Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Caskey

CINCINNATI -- If the Cincinnati Bengals end up narrowly claiming their second straight AFC North title, they may have a little red flag and the hoarse voices of several assistant coaches to thank.

That's because, for now, their division championship hopes live on thanks in large part to a 12-man penalty that came with 12 seconds remaining in Sunday afternoon's 14-13 road win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If it hadn't been for a challenge flag -- one that NFL rules don't allow coaches to throw at that late stage of a game -- and the constant pleas of assistants to count the number of Buccaneers on the field, the division run would have taken a minor hit.

With seconds ticking by and the Bucs a field goal away from a walk-off stunner, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown had just completed a 20-yard pass to receiver Louis Murphy when, according to one Bengals player, the chatter on head coach Marvin Lewis' headset intensified.

Assistant coaches looking down from the press box were going ballistic. As Murphy started getting up at the end of the first-down completion that took him to the Bengals' 21-yard line and well within field goal range, coaches started screaming, telling Lewis to challenge the play, or to call timeout, or to just do anything that would get the referees' attention and cause them to look back at the play.

What did the eyes in the sky see?

Tampa Bay had too many men on the field.

"All of our coaches up there, they have a better eye for that stuff and they saw it right away," Bengals running back Jeremy Hill said. "That's kind of how Marvin threw the challenge flag. If they had gotten that next play off, no telling how the outcome would have been. They probably would have gotten a chance to kick a field goal for the game."

Hill said running backs coach Kyle Caskey told him he was among those who alerted Lewis about the Buccaneers' 12th man.

Rules state a team can't use a challenge within the final two minutes of a game. Any review-worthy plays that occur within that time frame automatically go to the replay booth, which will take a look at it. The penalty for challenging when there are no available challenges is a lost timeout. The good thing for the Bengals was that they had two timeouts left before the challenge flag was thrown, leaving them with a timeout to spare.

But that wasn't the most important part about the sequence. It was that the play was worthy of review.

"The refs were telling us they would take care of it," said defensive end Wallace Gilberry, who added that he and his teammates noticed an extra player on the field. "We could shout until we turn purple. If they don't call it in and review it, it's just one of those things that they miss."

After several minutes of the officials conferring with the replay booth, and after viewers at home witnessed CBS analyst and former Bengals player Solomon Wilcots count the 12 players on a replay of the play, the review came back favorable for the Bengals. Tampa Bay offensive lineman Oniel Cousins was on the field when he shouldn't have been. A regular substitution to give the Bengals an additional blocker in power situations, Cousins had been on the field often Sunday. But he shouldn't have been allowed to check in on this particular play, which featured two extra linemen who served as tight ends.

"We were trying to match up the personnel, and there was one too many," Lewis said.

Gilberry said it was the right call.

Once the penalty was applied, the Bengals forced two straight incomplete passes and held firm on Tampa Bay's desperate fourth-down try for the end zone. Without allowing the score, the Bengals were able to win, keeping them very much in the driver's seat in the most contentious division in the NFL. At 8-3-1, they lead the other three AFC North teams by a game and a half and currently hold the AFC's No. 3 seed. With help, they could even contend for the conference's top seed by the last of these next four games.

But none of that would have been possible if it hadn't been for the heady, alert eyes of Bengals assistant coaches.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 14-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Manning the phones: As reporters walked into the Bengals' stuffy, narrow locker room inside Raymond James Stadium, right offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse looked up from his phone and shouted to teammates: "San Diego just went ahead." A chorus of oohs and ahhs went up from the nearby lockers. Moments after Eddie Royal caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in Baltimore, the Bengals were pleased to find out their division lead was about to be extended. After 38 more game seconds ticked off without a Ravens score, it was official. The Bengals' lead over the rest of the AFC North had just swelled to one-and-a-half games on a weekend when the rest of the division lost.

