Tuesday’s visit of Akeem Jordan underlines Cincinnati’s interest in veteran linebackers with the Bengals apparently searching for a SAM backer to go along with an assortment of draft prospects. With the draft just two weeks away, more free-agent backer visits figure to be on the way.
The 6-1 Jordan, who has been listed anywhere from 225 to 230 pounds, would figure to be here what he was in Philadelphia the past six seasons, which was primarily a backup/special-teamer.
There’s not a lot of room left on the defense with head coach Marvin Lewis saying he’s going to stick with Rey Maualuga at middle linebacker while virtually all his starters and regulars are intact except for starting SAM backer Manny Lawson and safety Chris Crocker.
Lawson only played about a third of the snaps and this upcoming season Maualuga and starting WILL backer Vontaze Burfict figure to get the bulk of the plays again if the same alignment is used. Plus there is emerging WILL backer Emmanuel Lamur, who played well on nickel downs late in his rookie season.
But the Bengals look like they are kicking tires on veterans and college prospects to see if they can upgrade the SAM spot and maybe get a guy that can play more.
They have been looking at backers all offseason, starting when the Raiders were shopping 2010 first-rounder Rolando McClain before Oakland cut him. But the Bengals had no interest even before they re-signed Maualuga.
The one spot that is wide open is the safety opposite Reggie Nelson. With no plans as of yet to re-sign Crocker, the Bengals have dipped a toe into the veteran market but seem intent on getting younger there via the draft. They did visit with former Saint and Brown Usama Young last Friday, but word was Tuesday that Young opted to reunite with one of his New Orleans coaches and now the Oakland head coach, Dennis Allen.
Tags: Akeem Jordan, Rey Maualuga, Usama Young, Vontaze Burfict
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The Bengals continue to kick the tires on veteran running backs. After entertaining Beanie Wells last month, they took a look at Felix Jones on Monday, according to dallascowboys.com.
But as happened with Wells, there were no signs the Bengals were making a deal late Monday and the move could be for later in the spring. They may want to see how the draft plays out before deciding to sign a veteran. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has said he wouldn’t mind finding a back to pair with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the Bengals haven’t re-upped Brian Leonard or Bernard Scott with Cedric Peerman penciled in as the potential third-down back.
But the 5-10, 217-pound Jones, who turns 26 the week after the draft, fits the explosive speed trait the Bengals seek to team with Green-Ellis. Despite missing 16 games, he’s averaging 4.8 yards per career rush. He carried just 111 times last year in Dallas and had a career-low 3.6 yards per attempt.
Tags: Beanie Wells, Felix Jones, Jay Gruden
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There’s no question that the Bengals are going to scout the top quarterbacks in the April 25-27 draft.
The question is, are they going to draft him on April 26 or April 27?
They continue the process Friday, when Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer reports the Bengals will work out Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel in Tallahassee. And it would be no surprise if Manuel is one of the 30 prospects they’ve scheduled for a Paul Brown Stadium visit before the draft.
There isn’t anybody the Bengals are not checking out at this stage. At any position. Anybody, at least, that’s got a shot of being drafted and they’re also looking at guys they’ll end up signing after the draft in the mold of Vontaze Burfict, Emmanuel Lamur and Jeromy Miles.
The Bengals have somebody at every pro day. While head coach Marvin Lewis stalked the North Carolina sidelines with East Coast scout Greg Seamon this week, the same day new assistant secondary coach Adam Zimmer was at the University of Connecticut.
(Odds are the Bengals won’t draft a guy from either place, but here’s where we’ll make our pitch for Tar Heels running back Giovani Bernard.)
But the only way the Bengals would get Manuel is if he free-falls into the third round.
No one thinks the Bengals are going to take a quarterback with one of their first three picks in the first two rounds, knowing how they have felt about those picks in the past. They’re going to want those guys to come in and start. Or, at the very least, play regularly.
The third round figures to the first time the Bengals start even gazing at the QBs and given they are usually over-drafted, particularly in a lean year, it could be fairly picked over.
But the Bengals aren’t looking for a Manuel-type to come in and eventually be a starter. They’re looking to support Andy Dalton with better competition and a young guy talented enough that they can develop who can come in and win games off the bench if need be. A future Ryan Fitzpatrick, perhaps, a seventh-rounder in 2005.
If the Bengals draft a guy that’s not ready, then they could go back to keeping three QBs instead of two to develop him without fear of him getting plucked from the practice squad and keep up the hunt for a veteran that began with the Josh Johnson signing.
But Dalton himself is part of that influx the past two seasons that shows rookie QBs don’t have to be treated like some delicate experiment in a Petri dish that can’t be exposed to harsh light for a year. The Redskins got two wins off the bench from fourth-rounder Kirk Cousins just this past season.
Browns quarterback Colt McCoy is trade bait now, but it’s highly doubtful the Bengals would give up a draft pick for him. If he gets released it could be interesting, but they’ve also been cautious with players that have a history of concussions and he has a storied one.
So we know the Bengals will work them out, but when will they take him? April 26 ends with the third round, April 27 has all the rest.
Tags: Adam Zimmer, Colt McCoy, E.J. Manuel, Greg Seamon, Marvin Lewis, Ryan Fitzpartrick
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Offseason workouts don’t start for another month but three Bengals are headed to Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday to work the phones at 2:30 p.m. to thank Bengals season-ticket holders for renewing. Defensive tackle Domata Peko and left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the team’s de facto captains, along with cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, one of last season’s first-round draft picks, plan to make the thank you calls.
