Cincinnati Bengals: Marvin Jones
Whitworth wasn't the only one who sat out Thursday's practice. Tight end Jermaine Gresham (back), quarterback AJ McCarron (shoulder), offensive lineman Mike Pollak (knee), receivers Marvin Jones (ankle) and Ryan Whalen (hamstring), linebacker Marquis Flowers (hamstring), and defensive tackles Devon Still (back) and Zach Minter (back) also didn't practice. Each had been placed on the active PUP or active non-football injury lists before training camp began.
While the Bengals were making those injury designations, they also made alterations to their roster. Backup punter T.J. Conley, who was signed earlier this offseason to primarily give the Bengals an extra practice body to keep starting punter Kevin Huber's leg fresh, was released. In a corresponding move, they added two receivers, Jeremy Johnson and Conner Vernon, who was acquired from Cleveland after clearing waivers.
Johnson is a rookie from SMU who signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent last month. He was released by New England on July 17.
Vernon entered the NFL in 2013, signing with the Raiders as an undrafted player. He had four catches for 42 yards in four preseason games last year before getting cut the final weekend of camp. He was signed by the Browns on Dec. 26, and remained part of their offseason roster.
With Jones and Whalen out for now, the Bengals needed a pair of receivers to take their places until they return. Although Johnson and Vernon will try to make the 53-man roster, they were added primarily for camp depth concerns.
Since the dozen players are on "active" lists, they will still count against the team's roster limit, but they can be activated to practice as soon as they are cleared medically. The list designations only stipulate they they aren't cleared medically as of Monday, but they still can be cleared by Thursday when training camp officially starts in Cincinnati. Rookies arrived Monday.
Along with Atkins, the Bengals placed offensive guard Clint Boling (knee), linebacker Marquis Flowers (hamstring), cornerback Leon Hall (Achilles), punter Kevin Huber (neck), receiver Colin Lockett (hamstring), defensive tackle Zach Minter (back), defensive tackle Devon Still (back) and receiver Ryan Whalen (hamstring) on the active PUP list.
Atkins (knee), Boling, Hall, Huber and Still's injuries go back to last season, when they missed games late due to season-ending injuries. Atkins and Boling tore ACLs, Hall tore an Achilles, Huber hurt his neck on a violent blindside hit, and Still battled through a disc injury. The expectation has been for all to be healthy in time for the start of the regular season.
Boling may be the furthest of the group from full strength since his injury occurred so late in the 2013 season. His ACL tear came Dec. 1 at San Diego. Still, he's remained optimistic all offseason about returning in time for some portion of training camp.
McCarron (shoulder), Jones (ankle) and cornerback Onterio McCalebb (knee) were placed on the active/non-football injury list, but still can practice Thursday if they get cleared by then.
He believes he has a quarterback in Andy Dalton who can not only connect with his receivers, tight ends and running backs on shorter and intermediate routes, but he also thinks Dalton can go long when the time is right. Similarly, Jackson has expressed confidence in his playmakers to be in the appropriate spots when Dalton does look for them regardless where they are downfield.
Jackson is certain the offensive talent the Bengals have, combined with a stepped-up tempo and rhythm, will be just the trick to turn their top-10 offense from a year ago into a top-5 one this season.
When it comes to the passing game in particular, though, the big question is: How will Jackson divvy up the passes and spread catches among his players? That's a question we attempt to answer with Thursday's factoid.
The number for the day: 36.4.
That number represents the combined percentage of passes the Oakland Raiders' No. 1 receiver, No. 1 tight end and No. 1 running back combined to have in Jackson's scheme when he was their offensive coordinator and head coach in 2010 and 2011.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jackson's top target at receiver, caught 15.2 percent of the 594 passes his quarterbacks threw to pass-catchers in those two seasons. Running back Darren McFadden caught 11.1 percent of those passes and tight end Zach Miller caught 10.1 percent. Together, those figures equal 36.4 percent.
