Updated: 8/31/11, 12:30 a.m.
For rookie tight end Colin Cochart, the Bengals came out of the blue but he has been on their radar much longer than that.
Nearly a year, because South Dakota State is always an early stop in September on the Bengals scouting tour of the Midwest. Finally, 10 months after he piqued their interest the Bengals were finally able to sign him to a free-agent deal just before training camp.
“Cincinnati came out of nowhere, but it’s a good fit for me and I think I have a decent chance of making the squad,” Cochart said before Tuesday’s practice.
There is agreement on that at Paul Brown Stadium, where the fate of veteran tight
“We’ve got some areas where we have a lot more depth and those guys who are fighting for positions and jobs, they’ll play Thursday night,” head coach Marvin Lewis said after Tuesday’s practice. “There are positions that are somewhat decided and if we can afford to rest a guy we will. But in some places we can’t. They’ll have to play a little bit longer.”
So guys like Cochart, newly-acquired safety
If the Bengals do as expected and keep the traditional eight on the defensive line, seven at linebacker, six at wide receiver along with the unconventional (for them) two at quarterback, the names seem pretty easy to figure. But not at safety, cornerback, the offensive line and, until Scaife’s injury, tight end.
“With Bo going down, you hate to see somebody go down, especially with the career Bo has had,” Cochart said. “It opens up doors and opportunities for me and the other tight ends. You just have to fight in this last game. It’s your last chance to prove yourself.”
Scaife, a seven-year vet, was supposed to back up starter
“(Cochart) has made it very competitive for Chase, and we’ve had John for about (three) weeks so we’ve got to see where we’re at,” said tight ends coach Jon Hayes. “They’ll get a ton of playing time this week and we’ll find out.”
The Bengals found out that the 6-4, 255-pound Cochart not only doesn’t shy away from blocking, he’s also pretty good at it as a product of what he calls a tight end offense at South Dakota State, where he led the FCS playoff contender in touchdowns as a junior and senior and once caught three touchdowns in a postseason game.
“We played a lot of double tight ends and I think that helps coming to a system like this,” Cochart said of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden’s penchant for using varying combos of tight-end sets.
After the college free-agent signing frenzy settled last month, the Bengals felt like Cochart led their CFA list. And as late as Monday, Lewis sounded like Cochart had a more than a good shot to make it.
“He’s really what we felt like (he would be) when he went through the draft undrafted; that he would have the opportunity to be on someone’s 53-man roster.” Lewis said. “I think the more he becomes comfortable, the faster he’ll play, and that’s what’s going to be big when the season begins.”
Which is what Cochart had in mind when he had to wait the three months until the lockout was over to pick a team.
“There were a couple of teams; it was more of a numbers thing,” he said. “The other teams that were interested in me had other tight ends making themselves noticed and maybe I would not have the best chance to make the 53-man roster. But this team, I thought I had the best chance of making it. That was the big eye-opener for me.”
With veteran Reggie Kelly gone, the Bengals need a bruiser in the blocking game. That is not the M.O. of Scaife and Coffman, but Cochart has caught the club's eye in the running game. And while Gresham didn’t disappoint as an all-world athlete and potential gamebreaker last year as a rookie, he blocked better than the coaches thought he would and with Kelly gone they need him to keep going. The Bengals need to get even more blocking from a newcomer like Cochart if they want to run the ball like Gruden wants.
“We know Jermaine can catch and run around and he did a good job (blocking), but he has to continue to improve on that aspect of it,” Hayes said. “We’ve got to be able to run the football.”
But Hayes likes Cochart’s approach. He’s looking for a guy that knows “he has to wash the windows and do the carpets if he’s not the feature guy.”
In Cochart, Hayes has a blue-collar guy after his own Pittsburgh heart. His father has been a police officer for 27 years in his hometown of Kewaunee, Wis., where his mother works at Vollrath, a plant that produces cooking hardware. Growing up 20 minutes from Green Bay, Cochart says he was a Brett Favre fan and his father remembers Coffman’s father Paul playing for The Pack. But now that he’s playing for the Bengals he says, "I used to be a Packers fan.”
And South Dakota State is no gridiron outpost. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 24 players from the school have played in at least one NFL game.
“This is a guy that knows what hard work is. He’s not scared of it,” Hayes said. “He’s got a very good foundation. He comes from a solid program where they’ve been to the playoffs. He’s done both (catching and blocking) and he’s done both pretty effectively.”
But, as Hayes says, “We have to see.” What he has seen is that “to this point, he’s shown it’s not too big for him.” That became quite evident early when Cochart continued to play fast even though the free agents were coping with schemes they never saw until that first week.
“Coming in here day one, the playbook got thrown in my face and it was hard to grab onto at first,” Cochart said. “Now that we’re into our fourth game here I’ve got a pretty good understanding. You just have to trust yourself and your technique and hopefully everything goes right.”
If it goes right, he knows what that means. A roster spot and the 25th South Dakota State product to play in the NFL.
“It would mean the world to me,” he said. “It’s been a whirlwind of emotions up and down. It would feel gratifying to me that, thankfully, I made a team. Just because you made a team doesn’t mean you won’t get cut the next day, so you have to keep working and get after it.”
TUESDAY UPDATE: Late Tuesday night running back
Earlier in the day, Lewis said he didn’t plan to play Benson on Thursday once he left over the weekend to deal with his those matters in Austin, Tex., so
Tight end Jermaine Gresham (ankle) returned to practice after missing Sunday and Monday. Left end
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s take on safety Taylor Mays after a couple of practices: “We need to fix some technical flaws. Simple things ... he’s a good athlete. We just have to get him better technically. He’s not using all of his athletic ability right now. He’s just trying to get by on athletic ability.”