Dalton Quiets Critics…For Now

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 20, 2015 – 11:19 pm

It was Cincinnati vs. San Diego and Bengals fans turned on their starting quarterback.

His name was Ken Anderson.

Anderson vs Chargers

I’m referring to a 31-14 home loss to the Chargers in 1980. Here’s how it was described in the UPI’s account of the game:

“When Anderson trotted onto the field to start each new offensive series, some of the fans booed. Late in the third quarter when Anderson went down with an injury to an already gimpy knee, cheers erupted from several sections of the stadium”

So if anybody can identify with the harsh treatment that the current #14 often receives, it’s the quarterback who wore that number in Cincinnati for 16 seasons.

“It goes with the territory,” said Anderson. “If you want to play quarterback in the NFL, that’s all part of it. They love you when you’re playing good, and when you’re not playing good, the most popular guy in town is the backup. You’ve got to have thick skin. (Andy Dalton’s) had so much success already in his career. For crying out loud – the numbers of games that he’s won, going to the playoffs in his first four years – it’s been remarkable.”

Dalton fist pump

Remarkable is a good word to describe Dalton’s play in the first two games of the season. He’s completed 68% of his passes with 5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and has a passer rating of 120.3.

“He hasn’t made any mistakes and he’s not a game-manager either,” said tight end Tyler Eifert. “We’re making big plays and we’re taking care of the football.”

Eifert has been on the receiving end of three of Dalton’s five touchdown passes in the first two games, including what proved to be the game-winner on Sunday. With a 17-13 lead in the fourth quarter, the Bengals faced third-and-goal from the Chargers’ 9-yard-line. The 25-year-old tight end lined up as the lone receiver to the right and faked an outside move before getting inside position on San Diego cornerback Brandon Flowers. As soon as Tyler got separation, Dalton hit him in the back of the end zone.

“It was a perfect ball because it went right by his fingertips,” said Eifert. “I kind of took a while at the line, but Andy stuck with it.”

Dalton also made a pretty throw to A.J. Green to beat Flowers for the Bengals’ first touchdown. Green had a seven inch height advantage in that match-up, and the Bengals quarterback tossed it high enough where Flowers was defenseless.

“We do that every day in practice,” said Green. “Just give me a chance and I’ll go try to make a play. It’s as simple as that.”

“He put the ball up in their eyes where we want it,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.

The stats through two games speak for themselves, but earlier this week, I asked offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to take us behind the scenes into the locker room and the meeting rooms and tell us what he sees out of Dalton.

“I see a different quarterback,” Jackson told me. “I see a quarterback that’s functioning at a high level on-and-off the field with his teammates. I think there is a confidence there and I think there is a comfortability between him and myself, and I think he knows that there’s nothing that we can’t talk about. There might be something that he sees differently than me and we can have that conversation. There might be something that he feels very strongly about and wants to do and my door is always open. To me, that’s the quarterback’s deal. This is your offensive football team. We’re going to go as you go. And you should never go into the game feeling uncomfortable about anything. You should feel very comfortable about what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Dalton obviously won’t have a triple digit passer rating every week and won’t silence his critics until he achieves postseason success.

But first he has to lead the team back to the playoffs, and he’s guided the Bengals to a 2-0 start.

“Andy is a great quarterback,” said Green. “He gets us in great position to score. He’s not going to make any big mistakes and he’s playing great. And if we keep making plays when our number is called he’s going to play even better.”

“He’s done so much work this offseason,” said Jackson. “I cannot commend him enough and hopefully we can stay consistent and he can continue to play like that for the rest of the year.”

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Bits From The Booth: San Diego

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 19, 2015 – 10:38 am

If Sunday’s game was in San Diego, the Bengals would be a lock.

San Diego broadcasting (440x330)

I’ve had the pleasure of calling eight sporting events in San Diego and Cincinnati has won all of them.

2001: Bearcats beat BYU and Kent State in NCAA Tourney to advance to Sweet 16.

2005: Reds sweep a 3-game series vs. the Padres (subbed for George Grande).

2007: UC football team beats San Diego State 52-23.

2012: Bengals beat Chargers 20-13.

2013: Bengals beat Chargers 17-10.

