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Notes: Completing an NFL rhombus; Looking at Campbell's trade; Gresham returns but injury list grows

Posted Nov 13, 2013

What are the odds that Hue Jackson would be coaching one of the picks received in the Carson Palmer trade?


Giovani Bernard

Updated: 8:30 p.m.

When Browns quarterback Jason Campbell went down with a season-ending shoulder injury at the hands of his current team while he quarterbacked Hue Jackson's Raiders on Oct. 16. 2011, it impacted two franchises and the lives and careers of so many players and coaches it's hard to count.

Talk about full circle. It's more like a rhombus. It comes Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Paul Brown Stadium when Campbell comes in leading the second-place Browns at 4-5 against the AFC North-leading Bengals at 6-4.

A quick review:

Campbell got hurt the Sunday before the trading deadline in a win over the Browns and Jackson, the Raiders head coach who coached the Bengals wide receivers a few years before, urged the Raiders to deal for Carson Palmer.

Palmer, the Bengals quarterback sitting out because of his trade demand, had been recruited to USC by Jackson and Jackson had been the settling influence on a volatile receivers corps that Palmer had in the best seasons of his career.

But as everyone knows, Jackson got fired at the end of 2011 even though he and Palmer gave the Raiders their best playoff shot in a decade, ended up back in Cincinnati, and is now coaching one of those Raiders picks for Palmer in rookie running back Giovani Bernard, one of the Bengals gamebreakers. Palmer has a winning record in Arizona despite the second-most interceptions in the NFL.

And Campbell?

Well, after a one-year stop in Chicago, he surfaced in Cleveland this season and, quite naturally, has a shot to move the Browns into a tie with the Bengals in the loss column.

Only in the NFL. The same injury hex that exited him out of Oakland two years ago has played a part in Campbell securing Cleveland's last two starts before their bye last week. He split them, but his win against Baltimore was Cleveland's first over the Ravens in six years, saved their season, and gave the 31-year-old Campbell five TDs with no picks for a 106.6 passer rating.

"He has great leadership. He'll take the cast of guys there and he'll get them to play well," Jackson said after the Bengals practiced Wednesday. "Because he'll distribute the ball well, he'll manage the game, he'll make big throws, and he'll run with the ball, he's tough and he's smart. He's doing a good job. I just don't want him to do it this week."

Jackson says the 6-5, 230-pound Campbell's best attribute is his big arm and long ball.

"That's why he was playing for me," said Jackson, who lived off the running game and deep balls off play-action during the two seasons he ran the Oakland offense. "He can throw it down the field. He's got a good arm, he's smart and he knows how to play the position."

Under Jackson in 18 starts Campbell had a career-high 7.2 yards per attempt, the only time he's been over 7 until he's 7.5 for the Browns in three games in his eighth season.

"He had a good thing going in Oakland. He was playing real well and he was able to get a young group of offensive skill players to play really well," Jackson said.

How whacky can the NFL get? How would you like to have been a fly on the wall when Jackson and Campbell talked before the game in Cleveland earlier this season?

"He was waiting for his opportunity and he's made the most of it," Jackson said. "A lot of people can't handle going from team to team, coordinator to coordinator, environment to environment. He's handled it like a champ. ... It says a lot about the man."

In Campbell's one appearance against Cincinnati on Dec., 14, 2008 at PBS, the Bengals beat the Redskins, 20-13, with Campbell throwing for just 167 yards on 17 of 28 passes that included a 10-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss. Head coach Marvin Lewis on Wednesday compared his ability to extend a play with savvy to that of Rich Gannon, Sunday's CBS analyst.

"What has impressed me is his ability to move in the pocket and extend the play a bit, get the ball to the receiver and make the first down," Lewis said. "That’s what you want from your quarterback, like what Rich Gannon used to do. He’s very impressive that way.”

Speaking with the Cincinnati meda Wednesday via conference call, Campbell couldn't help but notice the storyline.

"As I always tell the guys, you can never predict anything when you're playing this game. Sometimes you can put too much stress and too much pressure on yourself and you just have to understand that you can only control the things you can and not to worry about those things you can't. You'll drive yourself crazy," Campbell said. "Things that happened two years ago when I was out in Oakland and now to see yourself playing for the team you got hurt against and now playing against the team that made the trade -- it's like a whirlwind. I really don't try to look at things from a personal side, but try to look at it from a team point of view."

TRADE BAIT: And how about that Palmer trade courtesy of the Browns manhandling of Campbell? What are the odds that Jackson would be coaching one of those picks, No. 35 in 2013, North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard?