In Cincinnati the last three seasons, the No. 1 receiver (A.J. Green), the No. 1 tight end (Jermaine Gresham) and the No. 1 running back (for receiving purposes, it's Giovani Bernard) combined to grab 47.9 percent of the 1,007 passes Bengals quarterbacks threw. Breaking those numbers down further, in 2013 alone the three were the primary drivers of the offense, accounting for 54.9 percent of the 364 passes caught from Dalton.
It's safe to say that based on these numbers, the Bengals felt comfortable the last three seasons going to their top playmakers at the three skill positions. The numbers seem to suggest that the Raiders, on the other hand, were a little more comfortable spreading the ball among multiple players. Where Bernard not only paced the Bengals' running backs' receiving numbers as a rookie last season, the Raiders had three ball carriers in the 2010 and 2011 seasons that made for a productive receiving unit.
During those two seasons, McFadden commanded 11.1 percent of all the Raiders' receptions. The team's No. 2 running back, Michael Bush, had 9.3 percent of the Raiders' receptions. The No. 3, fullback Marcel Reece, hauled in 8.8 percent of the Raiders' passes.
Bernard in 2013 caught 15.4 percent of Dalton's passes, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis catching just 1.1 percent of them. H-back Orson Charles caught 0.3 percent of them.
All the numbers can be dizzying but the bottom line here is that Jackson's past offenses appear more apt to spreading the passing wealth than the Bengals' offenses were under former coordinator Jay Gruden. Since 2011, Cincinnati has been top -heavy in its passing game. When a team has a receiver like Green, though, it's hard to argue against it devoting as much attention to that player as possible. He is certainly among the elite players in the league at his position.
Before we go further, there are some variables that can affect these numbers that you should consider.
For starters, injuries likely have altered the numbers slightly. Perhaps McFadden, for example, would have seen more receptions and been a little closer aligned to Bernard had he not missed so much time due to injuries the two seasons he played for Jackson. Maybe if Andrew Hawkins hadn't missed the first half of last season with his own injury the Bengals' receiving numbers would have been a little more balanced among their top four receivers.
There's also the variable of defense. Certain positions or certain skill types might be favored in the passing game, depending upon what defense a team is facing. Maybe the running backs' reception numbers got a boost during weeks they played teams that were constantly blitzing and running past screen patterns. Any number of things could impact the numbers.
Still, the numbers alone clearly suggest that Bengals fans ought to brace for a more diverse passing array when Jackson's offense finally takes the field. In particular, be on the lookout for passes out of the backfield. Whether McFadden's injuries impacted the Raiders' running back numbers or not, it's clear he still liked going to that well. With Bernard and Jeremy Hill anchoring their running back play, the Bengals have two proven pass-catchers who could give that part of the passing game a slightly different look.
Gone are the days when Green and Gresham are the players primarily catching Dalton's passes.
You will continue seeing your share of advanced statistics here, and you'll get a chance to read some of the breakdowns that go along with them. Our "Bengals factoid" series will end next week when the veritable bow will be tied on 2013 and other past seasons. Starting July 24, when the Bengals open training camp, the only stats that will matter are those yet on the horizon. A new year is beginning.
As we keep looking back at last season, though, we ought to take a look at this really intriguing item from Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar. In this lengthy blog post from last week, Kacsmar breaks down catch radius (i.e., the area around a receiver that he uses to make a catch). He found through hours of game-film watching that the Bengals' top two receivers consistently had wider catch radii than most others. A.J. Green and Marvin Jones were among the league's most prolific at catching balls over their heads, diving for others and catching others still that weren't thrown to their chests or heads.
As is the case with all statistics, it's important to keep game situations in mind. Perhaps some of the more acrobatic receptions were the result of Dalton finding his receivers the best way he knew how simply because the down, distance and quarter dictated he throw into the spots he did. Then again, the fairly high rate of those slightly wide throws indicates that maybe the situations didn't really matter. Perhaps Dalton's accuracy was simply something the likes of Green and Jones helped mask.
Again, not every throw is designed to hit a receiver in the chest, open or not. But it is interesting to note that Kacsmar's findings show that just 56.9 percent of the passes Jones caught last season were caught around his chest. Of Green's 98 catches last year, 44.9 percent were caught in his chest area, Kacsmar said.
