Battle at the front

Posted May 21, 2010

Domata Peko

A few observations after the Bengals have been on the field for two weeks:

DL QUICKNESS: There has been some buzz about how quick and strong the defensive line looks with the addition of the two draft picks, second-rounder Carlos Dunlap and fourth-rounder Geno Atkins. Both look to be primed, at some point, to pass-rush inside out of the nickel, but defensive line coach Jay Hayes is quick to remind people that his veterans aren’t going to be moved easily.

He’s already got some productive and active guys in there like Frostee Rucker and Jon Fanene, and when right end Antwan Odom (Achilles) gets back on the field the Bengals like to move him inside, too, on passing downs. 

“The young guys look good but they’re going to have a hard time displacing the guys in front of them,” Hayes said. “We’re trying to get deeper. We think we’re getting there, but it is early.”

A big boost for Hayes has been the return of a healthy Domata Peko at tackle. He missed the last five regular-season games after arthroscopic knee surgery and it’s no coincidence the Bengals took their worst gashings on the ground when he was out. Here’s a guy that nearly led all NFL defensive tackles in tackles in 2008. Unlike the playoff game against the Jets, Peko said this week he’s 100 percent.

“He brings a lot of leadership,” Hayes said. “He’s one of these guys that you can really rely on to give you everything he’s got and he’s such a big strong guy that can move around.”

While everyone is talking about the glut of guys in the secondary and at receiver, Peko is amazed at the depth on the line. There are six defensive ends listed, as well as seven defensive tackles with Fanene listed at both. Some guys aren’t out there with Odom and tackle Pat Sims (arm) rehabbing and right end Michael Johnson getting a lot of time at SAM linebacker.

The Bengals usually keep four tackles and there is a line with Peko, Tank Johnson, Sims, Atkins, Fanene, Clinton McDonald and Orien Harris. One of Fanene’s big assets is he can play both end and tackle. And there is a traffic jam at end with Michael Johnson, Fanene, Odom, Rucker and Dunlap, as well as left end Robert Geathers.

WEIGHT ROOM BUZZ: Two of those guys belong to the rare 500-pound club when it comes to the bench press: Tank Johnson and McDonald, last year’s seventh-rounder out of Memphis who was on the practice squad. Also in what is the strongest group strength coach Chip Morton can remember in his eight years here are guards Bobbie Williams and Evan Mathis. And just on the periphery of the group are center Kyle Cook and guard Nate Livings.

“A phenomenal group of guys all the way around,” Morton said. “I told them on the first day of the program (March 29) that it’s their program and they have to take ownership and they have.”

Morton points to Johnson’s leadership in the room, as well as the steady grind running back Cedric Benson continues to put in. And he’s also been impressed with new wide receiver Antonio Bryant’s work ethic. Morton says Tank Johnson has told him it’s the strongest he’s been since college and reports that Michael Johnson broke a career best with a clean and lift in the 400s. 

CHASE-ING IT: This is the best that tight end Chase Coffman has felt in his one season with the club. He’s certainly pleased with how he’s feeling now because he wasn’t even on the field a year ago as he rehabbed a broken foot. He never played in a game when he did get back and then he spent the offseason rehabbing from ankle surgery.

But he’s back and quarterback Carson Palmer says he looks different and better running routes.

“I’m still fighting through a little soreness in the ankle, but I don’t feel like I’m as limited as I was last year,” Coffman said. “Late in a practice, like in special teams, or the last team drill, I’ll feel it a little bit. But it’s no big deal and it feels great to run around and just catch the ball.”

Coffman can give rookie Jermaine Gresham a primer in how much help he’s going to get from veteran Reggie Kelly. It wasn’t lost on Coffman that every chance Kelly got last year and gets now, he always pumps up Coffman and predicts an excellent NFL career.

“There’s no better veteran in the league, is there?” Coffman asked. “It didn’t surprise me to see those things that he said because he’s been telling me that all the time. Very encouraging. Even when he got hurt, he’d come back out on the field and be out there encouraging me.”


» The Bengals apparently haven’t given up on the idea of bringing back fullback Jeremi Johnson. Indications are they are still talking about it. Right now they‘re two deep there with last year’s seventh-rounder Fui Vakapuna, and rookie free agent Joe Tronzo out of Louisville. Fullback may be in the same category as a backup bell cow running back. Veterans become available in late August.

» The Bengals break for the weekend and go back on the field next week Tuesday and Thursday.


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