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Tuesday update: Kids unleashed on DL; Alexander defends Livings; Gruden's calls all in head

Posted Aug 16, 2011


Tank Johnson

Updated: 3:20 p.m.

When Clinton McDonald was a rookie defensive tackle on the Bengals practice squad two years ago, the veteran at his position, Tank Johnson, gave him some advice.

"Wait your turn, everyone has a turn," McDonald recalled Tuesday. "Everybody has a turn to perform, a turn to put in work. When it's your turn to put in both, you have to do what you have to do."

As is often the case in the NFL, McDonald's time has come to perform at the expense of the man that give him the advice. With Johnson not practicing every day and kids like McDonald and Geno Atkins bringing energy and production, the Bengals terminated Johnson's contract.

"I miss him," McDonald said. "I learned a lot from him. On the double teams and reading offenses."

Atkins, the fourth-rounder from 2010 who now takes Johnson's place as the starter, said Johnson helped with reading stances and formations. Although there had been some retirement buzz around Johnson, defensive line coach Jay Hayes says he believes Johnson still wants to play.

"I appreciate what he did for us and I enjoyed being around him; he's a good person," said Hayes, who helped rehab Johnson's career when he came to the Bengals on a one-year deal in 2009. "I wish him the best. I think a lot of him."

After releasing another eight-year lineman on the eve of camp, end Antwan Odom, the Bengals continue their youth movement up front and all over.

They have 11 starters with five years of NFL experience or less and a roster of 53 players 25 or younger.

Johnson, 29, an eight-year veteran, signed a four-year deal estimated in the $12 million range before last season, culminating his comeback from off-field problems that landed him in jail for 60 days in Chicago in 2007. But he won the job here in which he played through plantar fasciitis in 14 games and had 39 tackles and two sacks for the 2009 AFC North champs. He suffered a knee injury in the seventh game of last season and missed the rest of the year.

He was scheduled to make $2.25 million this year, but the salary cap absorbs the prorated signing bonus at about $1 million.

Johnson leaves with a better reputation, but head coach Marvin Lewis needed him on the field and the kids aren't coming off. Along with rookie left end Carlos Dunlap and second-year right end Michael Johnson, Atkins formed "Fisher Price," the pass rushing line that came on so quickly at the end of last season spearheaded by Dunlap's franchise rookie-record 9.5 sacks and Atkins' three.

Now McDonald is another young guy coming off Player of the Game honors Friday night in Detroit with eight tackles and a forced fumble and is being groomed as a guy backing up both nose and the three technique at tackle.

Since the group has another year under their belts, Hayes wonders if they should graduate from "Fisher Price" to "Little Tikes."

"That's the 'they don't know what they don't know' group," Hayes said. "Sometimes they think they know more than they know and that's not necessarily the case. Not Geno. But Carlos. All they know is 'I'm coming,' and that's a good thing to have."

If the test for McDonald is to see how effectively he can back up both spots, the key for Atkins is if his relentless motor is going to allow him to rush the passer as exuberantly on third down as when he's playing the first and second downs.

The Johnson release doesn't do much for the logjam. The Bengals traditionally keep eight defensive linemen, four of them tackles, and Pat Sims (knee) has yet to practice and Hayes says Jason Shirley has played well knowing this is probably his last shot.

Thrown into the mix for the first time this season in Tuesday night's practice is veteran Jon Fanene, a guy that plays both end and tackle along with Frostee Rucker. Left end Robert Geathers is the leader and right end Victor Adeyanju has been quite active in practice and showed up in the first preseason game.

"There's a sign in the weight room," McDonald said. " 'Iron Sharpens Iron.' There's good competition."

LIVINGS LIVES: Offensive line coach Paul Alexander rolls his eyes at the criticism leveled at left guard Nate Livings in the wake of the sack he allowed Friday night. Everyone, it seems, wants Livings benched and Alexander's first question is, "Who replaces him?" And it reminds him of the heat guard Mike Goff took 10 years ago before he became a starter on some very good San Diego playoff teams.

"They don't know what the hell is going on," Alexander said of the critics. "I stood up for Goff all the time. He got run out of this town. Goff played until he was 35. I read the stuff about Nate. I don’t think it's fair about Nate. Other guys make mistakes and it's Nate's fault. I don't buy it. Nate is having a good camp."

Alexander loves his nickname. "Nasty." "No one calls him Nate. He's nasty, tough and smart."

But if someone comes along better, Alexander says he'll play him. Fourth-rounder Clint Boling played well at left guard Friday and has looked good this camp. But Alexander apparently feels the rookie and free-agent pickup Max Jean-Gilles aren't ready. Alexander says he'll play Boling earlier Sunday night against the Jets than he did against the Lions so he can see how he plays against better competition. And he doesn't know if it will be at right or left guard.

Alexander also praised the work of right tackle Andre Smith now that he's truly been able coach him every day at this camp for the first time since the Bengals took him with the sixth pick in the 2009 draft.

He called Monday morning the worst offensive practice of camp, but Alexander said it's the best feeling he's had leaving the practice field in awhile because Smith had a light-bulb moment in which he started clicking on technique in his pas protection that they've been working on continually.

MORE HELP: With his receivers not getting much healthier, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is again turning to his old UFL roster just like he did to pluck John Standeford off the street last week. This time it is speedster Calvin Russell coming in for a tryout before Tuesday's practice.

Guys like Quan Cosby and Andre Caldwell might be able to play Sunday night with their muscle pulls, but the Bengals also need guys to practice. A lot of guys apparently got gassed after pounding through Monday's third-and-long session.

"I've never seen anything like it," Gruden said of the injuries. "Not in all in one position ... of course I'm going to get a guy that knows my offense."

By the way, Alexander said he saw one of the most impressive things he's ever seen when he saw Gruden call plays Friday night without ever looking at his call sheet.

"I've never seen that before," Alexander said. "He knows his offense."

SLANTS AND SCREENS

» Falcons quarterbacks coach and former Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski remembers what a solid, soothing presence Reggie Kelly is, and he had to be a big reason the Falcons signed Kelly on Tuesday in the wake of injured depth behind Tony Gonzalez at tight end. It's a great move for Kelly since his children are starting school in Atlanta this week. Perfect. Plus, the Falcons drafted him into the NFL in 1999.

» Also Tuesday, the Bengals terminated the contract of veteran tight end Garrett Mills.

 

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