Cincinnati Bengals: Adam Jones

Bengals Camp Report: Day 3

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
6:15
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp:
  • Offense was the big story for the Bengals through the first two days of training camp, but on Saturday, defense stole the headlines. Cornerbacks Adam Jones and Darqueze Dennard had a few key pass breakups and interceptions in a practice that hinged largely on third-down play. Jones rebounded after giving up a few receptions in one-on-one drills with receivers. By the end of the 11-on-11 portion of practice, he was stopping most everything that came his direction. Arguably his most noteworthy pass breakup occurred off a play-action fake from quarterback Andy Dalton. As Dalton threw off his back leg and hung a deep pass to A.J. Green, Jones turned and jumped in the path of the ball, knocking it down. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Jones has played with good technique through the first three days. He added that veteran Terence Newman has as well. "It's good for our younger guys to see how they play and how they're out here competing every snap."
  • One of those younger players, the rookie Dennard, had the play of the day when he dove full length for a Dalton pass that flew wide of its mark. It was hard to tell whether Dalton threw the pass to the wrong spot or if the receiver ran the wrong route, but Dennard, playing in the familiar lockdown style that was his hallmark at Michigan State, saw the ball heading toward the sideline even as the receiver didn't. Players and fans both reacted favorably to the pickoff. "Saturday] was the first day we could play press-man on the receiver, and that's what he did at Michigan State, so he's back in his comfort zone doing what he does. He's just got to continue to get better and work on his technique, and going against good receivers every day will help him."
  • One of the cornerbacks who did not take part in the live offense vs. defense portions of the workout was Leon Hall. The veteran is still rebounding from an Achilles tear that ended his 2013 season in Week 7. It was out of an abundance of caution that the Bengals held him out of most of the practice, even though he still participated in position-specific drills early in the session. Although he's fully recovered from the serious injury, the staff still wants to ease him back into action.
  • Along with Hall, the Bengals are taking a similar slow approach with offensive linemen Clint Boling and Mike Pollak. The left guards are rotating days on and off for the foreseeable future. After Boling started at the position Thursday, Pollak took his share of snaps Friday. Keeping with the rotation, Boling claimed the starting reps at the spot Saturday. Both still dressed in the shoulder pads-and-shorts attire the rest of the team sported as the full-gear acclimation period begins to slow down. The team will be in full pads Sunday.
  • The Bengals had two injuries during Saturday's practice. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick pulled up, holding his right hamstring, after using good coverage to prevent Green from catching a pass from Dalton off a deep go route. Kirkpatrick was stretched out but didn't return to practice. Defensive tackle LaKendrick Ross had a minor injury as well, jogging off the field at one point for treatment. He ended up returning and finishing the practice.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 2

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
7:30
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp:
  • Dalton
    Dalton
    We're only two days into training camp, but already the Bengals are showing a few wrinkles that could find their way into the offense when camp breaks at the end of August. On Thursday, they incorporated a no-huddle offense. It seemed that very rarely did they get a play called from a huddle before executing it. While the no-huddle was evident again for parts of Friday's practice, it wasn't the only recent addition made to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's new scheme. The Bengals also worked on shovel passes at times during the workout, slipping the quick screens to their backs in the middle of the field. Few around the team are talking about what all the no-huddle is all about. Believe me, myself and others have tried to get folks talking. At the very least, the up-tempo pacing will have the benefit of helping the defense prepare for the number of no-huddle schemes it will face this season, even if the Bengals seldom run it offensively in games themselves.
  • After a relatively clean first day with few drops and no fumbles or botched snaps, the Bengals were slightly messier Friday. Twice they fumbled. Once running back Giovani Bernard and quarterback Andy Dalton had trouble with an exchange during an offense-only drill. Later, during an 11-on-11 exercise, Bernard couldn't hold on to a low pitch from quarterback Jason Campbell. There also was one false start in the full-team drills. Offensive tackle Will Svitek moved early. Even with those miscues, both the offense and defense had their positive highlights. Cornerbacks Adam Jones and Terence Newman were among those who broke up their share of passes after getting burned for a couple catches from A.J. Green the day before. Green took his revenge, though, beating Newman on one reception off an out route.
  • Speaking of coverage, once during an 11-on-11 drill I noticed that outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur was split out wide, lined up against tight end Tyler Eifert who was set up like a receiver. Just like the Bengals will do with Bernard, they might at times move Eifert outside. It will provide just another dimension to what we're beginning to see could be a more dynamic and more expansive offense than before. In the meantime, it could make for good practice for Lamur, who will be charged with covering pass-catching tight ends like New Orleans' Jimmy Graham later this season. Lamur's experience as a safety in college also makes him an ideal candidate to play such coverage positions.
  • Another interesting offensive development revolved around the flip-flopping that linemen Clint Boling and Mike Pollak will be doing for at least some part of camp. After Boling practiced Thursday at left guard, Pollak played there Friday, giving Boling the day off. Presumably, Pollak will be getting Saturday off while Boling will practice again. According to Pollak, the changes are the coaches' way of attempting to keep the linemen fresh. Both are coming off knee injuries and are still slowly easing their way back into the regular flow of things.
  • And yes, you read that correctly: Pollak played left guard. All offseason the expectation has been for him to battle rookie Russell Bodine for playing time at center. Pollak said he has no idea if those plans have changed. He told me after practice: "I was told to play guard [Friday]. So that's what I'm going to do. If they tell me to play another position, then I'll do that. I'm kind of in the dark. ... Things can change. All I can do is get back on the field healthy 100 percent."
CINCINNATI -- As the Cincinnati Bengals get going with Day 2 of training camp Friday, here are three items we're going to be keeping an eye out for:

Marvin Lewis addresses media. At noon ET, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis sits down for his first news conference of training camp. He'll be asked about his impressions of Day 1 and likely will share his thoughts on where his offense and defense need to progress for the next five or so weeks. One thing he won't address? Quarterback Andy Dalton's contract. He said as much Tuesday at the team's preseason kickoff luncheon. He's done discussing that matter until the extension gets done. It's worth adding that just before Lewis' news conference, players will speak with media in the locker room beginning at 11:15 a.m. ET.

Cornerbacks and coverage. It was clear Thursday was all about the receivers and tight ends. Dalton's throwing mechanics and his well-placed passes both deep and short were a hot topic of conversation during the practice. I'll be paying a lot of attention to the defense on Day 2. It will be interesting to see how the cornerbacks respond to the strong showing A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Mohamed Sanu, among others, had Thursday.

Return watch. One player who may very well be battling for a roster spot these next few weeks is return man Brandon Tate. The receiver who has just 14 catches in the 48 games he's played the past three seasons has primarily been used in return situations. The big question is, are there enough spots on a very deep team for a player who will be used almost exclusively as a kick returner? He spent the 2013 season working as the lead punt returner also, but only after cornerback Adam Jones was kept off special teams because of a bevy of injuries to the secondary. This year, with a deep -- and for now, healthier -- defensive backfield, Jones will be back in his old No. 1 punt returner role. Where will that leave Tate? For now, he'll have to impress on both special teams and offense.
You might have noticed in our Cincinnati Bengals "Bubble Watch" series from this offseason (which will make a return Wednesday) that receiver and return specialist Brandon Tate was among those we believe could be on the fringe of making the 53-man roster this preseason.

Tate
Tate
In that item I said the odds of him making the team were "high," but explained some compelling reasons why he might not. Chief among them? His lacking presence as a receiver in the Bengals' offense over the years, and Cincinnati's ability to potentially replace him in the return game. It's because of his strengths as a kick returner, though, that make it likely Tate will be retained.

That leads us to Wednesday's factoid: 25.13.

That number represents the average yards per kick return the Bengals had last season. Since Tate returned all but four kicks last season, the number above could be viewed as a direct reflection of his special teams play. On his 35 kick returns, Tate averaged 26.11 yards.

At 25.13, the Bengals in 2013 trailed only four teams in kick return average. Kansas City paced the league at 29.91 yards per return. The Ravens, Jaguars and Cowboys also averaged slightly more yards than Cincinnati. Of course, only one of those teams, the Chiefs, made it to the postseason with the Bengals.

We talk all the time about field position and its importance on helping dictate offensive flow and rhythm. Not surprisingly, the Bengals ranked in the top 10 in the league last season in average starting field position following a kickoff. Thanks in large part to Tate's returns, the Bengals started their average post-kickoff drive just inside their own 25.

The field position had to have some positive impact, even if it was minimal. Cincinnati had 47 offensive touchdowns. The Broncos, Eagles and Saints were the only teams with more.

Along with fielding kickoffs, Tate lined up regularly as the team's punt returner after a number of injuries left the Bengals thin at cornerback. With their numbers at that position low, usual punt returner Adam Jones was removed from the punt return team in an effort to keep healthy.

Perhaps Tate's most memorable play in 2013 came when he was filling in at punt returner. His 29-yard punt return in overtime at Buffalo put the Bengals in good enough position for kicker Mike Nugent to make the game-winning 43-yard field goal just four plays later.

So I bring up the Bengals' comparatively strong kick return average from last season as another reminder as to why Tate (and his 14 career receptions the past three seasons) might actually make the roster when it gets trimmed at the end of August.
As they read this, members of the Cincinnati Bengals' front office are probably furiously knocking away at whatever item made of wood happens to be nearby.

In an NFL offseason that's been filled with arrest stories and Johnny Manziel's Monday morning twitpic updates, the Bengals have mostly flown under the radar, enjoying a comparatively quiet few months away from the field. After years of being the posterchildren for in- and out-of-season arrests and disciplinary issues, they ought to be commended for their relative good behavior in recent months.

Instead of a proliferation of mugshots and players in police blotters this summer, the Bengals have been taking baby pictures and wedding photos. It's certainly a welcomed departure from what previously had been the norm along the Ohio Riverfront.

I used the word "relative" regarding the Bengals' good behavior because there is, of course, that Sam Montgomery thing and that Orson Charles thing. Both Bengals are in the middle of pending legal situations after respective interstate traffic stops. Montgomery was pulled over and subsequently arrested two weeks ago for driving 89 mph in a 55-mph zone. South Carolina state law, where he was stopped, stipulates motorists traveling 25 mph or more over the speed limit are required to be jailed. Charles was arrested in April after allegedly brandishing a firearm at a motorist during a road-rage incident on Interstate 75 in Kentucky.