Bengals spot pivotal penalty: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis acknowledged he shouldn't have thrown his challenge flag to dispute a potential Buccaneers substitution infraction with 26 seconds remaining, but he was just trying to get the clock stopped as quickly as he could. In his ears, assistant coaches were going ballistic complaining that Tampa Bay had one too many players on the field during a 21-yard pass that easily put the Buccaneers in field goal position. Running back Jeremy Hill said running backs coach Kyle Caskey told him he spotted the penalty that the replay booth later enforced. "Stuff like that that goes unnoticed, the coaches in the box down to Marvin, that's huge," Hill said. "That's what won us the game." Defensive end Wallace Gilberry also said he and a few other Bengals defenders noticed too many men on the field and complained to officials even before Lewis threw his challenge flag.

Peko to get MRI: Defensive tackle Domata Peko left the game near halftime with a left elbow injury. He will get an MRI on Monday, although Peko doesn't seem to think he has anything to worry about. He said as much after the game, expressing optimism about playing again next week. After getting dressed in a suit and tie, Peko was spotted wearing a sling around his left arm.
One of the more intriguing storylines that we're tracking in Cincinnati Bengals training camp revolves around running back Giovani Bernard and the increased touches he's expecting this season.

He first heard during the spring that he was going to take on a greater share of the offensive load. He should be on the field more regularly and be put in better situations to see his number of touches increase from the 226 he had last year to somewhere closer to the neighborhood of 300.

By the extension of his position, quarterback Andy Dalton will play the largest role in the Bengals' offense this season. Receiver A.J. Green will be a big contributor, too. But no other skill player will be used like Bernard will.

"I don't know if it's the workload that's going to get more, it's more the type of plays that we're going to run with him in the game," running backs coach Kyle Caskey said after Sunday's practice. "We're going to expand his portfolio of plays and find different ways to get the ball in his hands in space. You get the ball in Gio's hands in space, he's dangerous."

That's not much of a secret. Take a look at film from Bernard's first home regular-season game last year against Pittsburgh on "Monday Night Football." He ripped off a 27-yard touchdown reception that was powered by his speed, agility and the positioning of his blockers deep downfield. It was his only catch in that game, but the screen pass and big gain set the tone for how well he can play if put in the right spaces.

Caskey, new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and the rest of the offensive coaches hope to put Bernard in those situations as often as possible this year. That could mean lining him out wide as a receiver, placing him into the slot or positioning him elsewhere on the field where he can catch passes. The same could be said for rookie Jeremy Hill, who has also been lauded for his ability to catch passes even if he isn't quite as explosive as Bernard.

"You don't necessarily have to hand it off and say, 'Hey, Gio got 260 touches last year out of the backfield.' Maybe he gets 260 to 300 touches but he gets them some other way," Caskey said. "Maybe he gets 200 out of the backfield but he catches 100 passes or however it is. We'll find a way to get the ball to him."

That said, does it really matter exactly how many rushes and receptions he has?

"No," Caskey said. "Of course we're going to limit certain parts of his game. It's a long season, sixteen games. And you don't want him to get hurt. Besides, we've got a huge talent pool in our running back room with the other guys we've got there. So it's not like he has to go in there and take all the reps."

But the Bengals still want him to take as many as he can. That's something Bernard is looking forward to.

"Whenever I have the ball, I feel explosive," he said. "I'm not going to say I don't get tired, but there's always that thing where when you have the ball, you've got to go full speed. The more opportunities, the more things you can do with the ball."

Here are a few other quick items to be aware of as the Bengals kick off Week 2 of camp:

Green-Ellis gets support. Veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis got a bit of a boost from Caskey, who said he was "still one of our guys." While some in the media, myself included, have said the writing seems to be on the wall for Green-Ellis and his stay in Cincinnati, the coach contends that nothing has changed as far as the staff is concerned. It has also been interesting to hear the type of support Green-Ellis has received from his teammates in practice this camp. Typically when he's got the ball in his hands, offensive and defensive players are shouting more encouraging words to him than you hear for anyone else.