I interviewed to be one of the Padres’ radio announcers once and did not get the job. They missed out on the opportunity to go 81-0 at home.

Enough about me…time for this week’s Bits From The Booth.

Eagle Eye:

Ian Eagle, who will call Sunday’s game on CBS-TV with Dan Fouts, joined Dave Lapham and me on Wednesday night’s “Bengals Game Plan” show. Ian typically broadcasts a few Bengals games every season and told us that he’s impressed by Cincinnati’s ability to draft and develop players.

“The Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers get a lot of credit for homegrown talent and developing talent,” Eagle told us. “When I was going through my prep and my spotting boards and looking through my stuff from last year, it just blows my mind how good the Bengals have been in the draft. And not just hitting home runs occasionally which you have to do – we know that – but a lot of doubles and triples. They’re so efficient year after year. Fourth round picks that play for them, sixth round picks that stick around for a length of time. That’s saying something. It’s saying something about Mike Brown, it’s saying something about Marvin Lewis and this staff and their ability to dissect talent at the collegiate level and translate it to the professional level. Now you know better than me that at the end of the year they’re going to have a lot of decisions to make. There are a bunch of unrestricted free agents on this team, so if this is the last go-round for this particular group as it’s currently constituted, I’m sure they want to change the way there are perceived around this league. The only way to do that is by going out in the postseason and winning a game or two.”

Howdy Neighbor:

UC head coach Tommy Tuberville has a vacation home in Destin, FL. Believe it or not, his next-door neighbor is Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers.

“I’ve known Philip for a long time,” said Tuberville. “I’ve actually known his dad a lot longer – his dad is a football coach from Athens, Alabama and when I was at Auburn we actually recruited Philip. Now this is how good of a recruiter I am – I told him that he couldn’t play quarterback; he was probably going to have to play tight end. He was coming to Auburn, and then North Carolina State came in at the last minute and offered him a scholarship to play quarterback. I said, ‘Hey, if you want to play quarterback you probably need to go there because it’s going to be tough to beat out Jason Campbell.’ That’s who we had coming in. We’ve become good friends ever since and recently, in the last eight or nine months, he bought a house next to me in Destin and we kind of renewed our friendship during a week of vacation. He’s got seven kids with an eighth on the way and I tell you, he just loves football. He and Peyton Manning are nearly identical in that they are hard workers, love football, and really understand it. Philip was really excited about his next few years in the NFL.”

With his large – and growing – family, Rivers has to be the only quarterback in the NFL that drives a 12-passenger van.

What’s My Line?

San Diego enters Sunday’s game with some issues on its offensive line. Projected starter Johnnie Trautman suffered a broken arm in the Chargers’ first preseason game and right guard D.J. Fluker was taken off the field on a cart with an ankle injury last week vs. Detroit. Fluker is listed as doubtful for this week’s game.

The likely starter at right guard is converted tackle Chris Hairston who would frequently be matched up against Geno Atkins. Not a fun way to make your first NFL start at guard.

The Chargers are accustomed to having to make changes on the offensive line. Last year they became the first team since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970 to use five starting centers in a season: Nick Hardwick, Rich Ohrnberger, Doug Legursky, Chris Watt, and (former Bengal) Trevor Robinson. That was one of the big reasons why San Diego missed the playoffs last season after a 5-1 start.

Philip Rivers face

Read My Lips:

Last week, the Chargers fell behind Detroit 21-3 before rallying to beat the Lions 33-28. Rivers threw a pick-six in the second quarter and a terrible red zone interception just before halftime before going 21-for-23 in the second half with a team-record 20 straight completions to end the game.

Chargers radio voice Josh Lewin jokingly told us on the “Bengals Pep Rally” show on Friday that you could tell that Rivers was going to turn it around by his language.

“He looks like he’s just a complete maniac on the field, but he doesn’t swear,” said Lewin. “He’s a real goody-goody – he doesn’t drink and he doesn’t swear. You could actually read his lips when he underthrew Malcom Floyd at the end of the second quarter. He let out this huge, ‘Dad-gummit!’ You kind of knew at that point, ‘Ok, now it’s on.’ Once you hear ‘dad-gummit,’ things are about to turn and they did.”