Montgomery's arrest primarily received attention after the state trooper's dashcam video was made public last week. During the arrest, the since suspended officer informed Montgomery he was under arrest right after inquiring if he played in the NFL. The officer also threatened to use a taser on Montgomery while barking a series of confusing orders as he tried to get the much larger Montgomery to get his hands behind his back for the handcuffs. Montgomery appeared to be cooperative throughout the video of the arrest, which began with him pulling over and ended some minutes after he and the officer were riding to the jail.

Since a firearm was involved in Charles' case, that incident rightfully gained traction both around Cincinnati and Kentucky (where the arrest happened), as well as nationally. After the legal process began, though, the entire ordeal mostly faded away. It wasn't a topic of conversation during minicamp and organized team activities, which Charles attended. That doesn't mean it has completely ended, though. Charles still has several steps ahead of him. Just last Thursday, he formally was arraigned in Madison County (Kentucky) Circuit Court on charges of brandishing a firearm in public.

What helps deflect attention from the arrests is both players easily could be cut based on merit alone when training camp opens later this month. If that happens, their issues no longer would concern the franchise.

Aside from those incidents, the Bengals have stayed out of the glare of negative spotlight. A few starters have made minor headlines for more positive reasons.

The Bengals have spent their offseason focusing on expanding their families and preparing to defend their division crown. (Wait, what's that sound you hear? Ah, it's the rapid hollow thumping of wooden desks at Paul Brown Stadium. It's a welcomed sound in Cincinnati, I assure you.)

This time last summer the Bengals had just learned cornerback Adam Jones was involved in a bar fight downtown. He was slapped with an assault charge and ordered to trial that October. Given his rather turbulent past, it was easy to immediately view the case as yet another instance of "Pacman" outshining his better half, Adam. When video of the event later surfaced and a judge ruled on the matter, Jones was declared innocent of wrongdoing, although the judge felt Jones and the woman who instigated the incident should have handled themselves better.

Fast forward to this past weekend and Jones turned heads in an all-white tuxedo for a different reason. He married his longtime girlfriend, joining a long list of Bengals to get hitched this summer. Running back Cedric Peerman and receiver Marvin Jones were among those who also got married. Linebacker Vincent Rey got engaged early in the offseason. Quarterback Andy Dalton and his wife had their first child last week.

Despite the situations with Montgomery and Charles, the Bengals seem to have turned a corner off the field. As is the case with every other team, there's still work to be done on that front, though, and that's why Bengals executives are going to keep knocking on wood.
For the next 10 days, we're taking a look at Cincinnati Bengals who could be on the dreaded training camp roster bubble later this summer. These are players whom we think you should expect to see fighting for spots when the eventual 75-man preseason roster gets trimmed to the regular-season 53.

As permitted by league rules, the roster currently stands at 89.

We're not going in any particular order. After starting with Taylor Mays on Monday, next up is Brandon Tate:

Tate
Tate
Why he's on the bubble: I'm leaning more toward the wideout Tate ultimately making the team, but there are reasons he'll want to make sure his entire game is in peak condition when training camp begins late next month. Chief among those reasons is the fact that he lacks the overall versatility that's needed. By the end of last season, Tate was pretty much on the roster to serve only as the team's kick and punt returner. He ended up getting more time fielding punts than he or anyone else was expecting because Adam Jones was pulled off punt return duty when the secondary went through its wave of injuries. It made sense to shelve the usual punt returning Jones to prevent him from getting banged up, too. In terms of receiving, Tate hasn't done much of that his entire career and certainly barely did any last season. He had only one catch for 6 yards on two targets. Simply put, the Bengals have enough potential kick and punt returners auditioning for the position this summer that Tate's services may not be necessary when the Bengals start making their final cuts.

What he has to do to get off the bubble: Primarily, Tate will need to show the coaches in preseason practices and games at receiver that he could be an asset off the bench. He'll likely be competing for the final receiver spot with the likes of Cobi Hamilton and rookies James Wright and Colin Lockett. Both also have characteristics that could make them ideal bottom-of-the-depth-chart adds. Along with playing well at receiver, Tate will have to prove in the preseason that not only is he a good kick returner, but that he can be an elite one. Among those with more than 30 kick returns last season, Tate ranked fifth in the league in return average at 26.1 yards. He'll have to show that he can put up even better averages in the preseason. If he breaks one for a touchdown, that's even better.

Odds he makes the team: High. I should point out there's only five levels to my odds for players making the team: very low, low, 50/50, high and very high. Tate looms somewhere between 50/50 and high. I wouldn't want to flat-out say he's unequivocally going to make the team at this point, but I also don't want to say he's got a 50/50 shot (although, in theory, I guess every player on the 89-man roster has a 50/50 chance). While I do think there could be a space for him Aug. 30, it's tough to say definitively that there will be. The numbers just aren't in his favor at either of his positions: receiver or returner. Tate re-signed this offseason to a one-year deal that will pay him $100,000 guaranteed, so there's a good chance the Bengals thought they'd be holding on to him when training camp arrived. But the recent additions of Wright and Lockett could make those odds a little slimmer. The full health of Cincinnati's secondary also gives Jones the opportunity to go back to returning punts, suddenly making the kick-returning Tate a one-trick pony.
Home games can sometimes stir slightly different emotions inside a player than those that come on the road.

