The men who oversee the Bengals quarterbacks, position coach Ken Zampese and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, appreciate what 49ers rookie Colin Kaepernick brings to the position in Sunday’s Final Four and what Washington’s Robert Griffin III brings to the Rookie of the Year vote. And they see a trend coming out of the colleges featuring a new breed of running/athletic quarterback that is going to challenge the NFL offensive coordinators to implement some of those elements.
But the dropback passer is no extinct species, they say. As Zampese looks around in the conference championship games, he also sees two traditional guys that came out in 2008 in Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. And there’s also the guy in New England. Thomas Edward Patrick Brady.
This talk of the best of Sunday’s field? “He’s the best of 32. Not the best of four,” Zampese says of New England’s ultimate pocket passer.
“You still have to make a throw. But if you can buy time, you can look for more opportunities to make a throw. I think that’s where some of those guys can really make hay in this league. You still have to throw, and make a good accurate throw. But if athletically you can create more opportunities, that are good. These guys running around are still passers at heart first … all these guys can still do that. That’s why they’re so valuable.”
Gruden has watched how Kaepernick took over the 49ers the last half of the season, culminating with last Sunday’s NFL record for a quarterback with 181 rushing yards.
“They’ve got a stellar offensive line that’s been playing well and Michael Crabtree has emerged as a leading receiver. That’s not taking anything away from Colin because he’s done some great things,” Gruden says. “They’ve had positive down and distance. They’ve not been in any third-and-longs, and if they are, Colin has made some plays with his feet.”
Zampese says the supporting cast has allowed the New Breed to make an immediate impact.
“The thing about the new guys having success is they’re doing it on teams with top five defenses and top five rushing attacks,” Zampese says. “You throw it more than 30 times and all of a sudden guys get exposed because there’s a lot more pressure on the quarterback to make a throw. Keep the attempts closer to 20 and life is good.”
While the Bengals watched TCU’s Andy Dalton play for the South in the 2011 Senior Bowl, they coached Kaepernick for the North and while they liked a lot about him, he didn’t fit what they needed at the time. As Gruden recalls, “We didn’t have a quarterback.” The Bengals needed one right away for Opening Day and even Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers head coach that traded up to get Kaepernick with the 36th pick, knew Kaepernick was at least a year away. The Bengals, thrilled with how Dalton projected into running Gruden’s West Coast scheme, identified him as their top guy from that class and grabbed him at No. 35.
How raw was Kaepernick coming out of Nevada running the Pistol formation? “Extremely raw. Sidearm fastballs. Kent Tekulve,” Zampese says of the great Pirates submarine closer. He was going to take some time and we were in the market where we need something a little different. We highlighted the guy with a ton of experience.” But that doesn’t mean the Bengals didn’t have regard for Kaepernick.
“Fun guy to be around. Very coachable. He doesn’t have an inflated opinion of himself. He just wants to be good,” Zampese says. “He’s young and impressionable in a good way. He’s solid with who he is. He’s got a foundation of personality in the huddle that is electric. You feel like when he’s playing, you’ve got a chance. That’s what jumped out at me that week.”
The Bengals got the same sense of huddle presence from Dalton and both clubs have been rewarded. Dalton is 19-13 as a starter with two playoff berths in two seasons. Kaepernick has his team a game away from the Super Bowl. Zampese loves the way Dalton’s overall stats not only rose from his rookie season this year, but when he made the commitment to cut back on throwing interceptions, the Bengals went 7-1 in the last eight games.
“He’s growing. If his numbers keep improving like that, we’ll win 10-plus games,” Zampese says of 2013. “If his passer rating is in the mid-90s, we’re winning 10-plus games. If the touchdown passes to interceptions are two-to-one, we’re winning 10-plus games.”
Zampese is extremely impressed that in his last eight games, Dalton threw five picks compared to 11 in the first half of the season. He knows improvement is needed after what happened in the last month and the playoff loss in Houston. But …
“That mentality you love to see. We want him to fix it and he does,”‘ Zampese says. “And we played worse offensively, yet we won more games, which is interesting to note. We talked about taking too much risk in some of those decisions and we needed to cut back the risk. It made a difference. It didn’t show up in yards and points, but it made a difference in wins and losses.”
That’s the kind of thinking the Bengals believe gets teams to win playoff games and why they think the moxie of Dalton with his 11-5 road record and two Decembers of stretch pressure is going to be even more valuable as his career progresses. The Bengals aren’t looking for him to be Kaepernick, Flacco, Ryan or Brady. They look at a guy that doesn’t have great speed or a huge deep ball and they see a Drew Brees, a Super Bowl MVP with yet another style.
