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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 Bengals.com. 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.”

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

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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.

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

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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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