NFL Nation: Andre Smith

Andrew Whitworth; Terrell SuggsRob Carr/Getty ImagesWith Anthony Collins gone, Andrew Whitworth will remain the Bengals' starting left tackle.
CINCINNATI -- At long last, resolution has come to the Anthony Collins free agency saga, effectively ending the Cincinnati Bengals' pursuit of their top two unrestricted free agents.

Collins has signed a five-year deal, worth $30 million with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers according to a report by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Three months ago, I would have found it troubling that just three days into free agency the Bengals wouldn't be able to re-sign either Michael Johnson, one of their best defensive linemen, or Collins, their third-best offensive tackle who actually had the talent to start. I would have been particularly bugged that Collins wouldn't be brought back because he was the cheaper of the two and earned the right to keep contributing to the Bengals' offense.

But my, oh my. How enlightened one can become in a matter of three months. I can now confidently say that his departure from Cincinnati ought to be viewed as a good thing. With him out of the picture, stability will come to the Bengals' offensive line.

It's strange to make that admission, especially when you consider how valuable Collins was for the Bengals off the bench during the final quarter of the 2013 season, and when you read he hasn't allowed a sack since 2009, according to Pro Football Focus. Remember, just last year alone he kept the likes of Julius Peppers, Elvis Dumervil and Robert Mathis off quarterback Andy Dalton.

After Andre Smith restructured his contract last offseason, the Bengals were forced into this awkward dance when it came to playing -- and eventually paying -- Collins. With Smith as their starter at right tackle and Pro Bowl standout Andrew Whitworth as their starting left tackle, the Bengals simply didn't have the room to give Collins his share of snaps. He entered 2013 relegated to the same bench role he had since he was drafted in 2008.

But unlike the rookie version of himself, Collins had matured. He was with former Bengals receiver Jerome Simpson the day in Sept. 2011 when more than six pounds of marijuana was seized from Simpson's home. It was the only run-in Collins was associated with during his career in Cincinnati, and one he repeatedly said he learned from.

His on-field development began blossoming as well as he steadily improved his blocking techniques. When he filled in for Whitworth during the season opener and maintained a sturdy left edge against Peppers and the Bears, it became clear that the Bengals were going to have a real issue on their hands this offseason. Collins had the talent to be in the starting lineup, but he just couldn't fit.

Cincinnati's goal during this free agency period was to figure out ways to get him more playing time and to justify paying him like the starter other teams thought he was. After signing Johnson on Tuesday to a deal that will give him an average $8.75 million per year, Tampa Bay signed Collins to one that will pay him $6 million per year.

With Smith and Whitworth still committed to the franchise for at least another two years, the Bengals couldn't justify paying him a salary comparable to their other tackles. Unless they were going to move Whitworth to left guard and bump Clint Boling out of the starting lineup, that is.

Such a proposal was on the table after the way the Bengals' offense performed the last five games of the regular season. Due to Boling's season-ending ACL tear that came early in Cincinnati's Week 13 win at San Diego, Whitworth was forced to move to left guard, bringing Collins in to take his place at left tackle. In the five-game stretch that followed, the Bengals scored 40 or more points twice, and posted their second-highest rushing total of the season in 17-10 win over the Chargers.

With new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's push this offseason about wanting to be even more physical, it made sense that Cincinnati would want to keep doing some of what made its rushing game and overall offense so successful.

Whitworth has contended since January that he considers himself a left tackle and wasn't moving to guard unless coaches felt that was the right course of action. It seems clear that Whitworth will now remain at the position that got him named to the Pro Bowl in 2012. Versatile tackles and guards still could be drafted in May to add depth, but for now the Bengals' offensive line plans are clearer.

Collins' loss is not one the Bengals will take lightly, but it is one that should be welcomed. Instead of spending the rest of the offseason answering questions about where Whitworth will play, or how Collins might fit into their scheme, or how they can justify paying Collins a salary comparable to Smith and Whitworth, team officials can focus on one thing: stability.

