One of the things I enjoy about my job is the homework (my 9-year-old son finds that hard to believe). In addition to spending time simply memorizing names and numbers each week, I am always looking for anecdotes and statistics that will help to make the broadcast both entertaining and informative.
But most of the material never gets used.
The number one priority during a game broadcast is to try to paint a vivid word picture of what’s happening on the field. As a result, much of the prep work gets left on the cutting room floor.
That’s why I’ve decided to write some of it in blog form. Each week I plan to plan to share some “Bits from the Booth” leading into that week’s matchup, beginning with Sunday’s game at Oakland.
As you have probably heard this week, the Bengals have never won a game in Oakland in franchise history. Their all-time record is 0-10. But that shouldn’t mean much to the current players. Seven of the 10 games took place before 1981, meaning no current Bengals were even born for 70% of the losing streak. The only game of the 10 that any of the current players appeared in was a 20-17 loss in 2009. Seven players (Leon Hall, Michael Johnson, Rey Maualuga, Domata Peko, Pat Sims, Andrew Whitworth, and Kevin Huber) played in that game. Andre Smith was on the roster but inactive that day. The current Bengal who has played in the most games at Oakland is Wallace Gilberry, and he went 3-1 as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Raiders third preseason game was nationally televised on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, and if you tuned in you saw Khalil Mack put on an incredible show against the Arizona Cardinals. The fifth pick in last year’s draft tormented Carson Palmer in the first half, sacking him twice and hitting him four times. I asked Raiders radio voice Greg Papa about Mack’s performance when he joined us on “Bengals Game Plan” this Wednesday night.
“Last year he was unblockable at times in the run game,” said Papa. “He would just rag doll whoever was against him, and a lot of times they would put a tight end on him because he played strong-side linebacker. It was just amazing to me week after week after week. I remember Jordan Cameron of Cleveland trying to block him and that’s just not going to work. But he’s changed positions now. He’s not playing SAM linebacker, he’s playing defensive end. I was a little bit worried about it because he’s going up against bigger men now. He’s not going up against tight ends and backs chipping, he’s going up against 325 pound offensive lineman. But as you saw in the Arizona game, Jared Veldheer is a little top-heavy, and I think Mack’s low leverage – a lot like Elvis Dumerville who is able to be explosive as a pass rusher under six feet tall with those long arms – Khalil was getting under his pad level and showing him a variety of moves that I had never seen before. He was strictly a bull rusher last year as a rookie and he could do it because he’s so strong. But in that game he showed a spin move back to the inside, and he showed an edge rush to the outside. Now the Bengals have good tackles in Whitworth and Smith – I don’t know if he’ll be on Whitworth’s side as much come Sunday, but I think that’s going to be an area where Hue is possibly going to send help.”
Last year the Bengals were one of only four teams to hold J.J. Watt without a sack in their 22-13 win at Houston. We’ll see if the O-line can neutralize Mack on Sunday.
Carter on Culture
One of the biggest standouts during the Bengals’ four preseason games was linebacker Chris Carter who led the team with 3.5 sacks and earned a spot on the 53-man roster.
The four year veteran joined the team prior to Game 13 last year and told me he feels like he’s found a home.
“Since I walked into this building, everybody has treated me with nothing but courtesy and respect,” said Carter. “My teammates welcomed me in like a brother. As soon as I got here, Vontaze Burfict – a guy that I thought didn’t want to talk to anybody and was just doing his own thing – he was the first person to take me in and try to teach me the plays and he helped me get around the city. He talked to me and motivated me and I’m very grateful to him. Rey Maualuga, Domata Peko…all of those guys. It’s more like a family here than any environment that I have ever been in before. I’m happy and grateful to be here.”
Carter spent three years in Pittsburgh and part of last season in Indianapolis. His comment about the family environment in Cincinnati is indicative of the great culture Marvin Lewis has built in the Bengals locker room.
Bengals fans remember all too well how much of a struggle it was for the team in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the 12 years before Marvin Lewis was hired as head coach, the Bengals went 55-137.
So we can sympathize with Raiders fans. Over the last 12 years, Oakland’s record is nearly identical: 56-136. Since a 48-21 loss to Tampa Bay in the 2002 Super Bowl, the Raiders have lost at least 11 games in 10 out of the last 12 seasons.
Additionally, during Marvin Lewis’s tenure in Cincinnati, Oakland has had nine head coaches: Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable, Hue Jackson, Dennis Allen, Tony Sparano, and Jack Del Rio.
Speaking of Hue
In the last 12 years, the only seasons where the Raiders managed to win more than five games were the two years that Hue Jackson was part of the coaching staff. He was dumped after going 8-8 in his one year as the head coach and Oakland has gone 11-37 in the three seasons since.
I asked Hue how emotional it will be to return to the Oakland sidelines on Sunday.
“I don’t know if it will be emotional, but there will be memories,” said Jackson. “I had a great run there in my opinion. I was the coordinator in 2010 for Tom Cable and we won eight games. I was the head coach the year after and we won eight games. The guy that gave me both of those opportunities, Al Davis, was like my mentor – he’s like what Mike Brown is to me now. Al gave me the opportunity to lead an organization and for that I will always be grateful. There are some old wounds there, but we’ll let those go really quickly because we have a game to win.”