Take for example the Cincinnati Bengals' home/road split from last season. As a team, they were 8-0 at Paul Brown Stadium in the regular season, but only went 3-5 playing at other venues. Factors like crowd, climate and comfort certainly played a part in the home victories, and likely contributed to the players performing better in familiar environs.

One player who historically statistics show has played a tick better at his home venue, regardless which uniform he's wearing, is Bengals cornerback Adam Jones. We explore that phenomenon below.

Monday's factoid: 19.0.

One of the metrics used by ESPN Stats & Information to track a defensive player's individual success is the disrupted dropback statistic. We've mentioned it in past daily factoids. It's a way of tracking the number of events that contribute to a disrupted dropback or passing attempt. Sacks, interceptions, batted passes and defended passes comprise the statistic.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Jones has 19.0 disrupted dropbacks in regular-season home games throughout his career, compared to 15.0 when playing on the road.

Broken down as percentages, Jones' home and away disrupted dropback ratings aren't far apart. He has a 0.5 disrupted dropback percentage at home, and a 0.4 percentage on the road, to combine for a 0.9 overall disrupted dropback percentage. Per Stats & Info, the overall league average for defensive backs since 2005 -- the year Jones was drafted by Tennessee -- is 0.5.

By looking closer at some of Jones' other home/road statistical splits, you can see why the slim disparity exists in his disrupted dropback numbers. He has many more interceptions at home than he does away from it (seven home pickoffs to one on the road), but he also has the exact same number of pass breakups (12) in both types of games. When it comes to sacks, road games have a slim advantage. He's netted 2.0 sacks on the road, compared to none at home during his career.

It's the fact that he has been such a veritable ball hawk at home that gives his statistics there a bit of an edge. His only road interception came in Week 15 last season when he picked off a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the third quarter of a game at Pittsburgh that began as a rout. The Bengals went on to lose by 10, but trailed 27-7 when Jones secured the turnover.

Despite playing 36 more snaps on the road than at home, Jones -- who also has played for Dallas in addition to Cincinnati and Tennessee -- has 34 more tackles in home games during his career. He has 152 tackles at home. Of those, 123 were credited as solo stops, per ESPN Stats & Information.

When the Bengals kick off their home schedule Sept. 14 against the Falcons, watch for how well the metropolitan Atlanta native Jones plays in comparison to what he did the week before on the road at Baltimore. History has proven that you wouldn't be wrong to expect a better game, statistically speaking, during that home opener. Regardless of the venue, though, the Bengals just hope they keep getting the same player who has made steady strides since his arrival in 2010.
If you haven't noticed by now this is the offseason -- a time of year when every publication and outlet that covers football in some capacity has rankings on just about every subject imaginable.

We've had our share on ESPN.com all spring, and certainly will have more the next several weeks as the march toward training camp continues.

Some of the best rankings you'll read this offseason are compiled by Mike Tanier & Co. of Sports on Earth. They use various metrics, film study and common sense to reach their conclusions. For the past month they've unveiled a different type of ranking each Monday. This week's rankings broke down the best secondaries in the league.

It was no surprise that Seattle's indomitable group finished first. But who was No. 2?

The Cincinnati Bengals.

Which brings us to Tuesday's factoid: 7.58.

As is the case with many of our factoids, we could use multiple numbers to highlight the points we're trying to make, and we will. But for starters, the 7.58 represents the average number of yards per play the Bengals' defensive backs allowed last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That ranked as the third-lowest figure among secondary groups. Cleveland's defensive backs led the way allowing just 7.39 yards per play, and Seattle's were No. 2, allowing 7.42.

When you think about the fact that Cleveland has the likes of $68 million man Joe Haden anchoring its secondary and Seattle has arguably the game's best cornerback in Richard Sherman, then its kind of eye-popping to see how well the Bengals and their mix of less recognized veterans and youngsters performed so well last season.

As Tanier points out, it's even more notable when you realize the Bengals lost their top pass-rusher last season when defensive tackle Geno Atkins went down midseason with an ACL tear. Even though Atkins' replacements performed admirably enough, added pressure was placed upon the safeties and corners to make sure they locked down their receivers. As part of previous defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's scheme, playing tight man defense was virtually seen as a rite of passage.

Even though Paul Guenther is taking over for Zimmer, very little about the defense's setup will change this year, including the style of one-on-one play on the outside. That's one of the biggest reasons why Cincinnati jumped in the first round to draft Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard at 24th overall. He was lauded as the best lockdown cornerback in the draft.

Along with Atkins' injury, other injuries forced the Bengals to play much of the year with a mixed bag at cornerback. The Bengals' highest-paid cornerback, Leon Hall, was lost for the year in Week 7 with an Achilles tear that came after he bounced back and forth between active and inactive status for the first few weeks due to hamstring injuries. Adam Jones also dealt with a tender hamstring early in the season, and Terence Newman missed the last three games with a knee injury. Like Hall and Atkins, safety Taylor Mays missed the last half of the season with an injury.

Backup Dre Kirkpatrick filled in just well enough for the corners who missed time, and veteran Chris Crocker came out of retirement for the second straight year as an in-season plug-and-play option at both safety and corner. The ragtag nature of the Bengals' secondary due to the injuries made their success even more respectable.

In addition to its low yards-per-play average, Cincinnati's secondary also ranked third in first downs allowed. The group gave up 146, which was just over the 145 Seattle's secondary allowed, and the 142 Carolina's secondary gave up. When it came to turnovers by the secondary, the Bengals ranked fourth.