W2W4: Chargers at Bengals

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
CINCINNATI -- Before the Cincinnati Bengals began practices this week, coach Marvin Lewis rattled off a list of themes they could expect reporters to write about and ask about this week.

In no particular order, among them were statements about how:
  • The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since Andy Dalton and A.J. Green were drafted.
  • The Bengals haven't won a playoff game under Lewis.
  • The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since 1990.
  • The Bengals were good at home, sporting an 8-0 record there this season.

In a week in which Cincinnati was hosting a first-round playoff game against a San Diego team it had already beaten on the road this year, he was trying to get them to feel like underdogs. He wanted his players to feel like they weren't loved by the rest of the football world. He wanted them to feel the same sense of desperation and urgency the fans of their city had felt for 23 years.

He wanted them to know what was at stake Sunday afternoon.

Along with needing a win in order to advance in the playoffs, some around the city simply want the Bengals to win Sunday so they may start changing the city's postseason luck. Lewis knows that. He wanted his players to be aware of that, too.

For a possible drought-ending playoff win to happen, the Bengals will have to do the following four things. Here's this wild-card round Chargers-Bengals W2W4:

Does Good Andy show up? This was the top question most had for the Bengals for 16 weeks this season, as they wondered which version of the team's enigmatic quarterback would make an appearance. "Good Andy," the version of Andy Dalton who posted 300-yard passing games with ease and who could connect with receivers for three and four touchdowns in wins, showed up multiple times this season. But he wasn't present enough to render "Bad Andy" moot. Twice this season, Dalton threw for less than 200 yards in a game and four times had QBRs that were below 30.0. It was mostly against intense pressure that "Bad Andy" arrived on the scene, throwing ill-advised interceptions and forcing incompletions into difficult coverages. During the first half of last month's Bengals-Chargers game, Dalton was bad for one half before completing a 180-degree turn in the second half to help spark a big late-season victory. Of course, Cincinnati will need more of the good guy this week.

Hostile at home. Paul Brown Stadium has been a difficult place for opposing offenses to play this season. Even some of the league's best units -- the No. 3 Packers and No. 7 Patriots -- had their struggles there. New England quarterback Tom Brady saw a consecutive games touchdown streak ended as he was held out of the end zone. Two field goals were all the Patriots could muster in the teams' October meeting in Cincinnati. The Bengals had a timely fumble return for touchdown and a key fourth-down stand that beat Green Bay the week before the Patriots arrived. Inside the building nicknamed "The Jungle," the Bengals are averaging a 17.6-point margin of victory in all eight home wins. Ask the Bengals why they play so well there, and they are quick to defer to fans who attend those games. After needing help from local businesses to make a sellout possible, be on the lookout for how many fans the Bengals are able to have show up. An emptier stadium could lead to a less hostile environment than what the Bengals are accustomed to.

Offensive line shuffle. Last Sunday against Baltimore, Cincinnati's offensive line took a beating so intense that offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was growing concerned about whether he was going to get out of the game with a line he could field this week. At one point, a trainer shouted: "We don't have any offensive tackles." When he did, Andre Smith and Anthony Collins, both sidelined by ankle injuries, offered to go back in and finish the contest. Injuries like those were among reasons why the Bengals barely had any linemen practice Wednesday when the week's playoff preparations began. Center Kyle Cook also had a foot injury and guard Andrew Whitworth dealt with his own ankle issue. Because of the line shuffling that resulted, Gruden said preparations this week have been "unique." While all of the injured linemen should be healthy Sunday, watch to see how well they all respond to their apparently nagging injuries. If just one isn't able to go, it could throw the starting line rotation out of whack. The same anticipated rotation that includes Whitworth at left guard and Collins at left tackle was first used the day the Bengals pounded 150 yards of rushing offense at a battered Chargers defensive line.

