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Bengals don't stand Pat(s) with first-round take

Posted Apr 27, 2012

Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander says rookie right guard Kevin Zeitler is the kind of guy you'd love to take fishing and on Thursday night Alexander and his colleagues walked out of Paul Brown Stadium smiling with all their catches during the fastest flowing first round in history.

After netting one of the three cornerbacks they wanted with the Carson Palmer pick at No. 17 for Alabama All-American Dre Kirkpatrick, the Bengals executed one of the record 19 first-round trades (and the most since the 1970 Mike Reid first round) to fish out the guy that will most likely be their Opening Day right guard in Zeitler, as well as hooking New England's third-round pick.

Maybe they didn't leave PBS with the "Swag" of the pro-ready Kirkpatrick off 'Bama's national title run. But the Bengals look to be riding the good times of the last two drafts by moving six spots back to No. 27 to take the 6-4, 315-pound Zeitler, a guy they may have taken anyway at No. 21 if Patriots head coach Bill Belichick didn't call.

Even special teams coach Darrin Simmons had a smile, maybe because Kirkpatrick wreaked havoc as a gunner on the Crimson Tide's punt cover team.

As the NFL Network's Mike Mayock called the selection of Zeitler "a solid pick, I don't care if it's not popular," ESPN ran a graphic that said the four Bengals Pro Bowlers selected in the two previous drafts lead the NFL. Now the Bengals head into Friday night's second and third rounds with three picks, their second-rounder at No. 53, their third-rounder at No. 83 and New England's third-rounder at No. 93, the third-to-last in the third round. That gives them five selections in the first 93 picks.

“We were able to slide back. We obtained another pick and still were able choose between the same guys. We really feel where we were was good,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.

The Bengals matched the Steelers selection of Stanford guard David DeCastro at No. 24 with Zeitler, a player their scouts coveted and whom Alexander calls a unique guy the latest in a line of NFL-ready offensive lineman churned out by the Badgers. It was clear the Bengals had Zeitler and DeCastro graded at least the same and while Alexander wouldn't get into specifics, he called them "similar players."

The Bengals feel like their running game just got better with Zeitler, now their backup center as well.

Their current No. 1 right guard, last year's fourth-rounder Clint Boling, got benched last season, and their newest veteran right guard, free agent Jacob Bell, has usually played left guard in his eight previous seasons. What gave Zeitler the edge is his ability to move to center as well as a mauler that is also feisty and smart and can hang with the AFC North's monstrous 3-4 defenders.  The Bengals already have guys that can move from guard to tackle.

The draftnicks say Zeitler has to work on his pass protection, but caccording to the NFL he graded at least 95 percent for blocking consistency in each game of this last season, breaking the previous school season-record of nine performances of 90 percent or better by current Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas in 2006. Zeitler led the nation’s offensive linemen with a 97.23 percent grade for blocking consistency, along with producing 142 key blocks/knockdowns and 33 touchdown-resulting blocks in 2011. His 13 downfield blocks paced all Big Ten Conference linemen.

The running game is a way of life for the Badgers offensive line.

“Wisconsin has always been known for running the ball—ever since (former Wisconsin head coach and current athletic director) Barry Alvarez took over—and we have such tradition on the O-line; we want to keep it going and never look back,” Zeitler said in his conference call with the Cincinnati media.

The Bengals took up Belichick on his rare offer to get that extra pick. It was only the third time and first time in nine years Belichick had moved up in the draft as Pats head coach and he did it this time to take Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones. It was a rare moment for Bengals president Mike Brown, too, since it was his first draft-day trade of any kind since 2004.

While the trade to move down just six spots was a no-brainer with solid players like Zeitler, Georgia offensive lineman Cordy Glenn, and Boise State running back Doug Martin still on the board, the wait for Kirkpatrick was excruciating. The Bengals needed offensive tackles and pass rushers to go off the board to get the corners, receivers or defensive tackles they coveted but it just didn't happen with only one left tackle and no edge rusher going in the first 14 picks. But Seattle's surprise pick of pass rusher Bruce Irvin at No. 15 gave the Bengals just enough breathing room.

