AFC North: DeDe Dorsey

Morning take: More Ben vs. Peyton

February, 10, 2010
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North: Morning take: This is suddenly a hot topic in media circles. So take your pick.
Morning take: Harrison could garner some interest. But after leading the team in rushing last season, Cleveland probably won't allow it.
Morning take: Dorsey has always been athletic but didn't get many chances to show what he can do. Let's see if he gets enough opportunities in Detroit.
Morning take: Sypniewski's major knee injury two years ago was unfortunate. Now he has to prove he's healthy again before he gets another shot.

Hard Knocks recap: Season finale

September, 10, 2009

Posted by’s James Walker

HBO concluded an interesting season of “Hard Knocks” featuring the Cincinnati Bengals Wednesday night.

Here were the highlights:

Synopsis: The Bengals wrap up their preseason and experience one of the most difficult days of the year when it’s time to reduce the roster to 53 players. Cincinnati goes out and puts a 38-7 thrashing on the Indianapolis Colts, as a lot of players perform well and make for some tough last-minute decisions.

Ocho drop-o: Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco, who has been one of the biggest stars of the season, tells a lie right off the bat by saying he’s dropped only two passes all summer. Veteran safety Roy Williams calls him out on it and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer gives Ocho a “Child please!” When HBO rolls the tape, the network shows a half-dozen drops from Ochocinco, proving Williams and Zimmer correct.

Funny moment No. 1: The league provides the Bengals with rules of communicating through the Internet. While Bengals coach Marvin Lewis goes down the list of social-networking sites, he says, “Facebook, whatever that’s called.” It’s safe to assume Lewis doesn’t have a Facebook account.

Funny moment No. 2: The show went into the origin of the “Who-Dey” chant, which started with the good Bengal teams of the 1980s. Said rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga, who played for USC and is from California: “It’s a little corny. But, you know, it’s part of the program.”

Rise and fall: Rookie tight end Chase Coffman continues to baffle Cincinnati’s coaching staff. The third-round pick began training camp slow and way behind on the depth chart. It then appeared he was making strides in the middle of camp, as injuries to the position helped propel him. But Coffman has continued his roller-coaster ride and fallen back to third string, according to the coaches, as they prepare for the regular season.

Cut time: The Bengals had to cut 20-plus players to get down to their 53-man roster. There were very few surprises, with the exception of keeping both Brian Leonard and DeDe Dorsey, which I agree was the right call.

Grade: B

Why: Naturally, roster cuts were the biggest part of the show, so most football and Bengals fans knew the ending before tuning in. Still, it was interesting to watch the process. In the best scene of the show, it was surreal to watch the coaching staff discuss and determine the future and livelihoods of so many people. Then viewers also got to see the process of each player waiting to be called. Overall, it was a great job by HBO to put a spotlight on a team few football fans cared about on a national scale. Any victory for the Bengals is a victory for the AFC North.

Bengals: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009

Posted by’s James Walker

Biggest surprise: Although I suggested this strategy as a possible solution earlier this week, I was still surprised to see the Bengals take my advice and cut two fullbacks in order to keep both DeDe Dorsey and Brian Leonard. Cincinnati now has four active tailbacks with Dorsey and Leonard to go along with starter Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott. All four have been solid in the preseason. Jeremi Johnson is the only fullback on the roster as the team cut both Chris Pressley and draft pick Fui Vakapuna. But Leonard is versatile and has the ability to be the backup at both fullback and tailback, which factored into the final decision.

No-brainers: Safety Marvin White had some potential, but coming off a major knee injury he got off to a slow start this year and fell behind a deep group of safeties in Cincinnati. Former 2008 draft pick Corey Lynch certainly wasn’t a no-brainer, but it was pretty clear that rookie free-agent safety Tom Nelson beat him out for one of the last roster spots. Receivers such as Freddie Brown and Maurice Purify never had a chance in Cincinnati, because the Bengals are just too deep at that position.

What’s next: With first-round pick Andre Smith recovering from a broken bone in his foot, the Bengals may scan the wires to see if an intriguing prospect or two surfaces on the offensive line, particularly at tackle. Cincinnati also wouldn't mind retaining some of its younger players on the practice squad, such as Vakapuna and Pressley. Otherwise, the Bengals are set at most positions and shouldn’t have a lot of turnover before the start of the regular season.

AFC North cuts looming

September, 4, 2009

Posted by’s James Walker

This Saturday is the worst day in the NFL when it comes to job security.

It’s the time when every team in the league has to trim its final roster to 53 players.

