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Revamped Bengals take field

Posted May 18, 2009


Carson Palmer

Posted: 6 p.m.

The Bengals take the field for the first time Tuesday with their widely-acclaimed offseason acquisitions on display in an overhaul designed to rebound from their worst season with Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer at the helm.

Not only is it the first glimpse at a roster on which 40 players weren't here a year ago. But in three workouts during each of the next four weeks (in which players wear helmets, shorts and no pads), the coaches get to expand what they've been working on since the offseason workouts began March 30. For instance, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and position coach Jay Hayes have made pass rush a point of emphasis a couple of times a week with the defensive line.

Here is a list of some of the best story lines of May and June:

Andre Smith's Side: The conventional wisdom seems to be that the Bengals are going to move their most experienced left tackle, Andrew Whitworth, from left guard and put him back at tackle while opting to put their first-round pick at right tackle. That would suggest that Anthony Collins, who finished last season at left, may start out backing up both or he could start at right. But the way the Bengals sounded on draft day, they want Smith playing right away.

You're going to be hearing this a lot in the coming weeks and months: The goal is going to be to get the best players on the field no matter the position. So if the Bengals have decided Whitworth and Smith are the two best tackles, that's why they're not going to keep Whitworth at left guard.

One subplot here is left guard. Nate Livings held up well there in the final six games when Scott Kooistra suffered a season-ending knee injury. Both are back and Kooistra seems healthy.

Center of it All: Let's face it; the offensive line is going to dominate Tuesday's news cycle. Gone are three tackles that were here last year at this time, as well as the team's starting center, Eric Ghiaciuc, and it's the first practice quarterback Carson Palmer has overseen since the lack of protection sent him into medical exile five games into last season.

The Bengals don't have a center on their roster with an NFL start, but they are hoping the May and June sessions reinforce what Kyle Cook has learned in the system for the past two years. They have six centers on the roster and one of them, Jonathan Luigs, is a fourth-round pick they hope gets acclimated at guard so he can play a couple of different spots.

Pitch Count: The club has been saying Palmer's right elbow is ready to go for so long now that it's not even the top storyline. He was cleared back in the winter and has been working in the offseason program. He figures his pitch count of 150 to 180 balls is what he would throw in a typical spring workout that lasts for about an hour and 50 minutes.

In the first public look at Palmer's recovery from a slight tear of the ulna collateral ligament, all eyes will be on his ability to get the ball downfield.

Linebacker lineup: The Bengals were as nearly as adamant about getting second-round pick Rey Maualuga on the field as quickly as Smith. Although he played a ferocious middle linebacker at USC, they lined him up at SAM backer at the rookie camp and seem set on leaving Dhani Jones in the middle. That would put SAM backer Rashad Jeanty on the bench, a guy that has been, arguably, the team's best run defender.

It comes under the same heading of getting the best player on the field without a label. If Jones, Maualuga and Keith Rivers are the three best linebackers, why make Maualuga sit and learn behind Jones?

Rush hour: The Bengals finished next to last in generating sacks per pass in '08 and Zimmer feels responsible because he spent so much time emphasizing stopping the run.

So every Tuesday and Thursday for about 30 and 40 minutes he and Hayes have been putting the line through drills solely focused on pass-rush fundamentals.

"It's not like we haven't been working on it, we're just emphasizing it more," said left end Robert Geathers. "Sometimes you get distracted just trying to get to the quarterback and you've got to remember what to use to get there. The things the great ones use to get there. Hands. First step. Pad level. Just focus on it. Watching a little more on film and go over it on the field. Not at a fast tempo but at coaches' speed. More teaching and the veterans get to put their two cents in. It will help us."

With Geathers rehabbing from microfracture knee surgery and not expected to be back until June, Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene figure to get their shots at left end in the base defense as well as inside on passing downs. Rucker and his mates have been watching DVDs of Warren Sapp's D-line the year the Bucs won the Super Bowl with Booger McFarland, Simeon Rice and Greg Spires.

Second-year tackle Pat Sims has a DVD of Kevin Williams, the Vikings four-time Pro Bowler with 42.5 career sacks. Rucker is also watching tape of Williams' teammate, end Jared Allen. Rucker is about three inches shorter than the 6-6 Allen, but he can pick up some things.

"He doesn't leave himself just one move; he's got a couple of different options," Rucker said. "He's got the all-time motor. He uses his inside rush as effective as his outside rush.

"Last year the whole emphasis was stopping the run and I think we made huge strides in that last year. We get it. We know where our fits are. Now, let's not forget to rush the passer."

Roy In The Box: What exactly do you do with a five-time Pro Bowl safety that got here less than two weeks before the onfield workouts? With Roy Williams still picking up the system, you'd have to think that Chris Crocker and Chinedum Ndukwe are going to start in the base defense.

But in another example of getting their best defenders on the field, the Bengals talked when Williams signed of having three safeties on the field in some packages.

Spring ball isn't exactly going to underscore Williams' strengths, which are tackling, hitting and playing the run. But Zimmer and secondary coaches Kevin Coyle and Louie Cioffi insist he can still play the pass, the major knock against him in Dallas.

They should certainly get a good idea if Williams can cover in these practices because that's one thing that can be seen without pads.

And Coyle has had his own points of emphasis this spring. He's been walking around with two baseball gloves and some softballs in an effort to drill the DBs on playing and judging the ball in the air.

Hometown Huddle: Just how effective is rookie punter Kevin Huber going to be? The University of Cincinnati All-American is going to get plenty of chances because three days after being drafted in the fifth round the Bengals cut the other two punters, including their regular over the last five seasons, Kyle Larson.

It is also Huber's first look in the operation with the long-time duo of long snapper Brad St. Louis and kicker Shayne Graham. St. Louis has snapped for all of Graham's 154 field goals as a Bengal and Larson held for 132 of them.

Huber, the McNicholas High grad, is the second Cincinnati prep player to play at UC and be drafted by the Bengals. You have to go all the way back to 1969 when Woodward High's Clem Turner, a running back, was taken in the fourth round. Turner played one season and averaged 4.6 yards on 23 carries.


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