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Heating up the roster

Posted Apr 29, 2012

Even before the Bengals started picking in the second round on Friday night, retiring Bengals director of football operations Jim Lippincott looked at the board and said to no one in particular, "Good luck cutting this team."

Then when the cards were finished being dealt Saturday night, some of the pundits are calling it the best draft in the NFL. After he met all five guys that came to visit over the weekend Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth wasn't about to quibble.

"After spending the last two nights with those guys, I'd have to agree," Whitworth said. "They seem to be pretty earnest and I've seen them on tape and they can all play. We're deep and talented, no question, but that doesn't get you there. As deep and as talented as we've been. But we've been here before. It's what you do with it."

On Friday night Whitworth dined with the two first-rounders, Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler, at Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse. Then on Saturday night he spent time at Nada's with the second-and third-rounders, Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still, Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, and Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson.

"Those three guys ... they wanted to know everything," Whitworth said. "It was like I was holding my own rookie seminar. We talked about everything. How to take care of your body in the pros. How to handle tickets and hotels. Practices. Everything. They ate it up. They're hungry."

Whitworth sat between Kirkpatrick and Zeitler on Friday night and that turned out to be easy. He could trade Nick Saban stories with Kirkpatrick and offensive line talk with Zeitler.

"He'll fit right in," Whitworth said of Zeitler. "You can tell he's a real determined guy. Plus, he's very intelligent. I think he kind of knows what he wants. You can tell he's going to be fine."

He also liked Kirkpatrick's football know-how and Still's been-in-the-big-time demeanor.

"He's got an aura about him," Whitworth said of Still. "It's good. He seems like he has got something to prove and he wants to show people."

Whitworth agrees the O-line is going to be tough to cut, but he also says it's early. And remember the last time the experts said the Bengals had their deepest and most talented team in years?

That would be 2010.

The 4-12 2010.

"You don’t win games on paper and that's what we have to realize, starting with me," Whitworth said. "We've got to be better. This looks like a good class. But the rookies know it's going to come down to what they do and how they prepare and how they go after it."

Zeitler, for one, is ready to come out of the box. He didn’t spare Whitworth when it came to his now famous introductory handshake. In fact, it sounds like Whitworth is still shaking it off.

"First thing Monday morning," joked Whitworth of a trip to the training room. "I've got to have Paul Sparling look at my hand."

Here is a look at suddenly four very hot spots. And there are more:

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT Andrew Whitworth: Clubhouse leader…one of best left tackles in NFL…NFLPA player rep…signed extension through '15 before last season.

RT Andre Smith: Sixth pick in '09 draft…coming off first full and healthy season…looks trim at about 330 pounds as he heads into contract year.

C Kyle Cook: Solid, smart center heading into his fourth season as starter…Signed extension through '15 on same day as Whitworth.

LG Travelle Wharton: Highly-praised free agent pickup from Carolina who signed a three-year deal…Heads into his ninth season with next start his 100th in NFL…Has also played a couple of seasons at left tackle.

RG Kevin Zeitler: Maybe the team's most solid pick in a solid draft…First guard ever drafted in first round by Bengals…40 Wonderlic score already legendary…Trained as a center at Wisconsin, he's now Cook's backup.

T Anthony Collins: Re-signed on a two-year deal…A valuable backup with starts at both left and right tackle adding up to 18.

G Jacob Bell: Signed a one-year deal earlier in the month after eight solid seasons at primarily left guard with 100 starts in Tennessee and St. Louis…He'll get some snaps at center.

RG Clint Boling: Fourth-round pick in 2011…Benched after started first three games…Looking for him to get stronger and play lower.

RG Otis Hudson: Fifth-round pick in 2010 who has yet to take an NFL snap…Before he hurt his knee in last training camp the coaches thought he and Smith were the club's two most improved linemen…At a solid 6-5, 311, the Bengals have high hopes for him.

RT Dennis Roland: Massive backup (6-9, 322) who has played in every game the past three seasons…Known as the line's best technician…Much of his work comes as an extra tight end…Re-signed on a one-year deal.

RT Matthew O'Donnell: A college free agent last year from Queen's College in Canada…A younger version of Roland at 6-9, 328 who spent last season on the practice squad…The Bengals find him quite intriguing.

That's 11 and they usually keep nine with one on the practice squad. Five guys that can play guard and center and four tackles with some possibly being able to play tackle? With six guards and centers, that's a pretty interesting training camp

TIGHT END

Jermaine Gresham: A third-year Pro Bowler…2010 first-round pick...One of NFL's emerging big-play tight ends that can split out…Long arms also make him good blocker…Now that he'll have same playbook and QB two straight years and his first bona fide offseason of work, the Bengals sense a breakout year.

Donald Lee: Re-signed on a one-year deal a few weeks ago…Solid No. 2 who bailed the team out in some big spots with Gresham hurt last year…Can catch and block, but turns 32 day after last preseason game.

Colin Cochart: A rookie free agent who came out of South Dakota State to roster last season…Bengals see a big upside, particularly as a blocker…Had a big learning curve with such big jump on competition…Note Von Miller in Week 2.

