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Hobson's Choice: overhauls

Posted Jan 16, 2018

A new offseason in more ways than one.

Geno Atkins is a high priority.

Happy 2018, I know we are in our off season but miss your columns. We are in a familiar place, the first round of playoffs are over and we are looking forward to the draft and free agency. Here are a few questions. 1. Do use high picks for the O-line or go to free agency? 2. What are considered our #1 priorities on either side of the ball? 3. If AJ isn't given free agency do we trade him? 4. Who are we must likely to lose in free agency? Hope you have a great 2018, Lou Petrofes, Jupiter, FL

LOU: Thank you for the kind note and Happy New Year to the land of Roger Dean Stadium.

No question they’ll use a raft of picks on the offensive line. Probably not at No. 12. From what I’m hearing early on that’s a deep position in rounds two to four and with an extra third you could easily see them coming out of the first two days with possibly two O-linemen.  I think the Bengals are going to go through due diligence in free agency and look for line upgrades, but I also don’t see them straying far from their philosophy.

They’ve already got their eyes on a pair of huge deals in free agency and they’re named Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, two of the league’s top defensive linemen heading into their contract years. They’d like/need to get them done now and, yes, they’ll also pursue re-signing a tight end, too. But it’s probably going to be Tyler Kroft and not Tyler Eifert, although they may look at some kind of a reduced deal with Eifert given he’s in another offseason of rehab.

And don’t they have to re-sign right tackle Andre Smith? He really bailed them out at tackle when both Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher struggled. So with Atkins, Dunlap, Kroft, and Smith theoretically getting extended, they’re going to have to find a guy that fits in that salary structure. The guy they’re expected to lose in free agency is running back Jeremy Hill and Eifert is going to be interesting. If somebody throws big money at him, but it’s most likely not the Bengals.

To me the No. 1 priorities are a left tackle on offense and a mega play-making first or second-round safety. Who is the next Harrison Smith?

New offensive line coach Frank Pollack had success in Dallas.

The Bengals appear to have made some significant alterations to the coaching staff, but my question is, what about the personnel? Is it enough to bring in a new staff without having a similar overall to the roster? Can the Bengals seriously expect an improvement in the woeful running game and offensive line, in particular? More importantly, doesn't Marvin have to adopt a change in philosophy with regard to playing rookies and younger players? Lastly, doesn't it make more sense to explore more free agent prospects to shore up areas of weakness at O-Line and the defensive secondary? L.C. Johnson, Erie, PA

L.C.: I’ll take the last one first. Which Bengals’ upcoming free agent wouldn’t you sign? Atkins? Dunlap? Andre Smith?  I hear you. But if you pay in the first three days of free agency, you’ve probably priced yourself out of signing Geno or Dunlap or Andre. If you pay after that, you’re probably not getting much better than what you’ve already got.  I think the Marv question is moot after this draft. That’s all he’s going to have is young guys after they take 10 more guys and lump them with the very good draft classes of ’16 and ’17. With extra picks in at least the third and fifth, these last three drafts could impact them almost as much as the 2010-2012 drafts set the table for ’13-’15 when they won 33 games.

When you finish last in the NFL in anything, they’re trying to tell you something. Throw in the worst rushing attack in the history of the franchise and what they’re telling you is you’ve got a serious problem with both scheme and personnel and that’s what the  offense is looking at right now. In my opinion the NFL is more of a coaches’ league than anything. The NBA is a player’s league and MLB is a GM-Analytics league. So the Bengals have done the right thing with an offensive overhaul and that’s no shot at any coach that isn’t here. It’s just that it’s clear the Green-Dalton offense was backsliding and needed a burst of energy and a shot of new ideas.

Look, 7-9 is underachieving. I get that. But how far off are they really off in personnel? Since Nov. 12 they let two potential play-off teams off the hook in the last minute and knocked two teams out of the playoffs in the last two weeks with a bare bones roster? Yes, they need help on the offensive line and they need a game-changing safety and a house at nose tackle. And good, smart coaching should take care of the rest. Are you telling me the Tennessee and Jacksonville offenses have better athletes and better quarterbacks than the Bengals offense?  I don’t buy it. Better put together? No question. But better players? Don’t think so.

