It looks like the Bengals will be without the services of safety Chris Crocker in Saturday’s AFC Wild Card game in Houston against the Texans. Crocker (thigh) was listed as doubtful in Friday’s injury report.
Other than cornerback Jason Allen (hamstring), who was listed as questionable, everyone else put in full practices on Friday and are probable, including defensive end Wallace Gilberry (illness), running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (hamstring), cornerback Leon Hall (non-injury related), safety Taylor Mays (hamstring), cornerback Terence Newman (groin) and linebacker Dan Skuta (thigh).
Tags: Chris Crocker, Wild Card playoff
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 11 Comments »
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.”
Tags: Adam Jones, Bengals, Chris Crocker, Leon Hall, Mike Zimmer
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DENVER — This one just goes to show that an opener means next to nothing.
The Bengals play the team that broke their hearts but didn’t break them when they play the Broncos on Sunday (4:15 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Local 12).
In one of the more significant games in Bengals history, Kyle Orton’s Spike Strike, The Immaculate Deflection, The Tip, whatever you want to call it, beat the Bengals from 87 yards out in the 2009 opener they had won with 11 seconds left. But the Broncos ended the season imploding while the Bengals swept the AFC North and won the title.
It set up arguably the biggest victory of the Marvin Lewis era the next week when the Bengals won in a place they had never won in a 31-24 victory at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, sending them on a 4-1 start that included three division wins all secured in the last 22 seconds.
So, don’t write that opener in stone just yet.
“Just because you lose that game doesn’t mean you go to the playoffs and vice versa,” said cornerback Leon Hall, whose play on the ball went horribly wrong when the tip went behind him and not into the sidelines. “We were able to answer. For the defense it was one of the toughest losses because we played so well and we weren’t able to come up with a win.”
Maybe the most amazing thing about it all is that the Bengals were able to survive such a heartbreak with the NFL’s least experienced roster in that first month of ’09. This ’11 team has the fourth least experience with an average of 3.6 years, according to a chart released by the NFL on Friday, but it’s still a young group. They have the fewest players age 30 and over (cornerback Nate Clements and safety Chris Crocker) and are the third youngest team in the league by average age and youngest in the AFC at 25.74 years.
We’re talking days and percentage points, but it feels like more that to Crocker, 31.
“We’re a lot more younger now,” he said. “It’s a different team than ’09. The only thing that’s similar is nobody expects us to win. We’re really a different team. That was a good locker room. This is a good locker room. We were very talented then and we’re very talented now. It’s hard to compare.”
The biggest difference, of course, is the experience at quarterback. In ’09, Carson Palmer willed the Bengals to the title with seven last drives in regulation and overtime that either tied the game or gave them the lead with 2:03 left or less. Although the Bengals relied on the run to get into those situations, Crocker agrees they have to ride running back Cedric Benson even more.
“Offensively, we’ve got to run the ball. That’s how we have to win,” Crocker said. “Now we’ve got to really run the ball.”
Two years and still young. But not that young.
The Bengals are below the AFC average of 11.2 rookies and first-year players with nine. They’ve got a big number of young players who are 24 or younger and are at least in their second year of being a starter or regular: Seven with middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (24), right tackle Andre Smith (24), right end Michael Johnson (24), tight end Jermaine Gresham (23), wide receiver Brandon Tate (23), defensive tackle Geno Atkins (23), and left end Carlos Dunlap (22).
Plus, you’ve got two guys that will be making their 61st and 60th starts today in defensive tackle Domata Peko and cornerback Leon Hall, respectively, and they are only 26.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys who have a played a lot of football,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “You want young guys. You’ve got to stay young at heart. That’s part of the deal. As long as we’re mature and hopefully we’ll continue to mature.”
So when guys like Crocker and Hall say it is different than ’09, you have to believe them.
“There are a lot of different people,” Hall said. “The linebacking corps is new. Certainly there’s a different feel.”
Such as on the defensive front, where the only additions have been huge in the second-year Atkins and Dunlap. But players like Johnson and defensive tackle Pat Sims have improved.
“They’re a lot better. Even in our four-man rushes we’re getting pressure or pushing the pocket just enough. They’ve been playing like that since the preseason,” Hall said.
Hall is a prime example of that ’09 comeback. He recovered to have a career-high six interceptions and along with cornerback Johnathan Joseph was part of a duo that became the linchpin of the fourth-ranked Bengals defense. After The Tip, during the next 15 weeks wide receivers caught just eight touchdown passes.
Hall was even willing to watch tape of the play Wednesday morning, but he noticed that secondary coach Kevin Coyle left out The Tip on his video of that game, as well as Joseph’s play in that series in which he caught an interception out of bounds. Hall said he knows why Coyle showed it. The Bengals responded to Orton and his receivers and virtually shut them down until The Tip. Until then, the Broncos had just two field goals.
“I was actually looking forward to seeing it,” Hall said of the play. “I’m over it now.”
So is Crocker, it seems.
“Pure luck,” he said. “You can’t explain why anything like that happens. Stuff just happens.”
Some would argue that two openers later, fate conspired to help the Bengals last Sunday in Cleveland as they got a flukey play when they caught the Browns defense breaking late out of its huddle and conjured up the winning 41-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver A.J. Green with 4:28 left in a game they were almost out as much as the Broncos were in ’09.
“We caught them,” Crocker said. “And we took advantage. Stuff happens.”
Other age tidbits: The Steelers are the oldest team in the league as far as age (27.28) and years of experience. They have 13 players 30 and older, but the Chargers lead with 17. The youngest team is Tampa Bay at 25.17, Seattle second at 25.72, and the Bengals are tied with Green Bay 25.74. The Bucs also have the most inexperienced team with 3.3 years of NFL service.
In the rest of the AFC North, Baltimore has 13 players 30-plus and the Browns nine. But Cleveland is the least experienced team in the AFC with 3.5 years while averaging 26.02 years. The Ravens are a year older than the Bengals and Browns at 4.6 years of experience and 26.45 years of age.
Ask the Steelers. If you lose, you’re too old. If you win, you’re mature and experienced.
Tags: Bengals' youth, Chris Crocker, Leon Hall, The Tip
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 13 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 »