Sports on Earth used its multilayered approach to rank the league's top secondaries, but advanced stats from last season seem to prove their point regarding the Bengals, too. Will Cincinnati have one of the top secondaries this season? It'll be another two months before we start finding out.
CINCINNATI -- It was honesty at its finest, candor at its best and humility at its strongest.

When rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard proudly said Wednesday, with a smile on his face no less, that the Cincinnati Bengals "really don't need me," a few eyebrows in the huddle of reporters around him raised.

Did he really say that?

He really did.

"It is what it is," Dennard said, still grinning as he was pressed on the statement. "I'm a realist. We've got a lot of great players out there. Looking especially in the secondary, there's a lot of players that have done a lot of good things in their careers. I'm just here to learn from them and do the best I can to help the team."

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
Matthew Holst/Getty ImagesDarqueze Dennard could have a hard time cracking the Bengals' veteran lineup as a rookie.
Realistically, he's right. It was the correct and proper thing to say. With so many veteran cornerbacks on the depth chart in front of him, the odds Dennard starts at either of the outside cornerback positions or on the inside as a slot player, are quite slim. Terence Newman might be 35, but he's healthy. Adam Jones is entering his ninth year, but he's still quite spry. And 29-year-old Leon Hall is bracing for a big bounce-back year after tearing his Achilles in the middle of last season.

Add third-year corner Dre Kirkpatrick to the mix, and Dennard's climb to the top of the cornerback depth chart gets even steeper.

It's important to stress that none of Dennard's comments are indications that he's already packed it in for the spring and summer and won't compete for a starting job. He plans to be a key piece to the Bengals' defensive puzzle for as long as he's playing in the league.

Part of that push for playing time will include learning the playbook and getting acclimated with everything the coaches will want him to do. In addition to covering passes downfield on the outside, he'll be relied upon to play in the slot, and looked to for help in run support. He's likely to be called upon to blitz on occasion, too.

Since his whirlwind first day of voluntary organized team activities two weeks ago, he has seen a steady progression in his knowledge of his role and responsibilities. If he were to grade his comfort level in Cincinnati's defensive playbook on a scale of 1 to 10, he said he would give himself an "8."

That is another check in the right-things-to-say box. A number that high suggests growing confidence in the system, but not so much growth that he feels he knows it all. He still sees room for more improvement. "Eight" is a good place to be when it comes to understanding the playbook.

"It's slowed down a lot," Dennard said. "I have gotten comfortable so I am out there not thinking as much, so it allows me to play faster."

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has seen some flashes of that improved comfort.

"He's real sharp mentally," Guenther said after Wednesday's minicamp. "We've thrown him in there sometimes with the [starters], and we've thrown him in there both inside and outside. He's done a good job. He's picked up the defense good. He just needs the little things. The tweaks are here and there, but he'll get that when we get to training camp."

Among the tweaks Guenther and Dennard want to improve are his blitz moves. To hear the young cornerback tell it, he doesn't have any right now. Guenther politely agrees, and wants to see him hone his ability coming off the outside edge toward the passer.

"We'll have periods in the practice where everybody will work on their blitz techniques," Guenther said. "Everybody's got to be proficient with that so anybody could come at any time."

As linebackers coach, Guenther was the architect of some of the Bengals' more creative blitz packages when Mike Zimmer was the defensive coordinator. Guenther designed plays that brought players from all levels and angles. Safeties and cornerbacks this season will have their share of rushes from up high.

So what does Dennard need to do to start blitzing better?

"Probably need to find some moves," he said.

Could Hall have something to share as a veteran whose style of play is similar to Dennard's according to coaches?

"You have to stay talking to him, but you got to find your own thing," Dennard said.

Another check. Be your own man.

How about a defensive lineman? Might they have a move he can mimic?

"Maybe," Dennard said. "I can ask how they use their hands and how they get offensive linemen to get their hands of them to get to the quarterback. Talking to them would definitely help me, so I will do that in the future."

Yet again a check. Be your own man, but don't be afraid to get insight from someone who makes their living doing what you're trying to do.

For now, Dennard keeps saying the right things. If he keeps saying them and keeps believing in them, he will find the deep Bengals secondary will need his services a lot sooner than he's anticipating. He will have earned the right to be a key contributor.
CINCINNATI -- Our friend Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders had this interesting ESPN Insider Insider article Tuesday that kind of got my brain working.

So, in an effort to get you thinking, too, I decided to pose to you, our loyal Cincinnati Bengals readers, one of the questions he was answering.

Is cornerback a hole for the Bengals?

SportsNation

Where is the Bengals' biggest roster weakness?

  •  
    26%
  •  
    13%
  •  
    13%
  •  
    34%
  •  
    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 802)

The overall story attempted to address the single biggest holes that remain for each AFC North team. If you take a look at the link, you'll see the Bengals aren't the only ones in the division who Kacsmar believes needs help in the back end of their defense.

Before getting too deep into the conversation about cornerback, it bears mentioning that Kacsmar said he would have considered the coordinator positions to be the holes most worthy of the Bengals' attention if he wasn't focusing on player personnel. In January former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer accepted jobs serving as the head coaches in Washington and Minnesota, respectively. They were replaced by internal hires Hue Jackson and Paul Guenther, who promise to build off the schemes Gruden and Zimmer left them.

