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Transition game

Posted Mar 9, 2011


Jerome Simpson

Updated: 3-10-11, 6:40 a.m.

New wide receivers coach James Urban made his first scouting trip for the Bengals on Wednesday and if he can't tell you where he was, he can tell you where he wants to go.

"There are three things you have to do or else you can't play receiver in this league," he said from a hotel room Wednesday. "You have to be able to get off the line of scrimmage. You have to be able to defeat bump and run. And you have to be able to catch. The next part of it is learning what to do and where to line up. But if you don't have those three things …"

To believe scuttlebutt is to believe the Bengals won't have their 2010 Opening Day wide receivers for the 2011 opener. Terrell Owens is 37 and a free agent and Chad Ochocinco is 33 and in the last year of his deal. So no matter what happens the sun dial would dictate the Bengals have to take a receiver pretty quickly in the April 28-30 draft.

In his seven seasons helping coach the Philadelphia offense, Urban had a front-row seat to annual drama of college wide receivers trying to make the transition to the pro game. From Freddie Mitchell to Todd Pinkston to Greg Lewis. The reasons have remained constant why it is one of the tougher adjustments. Offensive complexity and timing combined with a huge uptick in defensive skill have turned boom into bust.

Just look at the early second round of 2008, when Urban's Eagles hit the jackpot with a slight, barely 170-pounder from Cal named DeSean Jackson. The Eagles got him at No. 49 and he has become a top 10 difference-maker. He heads into the 2011 season with an 18.2-yard average on 172 catches, 17 TDs, and four punt return touchdowns.

"DeSean is rare. He's got that rare speed and quickness," Urban said. "He's small, but he's got that speed. He's got the great ability to over-compensate for his size."

There were three receivers picked just ahead of Jackson and two right after him. Only one, Eddie Royal at No. 42 to Denver, has more than 28 career catches. He's got 187 and eight touchdowns and while he has only a 10.6 average, he's a dangerous and durable return man.

But look at the rest. Of the other four, only the Bengals' Jerome Simpson is still playing. James Hardy at No. 41 to Buffalo, Malcolm Kelly at No. 51 to Washington, and Limas Sweed at No. 53 to Pittsburgh aren't listed as playing last season. Hardy has 10 career catches and Sweed seven.

Yet if Simpson, at No. 46 to Cincinnati, had just one catch in his first two seasons and 13 games of his third, he had 20 in his last three games and is one of the bright spots as new coordinator Jay Gruden rebuilds the offense.

Thanks to Sweed dropping what would have the winning touchdown in the 2009 game at Cincinnati that turned out to be a Bengals win, Simpson has more TDs (3) than Hardy, Kelly and Sweed combined (2). And he has intrigued Urban on film and in phone conversations about the emerging offense.

"The whole thing is talent and there's no question that Jerome has that," Urban said. "You look at that draft and those guys, DeSean and Jerome; they both have great natural ability. Jerome jumps off the tape with his hands and his size. I'm excited what Jay has planned for him. It's just a matter of letting that natural ability to take over."

Simpson's transition was hampered by his jump from Division II Coastal Carolina to a sophisticated NFL scheme. But while the learning curve helped hem him in, he also simply had trouble getting active on Sundays. In his first two seasons the Bengals had rich running mates for The Ocho in the starting lineup, along with Chris Henry, a slot receiver in Andre Caldwell, and a special teams ace in Quan Cosby. Last year, the arrival of Owens and the drafting of another slot receiver, Jordan Shipley, again made it difficult to get Simpson dressed for games.

That won't be a problem in '11. And Urban doesn't think Simpson is going to have a problem picking up the new system.

"With young players, a big adjustment is they have to line up in several different spots, which a lot of them aren't used to," Urban said. "The great thing about Jay's system, and a lot of what we did in Philly is that you can run pretty much the same route, but because it's from different spots it looks completely different to the defense."

One note, oddity or theme about those six draft picks from Nos. 41 to 53 in 2008:

The two guys that made it right away, the 6-0, 175-pound Jackson and the 5-10, 180-pound Royal, were the two smallest. Hardy went 6-6, 240 pounds, Kelly was 6-4, 227, and Sweed was 6-4, 220. Simpson goes 6-2, about 195.

"I think it only means you can't take one thing and eliminate a guy," Urban said. "You have to look at everything and not base the decision on just one part of it."

BOOKISH ON CBA: Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals NFL Players Association rep, isn't sure if the financial transparency issue is going to be the one that sends the game spinning into a lockout of litigation after Friday's 5 p.m. deadline. But what it tells him is that big issues remain.

Yet he remained upbeat when reached in Louisiana on Wednesday as the collective bargaining agreement talks teetered with every tweet. There was a disputed report the sides had agreed to a rookie wage scale while SI.com's Jim Trotter via ProFootballTalk.com reported the NFLPA has rejected the 18-game schedule.

Whitworth has been saying the offseason workouts would have to be drastically cut if the league moved to 18 games. The reports backed up his sense the side issues have been easier to resolve than the major questions of revenue sharing with the league looking to reverse the 18-percentage point spread to the owners.

"Who knows?" Whitworth asked of an agreement. "The last 48 hours of this is like the last two minutes of a game. You don't know what's going to happen. ... I really don't have a feel for it, but it sounds like they're still apart on the hard issues and close on the others."

But he is concerned the players and owners can't decide on what financial information the league should give the NFLPA. According to a report on ProFootballTalk.com on Wednesday, the NFL offered to provide combined profit information for all teams, to identify the number of teams experiencing a decline in profits, and to have the information verified by an outside firm. Yet, the web site said, the union "seeks audited financial statements concerning the operations of the 32 clubs and the league."

"We've been asking for that for two years and we're back where we were," Whitworth said. "We're looking for an easier way to get this information, not just now, but in the future. I mean, if the league is losing money, then we should both take pay cuts if we're partners. It's hard for us to validate what we should give back without seeking the information. There's got to be something we can sink our teeth into. I don't know if it's a deal-breaker. It still comes down to what is going to make both sides comfortable in a deal. All we want to see is why we have to give back. And if we have to, we will."

A Yahoo.com report Wednesday that the sides had agreed to the parameters of a rookie wage scale was disputed. Whitworth said the terms in the Yahoo story sounded acceptable: Rookie first-round contracts were limited to four years when owners backed off five years. And, players drafted after the first round were limited to three-year contracts. Players would be restricted free agents in the fourth year. But it wasn't known the worth of the high first-round picks.

"We all don't want rookies to be overpaid," Whitworth said. "Any deal that doesn't lock down a player so he's under-compensated and doesn't over-compensate a player without much experience is a good thing I think. The problem with those five- and six-year contracts was if they didn't get a new deal and were playing at a high level, they were underpaid. This sounds like it covers the big points."

PRO DAYS: NFL.com reported all 32 teams were in attendance at the Alabama Pro Day and that Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was one of 11 NFL representatives on hand at Texas A&M for outside linebacker Von Miller's 4.49 40-yard dash.

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