That means each of the 32 teams will have to make some tough decisions on how to release approximately 20 players. After that, coaches and general managers also will scan the waiver wire to see what’s available to upgrade their team, making for one of the most fast-paced weekends of the summer.

With that said, here is a look at tough roster decisions for each AFC North team:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Position: Running back

Why: The Steelers already have a deep group at running back, which includes starter Willie Parker and backups Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore. But a relative unknown emerged this summer in rookie free agent Isaac Redman. With rest given to Parker and Moore over the summer, Redman has done a lot with his opportunities. He’s proven to be particularly good at scoring touchdowns within the redzone, which is something Pittsburgh has struggled with in recent years. Keeping four tailbacks active will be tough, so Redman is a candidate for the practice squad. But there are no guarantees another team won’t claim him this weekend.

Cleveland Browns

Position: Receiver

Why: The Browns entered the offseason in desperate need of wide receivers. Therefore, they brought in as many new players at the position as possible and now it’s time to make a decision. Braylon Edwards and Joshua Cribbs are safe, as well as rookie draft picks Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi. After that, things get dicey. The Browns likely will keep just five receivers. Of the remaining group, Mike Furrey had the best preseason and probably played well enough to make the team. Veteran David Patten has been in and out of the lineup with injuries and is on the bubble, but my guess is Patten doesn’t make the cut. Others at the position like Paul Hubbard, Lance Leggett and rookie Jordan Norwood are expected to be released Saturday.

Cincinnati Bengals

Position: Running back

Why: In what was a weakness most of the last season, the Bengals suddenly have some quality depth at running back this season. So much is the case that the coaching staff has been mulling for weeks what to do with this group when it’s time to put together the 53-man roster. Starter Cedric Benson and rookie Bernard Scott are safe. But DeDe Dorsey and Brian Leonard are not. Both had good training camps and preseasons. It also doesn’t help that they are different styles of runners. Similar to Pittsburgh, it doesn’t appear likely the team would carry four tailbacks, likely making Dorsey or Leonard expendable.

Baltimore Ravens

Position: Kicker

Why: Steve Hauschka and Graham Gano have competed kick for kick since the spring, and Saturday’s decision will finally put an end to this competition. Most expect Hauschka to be the pick as he’s outperformed Gano in the preseason. But keep in mind the “Matt Stover factor” also looms large. The Ravens have not been afraid to admit that the longtime Raven remains on speed dial if the team’s current kicker slips up. So even if Hauschka is the choice Saturday, he can’t get comfortable.

AFC North observations: Suggs ready

September, 4, 2009

Posted by’s James Walker

With AFC North starters not playing much -- or at all in some cases -- here are some notes from the final slate of preseason games:
  • We will start with a personal observation: I think it’s safe to say Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs is ready for the regular season. Suggs, who missed a full month with a heel injury, wanted to test himself for the first time this preseason and quickly recorded three tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss in limited action against the Atlanta Falcons. Suggs has routinely missed training camp for various reasons the past few years, and it has always helped him with fresh legs. This year appears to be no different.
  • A player who flashed Thursday night and needed it was reserve receiver Demetrius Williams. He led the Ravens with four catches for 77 yards, including a 39-yard reception. Baltimore’s coaching staff like Williams’ ability but needs to see him stay healthy and show more consistency. Perhaps this performance will give Williams some momentum heading into the regular season.
  • Neither Brady Quinn nor Derek Anderson started or played for the Cleveland Browns Thursday night against the Chicago Bears. A lot of teams didn’t play their starting quarterback, but it was a very interesting move by Browns coach Eric Mangini not to play his top two quarterbacks. It furthers his goal to create intrigue, uncertainty and keep people guessing. Most likely, the Browns will not name a starter until we get closer to the Sept. 13 season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.
  • If there was any remaining doubt that Stefan Logan would make the Pittsburgh Steelers’ final 53-man roster, the return specialist erased it with an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown in a victory over the Carolina Panthers. Logan, a CFL import, has been opening eyes in Pittsburgh all summer and won the return duties with an impressive preseason.
  • If the competition was even between Cincinnati Bengals running backs Brian Leonard and DeDe Dorsey, I don’t know how the team can separate the two after Thursday’s preseason win over the Indianapolis Colts. Cincinnati ran the football well all night, and Dorsey and Leonard were the team’s leading rushers with 68 and 64 yards, respectively. Cincinnati likely will have to choose between Leonard and Dorsey Saturday, making for one of the toughest roster decisions in the AFC North this weekend.

