weeks, but I was a big fan of Marvin Jones coming out of Cal and I think he’s a really interesting player. This theoretically is an offense than can do anything.

On the other side of the ball, a lesser-known guy – Paul Guenther – takes over for Mike Zimmer. How big of a challenge is that and do you think he is up to it?

I do. I know that Paul was very much responsible for a lot of those pressure packages and double A-gap looks. Paul pretty much masterminded a lot of those. So I think from an X’s-and-O’s standpoint, there won’t be much of a change whatsoever. I’m a big fan of Paul Guenther. The personality part is something you never know. Different coaches just react differently with players and that’s impossible for me to know because I’m not there. But from a tactical X-and-O standpoint, I think Paul will do a great job.

Dalton vs Jets (440x293)

You’ve studied Andy Dalton going back to his TCU days and you and Ron Jaworski spent time with him in Texas last year studying film. Do you see a guy that is still improving or do you think he has plateaued?

That’s a hard question to answer. First of all, you’ve got to start with one thing – the guy loves football and he works at it. But there are always a couple of things when you watch him throughout the course of the season where you feel like he’s got to get a little better in those areas. Sometimes I think that he can play a little fast and hurry himself. A perfect example – and it’s always easy to pick one play, I’m mentioning this because it’s symptomatic of other things – is when he threw that interception in the playoffs to Shareece Wright when they came with a blitz and he was under pressure and kind of threw it with no definition. You would expect a quarterback with about 50 NFL starts at that point not to make that throw in a playoff game. Very often with a quarterback that’s not necessarily going to beat you with his legs, there are good incompletions. I would like to see him do that at times.

Because he doesn’t have a power arm, it has to be about decision making. It has to be about ball placement. It has to be about pre-snap reading. I’m sure that he would tell you that he has to get better in all of those areas.

When you watched Vontaze Burfict’s Arizona State tape before the 2012 draft, did you think there was any way that he would be the player that he is two years later?

I’m going to tell you exactly what I thought and it was one of those times where I was wrong. In his last year of college, I watched maybe five or six games on tape and I hated him. I didn’t think he was a draftable player – which I guess I wasn’t wrong compared to the league, but that’s what I thought.

Obviously, he’s turned out to be pretty good! You watch film and without knowing every assignment that he has – I can’t watch tape like that or I’d spend five hours just watching one team’s side of the ball – but he shows up all over the field. He flashes on a large majority of the plays.

Who wins the AFC North in your estimation?

I’m a bad prognosticator. There are about 10 variables and you don’t know how they are going to play out, so I’m going to have to cop out on that one. I can’t answer those questions. But I think the Bengals are the most talented team in the division. There was a really interesting article that I read somewhere that suggested that the Bengals get at the most fascinating question of the NFL’s modern era: Can you win a Super Bowl without a “quote unquote” superstar quarterback. They’re a really good team and Andy is a solid player. I don’t think anybody would say that he’s a superstar – would you say that’s fair? So that gets to the heart of that question. It’s going to be a fascinating team to watch because I think this team is good enough to compete for a Super Bowl.

We hope you’ll tune in to “Bengals Gameplan” every Wednesday night from 6 to 8 on ESPN 1530 and hope you’ll join us in person for “Bengals Pep Rally” every Friday afternoon from 3 to 6 at a Buffalo Wild Wings location in the Cincinnati area. We’ll be at the Mason location at 6050 Snider Road this week (Sept 5) and our special guest in the final hour of the show will be Andrew Whitworth. If you can’t make it out to the show, we hope you’ll be listening on ESPN 1530.

Click this link to see what Buffalo Wild Wings location we’ll be visiting each week.

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

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Burfict Returns To Arizona As One Of NFL’s Best

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 20, 2014 – 3:13 pm

Vontaze Burfict left Arizona State in a cloud of controversy after a junior season that included too many personal fouls, a benching in his final college game, and a disastrous showing at the NFL Combine that contributed to him going undrafted.

He returns to Phoenix this weekend as one of the best linebackers in the NFL.

“Going back to Arizona is exciting, but that’s not on my mind,” Burfict told me. “This will be the game where the ‘ones’ and ‘twos’ will play a little bit more, so I’m going in locked-in like it’s a regular week. I’m not worried about a homecoming or anything like that – it’s a business trip for me.”

And business is good for the NFL’s leading tackler last season.

Burfict forces fumble (440x314)

Despite being the Bengals youngest starter on defense, the 23-year-old Burfict has emerged as the team’s emotional leader on that side of the ball.