Compare those numbers to the 2011 and 2012 versions of Mike Wallace who, when he was in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger, caught 76.0 and 79.6 percent of his passes in chest, respectively. Maybe Wallace ran routes that got him open more often? Maybe Dalton knows that athleticism and acrobatic play are such a part of Green's and Jones' game that he can put the ball in a spot where they have to stretch for it a little more than other receivers? Or maybe accuracy really was an issue for Dalton last year (he did have a career-high 20 interceptions and he's focused this summer on bettering his mechanics)?
Regardless of your take on Dalton's passing ability, it's worthwhile to check out Kacsmar's extensive research. It certainly shows the value Green and Jones have to the Bengals' passing game. Who knows? Maybe this will help them earn a few extra dollars when negotiations begin on their next deals. Green's fifth-year option was exercised this spring. After it ends in 2015, he could get franchise tagged for 2016 if a long-term deal hasn't been reached by then. Jones is signed through 2015. His single-season cap value maxes out at $700,700 on the final year of the contract. If he plays in 2014 the way he did in 2013, he may force the Bengals into giving him a seven-figure payday next offseason.
Let's take a brief look at a couple other Quick Takes:
More on Jones. My gut believes Jones will have another strong year as the Bengals' No. 2 receiver behind Green. My gut also thinks you ought to prepare for a resurgence from Mohamed Sanu, though. After having a mostly two-man tandem at wideout last season, I'm thinking we'll see more of a three-man group in 2014. That said, how good of a year can Jones have? Would he be worth the fantasy value? I'd defer first to ESPN's fantasy football guru, Matthew Berry, for an answer, but Numberfire.com happened to share a few thoughts on the matter Monday. Let's just say this: The site isn't expecting Giovani Bernard to be the only Bengal to have fantasy value this season.
Letting kids play. The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. had his own solid read over the weekend with this item concerning the concussion issue and what parents should consider as they start debating letting their kids play this fall. He spoke with a few Bengals players who shared their thoughts on when will be the appropriate time to let their children play -- if they even let them play. I should note that ESPN.com asked a similar question to Hall of Famers at a gathering back in May in Cleveland. The results of that survey will be published later this summer.
After taking a few final days of vacation last week, yours truly is back and ready for what promises to be an exciting season ahead. Training camp is now 10 days away in this part of Ohio, meaning the sounds crunching pads and crashing helmets are right around the corner.
While the Cincinnati Reds have sure provided some drama for sports fans in this area during the first half of the Major League Baseball season, the Cincinnati Bengals hope they are months away from one-upping whatever magical season their Riverfront brethren seem on the verge of having. Based on how the Reds' season has so far gone, one-upping them would mean winning one or more playoff games.
But what else is new? That's been the same narrative for Bengals fans each July since 1991: Get past the first round this year. As you well know, the Bengals haven't done that, losing every playoff game they've appeared in since the 1990 season. They at least won one game that year. Maybe this will finally be the year the curse gets lifted.
Since training camp is now so close by, we'll be revisiting our daily Bengal Quick Takes; a set of brief early-morning thoughts on the news of the day surrounding the team. There still won't be too much news this week so for now the Quick Takes may be rather thin. By the end of next week, though, they ought to be really meaty as the action kicks off across the street from Paul Brown Stadium.
Let's get you caught up on a few things as the team prepares for camp next week:
Dalton hosts receivers. You may have noticed on social media early last week a number of tweets and Instagram posts from quarterback Andy Dalton and a few Bengals receivers. They were posting pictures of their pre-camp workouts near Dalton's offseason home in Fort Worth, Texas. For a couple of days Dalton hosted the likes of A.J. Green (named last week the No. 9 player in the league by a survey of players that was publicized by NFL Network), Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate and Cobi Hamilton as he bolstered his relationship with his pass-catchers. It was about building a little more chemistry and maintaining the on- and off-field camaraderie that is necessary for quarterbacks and receivers to be in a good rhythm. Dalton mentioned to me back in May that he was going to host teammates for a low-speed passing practice again, much like he did last summer. You might remember seeing a few images from the workout on last year's HBO "Hard Knocks." Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson spoke with a couple of receivers last week after the practice in Texas. And, no, still no new deal for the quarterback.