“It takes all kinds. You see it this weekend. You’ve got everything at quarterback,” Zampese says. “Andy is Andy. He’s not this guy or that guy. The guy is a point guard who can get the ball to all parts of the field. And he’s a fighter. That’s what you want.”
The read option?
“Not even close. Brady is the best in the game,” Gruden says with a laugh. “He can do it all. Except run the read option. Who gives a crap?”
Tags: Ken Zampese
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The toughest division in football just got tougher for the Bengals, thanks to one of their own.
Thirty years ago the Bengals drafted Washington cornerback Ray Horton in the second round, hired him 16 years ago as a secondary coach, and on Friday saw the Cleveland Browns hire him as their defensive coordinator. Horton, who played and coached for Dick LeBeau in Cincinnati and then later in Pittsburgh, brings two years of solid work as Arizona’s defensive coordinator, including this past season when the defense kept a quarterback-less franchise breathing.
And he apparently let new Cardinals general manager Steve Keim know it when they reportedly had a heated exchange after Arizona hired Bruce Arians to be the head coach instead of Horton.
Per a Browns press release via The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Horton’s unit this past season:
Led the NFL in passer rating allowed (71.2) and interception percentage (4.4), ranked second in the NFL in interceptions (22) and third-down efficiency (32.9 percent), third in red zone defense (44.4 percent) and fourth in takeaways (33). The defense also ranked fifth in passing defense (200.8 ypg), first downs allowed (288) and points allowed per drive (1.42).
That makes quite a trio in the AC North with LeBeau bringing back the NFL’s No. 1 defense, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer weighing in with the No. 6 unit and Horton, the LeBeau clone, bringing back elements of the zone blitz from the desert. Horton could also be bringing back secondary coach Louie Cioffi, the man he took to Arizona in 2011 after he worked for 14 seasons with the Bengals.
Horton interviewed for the Browns head coaching job back on Jan. 1 and told the Plain-Dealer he had a “fantastic” interview while predicting he would be a head coach this season. It sounds like he would have been if it wasn’t for Keim.
HUE UPDATE: The status of Bengals defensive assistant Hue Jackson is unclear. He interviewed for the Panthers offensive coordinator job that went on Friday to Carolina quarterbacks coach Mike Shula. At the moment, the Bengals don’t look like they’re making changes on offense.
SMITH ARRESTED: NFL discipline may await right tackle Andre Smith after he was arrested Thursday when Atlanta police say they found a loaded .380 pistol in Smith’s carry-on bag when he tried to board a plane at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. He appeared in court Friday morning and was issued a $3,000 bond. TV reports indicated that Smith wasn’t aware he had the gun with him.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Friday that former Browns defensive tackle Shaun Rogers was fined but not suspended for the same thing at the Cleveland airport in 2010. The league is saying that it is looking into the case to see if Smith, arrested for the first time, violated the personal conduct policy and reports that in the last three years seven players have been arrested in cases involving guns.
Tags: Andre Smith, Dick LeBeau, Hue Jackson, Mike Zimmer, Ray Horton
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Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, who blew into the NFL via Canada two years ago, thinks his head coach in the CFL is also going to catch on.
With Wednesday’s news that Montreal head coach Marc Trestman has become the head man with the Bears, Hawkins offered his unconditional endorsement.
“I know how he goes about his work. I’d bet everything I have that he’s going to be a successful NFL head coach,” Hawkins said. “I don’t think I would have made the NFL if it hadn’t been for the two years I had with Marc Trestman.”
Hawkins became a part of two Grey Cup title teams with the Alouettes before he hooked up with the Bengals in the training camp of 2011 and became an instant fan favorite before he emerged as the regular slot receiver in 2012 with 51 catches and four touchdowns. He thinks Trestman’s two decades in the NFL as an assistant mixed in with the Montreal experience is a brew ticketed to success.
“To me, being a head coach in Canada gets you ready for an NFL head coaching job more than a college head coaching job because you’re dealing with grown men,” Hawkins said. “It’s not easy in college, but it’s easier because the players are younger, they need you, and they don’t have a choice. Grown men have a choice. What he does with Xs and Os is well documented. As far as managing grown individuals, I’ve seen that firsthand and I think that’s the part that’s going to make him a great head coach in the NFL.”
Hawkins says Trestman’s attention to detail oozed into every corner of the Montreal organization, from the offensive meetings into keeping the lockers clean.