After one week, Rivers leads the NFL in passing yards (404), completion percentage (83.3) and dad-gummits (1).

He Who Shall Not Be Named:

Every Wednesday on “Bengals Game Plan,” we do a deep dive with one of the Bengals assistant coaches and this week it was tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes. Here’s what he had to say about the players he’s currently working with: Tyler Eifert, Ryan Hewitt, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah, and practice squad member Matt Lengel.

“They’re very willing young men and it’s fun when you have a bunch of guys that come to work every day to get better,” said Hayes. “That’s all you ask for as a coach. As a player, I sat in their seats and I wanted to be the same way. You don’t want to be the guy that’s always misstepping. You want to be the guy that’s helping to bring the room up and I think they all do in their own way. It’s good to see and it’s fun to be around. I’m really enjoying coaching these guys.”

Coach Hayes did not specifically mention Jermaine Gresham but you can’t help but wonder if the former first round pick did not fit the above description. In case you missed it, Gresham had 1 catch for 4 yards in Arizona’s season opener.

Mariota debut

Mr. Perfect:

Marcus Mariota began his NFL career by posting a perfect passer rating (158.3) against Tampa Bay. Former Oregon teammate Jake Fisher claims that he was not surprised.

“I told everybody that he’s going to be one of the best that’s ever played this game,” said Fisher.

Fisher helped to protect Mariota’s blind side last year and I asked Jake what it meant to him when his teammate won the Heisman Trophy.

“I guess I can say that I helped a little bit,” Fisher told me. “I was a leader in my group, but that guy works so hard and does such a great job at what he does. He puts his whole lifestyle into it. And off the field he’s a high-character guy that’s probably the best person that I’ve ever met. So for me, nothing personal came from that but I was so happy for him to get that award. He should have had it two years in a row in my opinion. I was extremely happy for him and excited about everything that he’s accomplished.”

Jake Fisher is the subject of this week’s “Fun Facts” interview on the Bengals radio network pregame show. It should run at approximately 12:30.

Among other things, we’ll discuss this.

Talk to you from the booth at Paul Brown Stadium. Hope you’ll be listening.

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Bits From The Booth: Oakland

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 11, 2015 – 2:29 pm

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.

Black Hole


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.

Big Mack

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 vs Bucs

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.

Dirty Dozen

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.

Odell Thurman

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.

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A Familiar Name Returns To Tampa

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 19, 2015 – 11:25 pm

In Cincinnati, James Wilder is the name of a young Bengals running back fighting to make the roster.

In Tampa, that name is football royalty.

James Wilder Sr.

James Wilder Sr. is the leading rusher in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history (5,957 yards) and the former NFL record holder for most rushing attempts in a game (43) and in a season (407).

“People always tell me great things about him,” said James Jr. “They say if I’m half of what he was, then I’m pretty darn good. To follow in his footsteps and do the kinds of things that he did in his career is my goal.

“I grew up watching him all the time on tape. He retired before I was born, but that’s who I idolized and modeled my game after. Same size, same height, same playing style.”

“He’s a very determined kid,” said James Sr. “Ever since he’s been playing ball with the Boys and Girls Club he’s been very determined and that continued in high school and college. He’s a hard worker. I’m saying he’ll be better than I was if he gets the opportunity.

“Gosh, his athleticism and preparation are a whole lot better. The game is faster; the guys are a lot stronger, so physically he’s ahead of me. It’s just the mental aspect of getting to know the game.”

James Jr. was a member of Florida State’s 2013 National Championship team and averaged 6.0 yards per carry in his three years with the Seminoles. The Bengals signed the 6’3”, 232 pound running back as a college free agent last year and Wilder spent his rookie season on their practice squad.

“It took a toll on me mentally,” said James Jr. “I’ve never been in a position where I was toward the bottom of the depth chart trying to work my way up. I’ve always started out near the top of the depth chart. But talking with the coaches and talking to my dad, you just have to be unselfish and control what you can control. Every time your number is called, go out and do what you’re supposed to do and handle your business.”

“I’ve seen a lot of growth,” said James Sr. “I’ve seen him adapt and see what it takes to prepare himself now that he has that year under his belt.”

James Wilder Jr.

