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The Other Rookie From Michigan State

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 9, 2014 – 12:11 am

He is a rookie defensive back out of Michigan State with glittering credentials. Forty career starts…eight interceptions…and three seasons where he earned All-Big Ten status including first-team honors as a senior.

And he is not Cincinnati’s first round draft pick Darqueze Dennard.

Isaiah Lewis (440x410)

Safety Isaiah Lewis was Dennard’s teammate with the Spartans and signed with the Bengals after the draft as a college free agent. He’ll try to follow in the footsteps of current and former Bengals like Vontaze Burfict, Vinny Rey, Jeromy Miles, and Kyle Cook who made the team and became key contributors despite going undrafted.

“I hear free agent and I’m like whaaat?” Michigan State secondary coach Harlon Barnett told MLive.com. “I guess some people don’t know. He will play a long time. Isaiah and Darqueze are the two best I’ve ever coached.”

“The draft is really weird,” said Bengals defensive backs coach Vance Joseph. “After you get past the third or fourth round, it’s really a matter of taste for what each team wants. I’m not sure why he didn’t get drafted, but he played at a high level on a very good defense and played against top competition. I’m excited about him.”

“The Bengals didn’t draft a safety, so I felt like I had a good chance to showcase my abilities here,” Lewis told me. “It seemed like a good place for me to come. With guys like Reggie Nelson, Leon Hall, and Pac Man (Jones), I feel like I can learn from those guys and make my game that much better.

“It’s like being a freshman all over again. Coming in as a new guy, I’m just trying to learn from the older guys. It’s a good team with a good family foundation. Guys help you learn what’s going on and accept you into the family.”

Lewis’ draft stock was undoubtedly hurt by his lack of size – he’s 5’10”, 211 pounds. But he was a three-year starter at Michigan State and known as a ferocious hitter.

“There are certain guys I call certain things, and Isaiah is what I call a natural born killer as far as his hitting ability on the football field,” Barnett told MLive.com. “He’s going to come and hit you all day every day. There’s not many of them in the NFL. You get him, you got a football player.”

“At safety you’ve got to be aggressive,” said Lewis. “You have to be a stop sign because when things get to you, you’re the last line of defense. There has to be an intimidation factor for receivers to let them know that nothing is going to cross the middle of the field – that’s my area and you’re not just going to cross through.”

In addition to trying to show that he can help the secondary, Lewis knows that his chances of making the team will depend heavily on his ability to contribute on special teams.

“That’s the most important thing,” Isaiah said. “That’s the way you get your teammates and your coaches to have confidence in you. Special teams is going to come first and once they get comfortable with me being out of the field and trust that I know what to do, then I’ll take the next step when I step on to the field with the defense.”

At least one prominent football reporter thinks that Lewis has a shot in Cincinnati. CBSSports.com’s senior NFL columnist Pete Prisco recently Tweeted about the Bengals rookie.

“They do have a talented player,” said Lewis when I told him about Prisco’s Tweet. “He’s not mistaken in saying that.”

“I tell you what; Isaiah Lewis had been a pleasant surprise,” said Joseph. “We knew when we signed him as a free agent that he was a good player, but I think he’s better than we thought. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to play in the preseason and prove his worth.”

“I had to look to see what was the best spot for me,” Lewis told me. “I felt like this was the best fit and I’m happy I made this choice.”

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Newman Going Strong

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 4, 2014 – 11:47 am

I don’t think I read a single Bengals draft preview this year that did not include a mention of Terence Newman’s age.

As the Todd McKipers of the world accurately predicted, Cincinnati used its first round pick on a cornerback (Darqueze Dennard) because Newman and Adam Jones are in their 30s and Leon Hall is coming back from his second torn Achilles in three years.

But even though Newman will turn 36 three days before the season opener at Baltimore, the Bengals are counting on him to be one of their top corners in 2014.