Campbell part of project. Found it interesting over the weekend that The Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Northeast Ohio Media Group were in the middle of a summertime project that saw them catch up with all the men who played quarterback for the Browns since 1999. Yes, that's a long list. Be happy that you've had relative consistency at that position over the years, Bengals fans. Ranking 20th on the Plain Dealer's list was current Bengals backup Jason Campbell, who spent part of last season in Northeast Ohio. You can read about Campbell's post-football plans there, too.
CINCINNATI -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis' future with the Cincinnati Bengals first appeared in doubt back in early May when the Bengals drafted running back Jeremy Hill out of LSU.

The rookie is bigger than Green-Ellis. He's faster and clearly younger, too. His legs have several years left in them. Not the one or two Green-Ellis' presumably have remaining.

Such evidence, it would seem, suggests the writing is on the wall for Green-Ellis.

But the Bengals aren't yet making plain any assertions of that sort, as they continue to believe there remains a place on the team for the 29-year-old known throughout the league for his dependable hands. Running back coach Kyle Caskey relayed such sentiments Sunday afternoon when he reaffirmed his commitment to the back who is anchoring the team's training camp backfield battle.

"Benny is still one of our guys and Benny is still getting the same amount of reps that Benny's always gotten," Caskey said. "Nothing's been taken away from Benny."

Caskey's comments come after Green-Ellis was moved from his first-team duties last season to the second- and third-team units during minicamp and organized team activities. He's begun training camp behind Hill and starter Giovani Bernard, and doesn't appear poised to emerge from their shadows any time soon.

Backups Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead have been among the backs getting repetitions with Green-Ellis below Bernard and Hill. One or both could threaten to take the veteran's spot.

Just four days into camp, it's tough to tell whether either will end up doing that. Actually, if Green-Ellis' spot on the roster came down to popular player opinion, it would appear that he would be overwhelmingly kept. Few players receive the type of support from the players standing on the sidelines than Green-Ellis has gotten so far.

Whenever he cuts back on an inside run or catches a screen pass out of the backfield, a steady stream of "Attaboy, Benny" erupts from the side. It's clear the veteran is liked and respected by his peers on both sides of the ball.

"He's a pro's pro," Caskey said. "He helps lead our young guys, and he helps bring them on. He does everything you ask him to do. He's been playing for a long time for a reason. He'll continue to play."

Ahead of his second NFL season, Bernard said during the offseason that he admired Green-Ellis.

"To have somebody like Benny who not only played here, but who played in New England and who plays the game the way he does, who understands it the way he does, you can learn a lot from somebody like that," Bernard said. "And I did. I continue to ask him questions.

"Whether he is here or not, I will still ask him questions. That's a person I'm going to rely on. That's a person I'm going to lean on because he understands the game very well."

Much of the knock on Green-Ellis this offseason came after his production declined last season. After averaging 3.9 yards per carry his first season with the Bengals in 2012, he rushed for just 3.4 yards per carry last year. He also saw his receptions plummet from 22 in 2012 to four last year. Also, after not having a fumble through his first four seasons, he now has five in his last two.

Production decreases aren't among the Bengals' chief concerns right now, though. They simply want to see how well he fits into their running back rotation through this camp. If he fits to their liking, he will make the team.

If he doesn't make the team this year or gets let go at the end of 2014 or sometime after, the Bengals just hope younger backs like Bernard truly have been taking notes.

"He won't play forever. Nobody does," Caskey said. "But he can pass on his [leadership] traits to Gio. And Gio can pass them on to Jeremy. And Jeremy can pass those on to the next guy or whatever the case may be."

Green-Ellis' task for now is to stockpile as many lessons as he can, and to teach them for years to come, not days.
Good Monday morning, everyone.

It's been a couple weeks since we've had a morning Quick Takes post here on the Cincinnati Bengals page, so I figured now was as good a time as any to bring back the post even if only temporarily.

