Thursday, February 20, 2014
Bengals' new 'attitude' can start on O-line
By Coley Harvey
INDIANAPOLIS -- At the mere mention of a question about run blocking, Dakota Dozier's eyes grew wide, and his speech quickened.
"I get chill bumps thinking about doing it," the NFL hopeful and offensive lineman said.
He wasn't the only one. John Urschel, another fresh-out-of-college prospect hoping to land with a professional franchise, also felt a swell of personal pride and positive emotion at the NFL combine Thursday when he was asked about how an aggressive offense differs from a passive one for an offensive lineman.
Star offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said he wants to see the Bengals run the ball in a "violent" manner in 2014.
"I'm an aggressive guy. I like getting after it," Urschel, a Penn State product, said, smiling. "I like getting after defensive linemen. That's why I play the game. I love hitting people."
So does Hue Jackson, the Cincinnati Bengals' new offensive coordinator who vowed the day after he was promoted to implement a more physical, punch-first type of offense that will respect the run and the finer details that can make a solid running game a true difference-maker.
Details like attitude, that one hard-to-fully-define trait that some believe can separate good offenses from great ones, and teams that simply appear in the playoffs from ones that reach the Super Bowl. If the Bengals want to be the latter in both cases, they will need serious attitude on offense this season.
A good offensive line can be the perfect starting point for creating just the type of attitude adjustment the Bengals are seeking.
"A lot of times with respect to more physical offenses, we blow it up into running versus passing and all this kind of stuff," Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth said to ESPN.com earlier this offseason. "But the real truth is that it's more about an attitude and a confidence and about imposing your will on another team. That could be done in the air or on the ground. That's more of what [Jackson] is talking about. He knows that to be able to do that, you're going to have to run the ball successfully."
Which is why it seemed logical to ask a few of the draft hopefuls here to share their thoughts about blocking in the running game.
"We want to get down and nasty with people and show people we can move them out of the way," said Dozier, a prospect from Furman. "We don't get a whole lot of glory as an offensive lineman, so when that running back rushes for over 100 yards, that's when we feel good."
All of this run and attitude talk is important with respect to the Bengals for several reasons. For starters, they do have a back in Giovani Bernard who has the ability to rush for more than 100 yards several times in a given season. In fact, when he and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are playing well, they could consistently top 150 yards combined. Another reason stems from free agency, where tackle Anthony Collins' possible departure could leave the Bengals looking for a new lineman who can bring the type of attitude that will match what Jackson wants. Players like Urschel, a guard, and Dozier, a tackle likely switching to guard, are some examples of physical linemen who could potentially help fill Collins' massive shoes.
2014 NFL DRAFT
Round 1: May 8, 8 p.m. ET Rds. 2-3: May 9, 7 p.m. ET Rds. 4-7: May 10, noon ET
Radio City Music Hall
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It's also important to look back at last season when highlighting the importance of establishing the run and creating attitude. In some clutch situations last season, the Bengals ran little and didn't have a consistent attitude. It arguably led to them coming up short in the postseason. As has been rehashed often since their first-round playoff loss to San Diego, the Bengals' decision to go away from the run hurt. During a fourth quarter the Bengals entered trailing by just seven points, quarterback Andy Dalton ended up throwing 31 passes.
That high rate of passing attempts also came in a second half that saw Dalton throw two interceptions and fumble the ball as he dived reaching for more yards at the end of a first-down scramble.
The Bengals' departure from running the ball -- Green-Ellis and Bernard finished with a combined 20 carries for 87 yards that day -- played a key role in the team's third straight first-round exit. The defeat also showed one other troubling trend: The Bengals might run the ball in the regular season, but they don't like keeping it on the ground once the playoffs begin. Their two previous playoff losses had similar poor rushing trends.
As Jackson hopes to implement his bruising style of offensive play, he has to turn to his offensive line. As long as linemen are setting the tone for aggressiveness and not getting popped in the mouth themselves, a certain tenor will be set that opposing defenses could struggle to meet play after play for 60 minutes. That same tone ought to not only lead to wider holes for running backs, but it also should lead to more open opportunities for Dalton in the passing game, play-action included.
Last season, the Bengals had issues with adequately running the ball and demonstrating the full attitude of their line, Whitworth admitted. It was part of the identity issues the team had in 2013 -- concerns it hopes to address long before training camp breaks.
"Attitude doesn't mean you'll have to run the ball every play, but it means when you do run it, you're going to have to run it in a violent way," Whitworth said. "I think any offensive lineman that plays in a system like that has a whole lot of fun."
That said, whether it gets tweaked through the draft or not, the Bengals' offensive line would be well served to bring on the violence, bring on the nastiness and to play with a whole lot of attitude.