“He’s intense and everybody feeds off of his energy,” said defensive end Robert Geathers. “He’s a football-smart guy and when you’re prepared like that and have his energy, it doesn’t matter how old you are.”

“If you don’t want to play with a guy like that next to you, I don’t know what to tell you,” said safety Reggie Nelson. “I love playing next to him.”

“He’s as confident as any player I’ve ever seen at any level, and that’s what really impresses me,” said linebacker Jayson DiManche. “You’ll never know if and when he makes a mistake out there because he’s always going so fast and playing so hard. His attitude and effort level are off the charts. That’s something as a young linebacker that you try to emulate. It’s crazy because Vontaze is actually younger than me.”

Burfict leads defense (440x284)

Burfict’s intensity level extends to the practice field where he could often be seen jawing with offensive players during training camp as it were the Super Bowl instead of a routine drill.

“You have to have fun,” said Burfict. “In training camp you’re with the guys almost 40 days straight and it gets old around day five. So you want to make it competitive and have fun with it and talk crap. When I talk to Andy, Gio, BenJarvus – it spices things up. You don’t think about the reps, you just think about competing and trying to win that rep. I feel like bringing a bit of an edge and talking a little trash makes us play better and faster.”

“All of the great ones pretty much have that personality,” said cornerback Darqueze Dennard. “Lawrence Taylor…Ray Lewis…you see the passion in all of that barking and hollering and you see that in Vontaze. I love it and I think the rest of the guys appreciate that. He motivates guys and gets them going. When you see a player who is running around having fun and screaming and hollering after he makes plays, it makes you want to go out there and have fun with him.”

Burfict played in his first Pro Bowl last year and intercepted an Andrew Luck pass in his team’s win. His guests in Hawaii included fellow linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.

“I wouldn’t be able to make plays without Rey,” said Burfict. “He helped me learn the playbook and now it’s my turn to try to pass it on to other guys.”

“When I heard that he made the Pro Bowl, I almost broke down crying,” said Guenther. “The first time that he walked into my meeting room I said, ‘Just do everything that I ask you to do and be where you need to be.’ He did everything to the utmost. To make the Pro Bowl in his second year after everything that kid’s gone through and to be out there in Hawaii to celebrate with him was such an honor. It’s something that I will always remember.”

Vontaze is entering the final year of his rookie contract and while the Bengals will control his rights next season as a restricted free agent, the team would undoubtedly prefer to sign Burfict to an extension before reaching that point.

Now that the Andy Dalton megadeal is done, does Burfict think he’s next?

“I don’t know,” said Burfict. “It’s not on my mind. If it does come it’s God-blessed. If I just work hard it will possibly come.”

(Shortly after this story was published, the news broke that the Bengals have reached an agreement on a contract extension with Burfict.  It is reportedly a 4 year/$20 million deal that will pay him $7.6 million this year).

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Hewitt Opening Eyes In First NFL Camp

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 13, 2014 – 2:57 pm

In East Lansing, Michigan it’s known as “The Stop.”

Elsworth flying (440x293)

With 1:46 remaining in last year’s Rose Bowl, Michigan State led Stanford 24-20 when the Cardinal went for it on 4th-and-1 at the 34 yard line. As soon as the ball was snapped, Spartans linebacker Kyler Elsworth made a flying leap over the line of scrimmage to nail the Stanford fullback for no gain to seal the victory for Michigan State (click here to watch the play).

“They’ve got pictures everywhere in East Lansing of Elsworth jumping over the offensive and defensive lines,” said Bengals rookie and former MSU star Darqueze Dennard. “It was crazy. It’s a big play in Michigan State history.”

NCAA Football 2014: Rose Bowl Michigan State vs Stanford JAN 01

Ironically, the Stanford player who was stopped on 4th-and-1 was Bengals rookie Ryan Hewitt.

“It was a great play,” said Hewitt. “I think my neck might still be a little sore from that one.”

Three of Hewitt’s fellow rookies played for Michigan State in that game – Dennard, Isaiah Lewis, and Dan France – but Ryan says they haven’t busted his chops about “The Stop” or the final score.

“We’re on the same team now, so this isn’t the time to do that,” said Dennard. “But if Michigan State and Stanford actually play again, I might bring it up.”

While Dennard is a lock to make the Bengals 53-man roster after being drafted in the first round, Hewitt is also making a strong bid to stick despite being signed as an undrafted free agent. Ryan is being used as an H-back (fullback/tight end hybrid) and has frequently lined up with the first string offense.

