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Young Bengals poised for a rare repeat of success

Published: Saturday, September 08, 2012 @ 5:17 PM
Updated: Saturday, September 08, 2012 @ 11:24 PM

The Cincinnati Bengals enter the 2012 season with a chance to erase what has become a 30-year stain.

That’s how long it’s been since the franchise has been able to string together back-to-back winning seasons. It’s been so long, in fact, that only six players on the current 53-man roster were even born when the Bengals followed up their 1981 Super Bowl season with a 7-2 mark in the strike-shortened 1982 campaign.

After going 9-7 and earning a wild-card berth last year, this will be the third time in Marvin Lewis’ 10-year tenure as coach that the Bengals have had a chance to put together back-to-back winning seasons.

The 2005 team went 11-5 and won the AFC North, only to slip to 8-8 in 2006. Another AFC North title came with a 10-6 mark in 2009, but the Bengals followed that with a 4-12 mark in 2010, equaling the largest drop in wins from one year to the next in franchise history.

One thing Lewis learned from 2006 and 2010 is that continuity on the roster doesn’t guarantee a repeat of success. Despite the success and youth that were present last year, there are 15 new faces on this year’s 53-man roster as the team heads to Baltimore for its nationally televised season opener Monday night.

“That’s a good thing,” Lewis said of the turnover. “We’ve talked about that many times. We have to continue to strive to get better. I don’t know what the comparison is to 2010 and ’06 , but I hope it is more this year, because those years didn’t work out.

“We didn’t have anything to rest on and knew that we had to get better,” Lewis continued. “Our other teams in the division got better, and we needed to also.”

In addition to nine rookies, the Bengals brought in veteran cornerbacks with playoff experience in Jason Allen (Houston) and Terence Newman (Dallas). They also signed running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who never played on a losing team in four seasons with New England, and defensive end Jamaal Anderson, who played on three consecutive winning teams in Atlanta from 2008-10.

“Before I was there, they hadn’t had back-to-back winning seasons in Atlanta for a long time prior to our success,” Anderson said. “It’s definitely a mindset. We knew what he had accomplished the year before, but it was never where we wanted to finish. In this league, you can’t ever be satisfied with how things went the year before.”

In addition to the new faces, the Bengals return a solid group of rising stars in second-year quarterback Andy Dalton, second-year wide receiver A.J. Green and third-year tight end Jermaine Gresham, all of whom made the Pro Bowl last year.

A key for the passing game will be to take some defensive pressure off Green, who was limited to nine catches for 98 yards in the final three games last year. Two ways to reduce the attention is to move Green around in the formations as much as possible, and to have one, or more, of the other receivers consistently make plays.

Brandon Tate and Armon Binns have made plays in limited snaps during the preseason, and rookies Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones have showed the potential to become threats as they mature. Also back is slot receiver Andrew Hawkins, an undrafted second-year player who showed the ability to make tough, drive-extending catches on third down last year.

“I think everybody recognizes A.J.’s talent, so there might be times where they try to double-team him and make other guys make plays,” Dalton said. “But we’ve got guys that can make those plays. Guys have to take advantage of it when they get their one-on-ones. We’ve got to complete those balls and make plays.”

The biggest question on offense is the line with a rookie right guard in Kevin Zeitler and a second-year left guard in Clint Boling who has made just three starts. Center Jeff Faine is a 10-year veteran, but he just joined the team 10 days ago after starter Kyle Cook suffered an ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve.

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is a seven-year vet who has started a team-best 50 consecutive games, and right tackle Andre Smith, who started 14 games in 2011, is starting to show some of the promise that led the Bengals to select him with the sixth overall pick in 2009.

Defensively, the Bengals should be solid again after ranking seventh in the NFL last year in yards allowed per game.

The unit is led by tackle Geno Atkins, who is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which his 7.5 sacks were tied for the most in the NFL among interior lineman, and veteran tackle Domata Peko.

Left defensive ends Robert Geathers and Carlos Dunlap missed most of the preseason with knee injuries, but Geathers is expected to be ready for the start of the season, with Dunlap returning soon after. Michael Johnson will start at right defensive end, with Anderson backing him up.

Rookie tackles Brandon Thompson and Devon Still will round out defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s eight-man rotation up front.

“Our plan is to get better than last year,” Peko said. “We were No. 1 for a number of weeks, but we didn’t finish as strong as we started. Our goal this year is to be the No. 1 defense at the end of the day.”

The Bengals also return all three starting linebackers in Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson and Rey Maualuga. Undrafted rookie Vontaze Burfict has shown great potential and while he may not be ready to push Maualuga for a starting spot, he should be a big contributor on special teams.

In the secondary, cornerback Leon Hall appears fully healed from the season-ending Achilles injury he suffered in November. Twelve-year veteran Nate Clements will start at the other corner, with Allen and Newman adding the coverage in nickel packages. Rookie first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick has been injured most of the preseason, but the Bengals are still hopeful he can be ready to return to practice in a few weeks.

Strong safety Taylor Mays has had a solid preseason and should be a good complement to free safety Reggie Nelson.

If the Bengals are going to string together back-to-back winning seasons, they are going to have to do it against a much more difficult schedule than 2011.

In addition to four divisional games against playoff qualifiers Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Cincinnati also will face Denver, Dallas, San Diego, Philadelphia and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

“We know the task at hand and the grind we are about to head into and all the challenges the season will throw in front of us,” Lewis said. “I think we got better at receiver. I know we’ve gotten better in the back end on defense. We haven’t gotten an experience to see as much of it yet, but on the defensive line too. We’ve improved the interior of the defense at linebacker with (Vontaze) Burfict. At safety, there’s no doubt we got better there.