Green a top-10 player. As we mentioned above, Green was one of three Bengals selected by players around the league to NFL Network and NFL.com's "top 100" list. The list was comprised solely of current players who were ranked, regardless of position, as the best 100 in the sport. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins came in at No. 48. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict was 52nd. As a three-time Pro Bowl selection, it stands to reason that Green was ranked among the top 10, but his goal after this season is to be regarded among the even higher elite. A strong individual performance this season, buoyed by that aforementioned postseason win (or more), could help his case. At Green's position, only Lions receiver Calvin Johnson ranked above him on the top 100, coming in at No. 2 overall, just behind Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.
Super Bowl XXIII's top plays. One of our projects at ESPN.com this summer has concerned charting the most memorable all-time plays for all 32 teams. The play that was selected (by your votes) for each franchise will go into a 32-play bracket that will get decided all this week by you, our loyal and valued readers. That means the 10-yard touchdown pass 49ers receiver John Taylor caught from Joe Montana in the final minute of Super Bowl XXIII will be pitted against others selected by fans of other teams. It could be argued that Taylor's catch was as much a 49ers memorable play as it was a Bengals play, so perhaps it'll get enough votes from both fan bases to advance. A case could be made that the play officially closed for a generation the Bengals' Super Bowl-winning window. They haven't been on a stage that large since, and two years later began the stretch of postseason losses that defines their playoff experience of late.
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.
"Mo's a good football player," Urban said, referring to wideout Mohamed Sanu. "I asked too much of him last year. I spread him thin. It's sort of the old thing where too much of a good thing is just as good as not enough.
"That's a shame on me."
Urban has vowed to make up for it by re-expanding Sanu's role.
In 2013, Sanu shouldered the shame of being a second-year receiver who failed to produce in ways he had as a rookie. He caught only two touchdown passes despite appearing in nearly double the games he saw his first season. In his nine appearances in 2012, Sanu caught four touchdown passes. It seemed evident that he would be a good No. 2 receiver to pair with A.J. Green for years to come.
Then came the mixing and matching and tweaking of Sanu's role at the start of last season, followed by Marvin Jones' somewhat unexpected emergence from Week 8 on.
Sanu became old news. With 10 touchdowns, Jones was doing the scoring. Sanu was simply catching a standard slant in the slot here or a run-of-the-mill out route along the sideline there. His effectiveness had been diminished, and before Urban or anyone else could realize it, the season was over.
"He bounced around and played three different positions -- really four different positions -- and on any given play, we bounced him around and asked him to do tons," Urban said. "He got spread thin."
Sanu became slower and less explosive than the Bengals knew he could be, and than it appears he now is. Urban said he thinks Sanu was faster this spring. The wideout said he wasn't sure.
As a result of Sanu's lack of explosiveness, the Bengals were shy about putting him in the scenarios in which he thrived the year prior. Once Jones started playing well, Sanu's climb became significantly steeper. The new model was working. It made little sense to go backward.
Urban's takeaway from Sanu's all-but-lost year? Better watch practice and game repetitions to make sure his receivers aren't getting overworked. Urban spoke glowingly, for example, about Green insisting on wanting to push when coaches needed him to pull back. That resulted in Urban physically charting each of Green's snaps during OTAs and minicamp.
"All these things I talk about as far as watching reps and making sure he's fresh with A.J., I've got to do the same thing with Mo," Urban said. "I've got to do it with Marvin. I've got to do it with everybody. If they're going to run the way we ask them to run and do the things we ask them to do, I've got to keep my eye on it. And I didn't do that last year. That's a shame on me."
One of new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's biggest changes in the Bengals' West Coast system will be a stepped-up tempo. Players are going to be required to get plays in faster and sprint up to the line of scrimmage. The object is to have little standing-around time and to get into a rhythm a less-conditioned defense theoretically won't be able to match.