Hewitt vs Chiefs (440x278)

“He’s earned it – we’re not giving anybody anything,” said offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. “He’s earning an opportunity to play with the first group and that’s kind of where he is right now. But he has to fight like heck to stay there.”

“I think Ryan has really done a nice job for us,” said Marvin Lewis. “He’s handled things well. He’s playing tight end/H-back/fullback whatever you want to call those positions we have and he’s handled it well both physically and mentally. I think as a receiver he’s done a nice job. As an interior blocker he’s done a good job. I really think he’s got a bright future.”

Hewitt began his college career as a tight end but switched to fullback and started at that position for his final three seasons. He was frequently used as an outlet receiver out of the backfield and finished his college career with 59 catches for 473 yards and 6 TD.

Bengals west coast scout Steven Radicevic liked what he saw of Hewitt at Stanford and Cincinnati reportedly gave Ryan a $10,000 signing bonus – the most of any of the team’s college free agents this year. Hewitt knew that the Bengals didn’t have an established fullback, but didn’t realize that he would be used in a dual role.

“It was kind of a transition that came out of the blue – I wasn’t really expecting it – but it’s something that I embraced and I’m thankful for the opportunity,” said Hewitt.

Ryan says that he elected to go to Stanford for academics more than football, so perhaps it’s no surprise that he’s been able to quickly learn the Bengals’ playbook at multiple positions.

“We ran a very similar offense at Stanford with a lot of the same terminology, so that’s helped the transition,” said Hewitt. “But it is difficult. You have to spend a little extra time studying to make sure that you know both positions so that when you get put in at either spot you know what you’re doing.

“But I pride myself in knowing what I’m doing and making sure that I’m in the right spot and right alignment. That’s something that I work on every day.”

“He’s a smart kid and I think he has a burning desire to be good,” said Jackson. “He has the characteristics that we look for. He needs to continue to grow and play well within our system and we’ll see where this thing goes.”

The 23-year-old from Denver is a sturdy 6’4”, 254 pounds and Coach Lewis says he expects Hewitt to get more powerful.

“I think as he grows and he’s fortunate enough to stay around here, I think by next year we’ll have a real, real big physical man,” said Lewis. “He’s going to be a big person.”

Ryan got stopped last January in Pasadena, but it appears that he’s just getting started in Cincinnati.

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So Who Is Matt Scott?

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 8, 2014 – 8:34 am

Before Thursday’s preseason opener in Kansas City, most Bengals fans probably could not name the third quarterback on Cincinnati’s depth chart.

Now after throwing two touchdown passes, leading the team in rushing, sprinting for a 2-point conversion, and puking on the field (very visibly I might add), Matt Scott is getting recognition from coast-to-coast.

Scott running (440x309)

The 23-year-old former Arizona Wildcats QB completed 7-of-11 passes for 66 yards, ran 6 times for 68 more, and delivered the first of his TD strikes immediately after losing his lunch.

“I felt pretty good,” said Scott (referring to his play and not his stomach). “Obviously, there are still things I need to improve upon every day. There were a lot of negative plays that we need to get better on.

“Until I do that, I really won’t be content with my game. So I’ve got to watch the film, get to work this week, and see where I can improve.”

Scott appeared in four preseason games with Jacksonville last year before spending the season on the Jaguars’ practice squad. He only completed 45% of his passes in those games without no touchdowns and 1 INT and says he’s much more comfortable in his second NFL camp.

“Last year my head was spinning,” Matt told me. “I was still trying to pick things up and adjusting to the game speed.

“It’s night and day. I think last year I didn’t have a great grasp of the offense yet and I really didn’t understand the things we were trying to do offensively to be honest. But I worked at it all season, and coming to Cincinnati, I’ve learned a lot from Ken Zampese and Hue Jackson. They’re helping me to elevate my game to the next level so it’s been great working with them so far.”

After being timed at 4.69 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, Scott drew comparisons to former Bengals backup quarterback Josh Johnson. Matt’s speed was evident in Thursday’s 41-39 loss to the Chiefs when he took off on a 25-yard scramble for the team’s longest running play of the night.

“They were playing a lot of 2-man out there and in that coverage, nobody is accounting for the quarterback,” said Scott. “So it’s good to take off every now and then and get some easy yards with your feet.

“I’m going to stand back there comfortable in the pocket, go through my reads, and if nobody is open, I’m not going to hesitate to run.”