“The guys are in a good place, a good state of mind with the excitement and anticipation of the season, which is where we ought to be.”

Chad Johnson advised Roger Goodell on NFL celebration regulations

Published: Friday, May 26, 2017 @ 5:18 PM
Updated: Friday, May 26, 2017 @ 5:18 PM

Sometimes stories come along that are almost too good to be true.

CINCINNATI – OCTOBER 26: Chad Johnson #85 of Cincinnati Bengals celebrates with fans in the seating area after the Bengals 27-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks on October 26, 2003 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

CBS Sports reports Johnson gave Goodell some advice as he was considering loosening some of the restrictions on self-expression after touchdowns this season.

“He asked my advice on what he could do to be able to loosen the reins on the celebration rules, but at the same time maintain the respect and integrity of the game.

“And I said, ‘It’s a fine line, and you have to find a way to find a balance between letting the players have fun and be themselves, without losing the integrity of the game as well.’”

This is perfect, of course, because it is akin to the FBI or CIA consulting the world’s best computer hacker about cyber security.

Johnson happens to make a lot of good points, too.

Source: Chad Johnson plays part in new celebration rule, probably deserves refund on fines – CBSSports.com

NFL loosens up celebration dance rule

Published: Tuesday, May 23, 2017 @ 11:12 PM

The National Football League is relaxing some rules around celebration dances for players, according to an announcement from Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday.

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“We know that you love the spontaneous displays of emotion that come after a spectacular touchdown," Goodell said a letter to fans. “And players have told us they want more freedom to be able to express themselves and celebrate their athletic achievements.”

The New York Times reported that the decision was made by NFL owners as one of several rule changes at the Spring League Meeting in Chicago Tuesday.

Other rule changes include decreasing regular-season overtime from 15 minutes to 10, allowing two players to come off of injured reserve instead of one, banning jumping over the line to block kicks, and the elimination of one of the preseason roster cuts.

The letter lists some examples of celebrations that will be allowed under the new policy: 

  • Using the football as a prop after a touchdown, such as simulating a basket ball jump shot with a football,
  • Celebrating on the ground -- such as making snow angels, and 
  • Group demonstrations, like a coordinated dance move.

Those approved types of celebrations, allowed after scores, are illustrated in the letter in GIF form. 

Still, it’s not a free for all, ESPN reported.

“In my conversations with NFL players, it was also clear how much our players care about sportsmanship, clean competition and setting good examples for young athletes,” Goodell said. “That is why offensive demonstrations, celebrations that are prolonged and delay the game, and those directed at an opponent will still be penalized.”

So things like weapon imagery, such as a machine gun simulation, or sexually suggestive acts -- like Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown’s end zone twerking, are still things that can be penalized.

The strategy may lessen the number of unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties called on touchdowns. According to ESPN, the 2016 season had the highest number of penalties of the past five seasons with 29 called. Of the past three seasons, it has the highest cost of fines for touchdown celebrations at $310,301, up more than $240,000 from the 2015 season.

Former Buckeye hoping to impress the Bengals

Published: Saturday, May 06, 2017 @ 9:59 PM
Updated: Saturday, May 06, 2017 @ 10:18 PM

Corey Smith says all he wants is a chance to prove he can play, which is something he never really got in four years at Ohio State. The former Buckeyes receiver gets that chance as one of several free agents trying to make an impression at the Bengals rookie minicamp.

“I’m just going to go out there and compete and do what I’ve gotta do,” Smith said. “I know how to get open, I know how to catch the ball, and I’ve got a very high IQ of what to do when I’m out there.”

A rare junior college recruit at Ohio State, Smith caught 2 passes for 76 yards in the Buckeyes win over Oregon in the 2014 national championship game. The next season he broke his leg and missed the last of the 2015 schedule.

Smith spent more time on the sidelines than on the field in 2016, but he saved his best for last with a pair of catches against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

“It’s feeling like I just got to Ohio State,” Smith said during a break in practice at Paul Brown Stadium. “I have to pick up the speed of the game, but it’s funny because everything coach (Urban) Meyer talked about is actually true.”

Bengals rookie on the ‘art’ of sacking a QB

Published: Friday, May 05, 2017 @ 9:15 PM
Updated: Saturday, May 06, 2017 @ 11:13 AM

It’s a violent game full of contact, collisions, and pain but Carl Lawson sees football in a much different light.

The Bengals fourth-round draft pick made a name for himself at Auburn as a guy who can get to the quarterback. To some it’s a talent, to Lawson it’s more of an art form.

“It’s a thing of beauty just to watch somebody else on film do something cool,” Lawson said in the Bengals locker room today. “ I study it and I watch it all the time…it’s a beautiful thing.”

Lawson lined up mostly as a defensive end at Auburn, but the Bengals see him as more of a linebacker.

“They want me to play both and this is what they brought me in here to do. I need to be able to learn to do that and do it better than anybody else in the league.”

The Georgia native struggled to stay healthy in college and he anxious to put the injury bug behind him, but back to the “beautiful” part of the game. Lawson says there is more to pressure than meets the eye.

“Rushing the passer is not always about getting sacks,” the rookie said. “It’s being able to affect the quarterback and make him move his feet, make him throw off balance, just anything to disrupt the passing attack. It’s a critical part of the game.”