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Bengals mailbag: A take on AJ McCarron

6/20/2014

Now that the Cincinnati Bengals' springtime practices have ended, we turn to the portion of the offseason when we look for just about anything to discuss and debate until training camp begins.

As a result, this week's post-practice mailbag doesn't begin by discussing any of the team's starters. Instead, we open by chatting about a pair of rookies who likely won't see any real game action this season. These two rookies are certainly worth the attention, though.

(By the way, programming note: if you didn't get your question asked this week, it has been rolled into next week's mailbag. Oh, and get any other submissions for next week's mailbag in early. I'm giving you until noon ET on Tuesday. Hashtag your question #Bengalsmailbag so I see it. I'll be on vacation late next week, but want to answer your questions.)

@ColeyHarvey. I like AJ, D.J. Granted, we only really got a chance to see the rookie quarterback compete for one of the four weeks of organized team activities and minicamp, but still, he was as impressive as he could be in shorts and a helmet. He didn't get a chance to pass early in the OTA schedule because of an arm injury that had him limited just after his arrival following the draft. But by the end of the first week when he did finally throw, you could see where some of the Bengals' offensive concepts were beginning to make sense. The former Alabama signal-caller didn't think quite as much when determining which read he needed to make in various 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.

One thing that also impressed me was the amount of work he regularly put in after practice. After Monday's OTA, he walked back in the locker room a good 30 minutes after practice concluded. That's not a surprising trait, but one I definitely took notice of. That post-practice work reminded me of another quarterback I covered when I was on the beat covering Florida State: the recently transferred and current Alabama quarterback Jacob Coker. While they didn't overlap at Alabama, Coker and McCarron did play together in high school. Maybe they just teach that post-practice work ethic in Mobile, Alabama.



@ColeyHarvey. Another player I had a chance to cover at FSU, James Wilder Jr. was the thunder in the Seminoles' thunder, lightning and rainstorm trio of Wilder, Devonta Freeman and Karlos Williams. While it was clear where Wilder fit when he came to college and proclaimed that he was a running back and wanted nothing to do with playing linebacker, it's not quite as certain where he fits in the Bengals' plans. He was added as an undrafted free agent along with defensive-tackle-turned-fullback Nikita Whitlock. Jeremy Hill also came to Cincinnati last month, taken with the 55th overall pick in the draft. Since Hill appears slated to get a number of reps alongside Giovani Bernard, and since backs like BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead also are part of the Bengals' plans for now, there doesn't seem to be much of a role for Wilder on the active roster. For that reason, plus the fact he still needs a little refining for the NFL, my guess is he begins the year on the practice squad, but that'll be a tough decision to make.

Why? Because on Thursday Wilder tweeted that he broke the Bengals' conditioning test record. You don't want to run the risk of letting go of such an already finely tuned rookie back if you can help it.



@ColeyHarvey. Interesting question, Carp. Honestly, I can't tell you how the carries and targets will be broken down. At the end of a week that's been all about playbooks in the NFL, the Bengals haven't given me theirs. My educated guess is Bernard and receiver A.J. Green will play their anticipated big roles. But Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Hill, Tyler Eifert, Jermaine Gresham and presumably Green-Ellis, will all play complementary roles, too. The short of it: look for the same type of balance you saw last season, just maybe with a few more run plays. I do anticipate Sanu having a greater role than he did last year.



@ColeyHarvey. How's that for a segue? Yes, I'd say that Sanu is in line to receive the bulk of the Bengals' catches in the slot. I actually hinted I felt that way in this Bengals factoid about Sanu's slot production. Of his 47 receptions last season, 48.9 percent came while he was lined up in the slot. That was a higher percentage than any other Bengals receiver had last year. Add that to Sanu's possible increase in speed -- receivers coach James Urban told me earlier this week he thought Sanu was faster -- and it makes sense he gets the bulk of the Bengals' passes in the slot. That said, though, Dane Sanzenbacher seems to better fit the mold of the stereotypical shifty, speedy and smaller "slot" receiver.



@ColeyHarvey. Nice question, Ramon. My friend Kaci Kust of cn|2 Sports in Cincinnati has a more expansive answer in this package, and it's clear a few Bengals are paying attention. Defensive tackle Domata Peko and cornerback Leon Hall are among the biggest soccer fans on the team. Peko -- who reminded reporters this week that his native American Samoa had the worst World Cup qualifying loss in history; 31-0 to Australia in 2011 -- has been tweeting his support for the United States. He also came to the Bengals' facility Monday wearing an Didier Drogba's Ivory Coast jersey. That same day, Burkhead wore a U.S. World Cup jersey.