Scott started 17 games at the University of Arizona where he competed for playing time with current Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. After earning a spot on the Jaguars’ practice squad as an undrafted free agent last year, Matt hoped to refine his quarterback skills but didn’t get many opportunities.

“Honestly I didn’t get a whole lot of reps in Jacksonville during my time on the practice squad,” said Scott. “I helped out any way I could and did anything they needed me to do. We had a bunch of receivers go down last year in Jacksonville, so I was helping out on the scout team running routes. I’m a team player and if there’s anything I can do to help the team, then that’s what I’m going to do.

“It was tough trying to play quarterback at the same time that I was trying to help out the team at receiver. But I did anything that I could do to help the team and I think they really respected that about me.”

After being waived by Jacksonville in May, the California native was signed by the Bengals the following day. With fifth round draft pick A.J McCarron yet to get on the field in training camp due to a sore shoulder, Scott figures to see plenty of preseason action behind Andy Dalton and Jason Campbell.

“Being the third quarterback coming in, any time you get in the game is good and you want to make the best of any time that you’re in there,” said Scott. “Obviously you don’t know what’s going to happen and there are a lot of things that are out of your control. So you want to go out there are perform to the best of your ability.”

We’ll see what he does for an encore a week from Saturday when the Jets come to Paul Brown Stadium. Here’s hoping the only person that has intestinal distress is New York’s defensive coordinator.

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Burke Is The Bengals Journey Man

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 2, 2014 – 10:07 am

Film study with players is a big part of an NFL coach’s job. But Cincinnati’s new linebackers coach Matt Burke doesn’t strictly put X’s and O’s on the screen. At one point this spring, his players saw Burke take a 134 meter leap off of the Nevis Highwire Platform in New Zealand – the third highest bungee jumping platform in the world (you can see the video here).

Nevis bungee (322x440)

“I made all of the rookie linebackers introduce themselves to their teammates and show a video clip, and since I’m a new guy here I showed them that,” said Burke.

“That was kinda scary,” said Emmanuel Lamur. “I couldn’t do it. He has a lot of guts – that’s for sure.”

The Dartmouth-educated Burke has a wide variety of adventures to share with the Bengals’ linebacker corps. Since becoming an NFL assistant under Jeff Fisher with the Titans in 2006, Matt has traveled all over the world including stops in Belize, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Finland, Guatemala, Honduras, Iceland, New Zealand, Peru, Russia, Sweden, and Thailand.

Burke with monk (440x293)

“We took vacations and camped out when I was younger, but the first time I left the country was actually after my first year in the NFL,” said Burke. “It was the first time I had any money after college and I went to Ireland with a buddy. That’s all it took. From then on, I’ve taken one or two trips every year now.

“That’s about my only expense for the year. We’re here 90 hours a week during the season, so you really don’t have any time to spend money. So I spend my money taking a big trip and seeing the world.”

“He’s a lot braver than I am,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “It’s his free time and as coaches we don’t get a lot of it.”

The coaches’ best vacation opportunity comes between the end of OTAs in late June and the start of training camp in late July. This year, Burke grabbed his backpack and headed nearly 8,000 miles from Cincinnati.

Burke at altitude (330x440)

“I went to Nepal for two weeks to hike along the Everest Trail,” Matt told me. “I went by myself, but it was through an outfitting company so there were four other guys and we had about 10 Sherpas with us.

“It was definitely one of the more strenuous trips that I’ve taken, but I can’t sit still for too long. I just really like getting out and seeing things and sometimes you have to work to see the good stuff. For me it’s about getting away. There’s not a lot of cell phone reception up in the Himalayas.”

Burke says that his exotic excursions have helped him as a coach.

“Our profession at a base level is understanding people, motivating players, and being able to relate to different types of people,” he said. “If you look at the linebacker room, they’re from all over the country and have different backgrounds. I find that when I’m out traveling, I meet all sorts of people from different parts of the world and you get a better understanding of human nature.

“But honestly for me, it’s a reset as much as anything. It helps my coaching because I can come back here for the season a little bit more refreshed mentally than I normally would be.”

There have been a few scares along the way including the time in Cambodia when he thought he was being kidnapped by a cab driver. It’s probably also safe to assume that Burke is the only Bengals coach who has been inches away from a live Bengal Tiger.

Burke with tiger (440x330)

“When I was in Thailand, I actually got to go into the cages with some of the tigers there,” said Burke. “They have a zoo-type setup where you can go in and pet the tigers and stuff. I had to do it. I got my heart rate up a little bit there. I just like trying that stuff.”