Tags: Andrew Whitworth, Domata Peko, Dre Kirkpatrick
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 11 Comments »
Various reports Thursday night had Bengals offensive coordinators past and present on hand in Syracuse to watch Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib’s campus workout earlier in the day for NFL scouts.
Ken Anderson, who also doubles as the Bengals all-time leading passer, was there as one of Nassib’s coaches. Gruden was there because the Bengals appear to be in search of a backup quarterback with Bruce Gradkowski headed to free agency.
Gruden’s appearance in the ‘Cuse would suggest the Bengals are looking seriously at the draft as well as free agency. How high they would draft one is emerging as quite the intriguing question. Nfldraftscout.com has Nassib rated as the fifth-ranked quarterback and they go quickly on Draft Day.
Anderson said he spoke with Gruden before the workout and Gruden’s tight schedule didn’t allow them to speak after, but Jeff Reynolds of nfldraftscout.com reported that the Bengals had set up a visit with Nassib. The Jets, he said, were taking him to dinner and the Bills, now coached by Nassib’s college coach Doug Marrone, were represented by general manager Buddy Nix.
With Anderson and longtime NFL offensive coordinator Paul Hackett running the workout, Reynolds charted Nassib completing 69 of 75 passes.
“I was really pleased with how he looked,” Anderson said Thursday night. “I thought he really showed good arm strength today.”
Anderson ticked off Nassib’s pluses in a pro offense:
“First of all, he’s very smart,” Anderson said. “That’s the big thing. And he’s used to making pro throws. His mechanics are solid, his footwork is good. He really had a good day.”
Tags: Ryan Nassib Jay Gruden Ken Anderson
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Last year when I asked Jay Gruden why he turned down opportunities to interview for NFL head coaching jobs after the 2011 season, the Bengals offensive coordinator joked that his reason was sartorial.
“I didn’t have a good coat and tie,” Jay deadpanned at the time.
Clearly clothes are no longer an issue since Gruden interviewed for head coaching positions in Philadelphia, Arizona, San Diego, and Jacksonville in January. And while Jay didn’t get any of the jobs, at least he has a new suit.
“I wore it four times – the same one every time,” Gruden said with a laugh. “It was exciting and flattering that these teams would even think to interview me. It says a lot about our offense and how far we’ve come and Coach Lewis and what people around the league think about what he’s done with his program. It was a great opportunity.
“I knew that it was probably a long-shot. I think that I had good interviews and felt good about the process and if I am ever fortunate enough to have another opportunity, I’ll feel a lot more prepared.”
Now that he’s back for a third season as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator, Gruden is currently working on two things: Studying skill-position players for the upcoming NFL draft, and reviewing tape of the Bengals from last season.
“We’re very involved as coaches in the draft process, but you also have to take the time to look back at what you did offensively and figure out ways to get better,” said Gruden. “You have to see if you had any tendencies over the course of the year that you have to correct, but overall, you’re trying to find out what your players are good at and what you had trouble with and get things fixed that you need to fix. We definitely feel that we have not reached our full potential on offense, and it’s my job as a coordinator to get it out of them.”
With three of the top 53 picks in the draft, the Bengals are obviously in position to boost an offense that ranked 22nd in the NFL in total yards. So what is at the top of Gruden’s wish list?
“We need another playmaker and we need someone who can take the ball 80 yards on a swing pass, or a hand-off, or what have you,” Jay told me. “A little bit of speed. But we’re pretty good everywhere – we need to take our pretty-good players and turn them into great players, and our great players need to be extraordinary. We just have to keep pushing the envelope and making sure that everybody gets better.”
One thing that the Bengals are not looking for is a new starting quarterback. Andy Dalton has started every game in his first two NFL seasons, led the Bengals to back-to-back playoff appearances, and has tossed 47 TD passes in 32 regular season games. But Gruden says that his 25-year-old QB has plenty to work on.
“In the offseason you work on your arm strength, your footwork – basically your fundamentals of football – and obviously he needs to get better with his deep ball accuracy and touch,” Gruden said. “There’s not really one part of his game that he can’t improve upon. Scramble ability, foot quickness, accuracy, deep accuracy, short (accuracy), anticipation – he’s got a long way to go. He’s done some great things for a second-year quarterback, won a lot of games and thrown a lot of touchdown passes, but we feel that he has not come close to his potential and it’s our job to get it out of him.”
Dalton finished his second season with a passer rating of 87.4, but it dropped to 67.0 in his last six games, and Andy struggled in the playoff loss in Houston going 14-for-30 for 127 yards with 0 TD and 1 INT. That led to a surge in the number of people questioning whether Dalton will ever be good enough to lead Cincinnati to a deep playoff run. Gruden says that he isn’t bothered by the criticism of his quarterback.
“It’s the nature of the position and that’s what he signed up to be,” said Gruden. “He’s getting paid a pretty good chunk of change to be a quarterback, and anytime you sign up to be a quarterback, you have to take the good with the bad. One of the biggest strengths that you have to have as a quarterback is being mentally tough. When things don’t get well, people are going to be all over you. They’re going to boo you; they’re going to want you out of town and your coaches out of town. He has to take that criticism and use it as fuel to make himself better. Hopefully he’s doing that. He’s a very competitive person – as I am – and we’re going to do the best that we can to make this franchise something to be proud of.”
After all, a new suit is nice – but it pales in comparison to a Super Bowl ring.
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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
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 18 Comments »
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
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 3 Comments »
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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