My broadcast partner Dave Lapham expects the Bengals players to get added motivation on Sunday from their desire to ‘Win It For Hue.”
Black Hole Beckons
I’m excited to get my first-ever look at Oakland’s famed “Black Hole” on Sunday. The late Hunter S. Thompson once wrote that, “The massive Raider Nation is beyond a doubt, the sleaziest, rudest, and most sinister mob of thugs ever assembled.”
But Dre Kirkpatrick doesn’t sound concerned.
“I played in the SEC,” Dre told me. “LSU is crazy, Auburn is crazy, Florida is crazy, so every week was mayhem. Every week was chaotic. So it kind of prepared me.”
I’m guessing that a majority of Bengals players have been in a road environment that was every bit as rowdy as Oakland will be on Sunday.
Mike Brown on Odell Thurman
On this week’s radio pregame show, my weekly “Fun Facts” segment is with Bengals president Mike Brown as we look back at the 10-year anniversary of the 2005 team.
Here’s what Mike had to say about linebacker Odell Thurman who led the team in tackles and had five interceptions and five forced fumbles in his only NFL season before violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
“He was a great talent and it’s such a shame that we lost him and he lost his career to the off-field problems that he had,” said Brown. “I have real regrets about that. He’s a nice person – you’d like him if you knew him. He had the whole package – quickness, suddenness, and he was as decisive as you could be. He was a difference maker and I think he would have been a Hall of Fame player if he could have hung on to his career.”
The Mike Brown interview is scheduled to run at approximately 3:50 this Sunday on the Bengals Radio Network.
Talk to you from Oakland. Hope you’ll be listening.
I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net
If you’re on Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard
And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1
Tags: Andrew Whitworth, Bengals, Khalil Mack, Mike Brown
Posted in Heard It From Hoard | No Comments »
Monday is kicking off a big week at Paul Brown Stadium, the last full one before the April 25-27 draft.
The Bengals begin their offseason workouts Monday and the first bevy of locker-room quotes since the players bagged their disappointment and belongings in the Jan. 7 Cleanout should start hitting cyberspace around 9:45 a.m.
Among the things we’ll hear is that left tackle Andrew Whitworth is recovering well from his knee surgery and expects to be back for the first day of training camp in late July and the same with rookie cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. They may not be seen on the field during the spring, which is why the Bengals are looking for some bodies, particularly on the offensive line.
Also certain to be heard is that middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is in the best shape of his NFL career with the help of his MMA training in Los Angeles and that new SAM backer candidate Aaron Maybin is excited about the chance to join the lengthy list of players that have revived their careers under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer: Safeties Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson, cornerbacks Terence Newman and Adam Jones, and linebackers Dhani Jones and Thomas Howard to name a few.
And franchise player Michael Johnson won’t be on the premises since he’s finishing up his semester’s work at Georgia Tech and is expected when the Bengals go on the field the week of May 20.
Also Monday, the Bengals should have a pretty good idea where the James Harrison thing is going. It’s believed the Bengals gave Harrison an offer over the weekend and that the sides have decided to talk about it Monday. It sounds like Harrison wants to be here and that head coach Marvin Lewis has already struck up a good relationship with him, and that means a lot in these parts and could very well bode well for a deal fairly quickly.
It looks like Harrison is Lewis’s kind of guy, a throwback to Lewis’s Greg Lloyd days in Pittsburgh when he loved coaching a deadly serious pro who had no fear, backed down from no one, and was all football. And it looks like Lewis has what Harrison wants, a top 10 defense that can win the AFC North.
(A snapshot to just how Lewis relates to players could be seen last week when he saw middle backer Vontaze Burfict for the first time since Jan. 7 and they wrestled around in a playful greeting. Then he promptly shot down Burfict’s request for a locker change.)
On Monday the Bengals are also expected to announce they’ve re-signed running back Bernard Scott and signed former Browns tight end Alex Smith.
Then on Tuesday morning the Bengals are hosting 31 college prospects that played high school or college in the metro Cincinnati area. It’s also the first Tuesday the NFL schedule could be released.
During the rest of the week the Bengals figure to entertain the last of their 30 draft prospects that each team is allowed to bring to its facility.
Tags: Aaron Maybin, Andrew Whitworth, Dre Kirkpatrick, James Harrison, Marvin Lewis, Michael Johnson, Rey Maualuga
Posted in Hobson's Choice | No Comments »
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 »
CLEVELAND — A few pregame thoughts heading into Sunday’s opener.
Everyone is trying to put a label on this 2011 Bengals locker room without The Ocho and T.O. and it is so easy to say it’s less egocentric, more unselfish, and the chemistry flows like champagne. And without quarterback Carson Palmer, it’s even easier to call them The Young and The Leaderless.
But like all the pundits have already made up their minds on how bad the Bengals are going to be, let’s slow down just a little bit.