“We timed them this offseason in a 20-yard dash and he was, like, second on the team,” said defensive backs coach Vance Joseph. “He can still run and with his experience at corner – that’s going to make him a solid player again this year.”

“I think I was lucky the couple of days that we did that test,” said Newman with a smile. “I just worked in the offseason and tried to get my legs stronger. I had a little issue with my patella last year and obviously the MCL so I got that corrected and I started to feel good. Coming to work every day when you have guys that are 21 or 22 – it’s a challenge in itself to try to hang with these guys. I think I’m doing pretty good.”

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs

The MCL injury forced Newman to miss the final four games of another good season. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Terence ranked 24th among NFL cornerbacks who were on the field for at least 60% of their team’s snaps last year. By PFF’s numbers, Newman finished ahead of Pro Bowlers Tim Jennings (35th), Brandon Flowers (50th), and Antonio Cromartie (56th).

“He’s got incredible athleticism and intelligence and he’s a kid at heart,” said Marvin Lewis. “He’s just been a marvel and he’s a great asset to this football team on and off the field.”

“I love this game,” said Newman. “This is something that I feel privileged to come out and do every day. Knowing people from the outside world that have 9-to-5 jobs and work in corporate America – they would love to be in the position that we’re in. A lot of times you have conversations with people and they just want to talk about football. They tell you, ‘I played in high school but I just wasn’t big enough’ or ‘I wasn’t this or that.’ Well, either was I. I wasn’t the biggest or strongest guy, but I could run. I’ve tried to perfect my craft and I’m still trying to.”

That was evident at the Bengals practice on Tuesday as Newman enthusiastically worked with the first team on defense and frequently lined-up against A.J. Green.

“To me that’s the challenge,” Newman told me. “You’re constantly being tested by younger players and guys that are bigger, stronger, faster. To me that’s kind of like a whole ‘nother game. I have to play the game at practice every week and then play the games on Sunday.

“There was a period of time where my body was breaking down. In retrospect, I probably should have taken a little time off. Maybe taken a few less reps – but I just wanted to be out there all of the time. That wears your body down. Now the coaches are forcing me out here, and that’s helping to preserve my body.”

“He’s obviously an exceptional athlete with great experience and he’s an easy guy to coach,” said Joseph. “Most guys in their 30s don’t want to be coached any longer, but he wants to be coached and wants to be corrected. That’s fun to be around.”

The two-time Pro Bowler is entering the final season of a 2-year, $5 million contract, but his 12th NFL campaign won’t necessarily be his last.

“Darrell Green did it until he was 40 right? (actually 42)” said Newman. “The defensive coordinator at K-State (Tom Hayes) got him when I think he was 36 and said he was still a heck of a player. I just want to see how far these wheels take me.”

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Rookie Aims To Add Wright Stuff On Special Teams

Posted by Dan Hoard on June 2, 2014 – 4:43 pm

Following the opening practice of OTAs that was open to members of the media last week, I asked a member of the Bengals front office staff if there were any little-known players that had impressed him that day.

“James Wright,” he answered.

James Wright

Wright is the wide receiver and special teams ace out of LSU that Cincinnati selected in the 7th round of this year’s draft. After receiving that positive review of the rookie from one Bengals staffer, I asked wide receivers coach James Urban what he thought of Wright’s first day on the field.

“I saw today what I thought I’d see and what I hoped to see,” Urban told me. “We did a lot of research on him – a lot of credit goes to our scouts – and I think we had a pretty good read on him. He’s got to grow and keep getting better, but he competed his tail off and did not look out of place today.”

If you only looked at Wright’s receiving stats in college, it might have been a head-scratcher when the Bengals drafted him. He finished his college career with just 25 catches including zero his senior year.

“He was in a situation where LSU primarily played with two receivers and those two were drafted in the first round (Odell Beckham) and the second round (Jarvis Landry),” said Urban. “He found a beautiful role and embraced it as a special teams star down there.”

