Two-minute drill

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on August 30, 2010 – 5:23 am

A two-minute drill of observations heading into the last week of the preseason:

2:00: Antonio Bryant is a good man with a big heart and that passion may have done him in with the Bucs and Bengals.

He basically admitted last week that he came back too early from his knee injury last preseason in Tampa and that this spring he became so immersed in trying to get to know the offense and get in sync with his teammates in Cincinnati that he hurried on to the field and didn’t tend to the details of rehab.

Here’s a guy that could have taken the money and run but didn’t. Twice. He was the franchise player in Tampa in ’09 before getting what amounted to a $7.85 million here, according to reports. Throw in the money the Bengals gave Laveranues Coles last year and that’s a grand total of nearly $18 million wasted trying to replace T.J. Houshmandzadeh, still playing in Seattle.

There are those here that wonder if Houshmandzadeh would have been hard to handle here last year in a run-first offense. But now there is no wondering about this: The Bengals have to take a wide receiver in the first round next year.

1:53: The Bengals are going to get grilled for this one. What was the bigger mistake? Signing him with the knee like that? Or letting him practice that first day of training camp, taking away the option of putting him on the physical unable to play list (PUP) and letting him have six more weeks to work it out and maybe have him for a stretch run? But the fact they didn’t put him on IR or reach an injury settlement with him would indicate they don’t think he could have helped them next year, anyway.   

They didn’t make the biggest mistake, which is keeping him in place of a young guy like Quan Cosby or Jerome Simpson in the hopes they could squeeze something out of the investment. That would have been the hat trick.

1:37: So who gets the final two spots? With Maurice Purify hurt and Matt Jones catching just four balls in four games, does Simpson have the upper hand going into Thursday’s preseason finale in Indianapolis?  (Word is that he was in the right spot on the Jordan Palmer interception that ended up a TD Saturday.) If he does, is that sixth and final spot being contested by Cosby and Dez Briscoe? And is it a contest? Cosby has played the best in the games of any receiver trying to make it.

1:23: Mike Nugent showed Saturday why the Bengals signed him thinking he would be a solid replacement for Shayne Graham when he flashed that second-round leg with the 54-yard field goal Saturday night in Buffalo.  Remember, this is a guy that made more than 80 percent of his tries with the Jets before he got hurt. Yes, the downside is he doesn’t boom kickoffs. But if they think he’s now healthy, he may have done enough to convince them.

1:10: Say what you want about the defense giving up 21 points in the first half but when they had their first secondary and line in there in the first quarter, rookie running back C.J. Spiller couldn’t get to the edge. Plus, they were so banged up it brought back memories of how they limped through the playoff game last year. Their best move was leaving so many guys home, from the three defensive linemen to the four DBs. Memo to Mike Zimmer: Ice them again Thursday.

1:03: Will a fourth safety please stand up? Rico Murray may have with some nice hits on a night he finished with four tackles from scrimmage and one on special teams. Special teams captain Kyries Hebert led the team along with linebackers Brandon Johnson and Roddrick Muckelroy with five tackles. Murray’s edge on Hebert is he can also play some cornerback. But Hebert is a bigger factor on special teams.  Maybe the fourth safety isn’t here yet.

0:55: Even though he hasn’t played in the last two games, it looks like linebacker/fullback Dan Skuta (ankle) is going to make it. Look for him to play in Indy. That would give them six backers with Skuta and Brandon and Michael Johnson backing up. Is that all they’re going to keep now that they have to keep an extra running back with the Brian Leonard injury? That still leaves guys like veteran special-teamer Abdul Hodge and a fourth-round pick, Muckelroy, outside looking in.

0:47: Fullback Fui Vakapuna (shoulder) has yet to play in a game. It looks like they’re trying to protect him for the season but it would seem they are covered if he can’t go with Skuta and a combination of tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Reggie Kelly. They could always not go with a fullback and go with four tight ends but it seems that they tried to make Dan Coats a fullback once before and moved him back to tight end.