In Cincinnati’s preseason opener against the New York Giants, Wilder led the Bengals with 14 carries for 53 yards, including a two-yard touchdown.

“I thought I did well,” he said. “Watching the film, there were a lot of things I can polish up – I left a few yards out there and things like that. There are a few things that I can fix. That’s what the film is for and that’s what practice is for.”

“He’s got to have the confidence that every time he touches the ball he’s going to make something happen,” said James Sr.

This coming Monday night, James Jr. says it will be a dream come true when he plays in the same NFL stadium where his father spent the final two seasons of his nine years with the Buccanneers.

“Growing up always being around it and the fact that Pops played there, it was definitely a dream of mine to be able to play there,” said James Jr.

And he’ll do it with his father in attendance.

“He definitely informed me that he’ll be on the Bucs side in a Bengals jersey,” said James Jr. with a grin. “I’m sure he’s going to hear about it a little bit if he does that.”

“Hopefully he can do what he does best,” said James Sr. “I’m behind him 100 percent.”

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Dawson Trusts His Instincts

Posted by Dan Hoard on August 7, 2015 – 11:47 am

When the Bengals chose P.J. Dawson with the final pick of the third round in this year’s draft, NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock called him, “the most instinctive linebacker I saw on tape this year.”

Three months later after OTAs, minicamps, and a week of training camp, Bengals players and coaches are saying similar things.

P.J. Dawson no helmet

“He’s a savvy player and knows how to get to the ball,” said linebacker Vinny Rey. “He understands football – I can tell he’s been playing football for a while.”

“The knock on him coming out of TCU is that he didn’t test well at the combine, but every linebacker coach around the league that watched the film said, ‘This kid is the best player,’” said linebackers coach Matt Burke. “He naturally has a feel for the game. He sees plays develop and has an understanding of route concepts and that stuff can be hard to teach.”

Dawson says that his instincts on defense are the product of playing on the other side of the ball.

“I feel like it comes from me playing wide receiver in high school,” he told me. “Being on the offensive side helped me learn how offenses work. They don’t do things for no reason. Wherever they send the fullback or the puller, that’s usually where the play is going. I try to make it as simple as possible.”

But learning an NFL defense in your first training camp is anything but simple.

“It’s the normal learning curve for all rookies,” said Burke. “He has to learn the details and make sure he’s on the same page with what we’re trying to get accomplished. Right now he might be doing his own thing when he goes and makes a play.”

“Even though he’s learning all these things for the first time he still maintains his savviness,” said Rey. “He’s not playing like a robot.”

The 22-year-old says that the Bengals defense is actually easier to pick up than the one he learned before earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors at TCU last year.

“It’s the wording,” said Dawson. “Just the terms that they use and learning the minor details. It’s the language – that’s all it is.”

With experienced linebackers like A.J. Hawk, Rey Maualuga, and Vontaze Burfict on the roster, Dawson has plenty of available teachers.

“They help me with anything that I need and I appreciate that,” said Dawson. “I feel like I’m going to do the same thing for the next group of rookies coming in.

“I’m also spending a lot of time with the coaches before and after practice trying to get every little extra thing that I can so that I can be ready.”

“I can tell that he’s a quieter guy, but there’s comes a point where you’ve got to start meeting with the coach more and meeting with other guys that see the game from the on-field perspective,” said Rey. “He’s doing that more and more.”

Dawson led the Big 12 in tackles (136) and tackles-for-loss (20) last year and added four interceptions. He’s been compared to Burfict for his playmaking ability and considers that a high compliment.

“I remember when I was watching ‘Hard Knocks’ I saw him and said, ‘Man, that 55 is pretty good.’” said Dawson. “I didn’t even know his name, but he stood out to me. Then I finally met him and I was like, ‘It’s crazy that we’re on the same team.’ It’s a blessing to be here and I’m glad that I can learn from him.”

Dawson is hoping to stand out as well. It’s one of the reasons why he asked be listed as “P.J.” instead of Paul after joining the Bengals.

“I feel more comfortable with P.J. – plus there are a lot of ‘Pauls’ here,” he said. “I didn’t want to be confused for anybody else, so I felt like that would be better.”

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Healthy Eifert Could Have Huge Impact

Posted by Dan Hoard on July 31, 2015 – 1:16 pm

During training camp I’m often asked, “What player has been the most impressive?”