One assistant told me on Saturday that while locker room chemistry is extremely important, it takes time to become visible. He wants to see them go through some adversity first.
That’s code for their response to big injuries and tough losses, be it blowouts or of the last-minute variety. Another long-time insider says he’s looking to see how they react “to getting hitting in the mouth. And they will get hit in the mouth.”
That’s going to take a month or so.
And a locker room is like any other workplace. Not everybody agrees on everything. Safety Chris Crocker, one of the team leaders, has always thought the Bengals have had good chemistry since he arrived in the middle of the 2008 season.
“Our locker room has never been an issue. From the outside you think The Ocho was a distraction or whatever. But he was just a good guy that liked to have fun. I don’t think our locker room is any different, it’s just young.”
But another leader, this one on offense in left tackle Andrew Whitworth, thinks the youth has changed the room.
“It’s younger. It’s just a different mindset, different attitude. It brings some life to the locker room and some change,” he said. “There aren’t as many guys that are just playing and thinking we don’t have a chance. We have some young guys that have won and are real good players and they bring some energy. Sometimes you need some new freshness.”
Whitworth says rookie quarterback Andy Dalton isn’t all that different than Palmer when it comes to personality. Both are laid back. Both are quiet. Both talk in the huddle.
And while the offense may be younger (there are just 132 NFL catches at wide receiver and 15 NFL games at tight end), the locker room picked up three seasoned and solid pros in cornerback Nate Clements and linebackers Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard. Plus, guys like Whitworth and defensive linemen Domata Peko and Robert Geathers, already captains of sorts, earned their PhDs in leadership during the lockout. There are some coaches that believe the lockout was a boon for the Bengals in the sense that it forced guys other than the usual leaders—the Crockers and Whitworths and Pekos and Geathers—to step up and police the locker room.
While everyone is scrambling trying to read everything into every clue, Dalton shrugged. Yes, he took the locker Palmer has had since 2006 when Jon Kitna left. The one tucked in a corner, the last locker on the left as players go to the equipment room, practice field and the parking lot.
But Dalton says he wasn’t trying to send a message. It simply came down to a matter of electronics. He pointed to the wall next to the locker.
“That’s why,” Dalton said. “The outlet. It’s in a great spot. It’s easy to charge my phone or plug anything else in … it’s just a locker.”
In the end, his legacy could be that glacial calm that soothes a locker room that was once a tinderbox. But give it some time. Right now, it’s just a locker room.
WEST COAST REUNION: Sunday’s opener marks the return of the Bengals offense to its roots after a 10-year absence. New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has brought back the version of the West Coast offense he learned under his bother Jon.
What makes it even more intriguing is the Browns are using it in a game between the two teams founded by Paul Brown. And as his son, Bengals president Mike Brown, said this week, it was his father that gave the West Coast its language and numbering system.
It’s an intermarriage of Xs and Os. Jon Gruden broke in at Bill Walsh’s 49ers in the early ‘90s, the former Bengals assistant that created the West Coast in Cincinnati using Paul Brown’s Cleveland offenses of the ‘40s and ’50s as a template in the early days of the Bengals in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
New Browns head coach Pat Shurmur was hired by club president Mike Holmgren, a Walsh disciple that made major adjustments to the West Coast to suit his strong-armed quarterback in Green Bay, Brett Favre, in the ‘90s. While Walsh preferred the shorter passes and working under center, Holmgren put Favre in the shotgun while keeping intact one of the absolute truths of the West Coast of multiple personnel groups.
Now, Jay Gruden says the West Coast has evolved so much that his brother and Holmgren would have a tough time understanding each other’s playbook.
Mike Brown says Walsh used his father’s numbering system, but he credits the future Hall of Fame coach for creating the genesis of the West Coast in 1970. With 1969 AFC Rookie of the Year Greg Cook suffering what turned out to be a career-ending shoulder injury while winning the AFC passing title, Brown says Walsh went to a shorter passing game to suit the arm of journeyman Virgil Carter that next season and the Bengals made the playoffs.
But Brown believes the zenith of the West Coast didn’t come until the ‘90s, when he says 49ers quarterback Steve Young ran it the best of anyone before and after.
And this is where Bengals fans start to mumble a series of unintelligible what-ifs. Before Walsh died a few years ago, he insisted Cook was the best young quarterback he ever saw. In 1984, Brown went to bed thinking he had a deal for Young as the No. 1 pick in the draft only to wake up to find he had signed with something called the Los Angeles Express.
Sunday it all comes full circle for an offense that started in the rust belt and was named after California. And everyone is waiting to see where Dalton falls among Cook, Young and Carter.
Tags: Andrew Whitworth, Andy Dalton, Bengalls locker room, Bill Walsh, Chris Crocker, Mike Brown, Paul Brown, West Coast offense
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 10 Comments »
No roster moves Wednesday, but two significant transactions when Melissa and Andrew Whitworth welcomed their twins: Sarah Elise (four pounds, three ounces) and Andrew James Jr., (four pounds, one ounce). Whitworth reports mother and babies are well.
Tags: Andrew Whitworth, Congratulate The Whits
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 11 Comments »