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Offensive at the top?

Posted Mar 14, 2011

The Bengals and the NFL may be in lockdown mode. And news that the hearing for the players’ motion for a preliminary injunction, which requests that the lockout be blocked while their lawsuit proceeds won't he held until April 6 hasn't exactly sped up things.

But that hasn't stopped the mock drafts from coming.

Pat Kirwan of NFL.com has slipped into the second round and produced for the Bengals at No. 35 Pittsburgh wide receiver Jon Baldwin. That's only after giving the Bengals a quarterback at No. 4, Auburn's Cam Newton. That can be heavily debated, given that Newton doesn't appear to be the safest of picks in what has to be the Fail Safe top five.

But what can’t be debated is the pundits are set on giving the Bengals a quarterback or wide receiver in the first round, with Georgia receiver A.J. Green the other popular choice for Cincinnati in a move that would all but end Chad Ochocinco's Bengals career. Even though there are two receivers from the 2008 draft poised to break through in this their fourth seasons, punditry still has Cincinnati looking for a young, No. 1 gamebreaking receiver.

In Andre Caldwell, a third-rounder from '08, the Bengals have an experienced and resilient pro heading into another phase of an inconsistent career. But one that he's embracing. Before the league went on lockout Saturday morning, Caldwell spoke to Bengals.com Friday night and gave an enthusiastic update from his hometown of Tampa, Fla.

"Let everybody know up there," Caldwell said, "I'm ready. I'm ready to come in and have my best year. I trained like I was going to the combine all over again and I'm going to keep going."

Caldwell, the man who stunned Pittsburgh and Baltimore in '09 with winning touchdown catches in the last minute, lost his slot receiver job to rookie Jordan Shipley in '10. He slipped from 51 catches to 25, but when The Ocho and Terrell Owens missed the last three games he came up with career highs in yards (94) and catches (seven) in the season finale in Baltimore after averaging 88 against the Browns and Chargers.

But the biggest stat for a guy that has been trying to show that he can play on the outside as well as be a solid Nos. 2-3 is that in each of the last three games Caldwell caught at least one ball of at least 39 yards. After talking with new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden before the lockout, Caldwell said on Friday he thinks he'll keep getting those chances. Jerome Simpson - no one knows if he's a No. 1 or a No. 4 - finished the season like he was a 1.

"He wants to get the ball in the playmakers' hands fast," Caldwell said of Gruden. "He wants to get it out fast and get the ball to the receivers on the go. Yards after catch. He's excited about it and I think we all are."

Caldwell, a Tampa, Fla., product, watched Jon Gruden's offense growing up and he hears the same kind of fire in Jay Gruden when they talked about the passing game. Jay is looking for versatility and Caldwell provides all of that. He also gives the Bengals a committed, fast, physical guy that is the team's best blocking receiver.

Caldwell says he took just two weeks off after the season before he went back to work. He has hooked up in Tampa with a former Florida receiver that he mentored in Gainesville, Jarred Fayson, a 6-foot, 210-pounder that transferred to Illinois and could be a late-round pick or a free agent.

"I don't know how high the Bengals are on (Jerome) Simpson and Caldwell," says Rob Rang of the two receivers taken in the '08 draft. "They've held on to them, but very rarely do you have guys for three years and aren't quite sure what they can do. But I think they're showing they can play. They've had Ocho and T.O., in front of them, and it takes most receivers two or three years to get settled and it looks like they have."

But Rang, senior analyst for nfldraftscout.com says if the Bengals want another receiver, they should just "draft A.J. Green and get it over with" because, like most drafts, the big, fast guys run after the first two rounds.

"After that, you can get a big guy that can run, but he's got a character issue or something else," Rang says. "You can get small guys that can run and big possession guys that can't run, and I don't think the Bengals want that."

Yes, you can get a Marques Colston (not to mention a T.J. Houshmandzadeh) in the seventh round. But Houshmandzadeh was an enigmatic Juco non-burner and Rang notes Colston was a small school guy (Hofstra) that didn't play as fast as he ran the 40. But put them with Pro Bowl quarterbacks and they became Pro Bowlers.

"It's not a great draft for receivers," Rang says. "I don't think the Baldwin protection is a good one."

The 6-4, 220-pound Baldwin has been known to run a sub-4.5 second 40, but Rang questions his physicality and what he can do against press coverage. He says the better pick there is 6-1, 202-pound Torrey Smith of Maryland. Smith scored 12 touchdowns on 15.7 yards per this past season, and can return kicks.

Since we're talking about the second round, any DeSean Jacksons? Rang says the closest is Boise State's Titus Young at 5-11, 170 pounds. Young averaged 17.1 yards per 71 catches and nearly 11 yards on 11 punt returns. But the Bengals coached him at the Senior Bowl and he's not in the gamebreaking class of Jackson, plus, and he's got some character baggage from earlier in his career.

Meanwhile, Caldwell says he's feeling like it's his draft all over again. He says he's talked to Bengals backup quarterback Jordan Palmer and is ready to go to San Diego or Scottsdale or wherever in late April if the lockout is still on and it's time to start playing catch.

"I'm training like I'm a rookie all over again," Caldwell says. "Tell them I'm on my way." 

 

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