What to watch: AFC North

September, 3, 2009

Posted by’s James Walker

With starters in the AFC North and around the league playing one or two series tops, don’t expect to learn much from this week’s final batch of preseason games.

But here are the top things worth watching in the preseason finales for each AFC North team:

Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall

Why: Pittsburgh’s 2008 first-round pick has been a tough player to figure out. The tailback is inexperienced and coming off a major shoulder injury, so Pittsburgh’s coaching staff is trying to see where Mendenhall currently stands in his development. This Thursday against the Carolina Panthers is Mendenhall’s final chance to impress the coaches before the regular season, where every game counts. So far the results have been mixed.

Cincinnati Bengals: Running backs

Why: There is a lot of competition in Cincinnati’s backfield -- both at the fullback and tailback positions. The Bengals have a lot of decent players and not enough roster spots to keep them. Most likely, the hardest decisions will come down to choosing between Brian Leonard and DeDe Dorsey at tailback, and Fui Vakapuna and Chris Pressley at fullback. Two of these four players will probably not be on the team next week, and Thursday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts will go a long way in helping the Bengals make that decision.

The return of Terrell Suggs

Why: Suggs missed a full month this summer with a heel injury. Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons will mark the Pro Bowler’s first preseason action of the season. Suggs doesn’t need a lot of work but just enough to ease concerns that going 100 percent in the regular season won’t be an issue. So tune in early, Ravens fans, because Suggs won’t be playing very deep into the game.

Cleveland’s quarterback situation

Why: A situation that will go deep into the game will involve Cleveland’s quarterbacks. Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson have rotated snaps all summer, and it appears the pair will do so again Thursday night against the Chicago Bears. Browns coach Eric Mangini hasn’t named a starter for this game or for Week 1 of the regular season. So while nearly everyone, including this AFC North blogger, believes it will be Quinn, Mangini’s aura of mystery has actually made Cleveland’s fourth preseason game worth watching to the end.

'Hard Knocks' recap: Episode 3

August, 27, 2009
Posted by's James Walker

HBO's "Hard Knocks" series continued Wednesday night with its third episode on the Cincinnati Bengals.

Here is a recap:

Synopsis: The Bengals wrap up the final few days of training camp in Georgetown, Ky., and cap it off with a hilarious rookie talent show. Following camp, Cincinnati travels to play its second preseason game against the New England Patriots, where a surprise kicker emerges in a 7-6 victory.

Ocho's kick: "Hard Knocks" chronicled how Chad Ochocinco became a surprise placekicker against New England. Kicker Shayne Graham (groin) was a no-go before the game and the Bengals actually planned to go for fourth downs and two-point conversions all night until Ochocinco asked "Bossman," aka Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, if he can kick during the game. It turns out Ochocinco's form was great and his extra point was the difference in the contest. Kudos for a game-winning idea from Ochocinco.

Palmer ailing: While getting treatment, Cincinnati's trainer tells a surprised Palmer that his ankle sprain will take "several weeks" to heal. Palmer responds that he heals fast and has more white blood cells than the average human being. (I'm not sure if he was joking or not.) The trainer shrugged and repeated that the team will take its time with the injury. In a shameless plug, the AFC North blog broke a story earlier Wednesday repeating that sentiment that Cincinnati is being extra cautious with Palmer and is pondering resting him for the remainder of the preseason.

America's (rookies) got talent: Perhaps the highlight of episode No. 3 was the rookie talent show. Nothing was off limits as rookies poked fun at Roy Williams' relationship with pop star Kelly Rowland, Andre Smith's 40-yard dash and Dhani Jones' eccentric ways. Even the usually serious Lewis couldn't stop laughing at these skits. I watched the segment three times myself last night on DVR. Funny stuff.

Camp surprise: Rookie free-agent safety Tom Nelson is making plays all over the field and is opening the eyes of Bengals coaches. The plays Nelson is making this year is reminiscent of some of the plays 2008 draft pick Corey Lynch made in last year's camp. But currently Lynch is struggling and Nelson is thriving as both players likely are fighting for one of the team's final roster spots.

More Smith talks: As reported in the media, Smith's agent, Alvin Keels, arrives in Cincinnati to do some down-and-dirty negotiations. Keels goes into an office with Bengals vice president Katie Blackburn and locks the door. "Are we going to get
a deal done today, Katie?" Keels asks. "It's up to you, Alvin," Blackburn responds. The two spend several hours in the room only to emerge with nothing. The pair agree to keep in touch. Bengals owner Mike Brown described the talks to his staff by saying, "We have no reason to think it will be [complete] anytime soon."