So what’s next on his itinerary?

“When the season ends and things have settled down and we get our calendar for the offseason, I’ll start looking at it,” said Burke. “Things start popping into my mind and I decide what kind of craziness that I want to get into.”

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Eifert On Course Entering Second NFL Season

Posted by Dan Hoard on July 28, 2014 – 8:56 am

The American Century Championship is the most prestigious celebrity golf tournament in the world. There’s a $600,000 purse, live weekend coverage on NBC Sports, and this year’s list of celebs included legendary athletes like Charles Barkley, Roger Clemens, and John Elway, Olympic heroes such as Mike Eruzione, Dan Jansen, and Bode Miller, comedians Larry the Cable Guy and Ray Romano, and even former Vice President Dan Quayle.

This year’s tourney in Lake Tahoe, NV also included Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert.

Eifert making catch (440x248)

“I think I was the least-famous person there, if I even am famous,” Tyler told me with a laugh. “But it was a lot of fun being around all of those guys and they were really good to me. For me, I didn’t feel like a celebrity so much. It was more like a kid getting to hang out with some of the celebrities.”

This year’s winner was former Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien. Eifert shot 79-77-82 to finish in a tie for 28th  (out of 86) and let his Twitter followers know that he wasn’t happy with the result.

“I wasn’t terrible, but I hit the ball a lot better than I scored which is frustrating,” said Eifert. “But it seems like that’s always the case. It was still a good time and hopefully I’ll get to go back next year.”

Eifert golf event (440x292)

There was one other participant in the event with Bengals ties – Carson Palmer – and he and Eifert were in the same group in the first round (along with Chiefs QB Alex Smith). In case you’re interested, Palmer shot 76-73-78 to tie for 15th. But here’s what inquiring minds really want to know: Did Eifert and Palmer compare notes about playing in Cincinnati?

“A little bit at first, but not a whole lot,” said Eifert. “We were just out there playing golf so it wasn’t a whole lot of business.”

Eifert got back to business this week with the start of training camp and is looking to build on a rookie season that saw him finish with 39 catches for 445 yards (11.4 ypc) and 2 TD.

“Overall I was happy with it,” said the 23-year-old from Ft. Wayne, IN. “The transition went well for me and I enjoyed playing. I didn’t feel a lot of pressure – I could really just go out there and have fun and try to help the team win. I wasn’t maybe as productive as I wanted to be, but when you’re splitting balls with another tight end – between the two of us we caught a lot of balls.”

Jermaine Gresham finished with 46 catches for 458 yards, meaning that Cincinnati got a combined 87 receptions for 903 yards from their top two tight ends. But former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden expected to get the ball to Eifert more frequently last year after the Bengals made him the first tight end selected in the draft (21st overall). In an interview I did with Gruden after the 12th game of last season, he said that Eifert “was probably the most underutilized player on our team.”

“Somebody told me about that comment and it was a surprise coming from him,” Tyler told me. “When you have this many playmakers, it’s hard to utilize everyone. Obviously I would have liked to be more involved in the offense and make more plays for us, but we have a lot of good players.”

Eifert suffered a stinger in the next-to-last game of the regular season and barely played in the playoff loss to San Diego as he was only on the field for 3 of the 81 offensive snaps. Considering how effectively Cincinnati used Eifert and Gresham in a dual tight end package during the regular season, does Tyler think the playoff outcome would have been different if he had been healthy?

“It’s hard to say,” said Eifert. “I don’t think one player can really change the game. San Diego brought it to us. I would like to think that I could have helped, but I guess we’ll never know.”

This much we know beyond a shadow of a doubt: Eifert is a much golfer than Charles Barkley. Sir Charles shot 106-107-106 to finish dead last in the celebrity event.

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

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Dennard Is Leon-Like In First NFL Camp

Posted by Dan Hoard on July 26, 2014 – 9:53 am

When Leon Hall made it back on the field for the first day of training camp after rehabbing his torn Achilles, one of the happiest people to see him in uniform was a rookie that has frequently been compared to the veteran cornerback – first round draft pick Darqueze Dennard.

“(Leon) is a great player,” said Dennard. “I think he’s one of the cornerbacks that get underlooked because he doesn’t talk as much as a Richard Sherman, but he has the same production as him. He’s a very productive player and just to have him back playing – I’ll get to watch him and pick his brain as well.”