The reason Kacsmar believes cornerback is the Bengals' biggest hole with respect to player personnel is because their primary offseason addition there, rookie Darqueze Dennard, doesn't figure to be an immediate fix to what could soon become a problem. The issue? Cincinnati is getting older at the position. Leon Hall has battled injury in recent seasons and at 29 is starting to fight age, too. Adam Jones will be 31 in September. Terence Newman will be 36 that month, too.

Dennard probably won't play much this first season, although he has been gaining valuable experience through the first two weeks of voluntary organized team activities, practicing with the first-team defense. On Tuesday, he ran with the first team as a slot corner, playing the position Hall will have once he returns fully from an Achilles injury that sidelined him last October. Hall expects to be back to full activity sometime next month before training camp starts July 24.

Some would consider Dennard the solution to the Bengals' cornerback age problem. He was, after all, the best player available when the Bengals drafted him, and they used a first-round pick on him. They also knew that like a lot of rookie corners he didn't stand much of a chance to start regularly this season. Still, they believed he had a strong chance to do so next year.

Dennard also was praised in college for being the type of cornerback Kacsmar said the Bengals needed: a true man-to-man defender who kept constant pressure on his opposing, typically single-covered receiver. That style of play made Dennard the head honcho of Michigan State's self-proclaimed "No Fly Zone" defense.

So we turn it to you. Did Dennard's addition do enough to convince you cornerback wasn't a hole for the Bengals? Or do you agree with Kacsmar and believe that since he won't see the field much this year, Dennard didn't really help address Cincinnati's cornerback age issue? Or do you believe there's actually another position that deserves the Bengals' attention for fixing first? Is the offensive line a hole? The defensive line? The linebacker corps? Or is it another position altogether?

Vote in our poll and share your thoughts. If you think the issue is another position we didn't mention, feel free to type it into the comments below.
CINCINNATI -- When the Bengals made cornerback Darqueze Dennard their first-round pick earlier this month, they did so with their immediate future in mind.

Terence Newman is 35 and is scheduled to hit free agency next spring. Adam Jones isn't too far behind him. Leon Hall is turning 30 at the end of year and is coming off his second major injury in three seasons. As much as the Bengals respect and appreciate what the trio has accomplished in recent years, they know it's time to start preparing for life after them.

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
AP Photo/Al BehrmanDarqueze Dennard (left) knows that a he can learn a lot from veteran players like Terence Newman.
So Dennard, a 22-year-old who was named college football's top defensive back last year, was added to the mix when the Bengals' pick rolled around at No. 24.

The rookie understands his place in the team's cornerback hierarchy and knows he may not see much playing time defensively this fall. He's OK with that, though, because he believes his time will come soon enough.

"I'm just waiting on my moment," Dennard said earlier this week following the Bengals' first organized team activity practice.

He's also waiting on something else: a contract. The Bengals have already signed their other seven draft picks, but they haven't yet inked Dennard to his deal. Despite the delay in getting him paid, Dennard has been participating as the Bengals go through their first series of full-team offseason practices. He said Tuesday that he wasn't worried about not having a contract, but remains hopeful that an agreement will be made soon.

As far as his place in the Bengals' cornerback rotation, for now, Dennard is trying to learn from the likes of Newman, Jones, Hall and third-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.

"Those guys have been playing a long time in the NFL and have a lot of games under their belt," Dennard said. "I'm here to play. That's my mindset -- to get on the field -- but being under the tutelage of them is going to help me, as well. A lot of guys don't have the same chance I have. Those veteran guys have played a lot of games and have done great things on the football field. I have them and I'm going to use them."

Dennard added that he is already peppering the vets with questions about playing the position and being a professional player, in general. He wants to be a pest to them and anyone else who's willing to help him navigate this next stage of his development.

"I'm probably going to get on their nerves by asking them so many questions, but I'm going to use that to better me as a player and a person," Dennard said. "Hopefully I'll have the same kind of career as them."

His career could begin this season by getting the majority of his playing time on special teams. Possible injuries aside, for now, the depth ahead of him at corner will make it difficult for him to get on the field. Newman and Jones opened this week's OTAs as the starting boundary cornerbacks. Kirkpatrick got time with the second-team corners alongside Chris Lewis-Harris, a third-year corner who was active for six games last season. In time, the expectation is that Dennard and Kirkpatrick will be the top options at the two boundary spots.

Kirkpatrick still has to prove he's starting material. As well as he played at times filling in for an injured Newman last season, Kirkpatrick still gave up his share of touchdown passes and got burned on occasion in coverage.

Dennard seldom got burned at Michigan State. He held opposing receivers to just 5.78 yards per catch, the lowest figure for a defensive back during the entire BCS era. He and the rest of the Spartans' defensive backfield considered themselves so effective against the pass that he nicknamed the group "No Fly Zone" last summer.

Part of what made Michigan State's "No Fly Zone" live up to Dennard's nickname was the intense nature of his single-coverage play on opposing receivers. He blanketed pass-catchers so well in college the Bengals believed he needed to be in their defense.

Dennard's former college teammate, current Spartan safety Kurtis Drummond, said Dennard's coverage was a credit to his preparation.