Orson Charles: The fourth-round pick who impresses the coaches with his strength and effort…Set the TE combine record with 35 reps…Sounds like he's more ahead as receiver than blocker…But tenacity and power should translate into a solid blocking complement with Gresham.

The Bengals usually keep three tight ends on the roster and one on the practice squad. Assuming they keep Gresham and Charles, it may come down to how young they want to be in the double tight sets.

DEFENSIVE LINE

LE Robert Geathers: Heading into his ninth season and last on his contract…At 28 he's the dean and leader of the line when it comes to setting the professional tone in the room and being able to do a lot of different things in the defense.

LE Carlos Dunlap: A hamstring injury prevented him from repeating his 9.5-sack rookie season as a sophomore…But when healthy he has proven to be virtually unblockable…Does he start playing on first and second down, or should he be saved for the money down?

RE Michael Johnson: The starter coming off a year he showed his toughness by playing the most snaps on the line with nearly 70 percent of the snaps despite some nagging injuries…The club would like to lessen his snaps to see if that would up his sacks, which are at 11.5 in three seasons…Heading into last year of his deal.

RE Jamaal Anderson: The 8th pick in the '07 draft signed on as a free agent looking to replace some of the snaps vacated by Jon Fanene and Frostee Rucker on the edge and inside…Coming off a career-best three sacks in Indy…Only 26.

RE Derrick Harvey: The 8th pick in '08, also signed as response to departures of Rucker and Fanene…He's got eight career sacks, none, last year, but the club is hoping he and Anderson can get close to the 10 sacks Fanene and Rucker provided off the bench in '11.

DT Geno Atkins: Third-year Pro Bowler coming off eight-sack season he led team and NFL interior linemen.

DT Domata Peko: Linchpin nose tackle who plays primarily on first and second down…According to NFL.com, second among NFL DTs in tackles…Two years left on his deal…Doesn't turn 28 until November.

DT Pat Sims: Re-signed to one-year deal…Battled injuries, but when healthy has been a key run-stopper…When he went down last year with an ankle injury and missed last six games, it really hurt the club.

DT Devon Still: Second-rounder from Penn State with NFL cousins Art Still and Levon Kirkland…The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year…Missed full seasons early in college career with ACL tear and broken foot, but got better as he went…Coaches relied on him as a captain during his scandal-riddled senior season…Has the prototypical dimensions for a pro tackle…Might be able to slide out to end on occasion.

DT Brandon Thompson: A second-rounder on many boards, it was another example of taking a guy that was clearly the best player with two picks lefts in the third round…One of the strongest players in the draft after ripping through Clemson weight room with big numbers.

DT Nick Hayden: A sixth-round pick of Panthers in '08 out of Wisconsin…Came off the street to help in two games when Sims went down…Has played in 28 NFL games.

That's 11 and the Bengals would probably like to keep nine (four ends, five tackles?), but they'll only dress eight. The draft picks aren't going anywhere, although one might be inactive on game day.

WIDE RECEIVER

A.J. Green: Coming off season he was first rookie Pro Bowl receiver in eight years…First Bengals rookie (and looks like the last ever) to score TD in Pro Bowl.

Brandon Tate: With 34 NFL games, most experienced receiver on roster but all 24 of his catches have been in New England…In seeking the elusive No. 2 opposite Green, he's fast enough…Last year of deal.

Andrew Hawkins: Had 23 catches as a rookie last year…A 5-7 change of pace guy and speedy slot man…Terrific year on special teams…Big reason punt and kick cover teams both in top 10 last year.

Jordan Shipley: Heading into third season after missing sophomore season with torn ACL in second game…Pure slot receiver…As everyone with ACL injury, potential PUP candidate…The club will get a good look at him before training camp… Has been catching routes from the QBs last few weeks.

Ryan Whalen: Played four games last season as sixth-round rookie when he came off the inactive list and primarily played the slot…The Bengals also think he can play the outside…Had four catches for 27 yards.

Armon Binns: A free agent coming out of Cincinnati last year when he got cut at the end of Jaguars training camp…The Bengals are encouraged after watching him on their practice squad last year before they promoted him late in the season…He's lean and quick at 6-3, 210 pounds and offers a nice target…Has yet to practice very much with Dalton, never mind taking his first game snap.

Vidal Hazelton: Another long, lean (6-2, 218) Cincinnati product off his rookie season with No. 2 receiver dimensions…He didn't get here until late in the season to join the practice squad.

Mohamed Sanu: Third-round pick from Rutgers with Big East-record 210 career catches…At 6-1 and 214 pounds, he's big enough to play the No. 2…At 4.55 seconds in the 40, is he fast enough to stretch it and get people off Green?…Can play all three spots and is physical enough that he draws comparisons to Anqan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Marvin Jones: Fifth-round pick from California…What's not to like? He's 6-2, 199, has good hands, and character…Came out of a passing offense that struggled...He ran a 4.46-second 40.

That's nine guys at a spot the Bengals usually keep six and dress only five for games. At least one goes on the practice squad. And they'll get a couple of college free agents, too, and you can bet those players will be able to run and return kicks. How many slot guys do they keep? Two? Three? But you know offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants his receivers to know all three spots. Right now, they're all hot receivers when it comes to the competition.

 

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