“Life is a challenge,” said Wright. “You have to adapt to whatever is in front of you and make the best of the situation. That’s what I felt that I did in college and did it to the best of my ability.”

James Wright LSU (440x351)

Wright started at wide receiver in the BCS Championship game as a sophomore and began the following season in the same role. But an injury early in his junior year altered his college career.

“James was a starter at wide receiver before he hurt his shoulder and lost his spot,” said Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. “He got ‘Wally Pipped.’ The guy that took his place wound up being a second round pick. James didn’t get a great chance to play on offense as a senior, but he played very effectively in the kicking game. He was a dominant special teams player.”

“He was our captain on special teams in every game,” said rookie running back Jeremy Hill (Wright’s teammate at LSU). “He was the guy that everyone looked up to for being unselfish. He didn’t score a touchdown in his college career but he didn’t care. He still went hard every day in practice and in the games.”

“My senior year, all I did was special teams and I enjoyed it,” said Wright. “It’s one-third of football, so it gives you a chance to play.

“They gave me the captain’s role and I tried to lead by example. Every time I had a rep, I went 100% and that’s the approach I want to keep.”

Following the departure of Andrew Hawkins in free agency, Simmons is looking at Wright as a potential replacement for Hawkins as one of the team’s “gunners” in punt and kick coverage.

“He’ll have an opportunity to come in and compete to be that guy,” Simmons told me. “Anytime in this league that you can get coverage production from a receiver that’s a huge positive. Usually when you think of receivers you think of returners, but somebody has to go tackle those returners. You can’t have all defensive players on special teams; you have to get some help from offensive guys.”

“In college I did a little bit of everything,” said Wright. “I was the gunner in punt coverage, I ran down on kickoffs, I was the corner against the gunner – I did a little bit of everything.

“Whatever they ask me to do and anything that I can bring to the table, I’m going to bring it to the best of my ability and see where that takes me.”

In the battle to make the roster in a crowded group at wide receiver, Wright’s prowess at special teams could obviously help his case.

“I think the biggest job that I have with some of these young guys is getting the message across that unless you come in here as a high pick or you’re a starter, the way you get to play is by being effective in the kicking game,” said Simmons. “If you come in already knowing that because that’s what you did in college, then you’re a step ahead of everybody else.”

“I’m excited for him,” said Hill. “I think he’s going to continue to impress these coaches and impress the fans and he’s going to find a role and make this team.”

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Lamur Is Healthy And Happy To Be Back

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 28, 2014 – 7:06 pm

Don’t tell Emmanuel Lamur that the first day of OTAs was no big deal.

When the Bengals took the field on Tuesday, it marked the first time in nearly nine months that the third year linebacker had participated in 11-on-11 football drills after dislocating his shoulder in the final preseason game last year.

Lamur injury (427x224)

“Oh man, it feels really good to be back,” said Lamur. “It’s a blessing to be back with the guys. The injury opened my eyes in a way. I’m enjoying every rep and having fun. Last year the game was taken away from me just like that.”

“One of the things that I told the guys in the meetings is to enjoy the process,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “Whether it’s phase one of OTAs, lifting weights, meetings, or being out of the field. With the guys that got injured last year, I said, ‘It’s not a lot of fun when you’re hurt and sitting out, so enjoy the time that you have out here.’ You never know when it’s going to end and that’s how E-man plays.”

“This is a chance for him to come back and get his feet wet and get back into the groove of things,” said Rey Maualuga. “He looks great. He’s a great coverage player and a great all-around athlete.”

Lamur had another reason to be fired-up on Tuesday: He practiced with the first unit on defense. Following the offseason release of James Harrison, Lamur is the front-runner to start at SAM linebacker.

“He was the starter there really at the end of his rookie year (2012),” said Guenther. “He played a lot in his last five or six games and obviously he started the playoff game (at Houston). Right now he’s running with the ‘ones’ and if he continues to improve, I don’t see much of a change there.”