In each of the last two years, my answer has been Tyler Eifert.

But don’t take my word for how good the tight end looks at practice. Just listen to former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

The 2007 Pro Bowler served as a coaching intern during the Bengals’ June minicamp and wore a GoPro camera on his chest during a workout for Houshmandzadeh could be heard gushing about Eifert as he watched him run pass patterns.

“Every time I see that boy run a route I can’t believe it,” said Houshmandzadeh. “I can’t believe that man! He’s too big to be moving like that. That’s crazy.”

On Thursday, I asked Eifert if he had seen the Houshmandzadeh video.

“I have a family friend that sent it to me,” Tyler said. “When he first got here I told him that I want to be coached. Any advice you have for me about route running let me know. He helped a lot.”

Of all of the injured players that the Bengals look forward to having back this season, Eifert could have the biggest impact. Consider that the former first round draft pick was only on the field for eight snaps before suffering an elbow injury in the season opener last year and had 3 catches for 37 yards.

“It was a lot of fun – I remember that,” said Eifert. “The most catches I ever had in a game was five my rookie year, so I was like, ‘This could be a lot of fun this year.’ Then I didn’t make it through the first quarter. Hopefully I can change that this year.

“You really don’t realize how much you miss being out there until you can’t be out there. It was hard and I’m excited to contribute this year and help us win games.”

Tyler Eifert

Those eight snaps in Baltimore provided a glimpse of the wide variety of ways that offensive coordinator Hue Jackson can use the 6’6”, 250 pound tight end. Eifert lined up as a traditional tight end four times, a slot receiver three times, and an H-back once. The Bengals averaged 7.5 yards per play with Eifert on the field and he caught all three passes that were thrown to him. Additionally, Andy Dalton was 8-for-10 for 78 yards before Eifert’s injury.

“It’s good to have him back and good to see that he’s feeling better,” said Dalton. “He’s a big matchup mismatch for us. The more that he can do, the better we’ll be.”

In addition to dislocating his elbow at Baltimore, Eifert tore labrum in his shoulder during OTAs before last season. Both injuries eventually required surgery, but the former Notre Dame standout says they are no longer an issue.

“I feel good,” he said. “I feel healthy, strong, in-shape, and ready to go.

“I saw (4-time Pro Bowler) Jake Long down in Pensacola and every season he’s had a surgery. I’m just going to go out and play hard and not worry about any of the other stuff.”

Although Eifert is only in his third NFL season, he is the Bengals only tight end with regular season experience (not including H-back Ryan Hewitt) following the departure of free agent Jermaine Gresham.

“It is a little bit weird when you put it that way, but I’m confident in what I can do on the field and being a leader in this locker room,” said Eifert.

“I’ve seen him emerge this spring that way,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “That’s a good thing. Another guy who missed all of last year basically and had to sit and watch so it’s been great to see him break out of that and progress the way we want him to.”

If you make it to one of the Bengals 14 open-to-the-public practices during training camp, I suspect that Eifert will stand out as one of the most impressive players.

And if he stays healthy, the 24-year-old could be poised for a breakout season.

“There’s only so much that you can control and getting hurt isn’t one of them,” said Eifert. “And how many balls you get thrown to you isn’t one of them either. It’s just, go out and work hard, understand the offense, and do your job.”

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Cosell Says Bengals Are Most Talented Team In AFC North

Posted by Dan Hoard on September 4, 2014 – 9:56 pm

Our Wednesday night “Bengals Gameplan” show kicked off this week with one of my favorite guests – Greg Cosell from NFL Films who is also the Executive Producer of “NFL Matchup” (8:30 on Saturday mornings on ESPN2 and 6:30 on Sunday mornings on ESPN). Greg is a frequent guest on Colin Cowherd’s ESPN radio show and for my money, nobody breaks down the X’s and O’s better.

Here’s a slightly condensed version of Cosell’s Q and A with Dave Lapham and yours truly.

You’ve watched new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson call plays at previous NFL stops. Is he a good fit for Andy Dalton and the Bengals offensive personnel?