In seven NFL seasons, Hall has earned a sterling reputation for his consistent, technically-sound play at cornerback. The 22-year-old Dennard displayed similar traits at Michigan State and earned the Jim Thorpe Award last year as the top defensive back in college football.

“The guy is all football,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “He’s really smart and he’s really competitive. He’s taken all of the information that we’ve given him in the spring and he’s retained most of it. He’ll be a really good addition to our team.”

“He knows what he’s doing,” said safety Isaiah Lewis, who played with Dennard in college. “He catches on to things fast and he’s always done that. Back at Michigan State, he picked up the defense fast which allowed him to play as a freshman so he’s doing the same thing basically.”

Bengals Football

While Hall was still sidelined during OTA and minicamp practices, Dennard worked with the first unit in the Bengals’ nickel packages. But he won’t necessarily have to play abundant snaps as a rookie since Cincinnati has four other first-round picks at cornerback in Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones, and Dre Kirkpatrick.

“It’s deep back there in the secondary,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “(Darqueze) is going to have a hard time getting to see the light of day – which is a good thing. But I think he’ll be able to handle that, because I think he’ll really be able to be a huge contributor on special teams and so forth. And I think that’s going to be an important part of how we shape this football team as well.”

“I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win,” said Dennard. “Whether that’s playing five snaps on defense or playing 80 snaps on defense – becoming a starter or just being a special teams player my first year. Just doing whatever I can to help the team win and get to our goals.”

Dennard autographs (640x427) (440x294)

In mid-June, Darqueze signed his first NFL contract which will pay him roughly $8 million over the next four years. But instead of spending a big chunk of it during the players’ four week break before training camp, Dennard was busy trying to earn it.

“I’ve been training – working on my footwork, studying film, and studying receivers’ tendencies and things like that,” said Dennard. “Just getting ready to play football again.

“I’m excited just to get back out there and play again. I have an opportunity to join a great defense and add my little talents to it. I’m just really excited about the competition that’s going on in camp and the overall team goals.”

“He doesn’t care about the glitz and glamour and all of that stuff – he’s here to do the dirty work,” said Guenther. “He’s a cornerback with a linebacker’s mentality and I like those kind of guys.”

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

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Keeping Up With Jones

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 27, 2014 – 12:50 pm

As a Bengals broadcaster, I’m often asked to name my favorite player to interview on the team.

People usually seem surprised when I tell them it’s Adam Jones.

Adam Jones pick six (440x290)

The veteran cornerback is unfiltered. His answers are honest, insightful, and often hilarious.

Jones is entering his eighth NFL season and has become a durable and dependable member of the Bengals secondary. After appearing in only 22 games between 2007 and 2011 due to injuries and off-the-field issues, Adam has played in all 17 games (including playoffs) in each of the last two years.

“God has been on my side,” said Jones. “I enjoy being out there and I’m going to take advantage of it while I can.”

Jones was obviously blessed with rare athletic ability, but the Bengals new defensive backs coach Vance Joseph is impressed by Adam’s work ethic.

“Guys who play in this league for a long time want to get better every day so that they can keep their job,” said Joseph. “He understands that so he’s been very receptive and willing to learn new things. That’s tough for older players who have been in systems for a long time. They get stubborn in their techniques, but he’s been open-minded. He’s willing to try different things and that’s what I’m asking him to do.”

With the return of a healthy Leon Hall and the addition of first round draft pick Darqueze Dennard, it’s been suggested that Jones might get fewer snaps at cornerback and more opportunities to return punts. But that’s not what he has in mind.

“I don’t plan on giving up my spot at corner,” Adam told me. “I’m training to be a starter. I would like to return punts too, but I want the corner snaps because I feel like I’m at the point in my career where I’m playing my best football.

“I’ve been getting better technique-wise with coaching. I’ve done a good job of studying, taking care of my body, and competing.”

At the Bengals recent OTA and minicamp practices, Jones was among the most vocal and enthusiastic players on the field.

“He’s had a great spring,” said Joseph. “He’s in great shape, he’s healthy, and he’s ready for the season.”

“I like to compete and I like to go out there and have fun,” said Jones. “The day that it stops being fun I’m going to hang it up.”

That isn’t likely to happen soon. Jones, who turns 31 in September, is entering the second year of a three-year deal with the Bengals and hopes that it’s not his final contract.

“I think I probably have another six or seven years in me,” said Jones.

He wouldn’t say it if he didn’t mean it.

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

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