“I’m running with the first group right now but the way I approach it is to work hard on each and every rep like I’m still trying to earn a spot,” said Lamur. “I’m staying motivated and hungry because that’s what pushes me.”

Lamur was a 210-pound safety as a sophomore at Kansas State before shifting to linebacker for his final two college seasons. Although he added some weight after changing positions, Emmanuel was still slightly undersized to be an NFL linebacker when the Bengals signed him as an undrafted free agent.

“He was pretty raw, but from the first day when we were out here in the rookie camp, I was like, ‘Man, I really like him.’” said Guenther. “Nobody believed me because he was an undrafted rookie and nobody knew anything about him. As time went on at practice, everybody started coming around on the guy and I said, ‘I told you.’ Once he figured out what to do, you could see the athletic ability really take over.”

Lamur tackle (440x305)

Lamur was able to put on 12 pounds of muscle prior to last season and now he’s a chiseled 245 pounds.

“There are big boys in this league so I had to get bigger and stronger,” said Lamur.

“I thought he was ready for a break-out year last year but unfortunately, he got hurt in the preseason,” said Guenther. “He looks bigger, faster, and stronger now.”

While the Bengals did not sign any big-name free agents in the off-season, they’re hoping to get a major boost from the return of injured players like Geno Atkins, Leon Hall, and Lamur.

“He’s going into his third year and he’s smart,” said Maualuga. “He talks a lot out there and is always asking questions. He loves to compete and I’m pretty sure that he’s going to try to get to the ball quicker than Vontaze and me. I expect a big year from E-man. He’s going to surprise a lot of people and do some great things.”

“I’ve always been a big fan of E-man,” said Andrew Whitworth. “He’s a great guy with great character and has worked his tail off to be where he is. He’s one of those guys where you’re anxious to see him have success because he deserves it.”

“Being out for the season last year was very humbling,” Lamur told me. “I’m glad to be back at work and I’m improving every day.”

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Maualuga Hits The Big Screen

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 22, 2014 – 11:25 am

In early February, I went to see the movie American Hustle and was stunned when Rey Maualuga appeared in the preview for a baseball flick.

“Everyone was like, ‘I think I saw you in a trailer. Did you do a movie?’” said Maualuga with a laugh.


Trailer – Million Dollar Arm on Disney Video

In Million Dollar Arm, actor Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame plays a real-life sports agent named J.B. Bernstein who goes to India in search of baseball talent after losing the chance to represent a high-profile football star.

The script called for a football player of Samoan descent, so the casting agents reached out to NFL teams and encouraged candidates to try out.

Rey and Domata (440x440)

“Domata Peko and I did an audition video,” Maualuga told me. “He did his own and I did my own. I don’t think it was a competition between the two of us – we just figured, ‘Why not give it a try and see what happens?’”

Maualuga got a member of the Bengals video department to shoot his audition and asked a fellow linebacker for some coaching.

“He asked me for some tips and we rehearsed some of the lines together,” said Vinny Rey. “I was a theater minor at Duke so I had a tiny bit of experience. When I heard that he got the role I was ecstatic.”

“I did it right here in the player’s lounge – it took about a half hour,” said Maualuga. “They e-mailed me the script. Vinny helped me stay comfortable and got me saying my lines the way the director wanted.”

“I told Rey that the most important thing is to just go for it,” Vinny told me. “Don’t be nervous, don’t be ashamed – just go for it and act like it’s real. Just play the character. I’ve been telling him that I should be getting 3% like his agent.”

Maualuga’s scenes were shot last off-season in Atlanta.

Rey in movie (440x415)

“It was a great experience,” he said. “It’s something I’ve never done before and something I never thought that people would be calling me and asking me to do. When I heard I got the part, I was happy and excited to get that crossed off of my bucket list.

“I didn’t know how it actually happens with the different camera angles and all the takes that you have to do. I got to see a behind-the-scenes look at how everything gets done. It was fun.”