"They've embraced what we're doing," Urban said. "There was a lot of talk about finish [during the spring practices]. Talking about doing things down the field. Most of these guys have been with me, been with us for the last four years or so. So they know what to expect, and we've done great things.
"So how do you get their attention? We get their attention by overemphasizing finishing, overemphasizing getting off the ball and getting out of the huddle and getting set."
Sanu believes the offense will be more of an attack-first scheme.
"We want to set the tone and set the tempo. It's about us controlling the game," Sanu said. "Never let the defense control the game. We've got to be able to control the game and handle those situations the way we want to handle them."
As far as Sanu is concerned, setting the tone and tempo could mean having him catch passes out of the slot, running free on reverses, pitching back a double reverse or lining up under center and deciding whether to pass or run.
The former high school quarterback had his share of trick plays in college. He threw four touchdown passes at Rutgers while also setting Big East records as a receiver. During his rookie year in the NFL, he hit Green in stride on a 73-yard touchdown pass that came on a play fake. Last season, Sanu completed a 25-yard pass to running back Giovani Bernard before catching a 6-yard TD pass from Andy Dalton three plays later.
"It just keeps them off balance and keeps them on their toes," Sanu said. "When we're able to do that, you never know where it's coming. We could run the ball, run the ball, run the ball because we've got great running backs and a great quarterback who can put the ball anywhere, and we have a great bunch of receivers who can catch it. So you have to keep them on their toes and pull out those trick plays when we need it."
Cincinnati will have some trickery this year, and it looks like Sanu will be a big part of it.
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 Assuming you got to see him workout, what is your take on A.J. McCarron?— D.J. Wells (@DwellsD) June 20, 2014
@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 What's the word on Wilder and how do you see him fitting in at RB?— Swampy Heartland (@SwampyHeartland) June 20, 2014
@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 with the departure of Hawkins is Sanu in line to be the designated slot receiver? Seems like the role best suited to his skills— Rob - Oskar Blues (@RobOskarBluesOH) June 20, 2014
@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.
@ColeyHarvey are any of them watching the World Cup and who are they rooting for?— Ramón D. Salgado (@ramon_d_s) June 20, 2014
Can you believe it? There are only six more of these to go before we'll have training camp mailbags. For now, though, we're still discussing the little bit of what we've seen from the few open voluntary organized team activities the Cincinnati Bengals have had, and taking your questions on other non-practice related team matters.
For Chase A. Metzger, one of those matters has to do with the Bengals' roster and how suited it is for a Super Bowl run. Does Cincinnati truly have that kind of roster in place? Or does it not? That's what we'll address as we open this week's mailbag:
If an offense isn't scoring when it gets to the red zone, or if it is turning the ball over once it gets there, it has very serious problems. Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals seemed to have relatively few issues once they reached the opposing 20-yard line.
Here's Tuesday's Bengals factoid: 73.3
For every trip into the red zone the Bengals had in 2013, 73.3 percent of the time they scored a touchdown. That percentage is referred to as red zone efficiency. Cincinnati's red zone efficiency was the second best in the league behind Denver, which converted scores from within 20 yards out at a blistering 76.1 percent clip. Those figures were much higher than normal. Typically, teams convert at less than 70 percent. The last team with a red zone efficiency of 72 percent or higher was the 2007 Saints, who finished 7-9.
Cincinnati had an 11-5 record and won the AFC North last season. Denver went 13-3 ahead of a Super Bowl appearance. The Bengals and Broncos were the only teams to have a red zone efficiency higher than 69 percent last year.
Maybe it's not too much a surprise the Broncos and Bengals paced the league in efficient red zone play. They also had the two-highest number of overall touchdowns last season. Denver reached the end zone 76 times, while Cincinnati did the same 54 times. On 67 of its red zone trips, Denver scored touchdowns 51 times. On 45 of their red zone trips, the Bengals scored 33 touchdowns.
Of those 33 red zone scores, 20 were the result of passes while 13 came on the tail end of runs. Only five times on their 45 drives in the red zone did the Bengals convert a field goal.