The other pick, the 17th in the 2012 draft, Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, is still looking to make his mark.

But the 5-9, 205-pound Bernard, the classic matchup nightmare, is making a run for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He leads AFC rookies in rushing and yards from scrimmage and has the second-most catches of any rookie in the league with 38.

Maybe even more impressive than that is after injuring his ribs in the Oct. 31 loss in Miami, he played 60 snaps with 22 touches of 14 runs and eight catches last Sunday in Baltimore.

"He's a good player; he's a tough player," Jackson said. "I've got a lot of respect for him. That's why we brought him here. The thing I'm impressed with is he hasn't missed a beat. We got the right guy."

Bernard tied the Miami game in the fourth quarter with Cincinnati's longest touchdown run since the opener of 2011, a 35-yard scintillating reverse-the-field run when he got hemmed in on the right.

He tried to make a similar play in Baltimore in overtime on fourth-and-two from the Baltimore 33 when he caught a flare pass out of the backfield and it broke down immediately on the right side. When Bernard tried to keep the drive going as he reversed field, he lost 11 yards, valuable real estate in sudden death.

But like Jackson says, it's hard to get that down on a guy that could have easily won it.

"It was unfortunate. It didn't happen the way we drew it up. Sometimes that happens," Jackson said. "I think he got caught in between getting spun around, not sure where he was, and the next thing here comes the defender.

"He's made those kinds of plays; he has that kind of ability," Jackson said. "I heard one of our coaches say it could be a 40-yard gain or a minus 11-yard play because he has that kind of skill. He knows I wanted him to make a positive play, as positive as you can and if you can't, just get us back to the line of scrimmage and we have to play defense. He was trying to make a play, it just didn't work out."

Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are the classic power-speed complement. Green-Ellis carried 21 times in Miami, Bernard nine. In Baltimore, Green-Ellis carried nine times while Bernard carried 14. Green-Ellis may have 45 more carries, but Bernard continues to be on the field more. Green-Ellis took 31 snaps in Baltimore and for the season, according to Pro Football Focus, Bernard has 376 plays to BJGE's 318.

Jackson, like Lewis and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, likes the mix.

"Our whole room looks up to Benny because Benny comes ready to practice, has great questions and grows each and every day," Jackson said. "Some guys have different skill sets and I can respect that. But I just think it's tough in this league to have one runner. I'm not going to say that day is gone because Adrian Peterson is doing it in Minnesota, and there are some guys that can do it across the league. But you're also seeing guys across the league missing a game or two because of … wear and tear. We try to keep our guys fresh and they've responded well."

INJURY UPDATE: Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee) didn't practice Wednesday, but backup Michael Boley did for the first time since injuring his hamstring against the Jets on Oct. 27. WILL backer Vontaze Burfict, who said he was cleared late in Sunday's game for a concussion, sat out Wednesday with a knee issue. So did defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (ankle) after excelling in his first NFL start by tying for the defensive line lead with seven tackles.

Tight end Jermaine Gresham, who sat out last Sunday with a groin injury, went full in practice.

Also out were safety Chris Crocker (hamstring), defensive tackle Devon Still (elbow) and right guard Kevin Zeitler (foot) after he showed up in the locker room Monday with his foot in a boot. Center Kyle Cook (shoulder) also sat out, but he indicated it was OK after Sunday's game. With the Bengals looking at a bye next week, players who have had significant injuries—Maualuga and Still—could get another week off to go along with the bye and return the week of the Dec. 1 game in San Diego. With no moves at linebacker or on the line, that could indicate the Bengals think Burfict and Thompson might be OK this week.

If Zeitler can't go, fifth-round pick Tanner Hawkinson is listed as his backup. But Mike Pollak, listed as a backup left guard can play both and in six seasons he has made 41 NFL starts, all with the Colts and primarily at right guard.

Middle linebacker Michael Boley (hamstring) and cornerback Terence Newman (ankle) were listed as limited Wednesday.

Some Bengals injuries have received bigger play than others.

Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis revealed Wednesday he's played with a broken thumb since the second week of the season, as well as coped with an ankle injury, as the running game tries to atone for the poor outing in the 17-6 loss Sept. 29 in Cleveland in which the Bengals running backs carried just 16 times for 50 yards. In the six games since the Bengals have averaged 124 yards rushing per game on 3.94 yards per rush.

"I think I'm feeling better," BJGE said.

   

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