While his character rejects the agent played by Hamm in the movie, the two of them hit if off on the set.

“He’s a great guy and obviously an awesome actor,” said Maulauga. “We just talked about being comfortable. It’s just like me being on a football field. Practice makes perfect. If you mess up, you mess up and obviously you try to correct your mistakes by doing what is necessary. He told me to calm down and said that he messes up a bunch.”

The film was released nationally last weekend and Maualuga watched it with teammates and Bengals fans.

“On Friday, Domata’s wife rented out a whole movie theater,” said Maualuga.

“Me and my wife noticed that Rey couldn’t go to the premier because we had practice and he couldn’t make it out to Hollywood, so we just wanted to have a little private screening for him in the Cincinnati area,” Peko told me. “We rented out a movie theater, invited our teammates and their families, and then we invited 50 people on Twitter and Instagram to come with us.”

Million Dollar Arm has received generally favorable reviews from movie critics, and Maualuga’s acting debut got high marks from his teammates.

“He looked really natural – I was surprised,” said Marshall Newhouse. “He’s spent enough time in California that I’m sure he has the whole Hollywood thing down. He did a good job.”

“I think he has a future in Hollywood,” said Peko. “All the fans that came to the screening said that he did a great job.”

Still, Maualuga’s movie role is sure to result in some good-natured abuse in the Bengals’ locker room.

“His character’s name was Popo so we’ll see how that goes,” said Newhouse. “We’ll see if that sticks or not.”

“We’ve been joking around and calling him Rey Travolta,” said Peko.

Several NFL players have gone on to have successful acting careers after their playing days including Fred Dryer, Ed Marinaro, and Carl Weathers. Might that be in the cards for Maualuga?

“I’m going to try to play football for as long as I can, but if they come calling I’m not going to turn it down,” he said.

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

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Bengals trade up to get center in fourth

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on May 10, 2014 – 1:24 pm

For just the third time in their history the Bengals traded up in the draft Saturday and they selected a center some believe can be a decade-long starter in the NFL when they tapped North Carolina’s Russell Bodine.

The Bengals gave their first of two six-rounders to Seattle to move from No. 123 to No. 111 and grabbed the 6-3, 310-pound Bodine, a two-year starter that declared for the draft as a junior.

Bodine has a take-charge reputation as a locker-room leader as well as a mauler persona on the field. He comes out of the same quick-paced shotgun offense that produced Bengals running back Giovani Bernard, but has snapped to the quarterback in goal-line situations.

The Bengals cut long-time starter Kyle Cook earlier in the offseason and have been seeking a more physical presence in the middle. They also re-signed Mike Pollak, in part, to replace Cook, but Pollak, a natural center in college, has only played guard in the NFL.

“A physical player who enjoys playing the game,” according to Ourlads Scouting Services. “Not a finesse player. Players with attitude and effort…Plays with head on the swivel. Square in pass protection. Will get push in the running game.”

The last time the Bengals traded up in the draft was in the 2002 third round, when they traded with Detroit to go up from No. 73 to No. 67 for Texas Christian tight end Matt Schobel. That came seven years after they went up from No. 5 to No. 1 in a trade with Carolina that gave them Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter.

 


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Combine Record-Breaker Returns To Bengals

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 6, 2014 – 2:26 pm

With two days left to obsess over “measureables” leading up the draft, it is worth pointing out that the defensive end who clocked the fastest 40-yard dash time for that position in NFL Scouting Combine history will be in training camp with the Bengals this year.

And it’s not Jadeveon Clowney.

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Dontay Moch, who ran a 4.4 at the combine before being drafted by the Bengals in the third round in 2011, is back in Cincinnati after being claimed off of waivers from Arizona in mid-March.

“Coach Lewis called me and said, ‘Hey, are you ready to be back?’” said Moch. “I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I thought he was pulling my leg. But once I got that phone call and they told me I was going to be back here and sent me on that flight it felt good.