Kirkpatrick or Newman? In addition to a little uncertainty on the Bengals' offensive line, there are some question marks revolving around the left boundary cornerback position. Second-year defender Dre Kirkpatrick, who missed Thursday's workout with an illness that he was still getting over Friday, appears set to make his third straight start in place of veteran Terence Newman. Although Newman finally returned to practice Friday for the first time since injuring his left knee Dec. 8, it doesn't appear he's had enough time to get fully healthy. He only had the one day of practice this week. Still, he contends that he'll be in shape if needed. Officially, he was listed as doubtful for the game. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert could be similar game-time scratches or additions. After missing last week completely, both were declared questionable going into this weekend.

Eight injured Bengals miss practice

December, 24, 2013
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals were without eight players Tuesday afternoon as they held their first practice ahead of Sunday's regular-season finale against the Baltimore Ravens.

The group was headlined by linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who continues to miss time after being placed this week under concussion protocol. He suffered a head injury late in the 42-14 blowout win against the Vikings in Week 15. On Monday, Bengals officials confirmed that he was one of three players who had been placed under the protocol this week. Tight end Alex Smith and practice squad cornerback Onterio McCalebb also were being evaluated for head injuries.

Like Burfict, Smith missed Tuesday's practice.

They were joined by offensive tackle Andre Smith, linebacker Vincent Rey, cornerbacks Terence Newman and Dre Kirkpatrick, and tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert. Newman has missed the past two games because of a knee injury that came three weeks ago. It's possible he would miss this game, as well, in order to get completely back to full strength entering the postseason.

Eifert was diagnosed during Sunday's game with having suffered a stinger. Andre Smith also left the game with a sprained ankle. It's unclear as of now how the other players were hurt. It's likely the high rate of absences resulted from the fact that practice was a day earlier than normal. There is a chance many of those who missed Tuesday's session will be good to go later in the week. Linebacker James Harrison returned to practice Tuesday after being declared inactive Sunday because of a concussion he had the week before.

Because the Bengals were practicing on a day they normally take off -- Wednesdays are typically the first days they practice each week -- no injury report was provided. An injury report will be released to media late Wednesday, outlining just what caused each player to miss practice time.

Cincinnati spent Tuesday working out inside Paul Brown Stadium in an effort to get work in before Christmas. In deference to the holiday, they will be taking Wednesday completely off.

Cowboys sign CB Sterling Moore

November, 25, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- With Morris Claiborne likely out of Thursday’s game against the Oakland Raiders after he aggravated a hamstring strain Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys re-signed cornerback Sterling Moore on Monday.

Moore was among the Cowboys’ final cuts on Aug. 31 when they made the somewhat surprising decision to go with only four cornerbacks on the 53-man roster. Moore is not a stranger to having to play on a quick turnaround for the Cowboys. Last year he officially had one day of practice before playing against the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 2 after he was signed off the New England Patriots' practice squad.

He finished with six tackles and two pass breakups in six games with the Cowboys.

To make room for Moore, tight end Andre Smith was released. He could return to the practice squad if he clears waivers.

The Cowboys had hoped cornerback Micah Pellerin would clear waivers last week, but he was claimed by the Tennessee Titans. If Pellerin had returned to the practice squad, the Cowboys would have called him up to the active roster for the second time this season.

Without Claiborne, the Cowboys could use rookie B.W. Webb outside and keep Orlando Scandrick in the slot when they play their nickel defense.

Dallas Cowboys to alter lineup

November, 24, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There are no surprises with the Dallas Cowboys' inactives: Jakar Hamilton, Sean Lee, Justin Durant, DeVonte Holloman, Darrion Weems, Andre Smith and Everett Dawkins. There is some good news for the Cowboys on the New York Giants' front: Hakeem Nicks is inactive.

Ernie Sims will start for Lee and Kyle Wilber will start for Durant at strongside linebacker.

