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Taking the offensive

Posted Sep 19, 2017

Clint Boling, in a line of proud offensive linemen stretching back to Pro Bowlers Andrew Whitworth and Willie Anderson, back to Hall-of-Famer Anthony Munoz, even back to Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, is ready to begin this sudden new era of offense. He’s volunteering his guys to carry their share of the load in order to rejuvenate the running game. That figures to be one of the first few issues to be resolved by the Bill Lazor Administration. How much do they run it and how many run it?

Andy Dalton thanked Ken Zampese Monday before moving on.

Left guard Clint Boling, in a line of proud offensive linemen stretching back to Pro Bowlers Andrew Whitworth and Willie Anderson, back to Hall-of-Famer Anthony Munoz, even back to Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, is ready to begin this sudden new era of offense. He’s volunteering his guys to carry their share of the load in order to rejuvenate the running game.

 “I’d like to hope so. We’ve got three talented backs and hopefully we can get into a rhythm with those guys and be able to keep ourselves out of some tough situations,” said Boling, the O-line's de facto captain after Monday’s practice, the D-Day cloud of offensive coordinator Ken Zampese’s Friday firing hovering over a club preparing for the Packers Sunday in a 4:25 p.m. game at Lambeau Field.

Like all offensive linemen, they love to run the ball and they’re always looking for a commitment to do just that. With an average of 22 carries the first two games and no one carrying it more than 12 times in a game, they’re looking. 

“In the past it’s been up and down,” Boling said.  “I definitely think to start the year out you play a team like Baltimore that might have one of the best run defenses in the league. But I think even in a situation like that you have to stay committed to it. You really just have to keep hammering whether it’s there or not. At some point you hope to bust one.”

Maybe the most telling thing that came out of Thursday night’s tomb is wide receiver A.J. Green saying how the Texans  never budged out of a stifling Cover 2 sagging zone. A good running team never lets that happen. Cover 2 should be candy to a good running game.

“There are a lot of things you can go back and say we should have done this, we should have done that,” Boling said. “I definitely think you get into a defense like that and you start slinging it around and not really taking advantage of some of the things you get … it’s hard.”

That figures to be one of the first few issues to be resolved by the Bill Lazor Administration. How much do they run it and how many run it? And will the runs match up with the play-actions and the screens? That had apparently been an internal criticism of the previous regime. Maybe too much creativity. One play an empty backfield set. The next play three tight ends. Plenty of movement and ideas, but maybe not enough flow or coordination.

Boling isn’t so sure all about that. He just likes the idea of running the ball.

“The coaches have to decide on all that stuff. Personnel and situations and things like that. It’s over my head,” Boling said. “You just hate it for him and it’s a new start.”

The run game is always the answer, right? Especially for an offense grappling to survive on the road against a Hall-of-Fame quarterback. It is something to hang a wayward hat on. Or the fact they may be without tight end Tyler Eifert for the ninth time in the last 18 games as he reportedly fights knee and back issues. Or with struggling quarterback Andy Dalton 40-4-2 in his career when they run the ball at least 30 times ….

Clint Boling is looking for the offensive line to play a major role in rebounding.

 If they were looking to get the players’ attention, consider it done.

“I think it was a reality check,” Boling said. “Zampese didn’t get up to talk in the offensive room today. Lazor did. I think some guys were like, ‘Hey, this really happens. Guys get fired. They lose their jobs. As much as you can, it’s a fresh start.”

Since Green and Dalton introduced the No Drama Bengals in 2011, their reign on offense has been remarkably free of controversy. On a club that used to fall over each other calling for the ball back in the Oughts with running backs lobbying for carries and wide receivers fuming for yards and quarterbacks demanding trades, they have brought well-earned peace to the Bengaldom countryside.

 Until now. With an OC fired and two brutal games to open the season, Dalton is under fire, 21st century style. With anonymous innuendo. With reports circulating some teammates think Dalton is on the verge of getting benched and wondering how Colin Kaepernick might fit, the Bengals have plans to do neither.

None of those players were talking on the record Monday. But enough of his supporters were talking, reflecting the broad support Dalton has in his locker room. Backup AJ McCarron, urging the city to get off Dalton’s case, led the way.

“We look each other in the eyes and rally around each other,” said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. “I’m 100 percent behind Andy. Andy’s spent all his time (with Lazor) the last two years and (Lazor) has been in that situation calling plays … It’s the chemistry. We’ve got to get in a groove. It’s been off. I’m not going to sugar coat it. Great players find a way to get back and I think we’ll do that.”

Boling, a member of that 2011 draft class, hasn’t heard such conversation, either.

“I think we’re e all behind him. I think he knows that too,” Boling said. “I’m not sure he even sees that kind of stuff and reads any of it. Hopefully he’s got a good feel for what the locker room is like and where he stands in it. We all believe in him.”

Boling is right. Dalton hasn’t read any of that stuff. But he looked about as defiant as you’ll ever see him on Monday when the question about questions was asked.

Bill Lazor ran the offense for the first time Monday.

“I don't read anything. There's no reason to read anything because it doesn't mean anything,” Dalton said. “People can come up with a headline all they want, but all that matters is what's being said in this organization, on this team, and what happens in this locker room.”

But Dalton’s ire can come off as impassive for most.

“I haven't heard anything. I can only worry about the guys that are on this team,” said Dalton of a team that will sign John Quincy Adams before another quarterback. “I mean, anybody can create a headline.”

Dalton and McCarron said what they should have said Monday.  They both said Zampese, as their position coach, helped get them where they are. They don’t know the NFL without Zampese.

‘Zamp has meant a lot to me, he's been here my whole time as quarterback coach and coordinator and different things,” Dalton said. “We've had a lot of experiences together. He was the foundation of my NFL career because he had me from the start, so I can't think him enough for everything he's done for me.”

But no one could really put their finger on it. Zampese prepared quarterbacks for five Pro Bowls, helped two win two division titles each and put McCarron on the brink of the rarest of the rare with a post-season win off the bench. But his offense never came together.

“I think it's just the business we are in, some things just don’t work out,” McCarron said. “It’s just part of it. It can be just bad timing on something. I don’t know. It’s a weird process. I really don’t know why it worked out. Just things weren’t clicking the way we thought it ought to.”

Second-year slot receiver Tyler Boyd is a symbol of what seems to have unfolded. On Monday he was a bit bewildered. For the first time since he was suspended for a game his junior year at Pitt,  Boyd was benched on Thursday even though he had 54 catches last season and took the snaps of the major three-receiver sets in camp and preseason.

Suddenly Boyd was out and rookie John Ross was in. But after he fumbled his first NFL touch Ross barely played and he looked just as puzzled in the second half as Boyd did after the game. No flow.

“In certain plays I felt like I should just go out there and just play – get my route and get my depth and be the guy,” Boyd said. ““There were times where I just felt like he would overwhelm with things to do out there in terms of details and what to do and what not to do. Just making me think too much.  Not saying that’s what he was doing, but at times that’s what was happening.

“I thought he was a great coach. I didn’t really see a negative he was doing wrong,” Boyd said.  “The offense it wasn’t like we were giving the ball away and things like that. We just have to find our momentum. We have to find us again that’s all.”   

It was a tough day, Monday. But it had the hope of a first day, too.

“At the end of the day, I have nothing but respect for him,” Kirkpatrick said of Zampese. “But the team comes first.”

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