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Education in the slot

Posted Oct 7, 2009


Andre Caldwell

Updated: 6:30 p.m.

Wide receiver Andre Caldwell gave the Bengals a lift twice Wednesday.

First, he practiced after leaving Sunday?s game in the fourth quarter with an injured shoulder. Second, he responded to some of the things that allowed the Browns to jam him up in the slot and contributed to the Bengals? considerable problems on third down.

From the time Caldwell caught a 24-yarder over the middle on third-and-six in the game?s first four minutes, the Bengals went 4-for-17 on third down the rest of the way and at one point went six straight without converting.

And three of the conversions were of the spectacular variety in the tying drive in the fourth quarter and winning drive in overtime with wide receiver Chris Henry converting a third-and-14 and third-and-10 with grabs of 16 and 20 yards, respectively, and wide receiver Laveranues Coles grabbing a 20-yarder on third-and-10.

Caldwell, from the slot where T.J. Houshmandzadeh always contended for the NFL third down catches title, finished with two catches for 26 yards, one of them on third down.

?Andre is doing a great job, but he doesn?t have the experience that a T.J. has working inside,? said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski after practice. ?Carson (Palmer) and T.J. worked together and they could read body language. Andre is doing a great job, but there are just certain situations that come up that Andre has to learn from and they both get the feel for each other.

?There were things that Andre learned in that game that I saw him do today to counteract what was happing in the game and that?s the kind of player Andre is right now. He?s learning, yet he?s a fast learner and I would expect that he?ll be able to use those things to his advantage.?

By the way, Houshmandzadeh and Coles, who virtually traded for each other in free agency with $7M per year contracts, are tied for 19th in the NFL with six third-down catches.

Not only is Caldwell learning after playing in just his 11th NFL game, but Coles is on a new team in his 10th season and Henry is adjusting to playing in his first 16-game season since 2006 as the Bengals seek continuity on their third-down passing.

But Bratkowski has no time to hear it.

?I?m not going to make excuses for what we?re doing and why things are the way they are now,? Bratkowski said. ?That certainly is a factor. But we need to be caught up; we need to be catching up. We?re four games into it. We?re a quarter through the season and I expect rapid improvement at this time.?

ON THE BRINK: After Wednesday's practice special teams coach Darrin Simmons said that it looks like Brad St. Louis will long snap his 144th game as a Bengal in Baltimore on Sunday, but he acknowledged with the Bengals now working out long snappers they are close to the brink of a possible change.

The issues, Simmons said, are weighing the value of a struggling yet familiar holder-kicker-snapper operation against a fresh but different snapper into the mix. The Bengals didn't sign Nathan Holden on Tuesday after he came in for a physical but they also figure to work out more snappers, which isn't out of the ordinary, Simmons said.

But he also said, "It's an area of huge concern and you have to trust you'll get through it. It comes down to putting the team into a precarious situation. We're making things too interesting at the end and they shouldn't be."

Simmons also said rookie running back Bernard Scott may be used to return more kicks Sunday: "Everytime he's back there he makes a play."

ON THE RUN: Maybe the Bengals? transition from a team that used the run to a team that believes in the run came late in last Sunday?s game when Bratkowski got on the headsets and told the other coaches when they were deep in their own territory he was sticking with the run even though not much was happening with it.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, Bratkowski had just 66 yards to show for it on 19 carries.

?I wanted the guys up front to know that the talk about running the ball just wasn?t hot air,? Bratkowski said Wednesday. ?Sometimes you have to keep running it to let the runner, the offensive line, the tight end know you have faith in them and that something is eventually going to break. It?s a challenge ... you don?t want to abandon the run, yet you want to generate something.?

The patience paid off. On their last 11 carries the Bengals gained 88 yards in the game?s final 20 minutes. OK, take away Carson Palmer?s 15-yard scramble. But it was still 73 yards on 10 carries.

INJURY UPDATE: Defensive tackle Tank Johnson, who says he has plantar fasciitis in his foot, and wide receiver Andre Caldwell, who missed the last part of last Sunday?s game with an injured shoulder, worked Wednesday. So did Roy Williams (forearm), who along with Johnson didn't play Sunday. Johnson was limited but Williams went full go. Also limited was defensive tackle Domata Peko (chest).

Both SAM linebackers, Rey Maualuga (knee) and Rashad Jeanty (finger) didn't work, and safety Chinedum Ndukwe (hamstring) didn't either. Also, running back Cedric Benson (hip) sat out with a new body part after nursing a knee the past couple of weeks as they give their bell cow a break. Benson and the Vikings' Adrian Peterson lead the NFL with 84 carries.

Ndukwe sat out a day last week with a hamstring issue, but started Sunday. Maualuga also played with the sprained MCL he received in the Sept. 27 Pittsburgh win. Jeanty had surgery Sunday night in Cleveland on the ring finger he fractured covering the Bengals' second kickoff of the game.

SLANTS AND SCREENS

? This isn?t your father?s Bengals-Ravens game. Heck, this isn?t even your Bengals-Ravens game. Remember when it used to be the high-flying Bengals offense against the elite Ravens  defense?

Baltimore still is tops in defense, but its offense is the one flying now with strong-armed Joe Flacco leading a unit that is ranked third in scoring and third in offense. Meanwhile, the Bengals have ridden the play of a defense ranked higher (17th) than their offense (21).

?They?ve got a new coach," said Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer of new Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, ?and we?ve got kind of a new identity. It?s not like the old games. We have a different attitude and a different mentality.?

? Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco has already marked off Ravens cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Domonique Foxworth on the checklist in his locker. ?They don?t really stand a chance, realistically speaking,? The Ocho said.

? Per usual, Ochocinco apologized to the commissioner in advance about the fine he?s going to get if he celebrates scoring a touchdown Sunday in Baltimore, and promised an act out of Talladega Nights, the Will Ferrell movie about NASCAR great Ricky Bobby.

?That movie had a motto. If you?re not first, you?re last,? The Ocho said of the AFC North first-place showdown of 3-1 teams. ?That?s the whole battle for the division. It?s going to be funny. I will be pulling a Ricky Bobby.?

? The Ocho on changes the the new coordinator on defense in Baltimore has brought: "My grandma could coach that defense and they'd still be No. 1."

 

 

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