The Bengals have a lot of offensive talent. I think any coordinator theoretically would be a good fit. This is a team that’s put together all kinds of talent so that they can go with multiple packages. They can run the ball with power with Jeremy Hill. They can put Gio Bernard in there who can certainly run on the perimeter and be used in the passing game. They can go with two tight ends in Gresham and Eifert – two guys that can either line up in-line or be split. They have an excellent wide receiver corps – I know that he’ll be out for a few weeks, but I was a big fan of Marvin Jones coming out of Cal and I think he’s a really interesting player. This theoretically is an offense than can do anything.

On the other side of the ball, a lesser-known guy – Paul Guenther – takes over for Mike Zimmer. How big of a challenge is that and do you think he is up to it?

I do. I know that Paul was very much responsible for a lot of those pressure packages and double A-gap looks. Paul pretty much masterminded a lot of those. So I think from an X’s-and-O’s standpoint, there won’t be much of a change whatsoever. I’m a big fan of Paul Guenther. The personality part is something you never know. Different coaches just react differently with players and that’s impossible for me to know because I’m not there. But from a tactical X-and-O standpoint, I think Paul will do a great job.

Dalton vs Jets (440x293)

You’ve studied Andy Dalton going back to his TCU days and you and Ron Jaworski spent time with him in Texas last year studying film. Do you see a guy that is still improving or do you think he has plateaued?

That’s a hard question to answer. First of all, you’ve got to start with one thing – the guy loves football and he works at it. But there are always a couple of things when you watch him throughout the course of the season where you feel like he’s got to get a little better in those areas. Sometimes I think that he can play a little fast and hurry himself. A perfect example – and it’s always easy to pick one play, I’m mentioning this because it’s symptomatic of other things – is when he threw that interception in the playoffs to Shareece Wright when they came with a blitz and he was under pressure and kind of threw it with no definition. You would expect a quarterback with about 50 NFL starts at that point not to make that throw in a playoff game. Very often with a quarterback that’s not necessarily going to beat you with his legs, there are good incompletions. I would like to see him do that at times.

Because he doesn’t have a power arm, it has to be about decision making. It has to be about ball placement. It has to be about pre-snap reading. I’m sure that he would tell you that he has to get better in all of those areas.

When you watched Vontaze Burfict’s Arizona State tape before the 2012 draft, did you think there was any way that he would be the player that he is two years later?

I’m going to tell you exactly what I thought and it was one of those times where I was wrong. In his last year of college, I watched maybe five or six games on tape and I hated him. I didn’t think he was a draftable player – which I guess I wasn’t wrong compared to the league, but that’s what I thought.

Obviously, he’s turned out to be pretty good! You watch film and without knowing every assignment that he has – I can’t watch tape like that or I’d spend five hours just watching one team’s side of the ball – but he shows up all over the field. He flashes on a large majority of the plays.

Who wins the AFC North in your estimation?

I’m a bad prognosticator. There are about 10 variables and you don’t know how they are going to play out, so I’m going to have to cop out on that one. I can’t answer those questions. But I think the Bengals are the most talented team in the division. There was a really interesting article that I read somewhere that suggested that the Bengals get at the most fascinating question of the NFL’s modern era: Can you win a Super Bowl without a “quote unquote” superstar quarterback. They’re a really good team and Andy is a solid player. I don’t think anybody would say that he’s a superstar – would you say that’s fair? So that gets to the heart of that question. It’s going to be a fascinating team to watch because I think this team is good enough to compete for a Super Bowl.

We hope you’ll tune in to “Bengals Gameplan” every Wednesday night from 6 to 8 on ESPN 1530 and hope you’ll join us in person for “Bengals Pep Rally” every Friday afternoon from 3 to 6 at a Buffalo Wild Wings location in the Cincinnati area. We’ll be at the Mason location at 6050 Snider Road this week (Sept 5) and our special guest in the final hour of the show will be Andrew Whitworth. If you can’t make it out to the show, we hope you’ll be listening on ESPN 1530.

Click this link to see what Buffalo Wild Wings location we’ll be visiting each week.

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Hall timeline a guess, not his impact

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on November 14, 2011 – 10:44 am

This is a tough day at Paul Brown Stadium.

With the Bengals expected to put cornerback Leon Hall on injured reserve as early as Monday, it hits this team right where it lives.