Since Bengals Special Team play was less than Special, Why or what is the new regime going to do to improve that? Kickoffs, punts, receive and return and PAT. Lawrence Dickerson, West Harrison, IN

Rookie safety Brandon Wilson showed a lot of promise covering kicks late in the season.

LAWRENCE: I hope they don’t do a damn thing and keep it intact. You’re right. Bad year, probably the worst of special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons’ 15 seasons. Yet they were not only extremely banged up, but extremely young. Even on Opening Day the only guy not on another team who finished in the top four in teams tackles last season was safety Clayton Fejedelem and he ended up being a second Pro Bowl alternate in just his second season. Yeah, they were bad in mid-season, but as the season wound down the kids began to gel.

They showed it in their last four games they played top ten punt return teams and basically stuffed them with a core of revolving gunners. OK, the end-of-half kick return in Baltimore was a travesty but they were playing on fumes. A lot of these guys got more time than they usually would have because of the injuries, so they’ll be that much more ahead of the game this season. Punter Kevin Huber had his best year in a couple of seasons and Randy Bullock missed only one field goal (one got blocked). They’ve already had their year of transition with rookies like Jordan Evans, Brandon Wilson and Cethan Carter. Let’s not have another one.

Jeff love Hobson's choice keep up the good work. Really like all the new coaches to this point including the DC, was there any chance the Bengals could have landed Jack DelRio? As for the Offense I thought a major weakness was Dalton's deep ball inaccuracy. Do you think there was a link between the reduction of Dalton's off season training with QB guru, & the deep passing game struggles? The go routs thrown out of bounds where frustrating. Thank you for all you do, Troy Chapman, Prospect, OH

TROY: Thank you very much for taking the time to write the kind words. I’ve got to believe Marv reached out to Del Rio  and I’ve also got to believe if he didn’t surface at Paul Brown Stadium for an interview that means he’s taking this year off. That said, I believe hiring Teryl Austin as his defensive coordinator is going to prove to be one of Lewis’ best hires. The man comes highly regarded and he oozes excellence.

You’ve got the deep ball frustrations right. If Andy Dalton didn’t throw it out of bounds, it was bouncing off A.J. Green’s face mask. I just think it comes down to one thing. Very basic. After getting sacked 80 times the past two years, not to mention getting hurried about 250 times, according to profootballfocus.com, it certainly appears Dalton simply isn’t comfortable back there with his protection. Plain and simple.

Clint Boling and his offensive line is looking at an offseason of overhaul.

Hi Geoff, Love what you do with the pen! Two questions, does the addition of Frank Pollack signal a significant shift to the zone block schemes? The Bengals have certainly struggled against zone blocking. And what happen to Kevin Coyle? Did he leave or was he let go? I thought the Bengals had high regard for him? Thank you! Jim Malott, Montgomery, OH

JIM; Thank you very much and I appreciate you picking up the pen to weigh in.  Pollack’s hire would certainly seem to suggest that, given his first five NFL seasons were in Houston in the Gary Kubiak-Rick Dennison outside zone school that has schooled the Bengals so many times, that’s what we’re going to see. But when I asked Pollack what we may see, he also pointed out that his mentor, Bill Callahan, runs a lot of tight zones as well as perimeter stuff.

And it seems like while the Cowboys ran a lot of zones, they had a share of power stuff. But I’m not sure the schemes Pollack brings are going to be the significant change. I think it is a major change, but my sense is the impact is going to more along the lines of technique and how the run game is going to be paired with the pass game.

Like all of the coaches, Coyle’s contract was up. In his first stint from 2001-2011 he was a significant figure in the rise of the Bengals defense scouting and developing cornerbacks like Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall. And when he returned in 2016, they drafted cornerback William Jackson and in one season he’s emerged on the Pro Bowl track. I’m surprised he’s not back, too, but I do know they’ve got a great deal of confidence in 32-year-old safeties coach Robert Livingston. Livingston has a varied resume with the Bengals in scouting and coaching, has an excellent rapport with the players, and is heading into a seasoned third year in the same spot.