The Cowboys traded up to get LSU's Morris Claiborne at No. 6 and South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore went to Buffalo at No. 10, leaving seven long spots between the Bengals and Kirkpatrick, the last corner worthy of a first-rounder. Even though the Bengals have five ex-first-round corners waiting for Kirkpatrick, Leon Hall is coming off a torn Achilles and Nate Clements and Terence Newman are 32 and older and have one year left on each of their contracts. So it was a need.

"We highlighted only a couple of corners that we would have said 'Hey (draft him)' if we had a chance to get them," said new secondary coach Mark Carrier, in the media room after his first pick with the team. "Dre was high on our list. It was getting to be nut-cracking time when it was coming to the pick. We didn’t know if he was going to be there for us. But he ended up being there for us, and we’re excited to have him.”

The Bengals are excited because, as Carrier says, they like his "competitiveness, toughness, awareness." Carrier called Kirkpatrick and his Alabama teammate Mark Barron, the safety taken No. 7 by Tampa Bay, the best tackling defensive backs in the country.

And Carrier, a first-round pick safety himself (No. 6 to the Bears in 1990), doesn't mind Kirkpatrick's confidence that is reflected in his nickname "Swagga."

"When you're on the outside playing against the best receivers in the world, you better feel good about yourself," Carrier said. "We visited him twice down there and had a great time."

There is some concern about Kirkpatrick's 4.55-second 40-yard time and his no interceptions last season. But not here. Carrier doesn’t bat an eye.

"I've seen the best that can run and get beat when they don't have technique; he'll be fine," Carrier said. "He's fast enough."

Kirkpatrick says the proper nickname is "Swag."

"It's an attitude. It's a brand," he said. "It just makes you feel good."

Both Kirkpatrick and Zeitler don't know much about the Bengals.

"I pretty much just watched college, but not anymore," Kirkpatrick said.

“I know they got to the playoffs last year with Andy Dalton at quarterback and A.J. Green at receiver, and (that) they were effective last year. That’s really all I know. I have a lot to learn,” Zeitler said.

The Bengals don't think either will have any trouble picking it up. Kirkpatrick plays the way defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer loves his corners: Tough, physical, with a daring and edge, and out of a pro culture under head coach Nick Saban. And in Zeitler there were comparisons to left tackle and one of the club's locker room spokesmen, Andrew Whitworth, after the Cincinnati media got done with its conference call.

Zeitler, a member of the National Honor Society at his Milwaukee High School and the owner of what Alexander would only call a high Wonderlic score, had this to say about his favorite music in an interview in a pre-draft magazine:

"I listen to a lot of different music and will go with whatever is motivating me at the time," he said. "Linkin Park and Kanye West, as different as they are and as often as I might go on a hiatus from, I always return to. Bon Jovi is always classic, too."

Perfect. Zeitler is here in the trade with Belichick, the man that has appeared on stage with Bon Jovi.

"I think his greatest strength is he’s productive; he’s a very high grader, a very efficient player," Alexander said. "You don’t realize he’s in there because you don’t see a lot of error. So I think that’s his greatest strength. He has enough size. He has versatility where he could play center. If he wanted to be a center he’d be a top-level center, really."

But he's going to be a right guard. And, if you want, a fisherman.

“You’ll like him. He’s a tough football player. He’s a great program guy, team guy," Alexander said. "He’s the type of guy if you went fishing at the lake all day, some guys after a half an hour, you want to throw them in the water. But this guy is more along the line that you can just sit out there all day with him. He’s going to work like that in terms of football. ... He’s as good a guy as there is and he’s a good player. I think when you get a chance to take a guy like that, he helps your whole team, not just his spot. So we’re excited. You’ll like him.”

The worst-case scenario didn't happen. No corners. No receivers. No trades. With the addition of a third-round pick, a projected starter in Zeitler, and at least a regular in Kirkpatrick, it was close to a best-case scenario.

They like that.

 

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