Wilber moved to linebacker during the bye week from defensive end. He was an outside linebacker when the Cowboys ran a 3-4 last year.

Morris Claiborne will return to the lineup after missing two games. He is listed as the starter on the flip card, but Orlando Scandrick should start with Claiborne coming in on the nickel package.

J.J. Wilcox will return to the lineup but the Cowboys will use a rotation at the spot like they did against the Philadelphia Eagles. Jeff Heath worked with the first team during the week and the Cowboys could break out a three-safety look for their sub package with Barry Church moving closer to the line of scrimmage.

Nicks has an abdominal strain. He has yet to score a touchdown this season but he had five catches for 114 yards against the Cowboys in the season opener.

DeMarcus Ware out again

November, 3, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware will miss his third straight game with a quadriceps strain.

Ware has not practiced since leaving the Oct. 13 game against the Washington Redskins. He did some drills in practice off to the side last week but he did not do anything on the field in pregame warm-ups.

Kyle Wilber will replace Ware in the starting lineup and Everette Brown, who signed with the Cowboys last Monday, is active.

With the Cowboys playing against the pass-oriented New Orleans Saints next week, it makes more sense to keep Ware out an extra week in order for him to be healthier.

Miles Austin is missing his second straight game and fourth in the last six with a hamstring injury. Morris Claiborne (hamstring), J.J. Wilcox (knee), DeVonte Holloman (neck), Darrion Weems and Andre Smith are also inactive.

Cowboys LB Justin Durant active

October, 13, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas – Dallas Cowboys strongside linebacker Justin Durant is active for Sunday night's game against the Washington Redskins after missing last week’s game with a groin injury.

Durant did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday, and was limited on Friday, which could mean Ernie Sims takes the bulk of the snaps. Bruce Carter will return to his first-team base and nickel defense role after splitting reps in the sub package last week.

The Cowboys have seven linebackers active with Cameron Lawrence getting called up from the practice squad on Friday.

Running back Lance Dunbar, cornerback Chris Greenwood, defensive end Edgar Jones, guard David Arkin, center Phil Costa, tackle Darrion Weems and tight end Andre Smith are inactive.

With Costa out, linebacker Kyle Bosworth will serve as the short-yardage and goal-line fullback if the Cowboys go that route.

W2W4: Five things for Texans-Cowboys

August, 29, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys meet the Houston Texans in the preseason for the first time since 2010 at AT&T Stadium. Intrastate pride might be on the line for the fans of both teams, but little else.

With 75 players on the roster, some jobs remain but most are filled. Here’s what we’ll be looking at tonight:

Job fair: With 18 roster moves to make by Saturday’s cut-down date, most of the decisions have likely been made. There are perhaps two open spots with as many as eight guys looking to fit the square peg. Would the Cowboys carry five tight ends? How about six receivers? Nine defensive linemen?

Defensive tackle Sean Lissemore, tight end Andre Smith, wide receiver Anthony Armstrong, cornerback Micah Pellerin, tackle DeMetress Bell, guard David Arkin and guard Kevin Kowalski can make their cases tonight. Linebacker Brandon Magee (concussion), safeties Eric Frampton (calf), Danny McCray (hamstring) and Matt Johnson (foot) will have to watch and sweat out the final decisions.

Tanney time: Maybe Kyle Orton opens the game, but the Cowboys will give Alex Tanney most of the work.

With needs at other positions and injury questions going into the opener, Tanney is looking more like a practice-squad fit than a 53-man roster fit. If he plays lights out, he could change the equation or at the very least get another team to keep him on the 53-man roster the way Matt Moore did a few years ago.

Check out the Texans: Last year the Cowboys closed the preseason against Miami and traded for veteran offensive lineman Ryan Cook a few days later based on what they saw in that game.

With the Cowboys moving to a pure zone blocking scheme this year, check out the Texans’ offensive linemen. Assistant offensive line coach Frank Pollack spent five years with the Texans (2007-11) and will have a good idea of what would be a good fit with the Cowboys.