“First of all, he’s an offensive guru. Everything comes down to timing and spacing. If you’re lined up a yard outside your alignment, you’ll get coached up on it,” Hawkins said. “He’s like that with everything. Demeanor. He taught me how to carry myself as a professional.”
Hawkins still can recite one of Trestman’s favorite lines: “Everyone loves football. Football loves no one.”
“He always talked about getting ready for life after football and guys appreciate that,” he said.
Call it Grey Cup II when the Bengals play the Bears in 2013 in Chicago.
GRUDEN UPDATE: Indications are Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden returned to Cincinnati on Wednesday after interviewing for four head coaching jobs. Arizona and Jacksonville are the only vacancies after Philadelphia tapped Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and San Diego went with Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.
The Cardinals are still looking to interview Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, and their own defensive coordinator and former Bengal DB and assistant Ray Horton is also in the mix. In Jacksonville the Jags are reportedly waiting to interview 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, a college teammate of new general manager Dave Caldwell.
Tags: Andrew Hawkins, Jay Gruden, Marc Trestman
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If the Bengals were going to have one All-Pro, it would be defensive tackle Geno Atkins and that’s what happened Saturday when the Associated Press released its All-Pro team and Atkins grabbed 42 of the 50 votes. Atkins, who led the Bengals and all NFL defensive tackles with 12.5 sacks, was the only Bengal to make it in voting by the 50-member national panel. Atkins joins wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham in the Cincinnati contingent headed to the Pro Bowl later this month.
The AP All-Pros via ProFootballTalk.com:
QB: Peyton Manning, Broncos
RB: Adrian Peterson, Vikings (unanimous); Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
FB: Vonta Leach, Ravens
WR: Calvin Johnson, Lions; Brandon Marshall, Bears
TE: Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
T: Duane Brown, Texans; Ryan Clady, Broncos
G: Jahri Evans, Saints; Mike Iupati, 49ers
C: Max Unger, Seahawks
DE: J.J. Watt, Texans (unanimous); Cameron Wake, Dolphins
DT: Geno Atkins, Bengals; Vince Wilfork, Patriots
OLB: Von Miller, Broncos; Aldon Smith, 49ers
ILB: Patrick Willis, San Francisco; NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco
CB: Richard Sherman, Seahawks; Charles Tillman, Bears
S: Earl Thomas, Seahawks; Dashon Goldson, 49ers
P: Andy Lee, 49ers
K: Blair Walsh, Seahawks
KR: Jacoby Jones, Ravens
Should any other Bengal be in the discussion on that list? Certainly you could talk about Green instead of Marshall and Kevin Huber at punter. Green made the second team with 16.5 votes, (6.5 behind Marshall in third place ) but Lee (24 votes) and New Orleans’s Thomas Morstead (18) finished 1-2. And if Brown and Clady are on the list then left tackle Andrew Whitworth has to be in the debate. One thing about the Texans and Broncos: Each team allowed the Bengals no sacks.
Tags: Atkins AP All-Pro, Geno Atkins
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Updated: 1-12-13, 8 p.m.
With his one-year contract running out, Bengals defensive assistant Hue Jackson is starting to get interest as an offensive coordinator. NFL Network via ProFootballTalk.com reported Friday that the Panthers have asked permission to talk to Jackson about the vacancy left by the Browns announcement they’ve hired Rob Chudzinski as head coach. The New York Daily News has reported Jackson is also in the mix for the Jets job with two other former NFL head coaches, Marty Mornhinweg and Cam Cameron.
Jackson is highly-regarded in NFL circles as an offensive mind despite last season’s dismissal from the Raiders after one year as head coach. In the two seasons he was with Oakland as first the coordinator and then as the head guy, the Raiders finished 10th and ninth in offense in 2010 and 2011, respectively. This year Oakland fell to 18th.
If Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden gets a head coaching job, Jackson has been mentioned as a potential successor. Gruden interviewed in Arizona on Thursday, and it’s believed he was in San Diego on Saturday and is headed to Philadelphia on Sunday. It’s also believed that Gruden, a well-known figure in Florida, is also getting play in Jacksonville. Indeed, NFL Network reported later Saturday that Gruden has an interview with the Jaguars.
The Charlotte Observer, via PFT, also reported Friday that former Browns head coach Pat Shurmur is also a candidate in Carolina.
Tags: Hue Jackson Jay Gruden Pat Shurmur Rob Chudzinski
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Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick tweeted he’s having a medical procedure Friday but it’s not expected to derail his training camp.
Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati’s first pick in last year’s draft, missed virtually all of his first training camp as well as the first half of the season with a bone spur in his knee. Kirkpatrick went on injured reserve Christmas Day when the knee became irritated and indications are he’s underdoing what appears to be a cleanup rather than a major procedure. He was never able to dog the injury bug. After he played in five games (two tackles on defense, two on special teams), he suffered a concussion Dec. 2 in San Diego, missed the next two games, and when it looked like he was ready to come back the knee flared up.
Tags: Dre Kirkpatrick, Kirkpatrick knee procedure
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It looks like the Bengals will be without the services of safety Chris Crocker in Saturday’s AFC Wild Card game in Houston against the Texans. Crocker (thigh) was listed as doubtful in Friday’s injury report.
Other than cornerback Jason Allen (hamstring), who was listed as questionable, everyone else put in full practices on Friday and are probable, including defensive end Wallace Gilberry (illness), running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (hamstring), cornerback Leon Hall (non-injury related), safety Taylor Mays (hamstring), cornerback Terence Newman (groin) and linebacker Dan Skuta (thigh).
Tags: Chris Crocker, Wild Card playoff
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Geoff Hobson of bengals.com and Nick Scurfield of houstontexans.com preview Saturday’s AFC Wild Card rematch between the Bengals and Texans.
Tags: Google Hangout, Wild Card playoff
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The Bengals on Tuesday made the following practice squad moves:
» Signed TE/LS Bryce Davis, a rookie from Central Oklahoma. Davis originally signed with the Bengals as a college free agent on May 2. He played in all four preseason games, with two receptions for 13 yards and three special teams tackles. He was waived on Aug. 31, signed to the practice squad on Sept. 1 and released on Sept. 4.
» Signed T Dan Knapp, a rookie from Arizona State. Knapp entered the NFL on May 2 as a college free agent with Oakland. He played in all four Raiders preseason games and was waived on Oct. 31.
» Released rookie C Scott Wedige of Northern Illinois to the Arizona Cardinals, who signed him to their 53-player roster. Wedige had joined the Bengals practice squad on Nov. 6.
» Released rookie LB Ben Jacobs of Fresno State. Jacobs had joined the practice squad on Nov. 12.
Tags: Bryce Davis, Dan Knapp
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Hue Jackson could have had a field day Sunday. Instead, he went on the field pregame at Paul Brown Stadium and chatted with any Raider that would have him and then watched his Bengals dismantle the team he took within five minutes of the playoffs last year.
After Sunday’s 34-10 victory over the team that fired him last year after one year as head coach, the Raiders look like they’re five minutes away from the second pick in the draft.
But Jackson kept it classy. After all, he’s reportedly already in the mix for the head coaching job at California. He knows people are going to say this was a sweet one for him.
“People will say this. I can look at it in my own mind and maybe felt that it was because I know those players and I’ve been in that organization with Coach (Al) Davis and the rest of the players and his son Mark (Davis),” he said after the game in the Bengals locker room. “But at the end of the day it was just another football game, a game we needed to win and I think our guys did a great job. Kudos to the offense, defense and special teams; it was a team win.”
Asked just exactly how good it felt, Jackson smiled.
“It does,” he said. “To win again and be 6-5 and going to San Diego, no question it does.”
Jackson said he had to separate the emotion from Sunday. It couldn’t be emotional, he said, even though those were his players out there and that was his quarterback he traded for with a first- and second-round pick that now, with the help of his firing, makes it one of the biggest steals in NFL history.
With Jackson molding him into his system on the fly last year, Palmer was 4-5 as the starter and if the Raiders held on to a fourth-quarter lead in the finale it would have been 5-5 and the playoffs. Now they’re 3-8.
“It couldn’t be (emotional),” Jackson said. “I think when I first start to see anybody, obviously a lot of old emotions and feelings come back and mainly what they were with Coach Davis. That’s a team that I know really well and I know the owner was someone that was very near and dear to me. Once we kick the ball off, it’s time to go play.”
Palmer hasn’t only been silent on his situation with the Bengals, but he hasn’t had much to say about Jackson in staying true to his desire to stay away from headlines and controversy.
The two did speak before and after Sunday’s game.
“I have a lot of respect for Carson. Carson’s a tremendous football player and that’s never going to change as far as I’m concerned,” Jackson said. “I wish him luck. I wanted to make sure him and his family are doing well and I’m sure we’ll run into each other somewhere down the line.”
Tags: Carson Palmer, Hue Jackson
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