“I’ve always had good vibes here and I love the atmosphere and energy. It’s a great place to be and I’m honored to be back and eager to get working.”

The 25-year-old only played in one regular season game in his first two seasons in Cincinnati due to chronic migraines. After finding an effective way to treat them prior to last season, Moch led the Bengals with three preseason sacks but wound up being one of their final cuts at the end of training camp.

“He’s been through a lot – both personally and professionally,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “He’s a young guy that we drafted and brought in here and it has not gone the way that we expected, but a lot has happened in his life.”

Cincinnati tried to keep Dontay on the practice squad last year, but the former University of Nevada star elected to sign with Arizona instead.

“That’s my hometown and you can’t go wrong playing on your home field,” said Moch. “It was definitely something that I was glad I could do, but at the same time, it’s good to be back where I started.”

“He had an opportunity to stay here last year and he chose to go to another team,” said Coach Lewis. “It helped him grow.”

Moch Cardinals (308x440)

Moch was on Arizona’s active roster for the final 13 games and registered his first NFL sack vs. Tampa Bay. The Cardinals worked him at linebacker and as a rush end, but that is not the plan in Cincinnati.

“We tried him some at linebacker and we realized that the best thing that he does in pass rush,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “So we’re going to have him concentrate on defensive end and hopefully he’ll give us an added burst off the edge.

“It’s hard for a guy that played defensive end to try to learn linebacker at the highest level. It takes some time to do that. But after thinking about it, the best thing for him is to be a rusher. Just put his hand on the ground and go forward most of the time.”

With the loss of Michael Johnson to free agency, Moch will be a candidate to be part of the rotation at defensive end.

“In previous years I was always his back-up,” said Moch. “The fact that he isn’t here – he is a great guy and a great athlete and I’m glad that he got the deal that he did – it does open up a few doors for me and lets them see where I can fit in.”

“I’m excited to have him back because he knows the system and should fit right in,” said Domata Peko. “I can’t wait to see what he can do. In previous years he had a couple of guys in front of him and it was hard for him to get playing time. Now he might get his chance to shine.”

With Moch’s freakish size/speed ratio, the Bengals are hoping he can make an impact as a pass rusher and on special teams.

“He’s got a couple of things that he has to work on as far as the bull-rush and all that, but I don’t think there’s a player that can match his speed coming off the edge,” said Adam Jones. “If he stays healthy I think he’ll be a good addition to the team.”

“It’s really make it or break it for him,” said Coach Lewis. “I’m excited for him. He knows what his role is going to be. I thought he did a much better job for us last year in special teams in the preseason and hopefully he can continue with that and have a chance to be one of the guys to stay.”

Moch says it feels like he was never gone.

“It’s amazing how I just came back, moved one locker away, and added a few more digits to the number I had previously,” Dontay told me. “I’m #92 instead of #52. I am a defensive end and I’m going to be a heat-seeking missile out there.”

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Black Is Happy To Be Back

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 4, 2014 – 10:02 pm

Imagine your worst nightmare being nationally televised.

Imagine you’re Larry Black.

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Last July, the rookie defensive tackle out of Wyoming High School and Indiana University suffered a fractured leg and dislocated ankle in the sixth practice of training camp. The injury and Black’s devastated reaction – including the phone call where he broke the news to his parents – were all captured last year on the first episode of Hard Knocks.

“At the time I didn’t know what was going to happen – it just sucked,” Larry told me. “I saw stuff flash before me that I never would have thought.”

His teammates have differing opinions on whether Black’s anguish should have been included on the NFL’s ultimate reality TV show.

“It’s tough on any player to have a major injury like that and for it to be shown the way that it was – that’s one of the things that you would like to keep in the locker room,” said Clint Boling. “But that was just part of the experience of Hard Knocks.”

“I think it’s good for everybody watching to see how this world works and how fragile it can be,” said Margus Hunt.