As unsettled as the Cowboys are with their starting offensive line they’re more unsettled with the backups. A case could be made they don’t have a ninth or 10th guy (if they choose to reach double digits) on their current roster to fill out the line.

Earning practice squad jobs: Tanney has been talked about, but there will be seven other spots to fill. The Cowboys like to keep receivers and defensive backs on the practice squad because of the amount of running in practice, so guys like Danny Coale, Tim Benford and Pellerin bear watching.

And the line play will have candidates to, like defensive end Jerome Long and offensive tackle Darrion Weems. Linebacker could be another spot of interest with Cameron Lawrence and Taylor Reed.

The digital board: Chris Jones hit it last week with a punt against Cincinnati and the Bengals returned the re-kick 75 yards for a touchdown, continuing a preseason-long issue of special teams’ miscues. Jones is unlikely to hit it again, but watching it to see the clock tick down will be more important because it brings us closer to the start of the regular season.
The Arizona Cardinals hope rookie first-round draft choice Jonathan Cooper can recover from a broken leg in time to play the final six or so games in 2013.

The injury was a tough one for the Cardinals. They are rebuilding their long-neglected offensive line around Cooper, the seventh overall pick in the draft. Injuries sidelined multiple starters on the line last season, including left tackle Levi Brown and center Lyle Sendlein. Losing Cooper before he plays a regular-season game reduces the margin for error even though overall line depth is improved.

There is hope for Cooper. Other highly drafted offensive linemen have bounced back from injury-shortened rookie seasons in recent years. Russell Okung, taken sixth overall by the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, rebounded to earn Pro Bowl honors in his third season. Cincinnati's Andre Smith and Atlanta's Sam Baker have been more durable lately after rough early stretches.

The chart below ranks first-round offensive linemen from 2008 through 2012 by most games missed as rookies.

Chris McIntosh, Steve Hutchinson, James Carpenter, Okung and Jason Smith are five first-round offensive linemen from NFC West teams to miss time early in their careers since the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions for the 2002 season. All but Hutchinson suffered significant injuries as a rookie. Hutchinson suffered a broken leg four games into his second season.

Observation deck: Bengals-Cowboys

August, 24, 2013

In the Cincinnati Bengals' sloppy 24-18 preseason loss at Dallas, the mistakes made by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick stand out the most. Here's the nightmarish performance by Kirkpatrick: one touchdown allowed in coverage, two pass-interference penalties and three missed tackles.

A first-round pick from a year ago, Kirkpatrick had a strong start to training camp. But he was physically overmatched at times versus Dallas.

In the second quarter, he was in position to make a play in the end zone, but he lost the fight for the ball against wide receiver Dez Bryant, who scored a 5-yard touchdown. Kirkpatrick was also flagged twice for pass interference, both of which converted third downs and totaled 28 penalty yards. Then, in the third quarter, he had the first of three missed tackles by the Bengals on running back DeMarco Murray, who caught a short pass in the flat and ran into the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown.

The Bengals are starting Leon Hall and Terence Newman at cornerback for a second consecutive season. With Adam Jones injured, the Bengals are looking at Kirkpatrick to step up in nickel defense. The Bengals can't have a lot of confidence in Kirkpatrick after this rocky effort, but it should make for an interesting episode of "Hard Knocks."