Don't turn your back on John Ross (15).

Now that Lazor has the chance to implement his offense, what would be a few things that would help get them on track? O-line issues are obvious, but what else? More no-huddle? What about Ross...is he going to get to play and take pressure off Green or is he a total bust? Thanks! Travis Doshier, Rock Spring, WY

TRAVIS: It remains to be seen after an offseason of Xing and Oing emerges in the spring practice. But you’re right. Both Lewis and Lazor have talked about how well Dalton responded in an up-tempo offense and this line seems very comfortable with Dalton’s run-pass options. Get the ball out of his hand. That’s what Hue Jackson did in 2015 and it got him a head coaching job and the best numbers of Dalton’s career.

And I’m asking the same thing. What about Ross? How do you know? The kid played 17 snaps and barely practiced. I know as much about him as I do their 2018 first-rounder, whoever it is. I’m not going to call a guy a bust after 17 games, never mind 17 snaps.

What’s interesting for Ross is that Lazor appears to be building an offense similar to the one Eagles head coach Chip Kelly ran when Lazor was his quarterbacks coach in 2013. Lazor has hired as his wide receivers coach the Eagles receivers coach then, Bob Bicknell. Ross isn’t DeSean Jackson, but he has similar traits and Jackson had a career year that year. I’ve got to believe a guy that can run that fast can be a factor.  Maybe not 1,300 yards, but a Marvin Jones-like 823 would be nice to keep defenses from suffocating Green. Given that Bicknell got career years from Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Jordan Matthews three straight years in Philly, I’d say Ross has a shot.

How is Marvin going to fix the horrible clock management? Tony Cox, Hooven, OH

TONY: The same way you fix your offense or your defense or both. Run the ball. That's always the answer when you're struggling in this league. When you know you can make 4.2 yards per carry and can hand it off on third-and-three, that makes everything easier. For your QB and your offensive line and for your thankful defense that can watch from the sidelines and limit their vulnerabilities. And it helps your coach. It helps you drain the clock and that’s an easier clock to manage.

Cedric Ogbuehi (70), with T.J. Johnson, has a new set of eyes looking at him.

Greetings from Natick, MA. Just moved here 2 years ago. With the offensive line not performing that well again this year, is it possible u see Cincinnati going after another LT and RT? I hate to give up on Cedric and Jake, but it just seems it may not be working. Curtis Baldwin, Natick, MA

CURTIS:  I’m sure you’re loving it. You can’t beat Central Mass, but I favor the Framingham side of Route 30. I’ve got to be the only guy that ever covered Natick’s own Doug Flutie playing in a basketball game for Natick High, an NFL game playing for the Patriots and Chargers, and a Pro Bowl that he announced.

No question they go after tackles, but I think they do it in the draft and I think the priority is a left tackle. Still, with right tackle Jake Fisher coming off a heart procedure, they’ll probably take another tackle.  But that’s a brave new world. I don’t know what happens with Ced and Jake in the new regime. If Paul Alexander remained the O-line coach I think he would have stuck with them. Give new O-line coach Frank Pollack time to come to his own conclusions. But he didn’t draft them, so it’s going to be a different evaluation.

 With the hiring of Teryl Austin as the new defensive coordinator comes discipline and aggression, two things this defense has been heavily lacking since Zimmer left, but individually, who is going to thrive the most under the new regime? Joe Johnson, Griffithsville, WVA

JOE: Austin had a terrific run as a secondary coach for three clubs that made the Super Bowl (Arizona, Seattle, Baltimore), so I look for the DBs to flourish with William Jackson continuing his run into the elite and cornerback Darqueze Dennard showing why the Bengals exercised their fifth year option on him. I also see safeties George Iloka and Shawn Williams getting a handful of interceptions after an offseason Austin emphasizes turnovers. That’s what he did last year and the Lions forced the third most turnovers in the league and he'll work it for a Bengals defense that finished  with the third fewest turnovers.

 

 

 

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