0:34: Huge battle at running back for that last spot with James Johnson and Cedric Peerman. It seems they are fighting for the right to be cut when Leonard returns in the first couple of games of the season. But there is also a larger issue of backup bell cow running back. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski talked about that last week.

All his backs seem to have a different specialty. But Cedric Benson looks like the one guy that can pound it 75 to 80 times in a month of games. Bratkowski said they could get by for a couple of games with Bernard Scott and Leonard/Peerman/Johnson if Benson was shelved, but would probably have to look elsewhere if it was for a longer period.

0:28: Maybe it’s just me, but rookie end Carlos Dunlap looks quite active out there. The defensive line is no doubt the hottest battle heading into Indy. Whether they keep eight or nine. These guys would look to have spots:  Robert Geathers, Antwan Odom, Domata Peko, Tank Johnson, Jon Fanene, Geno Atkins, Dunlap. Maybe Frostee Rucker and Pat Sims, too.  But that gives you nine and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald is a guy they’ve always liked.

0:15:  See why backup tackle Anthony Collins is so valuable? Without him, Dennis Roland is the backup left tackle and while he does a solid job over at right tackle, he’s not the answer at left. They’re hoping Collins (ankle) is ready for the opener.

0:07: Left guard Evan Mathis got a lot of snaps at center Saturday with rookie center Reggie Stephens working at left guard. So they may be trying to decide if they need to go get a backup guard/center or if they’re OK with what they’ve got.

0:00. Big day on the river Sunday Sept. 5. Riverfest while everybody is listening to Reds-Cardinals from St. Louis down river.

It is also the day the Bengals finalize the 53-man roster after cuts on Saturday the 4th. So how many guys that aren’t here now are going to be on that roster? They already have a list of guys they think are going to get cut elsewhere and will make their cuts accordingly. In years past, that’s how they came up with Graham and Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the anticipation of what’s going to be out there always seems to exceed what is actually left.

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Philosophy at receiver

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on August 24, 2010 – 7:36 am

Even before Monday, Bengals wide receivers coach Mike Sheppard had to agree that the battle for the last few spots at his position is murky. A tossup where there are no clear-cut guys stepping up to round out what will be a six-man field.

“That’s fair,” Sheppard said. “Everybody has done something good. And then there have been some unfortunate things like Maurice (Purify) getting hurt.”

Purify’s knee tendinitis has shelved him for the last two games and he was down Monday, a devastating blow for a guy trying to prove he can consistently produce on special teams. But Purify wasn’t the only receiver on the bubble Monday who was out. Matt Jones didn’t dress and while Andre Caldwell may not be on the bubble, he hasn’t dressed either in a week he’s looking to reassert himself.

And then there is the $10 million elephant in the room. With the final preseason game just nine days away, there has been no sign of Antonio Bryant (knee) on the field. The injured guys that are on the side rehabbing usually do some running early in practice when it is open to the media. Bryant wasn’t out there Monday. Maybe he came out later, but it is another indication that things aren’t going the way they hoped with him.

Do they cut their losses?

It is hard to see anyone eating $10 million. It is harder still to see them cut a younger, healthier receiver. It would appear if they do keep him, they would almost have to go with seven receivers at this point. Can they do that when they already have to go one extra at running back because of Brian Leonard’s injury?

What we think we know is that these four guys are here: The Ocho, T.O., Caldwell, and Jordan Shipley. So with no Bryant you’ve got a scrum with Jones, Purify, Quan Cosby, Jerome Simpson and Dez Briscoe for two spots. With Bryant, just one of them makes it.

The guys who are supposed to have the edge are Jones and Simpson because they are bigger, taller, and can make plays down the field. Jones has disappeared after his big opener and there is concern about his speed. Simpson continues to flash, but inconsistently. The classic example is last Friday night’s fumble after a 20-yard-plus play. The good and the bad. Plus, the coaches are still looking for more when it comes to executing his assignments.

It always keeps coming back to Cosby. He has been the most productive on the field with his special teams work. It would seem they would have no use for his punt returning skills because they now have cornerback Adam Jones and Shipley. Jones and Shipley can also return kicks, but running back Bernard Scott is the guy.