Nine months after having his personal trauma televised, Black says it all worked out for the best.

“It is part of the game and it actually turned out great for me,” said Black. “I have a lot of supporters and I got a lot of feedback from people. I realized out how much they actually cared. Things have a way of working out and somehow it worked out to my benefit.”

Larry Black (305x440)

After spending last season on injured reserve, Black was given a clean bill of health in mid-February. He’s been able to fully participate in the team’s offseason workout program which began two weeks ago.

“Oh man, it feels great just to be part of the team,” Larry told me. “When you’re on IR, you’re part of the team but you feel distant because you’re not working the same hours. You come in for rehab and you watch a little film, but you’re still not putting in the same amount of time. It just feels good to be back around the guys again doing the same stuff at the same level.”

“He’s back with us and he looks great,” said Wallace Gilberry. “I’m excited and I think everybody else is too to see him get in here and get in the rotation and see how he can contribute.”

Black was an undrafted free agent last year and faces stiff competition in trying to make the team as a defensive lineman. But in addition to showing his injury, Hard Knocks also allowed us to hear the coaching staff complimenting his play and saying that he had a legitimate shot at an NFL career.

“I thought that I was playing good ball when I got hurt and I need to pick up where I left off,” said Black. “My ankle is 100% and it’s a blessing that I recovered the way that I did after that injury. I’m just looking forward to getting better and better as a player each and every day.”

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

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Bengals Move On Without Johnson and Zimmer

Posted by Dan Hoard on April 28, 2014 – 12:40 pm

Last year the Bengals knew that they would probably lose Michael Johnson to free agency at the end of the season. For several years, they’ve known there was a decent chance that Mike Zimmer would leave for a head coaching opportunity.

Johnson and Zimmer (356x269)

But when the players returned to Paul Brown Stadium last week to begin offseason workouts, they faced the stark reality that Johnson and Zimmer are gone.

“It was pretty sad,” said Carlos Dunlap. “Mike (Johnson) was my guy. We had a great thing going, but he got a great opportunity down in Tampa and couldn’t pass it up. It’s part of the business.

“And losing Zim is most definitely going to be different. It’s probably going to be quieter.  Obviously Zim got a head coaching job which he’s worked hard for and was well-deserving of, but now (Coach Guenther) gets a great opportunity to step up and try to fill the role of the guy he coached with.”

In Johnson, Cincinnati is losing a defensive end who was productive and durable. ProFootballFocus.com ranked him 4th among NFL defense ends in 4-3 schemes last year. Fortunately, the loss comes at a position group where the Bengals have Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt, Devon Still, and Brandon Thompson waiting in the wings and Geno Atkins and Robert Geathers returning from injury.

“We’re going to miss Mike a lot, but it is part of the business,” said Geathers. “We figured it was probably going to happen after he got the (franchise) tag. We attack it by committee anyway. We have a good group of guys and really good depth so I’m pretty sure there’s going to be even more competition.”

“Geno Atkins is the best defensive lineman in the league and to get him back healthy will make our rotation second to none,” said Dunlap.

In Zimmer, Cincinnati is losing a coordinator that guided the Bengals’ defense to top 10 finishes in yards and points allowed in four of the past five seasons. But the players say they’re confident that former linebackers coach Paul Guenther is ready to take over.

“It’s definitely going to be weird,” said Still. “Zim was our defense and taught us basically everything that we know. But Paul studied under Zim and he’s a helluva coach himself. I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like to be coached by him this year.”

“Experience is the only difference,” said Dunlap. “I feel like Paulie G. has been with Zim for so long that he knows his X’s and O’s. He just hasn’t been a defensive coordinator and being ‘the guy’ is different from being one of the guys.”

“He’s very confident and knows what he’s talking about,” said Gilberry. “They definitely passed the torch to the right guy.”

The changes in personnel haven’t changed the bottom line: To get back to the playoffs and finally get over the hump in the postseason.