"He works on it. That's not something he just throws himself in," Drummond said. "That's something that he's very prepared to do. Something he takes pride in. He's a competitor and he wants to be the best at whatever he does."
OK, it's only late May, and the Cincinnati Bengals still haven't started organized team activities (OTA). That doesn't mean we can't try to break down their depth chart.

We've been spending this week taking a stab at how the team's position-by-position rotations may look when training camp opens July 24 (Note: The original start date was July 23, but the Bengals last week pushed the camp's start back a day).

After looking at offense Monday, we broke down the defense Tuesday. Now, we close with special teams:

SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicker
Nugent
1. Mike Nugent
2. Quinn Sharp

Analysis: These first three analysis blurbs are easy. In all three instances, the player who has the No. 1 by his name will be the, you guessed it, No. 1 player at his position. Nugent is not in a kicking competition with Sharp. He'll be returning this fall as the lone place-kicker on the team. Sharp will be around for OTAs and training camp as just another leg the Bengals can use as they get ready for the season. Sharp's stay is expected to be a short one. It is worth noting, though, that Nugent's contract will be up at the end of this season.

Punter
Huber
1. Kevin Huber
2. TJ Conley

Analysis: Yep, it'll be the Nugent and Huber Show once again in 2014. Just like Sharp, Conley is only around for a brief stay. He's another very likely candidate to be cut at the end of training camp. He's primarily around to give the Bengals an additional leg as they work through the rest of the offseason. His signing last month has nothing to do with Huber's health. Huber is expected to be back at full strength from a broken jaw he suffered late in the 2013 season well before the start of the 2014 campaign. Huber also will resume his duties as Nugent's holder.

Long-snapper
1. Clark Harris
Analysis: He's the only true long-snapper the Bengals have on the team.

Punt returner

Jones
1. Adam Jones
2. Brandon Tate
3. Dane Sanzenbacher
4. Giovani Bernard
Others: Jeff Scott

Analysis: Now that the Bengals are heading into a season with a fully healthy secondary, expect Jones to resume his duties as the team's lead punt returner. He began last season as the first punt return option, but was quickly shelved after injuries struck many of his teammates in the defensive backfield. Tate was a good fill-in, and certainly could factor into special teams coach Darrin Simmons' final decision at the position.

Kick returner
Tate
Tate
1. Brandon Tate
2. Adam Jones
3. Giovani Bernard
4. Marvin Jones
5. Cedric Peerman
Others: Colin Lockett

Analysis: Tate's 26.1-yard kick return average was among the best in the league among players who had as many returns as he did. The deeper the season went, the better his returns appeared to get. So look for him to continue fielding kicks as the primary option at that position. Lockett, an undrafted free agent signed last week, also could be an option after returning kicks at San Diego State. He had 31 returns last season, averaging 24.5 yards per return.
Thanks to the NFL's decision to hold this year's draft in the middle of May, two weeks later than what had become its late-April spot on the calendar, the Cincinnati Bengals have taken a rookie camp off their offseason schedule.

Instead, in order to get the new players indoctrinated into their philosophies and schemes, the Bengals have tweaked their voluntary workout schedule in a way that allows the young players to correspond with the older ones and vice versa. Also, they'll hold full-team organized team activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamps within the next few weeks.

How might the lack of a rookie camp hurt the Bengals (and maybe the Giants, too, since they were the only other team that decided against having a rookie camp this year)? We attempt to answer that and more in this Sunday's installment of the Bengals mailbag:

 
OK, OK, I know I've probably said enough about the late start of this year's draft, but when a reputable coach comes out and rails against it, too, it bears mentioning again: The draft needs to go back to April.

That's where we begin with our Wednesday Bengal Quick Takes:

1. Lewis no fan of May draft. During his pre-draft news conference Tuesday, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis covered quite a bit of ground as it pertained to the Bengals, but he also briefly shared his feelings about the late start to this year's draft. "I'd prefer to have the draft done where it was," he said, "in April, because now it's a little bit in the way of football. This is time where we would be spending more time with the players, and now we are going back and forth between both because of that. ... The calendar, as it is this year, presents problems for the football side of things." He's absolutely right. It might be only two weeks in the offseason calendar, but those two weeks that have been lost can completely alter the way a team goes about attacking offseason workouts with veterans and getting rookies in to begin their regimens with their respective teams. As much as the May draft may help the league have relevance past April, it could affect the players who form its backbone the most. If more players are injured this season simply because they're getting ready on an awkward calendar, that ought to call into question the league's motives to continue going with a later draft. What are you really sacrificing by doing it in May?

2. Skipping rookie minicamp. The Bengals will be among those teams forced into making a few sacrifices of their own this offseason when they take their rookies straight into veteran OTAs. There's no point in having a rookie minicamp this year and rushing the preparation progression, Lewis said. "As far as teaching goes, it's a great progression to have an opportunity for them to come and spend time at a rookie camp, have an opportunity to go home for a bit and absorb what they got exposed to, and then come back with the other players to have the second time around," he added. "To me, that's a much better teaching progression, so then they get it again a third time when we go to training camp so they can get things locked down." Without a rookie minicamp, you can expect more lessons being taught to the rookies in August, and perhaps fewer opportunities for them to shine and contribute right at the start of the regular season (not that the Bengals are relying on too many rookies to step up for now this season). It will be interesting to monitor how the May draft affects the way teams are able to adjust their offseason work under the new collective bargaining agreement rules from now on.