Here are some other thoughts on the Bengals' third preseason game:
  • The Bengals' starting offense wasn't sharp in the first half. Wide receiver Marvin Jones fumbled at the Cowboys' 4-yard line to end the first drive, and quarterback Andy Dalton threw an interception down the middle of the field (where it was Mohamed Sanu and three Dallas defenders) on third-and-15 to end the second drive. Dalton finished 12-of-16 for 113 yards.
  • There are no concerns about A.J. Green's health after watching him play 2½ quarters. He looked smooth in making three catches for 42 yards. Green, who missed the first two preseason games with a knee injury, nearly had a touchdown in the right corner of the end zone, but it was ruled that one foot went out of bounds.
  • I've always thought Adam Jones was the most dangerous returner on the team, but Brandon Tate made his case to keep the job by running a punt back 75 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. The score came after Cowboys punter Chris Jones hit the scoreboard and had to kick again.
  • Right tackle Andre Smith tweaked his left knee and didn't return after playing two drives. He was replaced by Dennis Roland. The Bengals were already playing without left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who hasn't played this preseason after having offseason knee surgery.
  • Rookie sixth-round pick Cobi Hamilton fumbled on an end around, but he vindicated himself later. He converted a fourth down in the red zone on a pass from Josh Johnson and then finished off that drive with a 4-yard touchdown on which he had to stretch the ball into the end zone.
  • Some numbers that aren't going to make defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer happy: The Cowboys were 9-for-16 on third downs, 3-for-4 in the red zone, totaled 358 yards and controlled the clock for 39 minutes, 31 seconds.
  • In the battle for the backup quarterback job, Johnson was 6-of-13 for 35 yards. He was picked off on the Bengals' final drive, which ended any chances of a comeback. John Skelton didn't play.
CINCINNATI -- For most of the Cincinnati Bengals players, they were in their fifth day of training camp and excited about getting a day off Tuesday. For Andre Smith, he was excited just to be on the field.

Smith, the starting right tackle, suited up for the Bengals for the first time since the playoff loss at Houston. That's 205 days.

"I love football," Smith said. "I thoroughly love it and I did miss it."

He signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Bengals during the NFL draft, but he didn't attend any of the offseason workouts and skipped the mandatory minicamp for personal reasons, which drew a fine from the Bengals. He reported to training camp at 342 pounds, seven pounds heavier than last year's playing weight, and he had to sit out the team's first four practices with a minor calf injury.

But Smith was cleared Monday and immediately jumped back into the starting lineup. He held his own in going against defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry.

The best compliment anyone could give Smith was that he didn't look like a lineman who hadn't practiced since January.

"This is the best shape I've ever been in a training camp," Smith said. "I'm excited about that."

Here are some other notes:
  • File under mismatch: Dalton likely noticed the 6-foot Williams lined up against the 6-6 tight end Tyler Eifert before the snap. So it wasn't any surprise that Dalton threw a jump ball to Eifert, who easily pulled it down in the end zone.
CINCINNATI -- Judging by Andre Smith's comments, the Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle won't be practicing Sunday.

Smith is on the team's Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list with a calf injury and told reporters a few days ago that he would take the field by the end of the weekend. He hasn't practiced since signing a three-year, $18 million contract in April because he missed all of the offseason workouts for personal reasons.

Asked Sunday if his prediction of suiting up today would come true, Smith said, "Ah man, I don't know yet. You just have to wait and see."

I asked Smith if this was his call. "It's above me," Smith said.

If it was Smith's call, would he be practicing Sunday? "I would have loved to have been out there the first day, if it was my call," he said.

What percentage would Smith put on his health at this point? "A thousand percent," he said. "But again, it's not up to me."

The Bengals practice at 3 p.m., and it looks like the odds are against Smith being out there on the field.
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals will fine offensive tackle Andre Smith for skipping this week's mandatory minicamp. They're just not going to worry about him.

That's the stance of head coach Marvin Lewis when asked if there was any concern about Smith's conditioning. In the past, there were some issues with Smith's weight. Now, the Bengals haven't seen Smith at Paul Brown Stadium since he signed his three-year, $18 million contract.

[+] EnlargeAndre Smith
Raj Mehta/USA TODAY SportsAndre Smith missed this week's mandatory minicamp due to personal reasons.
"I don't worry about that anymore," Lewis said of Smith's conditioning. "That's the one thing that Andre has taken good steps and made huge strides in personally from his own part for wanting to be a good player. He knows that part of it. From what I can see distance-wise, we're in pretty good shape."