Drawing on past experiences with torn Achilles, Hall could be on the field at the start of the next training camp with limited activity during the spring. The worst case scenario is that he would have to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and miss the first six weeks.

It’s all speculation of course because it depends on the player. When tight end Reggie Kelly tore his Achilles in the first week of training camp at age 32 in 2009, the Bengals didn’t give him much chance to come back anywhere near his form. But he surprised them and was at training camp better than ever and held up all year.

It is one of the more challenging injuries from which to return, but with Hall not turning 27 until December and possessing a big-time work ethic, he’s a good guy to, as they say, put down your chip.

But still, this may be the one guy on the 53 that they couldn’t lose for the final seven games.

Sure, he had struggled in the Seattle game and Sunday was probably the worst he had looked in a big game in his five seasons here before he tore his Achilles. But if the Bengals have an indispensable player, it is Hall.

Just listen to safety Chris Crocker after Sunday’s game:

“It changes your mentality if you’re a coordinator because Leon allows us to do so many things,” Crocker said. “He allows us to play a lot of man-to-man, he allows us to do a lot of things in zone. He’s a big part of what we do. You lose him in a game, it’s big. And the guy never gets hurt? How do you plan for that?”

You don’t replace your best man-to-man corner in the middle of the season. Not even Bill Belichick does that. Not only that, you probably have to rip up a lot of what you do if you’re defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. This is going to be a long week on the defensive side of the ball.

Not only has Hall never missed a game, but go back to OTAs and everything else since he arrived here as the 18th pick in 2007, and you can count the number of practices he’s missed. He hadn’t missed a practice until the start of the 2010 training camp for a few days. The durability and reliability are major reasons the Bengals gave him that big extension just before the season.

Not only that, but Hall is a tremendous rallying figure in the locker room. A big-time leader in his position group and one of the all-time nice guys.

But, how many teams in the NFL can turn to a top 10 pick on their bench in Adam Jones? It’s huge. There’s no question that in his mind Jones is a starter and he has the physical talent of a starter. But no one knows when he‘ll be ready as he grapples with his own physical challenges. After not being able to play football for a year because of his neck injury, he’s finding out you need every muscle to turn and run with fast receivers like A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson and his hamstring is struggling to make the transition. And there is the rust factor.

Still, how many teams in the league have that guy on the bench in that premium of position at this point in the season? But, the Bengals are a long way from 2009 when Zimmer based his defense on two solid man-to-man corners. Getting Jones healthy would be a big help on that score. If dedication and enthusiasm counted, it would work out for everyone.
But there is no question that the Bengals are entering the stretch run in one of the toughest spots imaginable.

Leave it to Crocker: “Now,” he said, “this is where you find out where you are as a team.”

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Of QBs, comebacks and hope

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on October 2, 2011 – 7:33 am

Andy Dalton

The Bills are here to play the Bengals today and that conjures up the concepts of comebacks and grace under pressure and all the things that make quarterbacks, fans and the endless crusade of hope.

As head coach Marvin Lewis would say, today is a good teaching point for one A. Dalton, the promising Bengals rookie quarterback who two weeks ago came within a yard of pulling off a road fourth-quarter comeback in his first NFL complete game.

But, of course, one team’s comeback is another team’s collapse.

This past week saw all-timers on both fronts when the Red Sox turned baseball into Shakespeare and alternated tragedy with comedy while blowing the biggest lead in the history of their sport to somehow miss the postseason. That was a few days after these Bills, naturally, did in the Patriots to become the first team in NFL history to win two straight weeks after being down 21-0.

If you grew up on the outskirts of Boston in the late 1960s and fell in love with sports because of The Impossible Dream Red Sox and their 1967 season, then watching the biggest collapse of all-time is saying something. While those Sox made comebacks an almost daily occurrence, their unfortunate ancestors never held any kind of a lead that mattered until the new century.

The Septembers of 1974 and 1978 scarred a generation, and a 1986 World Series that featured evaporated leads of 3-2 in games, 5-3 in the 10th inning of Game 6 and 3-0 in the sixth inning of Game 7 altered the brain chemistry forever.