RB competition: It appears DeDe Dorsey and Brian Leonard are battling for one running back spot. Leonard is solid but not spectacular, while Dorsey brings a "wow factor" that Cincinnati is looking for behind starter Cedric Benson. Dorsey has shuffled around the NFL, including a prior trip to Cincinnati, because of inconsistencies and injuries. Leonard was a bust for the St. Louis Rams and is trying to prove his worth for another team. In a related note, Leonard faces the Rams Thursday night in a preseason contest.

Grade: B+

Why: This was another solid offering. It covered everything well -- from Palmer's ankle rehab to Ochocinco's extra point to Smith's contract negotiations. I'm still waiting for the big Mike Brown showcase episode, but maybe that's a pipe dream. Besides the occasional appearance by Blackburn, we still haven't seen much of the internal workings of Bengals ownership and the dynamics of the Brown family. But the breakdown of players, coaches and personalities have been tremendous, and this week's episode was another great example.

What to watch: Bengals vs. Saints

August, 14, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

  AP Photo/Al Behrman
  Carson Palmer will get his first live action in 10 months on Friday.

The Cincinnati Bengals will open their preseason Friday in an exhibition game against the New Orleans Saints.

Here are some things to look for:

  • Friday marks the anticipated return of Bengals starting quarterback Carson Palmer, who hasn't played in a game situation in approximately 10 months following a season-ending elbow injury. Palmer has looked good in training camp but there is nothing like real competition. Palmer also needs to prove that he can take a hit again.
  • Can Cincinnati's offensive line improve? This is a unit in transition and without its top pick in Andre Smith. It's arguably the weakest area on the team yet the most important. Pass protection has been horrible for Cincinnati in recent seasons. The running game improved late in the year but needs to carry over that momentum into this year.
  • Similar to the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals also struggled with their pass rush and needs to be more aggressive defensively. Cincinnati has a young and energetic defense which still has room to grow, and this is a major area it can work on in the preseason.
  • Will the rookies live up to high expectations? Players such as Michael Johnson and Chase Coffman both entered the league will lofty credentials and will make their NFL debuts tonight. Linebacker Rey Maualuga might sit out tonight's game.

Bengals crowded at RB

June, 19, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

CINCINNATI -- At some point this summer, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and his staff will have to sit down and make some tough decisions on the 53-man roster. And several of those tough calls will be at running back.

  Nelson Chenault/US Presswire
  Cedric Benson is Cincinnati's clear-cut starter, but the pecking order behind him is still unclear.

Currently there is a crowded field behind starter Cedric Benson, who is one of the few locks at the position to make the team. After Benson, tailbacks such as James Johnson, DeDe Dorsey, Kenny Watson and Bernard Scott all will be vying for carries and roster spots this season.

In addition, Brian Leonard is versatile enough to split time at fullback and tailback to take reps away from the aforementioned group, making for an even tighter competition.

"It's a lot of guys and a lot of competition," Lewis said. "I think it's going to be exciting to watch how it shakes out."

This week's mandatory minicamp will begin to provide some clarity. Not everything can be determined for running backs without pads. But the players who show the most potential on the practice field over this three-day session likely will earn a majority of the early reps entering training camp, as those players will remain fresh on the coaches' minds.

As a team, the Bengals are in need of two things at running back: A home-run hitter and a third-down option. Benson is more of a grinder who averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in 2008.

If Cincinnati can find a quicker, speedy tailback to provide a change of pace and catch consistently out of the backfield, that will add another dimension to the offense.

Watson, an eight-year veteran, showed plenty of that in the past. But he is now 31 and coming off an injury-plagued season. Dorsey also has been unable to stay healthy recently and Johnson and Scott are even more unproven, which is why this summer is so important.

"I think it gives us an opportunity to really take a good look at those guys early in training camp and early in the preseason, and see what guys will end up sticking with us," Lewis added about his running backs.

Benson getting a full season under his belt and the possible development of these backups will be key in Cincinnati's success, as the Bengals are trying to become a more physical team in an ultra-physical AFC North division.

Bengals' weakness: Running game

June, 4, 2009
Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

Only three teams averaged less than the Bengals' 95 rushing yards per game in 2008. The inability to run the ball allowed opposing defenses to take away the deep pass with a deep safety rolled over Chad Ochocinco.

Scouts Inc.: Weaknesses
AFC: N | S | E | W
NFC: N | S
Obviously, having Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center instead of Carson Palmer didn't help either, but the lack of a rushing attack for the majority of the season too often put the Bengals' defense in compromising situations and didn't allow that side of the ball to get enough rest.