While I was off for a few days last week -- I've got another break coming up in a few days that will be my last before training camp begins -- there was a little Bengals news I wanted to get to. We'll call this the playing catch up blog:

1. Bubble watchers. Quickly, let's begin by pointing out the series we had running on the blog during my absence last week. In case you haven't seen them yet, we have a group of "bubble watch" blogs that are analyzing the players who seem to be the most susceptible to being on the dreaded late-camp bubble. As you well know there are 53 spots up for grabs by the end of August, and as of Monday morning, 89 players are slated to compete for them. For that reason, there are going to be more than a few who will be cut that some fans will think don't deserve to be. We'll have another "bubble watch" later Monday morning, but for now take a look at the latest to be broken down: Dontay Moch.

2. Bengals tickets Part 1. Let's begin these next two items by first pointing out that most single-game tickets went on sale Saturday morning at and through the team's ticket office. Only the Dec. 7 and Dec. 22 games against Pittsburgh and Denver aren't yet open for purchase through the team yet. Tickets to those games will be available on a single-game basis at a later date.

3. Bengals tickets Part 2. Now, having said all of that, one day before the Bengals opened single-game sales, Forbes wrote that Bengals tickets on the open market had hit their most expensive point in the last four years. The magazine cited TiqIQ as having said Cincinnati's average secondary market ticket will cost $166.02 this season. While that remains one of the least expensive home averages for an NFL team this year, this will mark the first season since TiqIQ has tracked Bengals ticket data that the team has a season average above $120. Last year, average home tickets cost $118.74, according to TiqIQ. It bears noting that the home games against Pittsburgh and Denver currently are the most expensive on the secondary market this year.

4. Mr. Caskey goes to Washington. We write often about the downtime the players get now that minicamp has concluded and training camp is still about a month away, but what about the coaches? Some have taken off on quiet vacation retreats with family. Others have competed in golf tournaments or are just simply working privately on their handicaps. But neither has been the case for running backs coach Kyle Caskey. The young assistant spent last week in Washington serving a political fellowship in the office of Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio). The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. caught up with Caskey, who said he spent the week learning the similarities between football leadership and the leadership that goes into attempting to run a country. Perhaps the tactics he learned from his week in Washington will help Caskey as he begins his first season as a position coach.

5. Montgomery arrested. You may have seen last week that Bengals linebacker Sam Montgomery was arrested for speeding near his hometown of Greenwood, S.C. He was reportedly driving 89 mph in a 55 mph zone. A spokesman for the state's Department of Public Safety said the arrest was lawful, but the circumstances of the arrest were investigated nonetheless. Friday afternoon, the officer who pulled over Montgomery and arrested him was suspended without pay. As is the case with all legal matters involving their personnel, the Bengals won't speak until the legal process has run its course. For a player who -- as you'll see later this week -- is on the Bengals' bubble, will this arrest have any impact? That's very, very doubtful.
CINCINNATI -- Tuesday's hiring of co-defensive backs coach Vance Joseph concluded the Cincinnati Bengals' hiring of position coaches, but they made one other addition Thursday to round out the staff.

In an effort to fill new running backs coach Kyle Caskey's old post, the Bengals named Brian Braswell as an assistant offensive line and quality control coach. Much like how Caskey worked closely with Hue Jackson when Jackson was running backs coach this past season, Braswell will work closely with offensive line coach Paul Alexander and handle other game preparation duties.

Caskey was promoted two weeks ago to running backs coach after Jackson was named offensive coordinator in the wake of Jay Gruden's departure to Washington, where he will be a head coach for the first time.

Braswell has been coaching at Morehouse College in Atlanta since 2005. He spent the last six seasons serving as the school's offensive line coach and run game coordinator. He also coached on the field goal and extra point teams, and developed and installed strength programs for athletes at the Division II school.

He has done work in the NFL, having spent the spring and summer of 2010 with the Steelers. He spent part of 2013 working with the Bengals as part of the NFL's Bill Walsh Minority Internship coaching program.

"Brian is an energetic guy who finds ways to contribute, and we're happy to add him on for 2014," head coach Marvin Lewis said. "We were very impressed with the work he put in for us in the offseason and training camp last year."

Braswell, 35, is from College Park, Ga., just outside Atlanta. He played center and tackle in college at Hampton (Va.) University.