Yet Cosby does other things on special teams, like tackle and block, which a No. 5 receiver is supposed to do. The knock is he’s too small and too slow to do anything from scrimmage, but Sheppard thinks he can.

“He’s rarely been wrong. He’s very smart and he backs up every position,” Sheppard said. “So he’s dependable and when you call on him to make plays, he does.”

So do they sacrifice potential big plays for say, a Simpson, and go with dependability in a guy like Cosby? When you’ve got guys that can do what Cosby already does and Simpson does have some rare qualities, what do you do? It sounds like a philosophy final instead of Cutdown Day. There may be no right and wrong, but your essay better back up your choice.

And then there is Briscoe. If he doesn’t make it, the prediction is he’ll be gone off waivers and forget the practice squad. So maybe he’s a guy that has to make it. They like what he’s shown so far (route running, hands), but he doesn’t turn 21 until a week from Tuesday and he’s raw.

It would be good for Caldwell, too, to get something done in games. Hard to see them cutting him because of his speed and his ability to play all three spots and he looked great early in camp when Carson Palmer was throwing to him. But he’s been hard to find with the backup QBs in the second half.

Two games left and they’re right where they were the opening night of camp when Bryant went to the sidelines and T.O. showed up. It is competition they wanted and they got it.

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Finding T.O.

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on July 29, 2010 – 6:51 am

GEORGETOWN, Ky. – We know that wide receiver Terrell Owens will be at an 11:45 a.m. Thursday news conference here at Georgetown College after taking the redeye from The Coast, but where will he be when he takes the field for the first time as a Bengal at the 7 p.m. practice?

In the slot or outside?

The Bengals are still piecing that together, but receivers coach Mike Sheppard says to look for him early on at the outside.

“Hard to say,” said Sheppard, when asked if Owens is a slot guy. “He didn’t play a lot of inside but he had a lot of patterns that worked inside. I think that’s what we’re going to find out about … we can move at his pace. We go fast in training camp but we don’t have to play him every down. We’ve got good players there . Hopefully we can get him up to speed as fast as he can learn it. Hopefully,  we get him going outside and then we’ll see what he can do outside maybe.”

With Owens heading into his 15th NFL season and Sheppard coaching his 17th NFL season, the learning curve doesn’t figure to be steep. Sheppard figures it will be a review for Owens. Also figuring into this could be the health of Antonio Bryant. When the Bengals backed him off in late June when his knee flared up, they moved him back outside.

But not before they were very impressed how he handled playing the slot, a spot he had hardly ever played during his previous seven NFL seasons.

“He was adjusting and he was anxious to do it,” Sheppard said.  “He knows  in our structure a lot of catches come in there. His being familiar with the inside is going to help us.”

All indications are that Bryant is going to be on the field Thursday and the Bengals think he’ll be OK as long as they back him off. Sheppard has liked what he’s seen so far about his makeup.

“He’s got great toughness, excellent hands, very strong hands,” Sheppard said. “Press doesn’t bother him. He can fight through things and he’s competitive as heck.” …

Interesting that two former Bengals quarterbacks have offered their old club encouraging words about Owens. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Palmer’s backup  in ’07-08, threw to him last year in Buffalo and immediately called Carson Palmer after the season to urge the Bengals sign him. And Turk Schonert, who would have been Owens’ offensive coordinator in Buffalo before he got sacked in preseason, loved him, according to Sheppard.

“I’ve worked with Turk and I trust what he sees,” Sheppard said. “He was high on him. Hard worker. Productive guy.” …

The most interesting thing The Ocho said Wednesday – besides saying that Owens is the new No. 1 receiver – is how different they are as players. Owens is such a physical guy that The Ocho says he’d be injured by the third game if he played like that. But he plans on taking notes on what Owens does after the catch. The Ocho is coming off his best season getting yards after the play, but he admitted it’s been a weakness.

“He’s one of the best in the game ever,” The Ocho said of YAC, and he thinks seeing it up close instead of merely on film will help.

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