“It’s a new year and you have to do it all over again,” said Geathers. “It doesn’t matter what we did last year or how it ended. It’s a new season and nobody cares what we did last season. Nobody cares that we were undefeated at home or none of that stuff. We have to start all over and get back to where we want go.”

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

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Defending Dalton

Posted by Dan Hoard on April 23, 2014 – 3:08 pm

I feel the need to defend Andy Dalton.

Dalton black uniform (440x330)

Not for his play. I think most reasonably-minded fans agree that he’s been good in the regular season and bad in his three playoff games. As a result, I understand why many people question the Bengals’ stated desire to extend Dalton’s contract now instead of allowing him to play out the final year of his deal like the Ravens did with Joe Flacco before he led them to a Super Bowl title.

But I’m bothered by the reaction to Andy’s comments on Monday when discussing his contract status with a group of about seven reporters (myself included).

For example, Dalton saying, “I do” when asked if he considers himself to be the face of the franchise.

On the surface, it might sound arrogant. What about A.J. Green or Geno Atkins or Marvin Lewis?

Here’s the backstory. The Enquirer’s Paul Dehner Jr. asked Andy if he ever gets wowed by the amount of money that NFL quarterbacks make.

“It’s a quarterback-driven league, so quarterbacks get rewarded a lot of money,” Dalton responded. “If you’re the quarterback of the team, you’re the face of the franchise. These teams obviously believe in their guy so they’re going to pay him that way.”

At that point, ESPN’s Coley Harvey asked the natural follow-up: “Do you feel you’re the face of this franchise?”

“I do,” Dalton said. “And I feel like everything that Marvin’s said and Hue’s said and everybody here has told me that.”

Is that arrogant? Or obvious?

Dalton is basically saying he believes he’s a franchise quarterback and the coaching staff has given him every indication that they agree.

A few minutes later, I brought up Flacco’s defiant attitude during his walk year in Baltimore. More specifically, how the Ravens’ QB publically referred to himself as an elite quarterback and basically said “screw you” to anybody that disagreed. I then asked Andy if he ever felt like saying the same thing to his critics.

“I’m very confident in what I’ve done,” Dalton answered. “The critics look at all the negative – they don’t look at all of the stuff that I’ve accomplished. They don’t look at the fact that I’m one of three quarterbacks in the history of the NFL to do certain things. They don’t look at that kind of stuff. They want to find ways to tear me down. I’m not worried about any of that. They can say anything they want. All that matters is what everybody believes in this organization and what I believe in myself.”

If you only read his answer, it might come off as whiny, but Andy was specifically responding to how he deals with criticism.

Paul Daugherty wrote a story today in the Enquirer making the case that Dalton needs to be a better leader by taking more blame when things don’t go well. It’s a case that Doc has made a few times since the Bengals’ playoff loss to San Diego.

One of the reasons why Paul is a great columnist is that he has strong opinions and expresses them well. In this case, I think Andy has already realized that he needs to change.

In another interview session on Monday with local TV reporters (you can watch it here), Dalton was asked about last year’s playoff failure and said, “I didn’t play my best and the team as a whole didn’t play its best.” Later he added, “I could have played better.”

Perhaps that’s not the “This one’s on me” tone that Doc is looking for, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.

After listening to Andy’s press conferences for three years, it’s clear that he’s been well-trained to avoid providing bulletin board material (Bill Belichick would approve). He keeps things pretty generic and generally talks about the team instead of himself. But I don’t ever recall hearing Andy throw a teammate under the bus. Has he ever complained about a bad game by the offensive line? About a dropped pass or a poorly run route? While it would probably play well in the locker room if he accepted the lion’s share of the blame after playing poorly in a loss, I am not under the impression that his comments have caused locker room friction. At least not yet.

Let’s face it, what Andy Dalton needs to do is lead the Bengals to postseason success. Period. Everything else – including his comments on Monday – is just talk.

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

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