So what does all this show? It shows that for every other improvement offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is trying to bring his offense this year, he shouldn't have to change his scheme too dramatically when it comes to red zone play. The statistics reflect the Bengals not only showed an ability to score from the red area, but also had an urgency to do so. With a tall receiver like A.J. Green, and big tight ends who can get flexed out into space like Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham, they have pass-catching playmakers who have earned defensive respect on that end of the field. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, often diving forward behind defensive-tackle-turned-goal-line-fullback Domata Peko, gave the Bengals some physicality when running the ball in goal-line situations. Running back Giovani Bernard was and remains a threat to either run around the outside edge, between the tackles or to catch screens in space and pick up yards after the catch.
In short, the Bengals had and continue to have any number of places they can go to finish their red zone scores.
Their greatest red zone threat last season was receiver Marvin Jones, who caught nine touchdown passes of 20 yards or less last season. Green-Ellis wasn't far behind him, rushing for four red zone scores. Both are expected back this season.
Information from ESPN's Stats & Information was used in this report.
Here's Thursday's factoid: 48.9
The thing about perceptions, though, is that they are sometimes wrong. In all honesty, Sanu actually had a rather productive second season even though he may not have recorded the types of statistics many around Who Dey Nation were expecting before the season began. Touchdowns were the only area where a true drop-off was detected. After having four touchdown receptions in 2012, he had just two in 2012. Otherwise, in 16 games last season he had more receptions and receiving yards than he might have had had he played a full schedule last season. Using his 2012 stats through the nine games he appeared in, one can see that he would have been projected to catch just 28 passes for 274 yards. He also would have had seven touchdowns.
Sanu in 2013 had 47 receptions for 455 yards to go along with his two touchdowns.
As a result of his perceived lack of production -- a perception borne mostly out of Marvin Jones' electrifying play that pushed Jones ahead of Sanu and into the Bengals' No. 2 receiver's role -- there has been concern this offseason about where Sanu might fit in the Bengals' offense. If he isn't lining up at one of the top two outside receiver positions, the slot would be the logical place for him to go.
It could happen.
Last season, 48.9 percent of Sanu's receptions came when he was lined up as a slot receiver. He had 24 receptions when flanked wide, and 23 when playing inside. Of his 23 slot receptions, 14 came when he lined up on the left side. Nine came from the right side. His 23 slot receptions were more than any other receiver had while playing that position. Of A.J. Green's 98 receptions, 20 came from the slot.
Sanu also had more drops last season on the inside than he did playing on the outside. He couldn't hold on to three passes while in the slot. He dropped two as an outside receiver.
As far as the balls he did catch, not only did Sanu have nearly as many receptions while in the slot as he did on the outside, he also ran more plays from the slot. He ran 209 routes as an inside receiver last year as opposed to 198 along the outer edge.
So could Sanu end up as one of the Bengals' top options as a slot receiver this season? The numbers suggest he could be, and already has been.
Information from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this report.
Otherwise, the Bengals were all present and accounted for. Even injured defensive tackle Geno Atkins, injured cornerback Leon Hall, injured offensive guard Clint Boling and injured punter Kevin Huber attended the workout. Each took part in the stretching and warm-up period of the practice. Huber was the only one of the four who had his jersey on, and who actually participated in the rest of the practices. He spent much of the day punting across the field from sideline to sideline. Atkins and Boling continue rehabbing from ACL surgeries. Hall is nearly fully recovered from an Achilles injury that ended his season in Week 7 last year. Huber is coming back from a neck fracture.
Along with those absences from team drills, the Bengals also appeared to be without defensive back Danieal Manning and center Mike Pollak. Both attended the workout but were not in uniform and not participating in the drills.
In addition to those observations, here are a few more from what I saw during the hour and 45 minutes that practice was open to reporters:
2. When it comes to depth-chart rankings, let me begin by saying this: Don't read too much into depth chart updates in May. Things are likely to change. Simply read the following and know it happened on the very first day of OTAs. Dig no further than that. Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, as expected, Giovani Bernard did indeed take the bulk of the first-team snaps at running back. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had opportunities, as did rookie Jeremy Hill. Also of note in the backfield: on a high percentage of snaps, it seemed a fullback or H-back was also lined up behind quarterback Andy Dalton. Don't be surprised if you see the fullback make a comeback this season, folks.