Enough so that on the final day of this season decades and championships removed, when the Red Sox had a one-run lead in a rain delay and the Rays begun to rustle in Tampa, true Sox fans already knew.

“I went to bed during the delay,” admitted Frank Champi from his New England home last week. “You could tell. Maybe because I experienced it myself. They say it’s not over until it’s over, but at some point you know how it’s going to turn out.”

If you grew up on the outskirts of Boston in the late 1960s and were watching TV on the afternoon of Nov. 23, 1968, you fell in love with football because of Frank Champi. Summoned from the bench with unbeaten Harvard down 22-0 to unbeaten Yale late in the first half, Champi, an unknown junior who had completed five passes all season and was best known for throwing the ball 85 yards with his right arm and 50 with his left, threw two touchdown passes in the final 42 seconds and a two-point conversion with no time left to turn a 29-13 deficit into a historic 29-29 finish.

Not as incredible, but just as amazing, Champi has never met Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills quarterback and architect of Buffalo’s last two historic finishes. If Fitzpatrick is the greatest quarterback in Harvard history, then Champi quarterbacked the school’s greatest football moment.

Never mind. Champi is a big fan. They’ll meet some day.

“I agree, I thought he was the greatest quarterback in Harvard history when he was there,” Champi said. “He had all the intangibles, he led by example, he was very well-respected. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for (NFL) teams to realize it. I saw him play a little bit and I thought he was special. I’ve been following his career since he’s been in the pros and he’s been outstanding. I thought all he needed was a chance.”

Champi didn’t do much else on the field after The Tie in The Game, but what else was there? He’s as humble now as he was then when he told Pat Putnam of Sports Illustrated in the locker room, “I was so tired I wasn’t even nervous.”

A product of Everett, Mass., Champi has stayed close to his roots and out of the limelight, but is a pleasant and engaging ambassador for the game and the moment. He had to admit, he was torn last Sunday watching Fitzpatrick come back on his Pats.

“I want to see him do well, no question about that. There’s an obvious connection,” said Champi, surprised that no Harvard quarterback completed an NFL pass until Fitzpatrick did six years ago. “But at some point you’re just enjoying the game and want to see the best team that day win. I’m pulling for Fitz, though. I’d love to see him take the Bills to the playoffs.”

Bengals fans aren’t immune to comebacks and collapses. Their own tortured history began on the edge of the ‘90s in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXIII and a 16-13 lead that didn’t hold up in the final three minutes. The kids have experienced it, too.

In 2006, leads as small as 13-7 and as big as 28-7 were blown to knock them out of the playoffs. In 2009, their AFC North champs were nicknamed “The Cardiac Cats,” when they won two division games in the final 22 seconds and another on the final play of overtime in one draining three-week stretch.

And last year Fitzpatrick, the former Bengal, came to Paul Brown Stadium to lead the NFL’s biggest halftime comeback ever when he brought the Bills back from 17 down to win by 18.

Dalton fired a shot for the New Era when he generated 19 second-half points in Denver two weeks ago with two touchdown passes in a rally that fell short with three minutes left at the Broncos 36 on fourth-and-one in a 24-22 loss. Yet he showed all the attributes to be able to pull it off.

Except maybe experience, as evidenced by last week’s two interceptions in the final 4:54 of a one-touchdown game at home against the 49ers.

Champi and Fitzpatrick can help him there.

“I’m enjoying this so much because I’ve been on the other side. I know how quickly it can change in this league,” Fitzpatrick said last week. “I’m a lot more experienced. I feel like those 12 games in Cincinnati were my biggest learning experience and I’ve drawn a lot on them. I’ve improved mentally and physically.”

Champi is a bit uncomfortable talking about comebacks with Fitzpatrick around. “I only had one. Fitzy’s had several.”

But Champi had the greatest. He thinks back to the two-point fast ball over the middle to future White Sox catcher Pete Varney nearly 43 years ago after they cleared the field of marauding fans and the clock of any time.

“It was like it was anti-climactic. It was inevitable. That’s how it felt,” Champi said. “You can tell a lot by body language. People intellectualize sports too much. You can’t define emotion. There are undertones and currents and it’s like you’re riding a wave.”

Not bad advice for one A. Dalton after a historical (or is it hysterical?) week of comebacks.

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