When Smith signed his contract on the second day of the draft, he said he weighed 335 pounds and reporters noted that the former first-round pick didn't appear to be out of shape. During the offseason, he has been training at Warehouse Performance Institute in Birmingham, Ala.

The Bengals, though, wanted and expected Smith to be at this week's three-day camp. Lewis explained that Smith is absent because of personal reasons, which will cost him up to $66,150 in fines and his $100,000 workout bonus.

Lewis called it a "minor distraction" and said it's not related to his January arrest for possessing a gun at the Atlanta airport.

"He's really dealing with something that he has to get through," Lewis said. "We'd hope he'd be here to pick up on some of the things that we felt like were good to work on this point of the year. But he's got some personal things he's dealing with. Obviously, there are certain things that come with not being here for three days. It's unfortunate for him but that's just the way it is. Once we get through a week of training camp, everything will be good."

Backup Anthony Collins will fill in for Smith at right tackle.

"He'll be prepared and he's hopefully doing the things he needs to do. When it's time to be with us, he'll be ready," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "We don't need to worry about that. We need to worry about what we have here and how we can go forward and get prepared and use these three days as an opportunity to take another step in the right direction."

The other issue the Bengals are dealing with is the arrest of cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones. He pleaded not guilty to an assault charge after police say he tried to hurt a woman.

"The situation Adam Jones is in is not something you want to get involved in," Lewis said. "It's unfortunate that he's in this situation. That's really all I can add to it. Obviously, this has to work its way out, whichever way it does."
With wide receiver Michael Crabtree injuring his Achilles, ESPN's John Clayton took time to look back at the underwhelming NFL draft class in 2009.

According to Clayton, only 60 of the 256 players drafted that year remain with their original teams (23.4 percent). The AFC North fared slightly better than the league average. Of the 34 players drafted by division teams that year, 10 are still with their original team (29.4 percent).

All four first-round picks remain: Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith, Browns center Alex Mack, Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher and Steelers defensive lineman Ziggy Hood. But Oher never became a franchise left tackle and Hood hasn't lived up to expectations.

The Bengals had the most successful draft in the AFC North that year. Five of their 11 picks remain, including their top three in Smith, linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive end Michael Johnson. The disappointment was tight end Chase Coffman, a third-round pick. But, as Clayton pointed out, Smith and Packers linebacker Clay Matthews are the only 2009 first-rounders who received big contract extensions with the teams that drafted them and figure to keep the money.

The Browns easily had the worst. Only one of the eight picks are still in Cleveland, and that's Mack. The two wide receivers taken in the second round (Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi) never developed as expected. Another second rounder, linebacker David Veikune, was taken one pick before running back LeSean McCoy and is now with the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Ravens have two starters from that draft in Oher and cornerback Lardarius Webb. They lost pass rusher Paul Kruger to Cleveland in free agency this year. The Steelers have two players left from the 2009 draft (Hood and tight end David Johnson). Pittsburgh had two other starters from that class, but the Steelers couldn't keep third-rounders Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis because of salary-cap restraints.
Andy DaltonKirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireAfter the Bengals added offensive weapons in the first two rounds of the draft, Andy Dalton is under pressure to lead a deep playoff run.
Two days into what had been an impressive draft for the Cincinnati Bengals, ESPN's Tedy Bruschi said, "If there was a year they can win the division, it's this year." Herm Edwards raised expectations even higher, predicting the Bengals would win the AFC North by two games.

Did the Bengals do enough this offseason to surpass the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens? The answer lies with quarterback Andy Dalton.

The Bengals can take the next step only if Dalton does. Over the course of three days in the NFL draft, Cincinnati did everything it could to help the offense and its third-year starting quarterback. In turn, it increased the pressure on Dalton to deliver in the red zone, on third downs and in the playoffs.