3. Speaking of Dalton, he took snaps as the starting quarterback. Jason Campbell made the second-string throws, and recent addition Matt Scott made the third-string tosses. Fifth-round draft pick AJ McCarron was effectively the fourth-string quarterback, taking snaps primarily with reserve offensive players who primarily were comprised of undrafted free agents.
5. Cobi Hamilton and Brandon Tate were two other receivers who caught their share of passes. Hamilton's size -- 6-foot-2 -- and leaping ability make him a good deep option. Tate's shiftiness as a kick returner makes him a candidate to be lined up in the slot or passed to in quick-screen scenarios. Although returning kicks takes a slightly different skill than dodging defenders, he still is being given a chance to prove he can wiggle on offense like he can on special teams. Tate caught one pass last season, and Hamilton wasn't active a single game.
6. Cincinnati's offensive line had a little bit of a different look in the interior with Pollak and Boling out. In Pollak's stead, Trevor Robinson and rookie Russell Bodine traded snaps at center. Robinson took the majority of the day's first-team snaps. In Boling's place at left guard, several different players saw action, including Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Undrafted free agent Trey Hopkins also played there. Free agent acquisition Marshall Newhouse lined up at left tackle when Whitworth wasn't playing there.
7.Outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur was back practicing and going through drills for the first time since suffering a injury in the final preseason game last year.
8. Like Jackson, members of Cincinnati's front office and scouting department couldn't wait to see their recent signees in action, too. Along with team president Mike Brown and his daughter, executive vice president Katie Blackburn, Bengals scouts also attended the OTA from start to finish.
We, too, are back after taking an extra day away from the blog. Once again, here's hoping you had a safe, relaxing and reflective Memorial Day weekend. Let's work to not only remember our fallen service members for one weekend out of the year, but to think often about their sacrifices that have kept this nation great.
As we get back into our morning Quick Takes, we start by taking a look at the OTA process and a few things we might be able to glean from the next few weeks:
1. What are OTAs about? The OTA period was rigidly set by the last collective bargaining agreement. While teams had OTAs before 2011, the rules on the amount of time workouts could be done, how often they could be done and what exactly can be done during them were firmed by the most recent CBA. Since late April -- or early April in the case of teams with new head coaches -- players have been able to work out at their team facilities. The first wave of that workout period included only strength and conditioning training indoors in the weight room with some in-stadium work. No coaches were permitted to be around. The next workout period allowed players to get some modified on-field instruction in a one-on-one style setting, but even then they weren't able to get the amount of coaching that potentially can go on during the OTA period. Some teams have already had informal OTAs, with rookies going through minicamps that started the week after the draft. The Bengals were one of two teams that opted against having a minicamp and will be practicing instead for the first time Tuesday with both their first-year players and veterans. They'll host the voluntary OTA workouts in three three-day increments between now and June 18. They also will have a mandatory minicamp for the full team June 10-12. Media will get a chance to view all of the mandatory minicamp, but is only invited to watch one OTA session per week. Tuesday is that one day this week.
2. What can be learned at OTAs? Not much, really. The rules stipulated by the CBA make it pretty clear that the amount of time players are on the field during the workouts has to be closely monitored and no contact is permitted during the practice sessions. Normally teams would be working on fundamentals this time of year anyway, but in the past, it wasn't uncommon for some low-intensity contact to occur. Now, you won't see it at all really, even in one-on-one, offense vs. defense drills. That's done with player safety in mind. Besides, the OTAs are still a time when players are just trying to get back to regular-season playing shape and trying to keep up with any playbook changes. It's particularly important for rookies who are learning a new system. From a depth chart standpoint, you probably won't hear too much the next few weeks. The real action will occur when the position battles get going in earnest during training camp that starts July 24. Still, this is a crucial time for players to get educated, healthy and conditioned. That said, OTAs are important, but they also aren't necessarily making or breaking a player's standing on the team, either.