Cedric Benson is going to carry the load for Cincinnati this year. He far exceeded my expectations last year and surely I was not alone in thinking he would not make a major impact in Cincinnati after being signed off the street. But he certainly can do some good things. He is a workhorse runner with excellent size and above-average power. His vision is good and he runs behind his pads. Benson is not a heavy-footed runner and does have some ability to turn the corner. He also is an adequate outlet receiving option out of the backfield.

  Andy Lyons/Getty Images
  Bengals running back Cedric Benson averaged just 3.5 yards per attempt last season.
However, Benson did average only 3.5 yards per attempt, which is actually even worse than the paltry 3.6 the Bengals managed as a team. He has reached the end zone just twice in his 12 games with the Bengals. In those 12 games, Benson had 747 rushing yards, but 282 of those yards came in the last two games of the season; so for the first 10 games, Benson averaged just 46.5 rushing yards per game.

That can be looked at two ways. In a glass-half-full scenario, maybe Benson finally hit his stride with his new team and it is a sign of great things to come. In a glass-half-empty scenario -- which is where I am leaning -- Benson accumulated that yardage against the hapless Browns and Chiefs in the final week of the season. In Benson's three appearances against the Steelers and Ravens, he carried the ball 30 times and mustered only 104 yards. The Bengals lost those three games by a combined score of 99-23.

Other than Benson, the Bengals have a few options, but no one to get overly excited about. They recently traded defensive tackle Orien Harris for Brian Leonard, a fullback/running back tweener who plays hard but is far from a dynamic option. The other most prominent candidates for carries include DeDe Dorsey, Kenny Watson and Bernard Scott.

Dorsey flashed a little with the Colts, but his five carries for eight yards last year isn't particularly enthralling. Although he is a good guy to have on the roster and can contribute in a variety of ways, Watson was handed the ball only 13 times last year. At best, he is a below-average No. 2 runner, but is really a third running back with special-teams abilities. Scott, on the other hand, does have some intriguing abilities. He is a rookie who has a very lengthy list of off-the-field indiscretions, but as the season rolls along, Scott might be getting significant carries.

Although the drafting of offensive tackle Andre Smith should greatly help pave the way up front, Cincinnati is extremely weak at center. That is a massive problem, especially with Benson being far better suited to run inside than on the edges. Why is it such a massive problem? Well, the Bengals play six of their 16 games every year against the likes of Casey Hampton, Haloti Ngata and Shaun Rogers. Enough said.

Cincinnati also plays five other teams that use the 3-4, along with the Vikings, who feature dominating defensive tackle Pat Williams. That is 75 percent of Cincinnati's schedule against a powerful nose tackle-type opponent. Like I said, this is a massive problem.

Having Palmer back and a vastly improved passing game will open up some running room. However, there is no way around it -- this running game is a weakness right now.

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Bengals keep Crocker, Dorsey

February, 27, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

The Cincinnati Bengals made their first signings of free agency in house Friday as they signed safety Chris Crocker and running back DeDe Dorsey. The team did not specify the length of either deal.

Crocker joined the Bengals last season and helped a defense that was scrappy and finished No. 12 in the NFL. He had 48 tackles and one interception.

"For the whole second half of the season, he was a leader in the locker room as well as on the field," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said in a statement.

Dorsey played in four games last season before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury.

Bengals have options at RB

July, 25, 2008

Posted by's James Walker

The release Friday of Kenny Irons was an indication of how good the Cincinnati Bengals feel about their running back situation.

Starter Rudi Johnson bulked up this offseason and looked strong in minicamp. Backup Kenny Watson was solid and versatile last season, and the Bengals feel they have two promising backups in Chris Perry and DeDe Dorsey.

All of those factors provided the Bengals the luxury of no longer having to wait on Irons. Cincinnati gave Irons nearly a year to recover from his Aug. 9, 2007 ACL injury, and the progress wasn't as good as the team hoped.

Injuries ravaged Cincinnati's running backs corps last season. Johnson battled a hamstring injury that forced him to miss five games. Irons' rookie year never got started when he was hurt in the preseason, and the oft-injured Perry was hurt for the fourth straight season. In the end, the Bengals' offense at times became one-dimensional and finished with a 7-9 record.

But with more depth this year and a little luck heath-wise with Johnson and Perry, the Bengals shouldn't be caught in that position in 2008. By cutting a former second-round choice in Irons, it's clear the Bengals are confident that will be the case.