It started in the first round when the Bengals passed on drafting a strong safety, the team's most pressing need, in favor of taking Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert, the best tight end in the draft. Before the second round, the Bengals re-signed free-agent right tackle Andre Smith, which brought back all five starters from the NFL's second-best pass-blocking offensive line. Then, with its first pick in the second round, Cincinnati made North Carolina's speedy Giovani Bernard the first running back taken in this year's draft.

Two poor performances in the playoffs have raised questions whether Dalton is a franchise quarterback. The Bengals should be able to determine that this year after adding these playmakers.

[+] EnlargeTyler Eifert and Marvin Lewis
Frank Victores-USA TODAY SportsTight end Tyler Eifert, left, fell to the Bengals in the first round, and he should give Dalton an enticing red zone target.
Dalton now has another big target inside the 20-yard line with Eifert. He has an exciting checkdown option with Bernard, a luxury that Joe Flacco has enjoyed for years with Ray Rice. This is in addition to throwing to two Pro Bowl players, wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham, and handing the ball off to grind-it-out back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

There is no reason for this offense to rank 22nd in the NFL or flame out in the playoffs, as it did last year. I'm not the only one saying that, either.

"There shouldn’t be any excuses,” Dalton told reporters this week. “The players we already have and adding these guys is just going to make the offense better. So I expect us to take the next step. I expect us to improve from where we were last year. Time will tell, but we’ve got the right attitude going in and the way we’ve been working. I don’t expect any less.”

Right now, Dalton is a good quarterback, not a great one. He's right in the middle of the pack of NFL starters. Dalton has potential and a lot of qualities that you can't teach quarterbacks. He's smart. He has a feel for reading defenses. He has great anticipation to throw the ball even before his receiver breaks out of his route.

In his first two years, Dalton has done something that hadn't been accomplished in Cincinnati in more than three decades -- lead the Bengals to the playoffs in back-to-back years. He also has thrown 47 touchdowns in 32 career games. The only quarterbacks who have passed for more in their first two seasons in the NFL are Dan Marino (68) and Peyton Manning (52).

But in a division with Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco, two quarterbacks who have combined for 19 playoff wins and three Super Bowl titles, a quarterback is going to be judged by the postseason. Dalton is 0-2 in the playoffs and is a major reason for those defeats. He threw three interceptions in his first playoff game in the 2011 postseason (including a critical pick returned for a touchdown by J.J. Watt) and failed to complete half of his throws in his second postseason game in the 2012 playoffs.

Dalton knows he has to be better than no touchdowns and four interceptions in two playoff games. He knows he has to complete more than 47.5 percent of his passes on third down. He knows the Bengals must improve from being the NFL's 16th-best red zone offense. And he knows he can't commit 20 turnovers (16 interceptions, four fumbles) and have four of them returned for touchdowns as he did last season.

What impresses me the most about Dalton is how he handles criticism. When he was getting bashed for a lack of arm strength last season, he showed swagger that's not often seen in young quarterbacks. Dalton handled the addition of these young playmakers on offense the same way.

“I don’t feel more pressure,” Dalton said. “I expect to be better this year. Regardless if we didn’t get anybody, I would still expect to be better. The more weapons we have, the better I feel.”

I get the feeling that the Bengals want Dalton to feel pressure this year, which is a different approach. Last year, coach Marvin Lewis said he didn't want Dalton to listen to criticism because the team had no doubts in him. But in March, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden set a different tone, saying Dalton has "got a long way to go."

"He’s done some great things for a second-year quarterback, won a lot of games and thrown some good touchdown passes, but we feel like he has not come close to his potential," Gruden said.

It's time for Dalton to live up to that potential. The Bengals return a top-10 defense and added talented young weapons on offense. Everything is set up for the Bengals to go from a playoff team to a Super Bowl contender. All they need is a quarterback to take them there.




Sunday, 2/2