3. Mocking a corner. Hopefully you had a chance to catch our excellent NFL Nation 32-team (technically 30-team since two teams have no first-round pick) mock draft Tuesday. In a live chat, we put ourselves on the clock, negotiated trades and made the picks we believed the teams on our respective beats will make Thursday, assuming the draft shakes out the way that it did. It's not completely crazy to believe, but it is highly unlikely that in real life the Buffalo Bills will trade up from No. 9 to No. 1. That is, of course, what happened Tuesday with our Bills reporter, Mike Rodak, sacrificing (sacrifice is the word of the day, it appears) several draft picks, including future first-round picks, in exchange for taking Jadeveon Clowney No. 1 overall. As far as cornerbacks, Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert were the only ones drafted through the first 23 picks, prompting me to ignore any trade requests and to be proud of my decision to not offer a trade up. At No. 24, I was able to select Kyle Fuller. Will that happen Thursday? There are some good reasons a corner will come off the board in the first round for the Bengals ... and signs that maybe one won't. Regardless, the Bengals feel good about their first-round options.

4. Pacman to teach. During a University of Tennessee football "caravan" stop in Atlanta on Monday, Volunteers head coach and former University of Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones told attendees that Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones is being brought in to speak to his players. "As many examples you can bring [in to] talk about character," Butch Jones said, according to the team's Twitter feed. Adam Jones is a metropolitan Atlanta native who was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2005. His off-field troubles from earlier in his career have been well-documented. Since his arrival in Cincinnati in 2010, though, the headlines have primarily been about his play. He had arguably his best season since 2006 last year.
CINCINNATI -- Take a good, hard look at the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive backfield and what do you see?

Age and experience, yes. But what else?

A slew of former first-round draft picks.

Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Terence Newman, Dre Kirkpatrick and Reggie Nelson are all Bengals defensive backs who were selected in the first round. Free-agent addition Danieal Manning wasn't far behind them, either, going 42nd overall in the second round in 2006.

No, not all of those players began their careers with the Bengals and the jury is still out on how the youngest member of the crew, Kirkpatrick, will ultimately fare. Regardless, the number of former first-round picks in Cincinnati's secondary indicates just how much the Bengals value those who play those positions, especially cornerback.

"Quarterback and cornerback are the toughest positions to play in the league," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said during a pre-draft news conference Tuesday. "If you're not good enough there, everyone else suffers. And there's no way to mask it. It takes certain rare ability to play those two spots. To play cornerback on defense, to run with a guy that can be bigger than you, can be faster than you, knows where he's going and you've got to run with him and you've got to defend him and you can't touch him.

"Other than that, it's an easy job."

The Bengals will be looking for at least one cornerback in the NFL draft that begins Thursday night. A cursory read of the Bengals' draft needs suggests that when they pick near the end of the first round at No. 24, they will snag a corner.

Which corners could be there? Well, the list is exhaustive, but it primarily features any one of five names: Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State), Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State), Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), Jason Verrett (TCU) and Bradley Roby (Ohio State). It all depends on how highly the Bengals have each one of those players rated and which ones are available when they make their pick.

In Tuesday afternoon's ESPN.com NFL Nation mock draft, I was surprised to find cornerback Kyle Fuller still on the draft board deep into the first round. Granted, our little experiment may not be an adequate reflection of what will end up happening Thursday night, but I thought it did give a strong glimpse into how each team might think when draft day comes.

I'll admit, I thought briefly about trading up after Dennard went extremely early at No. 10 overall to Detroit. But when another corner wasn't picked until the Packers took Gilbert at No. 21, I had a good feeling that either Fuller or Jason Verrett would be on the board. I should note, this draft was about what we as NFL Nation team reporters think the various teams WILL do Thursday. Not what we think they should do. Cincinnati's recent history shows that the franchise isn't too keen on wheeling and dealing and making big draft-weekend trades. In fact, the Bengals are largely more remembered for their trade busts than for ones that were successes, like 2012's move down that landed them offensive guard Kevin Zeitler.

So I tried to stay true to my guns and not make a move, even after an enticing overture from the Vikings for the No. 40 overall pick early in the second round, and possibly another in the third. (We didn't get far enough along in trade talks to determine what the pick behind No. 40 would have been.)

Anyway, I reference all of that to say, there could be a cornerback available in the first round to keep the trend going.

"That's a tough position," Lewis said. "I've been fortunate in the league to be around a bunch of good corners, and most of them came in the first round. I feel pretty good about that."

Safety also has been an option for the Bengals in this draft, as they look to add as much speed and cover ability to their defensive backfield as possible. As more NFL teams adopt the multiple-receiver spread offenses that have been such a big part of college football the last decade, there is a need to have safeties who can cover and bigger corners who can play both on the inside and outside to help negate some of those passing options.

"I've been that way philosophically for a while," Lewis said, referring to his desire to have bigger corners and cover safeties. "It's to my upbringing and so forth in the NFL, where we've had safeties that way that could also do that. We've been that way since I've been here, and the trend will continue that way because the trend in college football is that way. So these guys are becoming more of big corners with the style of coverage, the style of offense and the things that people are playing."

Some options at safety for the Bengals could include Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama), Calvin Pryor (Louisville), Terrence Brooks (Florida State), Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois) and Deone Bucannon (Washington State).

 

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