Robert Geathers looks around and sees a new defensive coordinator and a batch of new right ends and shrugs.
“We’ll be fine,” he said this week as he started his 11th season. “In our group, that’s not a problem. We’ve got leadership. We’ve got guys that have been through the ups and downs.”
Not exactly the first rodeo for Geathers. Not for the man who has played more games on the Bengals defensive line (136) than all but Tim Krumrie and Eddie Edwards. Not for a guy who has played five positions for four different coordinators, the only man on the roster to play for all of head coach Marvin Lewis’ defensive coordinators.
What hasn’t he seen? He’s played so long that he saw someone else take his locker during last season even though he’s the only one on the club that has played for all three of Lewis’ AFC North champions.
“It’s part of it,” Geathers said with another shrug.
They had to take away his locker because he was put on season-ending injured in the third week of the season and the list kept expanding. He tore his right triceps in the second game against Pittsburgh when he collided with one of the Steelers guards and probably would have been able to come back late in the year if allowed.
His teammates knew he could have come back and they voted him the Ed Block Courage Award. That tells you what they think about him. Now here’s what his new coordinator thinks about him.
“There’s a reason why he’s been here 11 years,’ said Paul Guenther. “He’s one of the glue guys for us. He does exactly what you tell him to do and he brings other guys along. When he got hurt last year, one of our pillars got knocked out. He’s not the kind of guy looking for attention. He’s not a me guy needing this and needing that. I’ll take 11 of them.”
He’s only got one and he turns 31 in training camp, the kind of guy outsiders always love to cut because he makes good money (he’s in the middle season of a three-year, $9 million deal) and doesn’t get many sacks. But he’s just the kind of guy coaches love. Particularly a guy like Guenther looking to make his own mark after eight seasons here as an assistant.
“He’s played all four spots up front, he’s played SAM backer, he’s smart, he understands the scheme, he’s a good leader on the field. When things get a little crazy he’s good at calming things down,” Guenther said. “The thing players have to understand, much like quarterbacks, I think sometimes coordinators get too much credit. I’m not going to make a tackle. I’m not going to cover anybody. I’m not shedding any blocks. It’s the players that are going to win games and Robert is the kind of player you can win games with.”
Geathers hates to see right end Michael Johnson move on. He loves his tenacity and toughness, but he has seen them come and go, hasn’t he? Guess who was the right end on the ’05 North champs? Right, Geathers. In ’09? For most of the year, it was Jon Fanene while Geathers played left end.
“We’ll miss him. He’s a guy that could play both the run and the pass,” Geathers said of Johnson. “But (Wallace) Gilberry is looking to start. I want some more playing time. I can play both (ends). Carlos can play both. I don’t know if he wants to. Margus (Hunt) will be ready to go.”
All Gilberry has done playing primarily right end on passing downs and some at tackle in his 30 Bengals games is come up with 14 sacks in about half the snaps. He wants to play more than that and brings the edge of guy that’s been cut by two teams to the rotation. He’s savvy, salty, and ready.
“I’m still competing for a roster spot. I don’t care how you guys see it,” Gilberry said. “That’s my mindset until opening day. You can never trick or fool me. I’ve been tricked and fooled enough.”
That’s how it looks right now. Replacing one with three and maybe four if they move around Dunlap. Johnson’s status was why in a 40-day span last year they re-signed Geathers and Gilberry and drafted Hunt in the second round.
“We’ll do it by committee like we always do,” Geathers said, and the other guys like the sound of it. Dunlap hasn’t played much right end in the NFL, but he says he did both in high school and college and “I’m very open to that.”
Geathers thinks Hunt is close to being a regular contributor, or as
“(Hunt) is really close. He made a lot of strides last season, but he just has to get more comfortable with the system and what’s expected of him,’ Geathers said. “He hasn’t played a whole lot of football. We get into the (on-field workouts) and training camp and it will slow down for him a little bit.”
The 6-8, 280-pound Hunt is heading into his sixth season of football and Geathers is like everybody else. Even though Hunt is grappling with the game, Geathers is impressed by his sheer size and movement.
“He’s such a tall guy, he just has to keep his leverage,” Geathers said. “He’s so strong, once he gets settled down and knows what’s expected of him, he’ll be fine.”
Just another day at the office for The Dean, the man who has been with the Bengals the longest. Friday marks 10 years he was taken in the fourth round, back when Justin Smith was the right end, Leslie Frazier was the defensive coordinator, and Guenther was looking for a job after breaking into the league with Washington.
Things do change in this league.
“I’m just glad I’ve got my locker,” Geathers said.