3. Position battles to watch. Again, we'll see more later this summer, but there are a number of position groups to keep an eye on starting this week. Although there are some obscure reports to the contrary, nothing has changed or will change anytime soon at the quarterback position. Andy Dalton is the starter and will stay the starter unless he does something in the next three months to completely lose that opportunity. There's absolutely no reason at this point to believe he'll be in any real danger of losing his starting job. By extension, AJ McCarron is the No. 3 quarterback behind Jason Campbell. It still will be interesting to see how their snaps will get broken down. Center is another position to watch, with rookie Russell Bodine expected to challenge for the No. 1 job with versatile interior lineman Mike Pollak. A.J. Green and Marvin Jones appear to enter OTAs as the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers, but behind them, there's a jumble; much like there is a jumble beyond Giovani Bernard, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Jeremy Hill at running back. The defensive end rotation could get some clarity these next few weeks as Will Clarke joins Wallace Gilberry, Carlos Dunlap, Robert Geathers and Margus Hunt. Cincinnati's other tweaks at defensive end, as well as at "Sam" and "Will" linebacker might get a little clarity, too, as they start putting in the skeleton of their blitz-heavy, multiple defensive system.
4. NFL Nation TV returns. The seventh episode of ESPN.com's NFL Nation TV will air Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. I'll be coming off the practice fields when we begin, so I should have some updates from the Bengals' first OTA practice. Also, Colts reporter Mike Wells and Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss will join co-host Paul Gutierrez (Raiders reporter) and myself. Indianapolis has had a busy offseason off the field, and Arizona has a cornerback who has to be applauding all the cornerback contracts that have come recently. Take a long lunch break and join us.
As we switch gears back to Cincinnati Bengals football, we start this weekend's two-part mailbag with a number of questions about running back Giovani Bernard. After the second-year running back spoke with reporters here in Cincinnati earlier this week, it seems many of you have questions about what his role in Hue Jackson's offense might be going forward. You're also curious about a few other offensive players, too. In addition to this post, you'll see one Sunday with a few more offensive-related questions.
For now, sit back, relax and check out our mailbag questions and my answers:
Yep, before you know it, you and your friends will be meeting at your favorite neighborhood bar to start picking your teams.
How many Cincinnati Bengals might end up on your fantasy team(s)? That's what Berry is here to help you figure out.
Like he mentions in his top 200 rankings for the coming season, don't hold these up as gospel for now. They can and most likely will be changing often between now and the start of the season. There are still a number of unknown variables, including the impact of Ray Rice's off-field troubles on his play this season, and the pending season-long suspension Browns receiver Josh Gordon is facing.
For now, though, a few familiar Bengals names have cracked the top tier of Berry's rankings.
Receiver A.J. Green ranks 16th on the list, and is the fourth-rated player at his position. Running back Giovani Bernard was 22nd overall, and ranked 12th among running backs.
From there, the Bengals have a drop-off until No. 107 overall, where rookie Jeremy Hill appears as Berry's 38th-best running back option. Receiver Marvin Jones then appears at No. 112. He's followed by running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who was ranked 169th overall, and the 71st running back available.
You can't forget defense when it comes to fantasy football, and the Bengals have the league's fourth-best for fantasy purposes, Berry says. The defense ranked 180th on the overall rankings.
Remember, these rankings are all about fantasy value. It doesn't mean Berry thinks Green is the fourth-best receiver in the league or that Bernard is the 12th-best ball carrier. It means that when it comes to fantasy production, that's where they rank. One might expect Bernard to be slightly higher among running backs, but it seems Berry is bracing for the possibility that Bernard will be sharing more of the backfield load this season with Green-Ellis and Hill.
One noticeable Bengals omission from the rankings was quarterback Andy Dalton. He didn't crack the top 200, and as a result wasn't one of Berry's top 15 quarterbacks. That could speak to the production the running backs are expected to have this season as part of an offense that will have more of a run-first attitude.
Last year, Dalton ranked sixth among all players in fantasy value. Passing for more than 4,200 yards and throwing 33 touchdown passes, and having nearly 200 yards rushing and a pair of rushing scores helped Dalton have such a high value.