Updated: 4/25/10, 8:10 a.m.
In the end, the Bengals 2010 NFL Draft suited a team coming off an AFC North division championship.
While many teams used the extra time allowed by the NFL's first prime time draft to hatch deals to move up and down, the Bengals sat in their spots and took nine players pretty much the way they fell off the board and didn't feel the urgency to fill needs at safety.
And suddenly the roster spots nearly everywhere else have tightened up.
Head coach Marvin Lewis built last year's renaissance on the foundation of a locker room that thrived on a spirit of competition. When the Bengals decided not to sacrifice picks to move up and get USC safety Taylor Mays in the second round or reach for Kentucky fullback John Conner in the fourth round, or opted to go for the best player on the board in the sixth round, they spiced the training camp competition at defensive line, linebacker and wide receiver.
Three benefits of staying put showed up at Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday as the club wrapped up the draft with more weapons and protection for quarterback Carson Palmer. First-round pick Jermaine Gresham, introduced to the media Friday night, watched second-rounder Carlos Dunlap and third-rounders Jordan Shipley and Brandon Ghee get the treatment.
"I am hearing a lot from our veteran players," Lewis said. "They approve of these three guys in particular. They think they will bring some immediate help and competitiveness."
All wore suits and ties and the easy air of players from the big time that had sat through it all before but knew how important this day is. Good players can smell competition and they knew they were getting a heavy whiff.
"They get it. They understand it. They're from big-time programs. They seem like mature guys that know this is important," said Dave Lapham, the long-time Bengals radio analyst.
Lapham would know. He's the national analyst for Big 12 games, a conference the Bengals raided five times for the nine picks, headed by Palmer's shiniest toys, Gresham, the Oklahoma tight end, and Shipley, the Texas wide receiver.
"The problem with this team last year was their failure to control the middle of the field, to control between the hashmarks," said Lapham, who predicted Shipley would start the season as the slot receiver. "I don't care how strong Carson's arm is, you can't keep throwing to the edges. The ball is in the air too long. Shipley will be like T.J. (Houshmandzadeh) in the red zone. He'll be where he's supposed to be, and Gresham will be another big presence over the middle. He just doesn't catch it; he plucks the ball out of the air."
Throw in the big, after the-catch exploits of sixth-round Kansas receiver Dezmon Briscoe and two receivers from the '08 draft, and slot receiver Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson are feeling the heat. Caldwell for the No. 3 spot and Simpson for just a spot on the team.
Shipley, a coach's son who has been holding for kickers since he can first remember at his dad's practices, admitted the drive in from the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Airport on Saturday was thrilling.
"You make the turn in the road and you come around and you suddenly see the city," Shipley said. "And the stadium is right there. It gets you thinking."
Dunlap, a defensive end from Florida, had already been thinking. He's got top 10 tools and body, but he hears the whispers about his motor. Or lack of one.
"My goal is to get a sack against every team I play against that passed on me," he said. "And I want to compete for NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Year."
For a guy who is supposed to lack fire, Dunlap seemed to understand he's walking into a crowded depth chart at defensive end, ranging from high-paid veterans Robert Geathers and Antwan Odom to productive backups Frostee Rucker and Jon Fanene.
"Competition-wise, I feel I've competed with the best of them, playing in those types of games," said Dunlap of his schedule at Florida. "They only let the best play in those games. I'm looking forward to it transferring over and I know I've got to improve. It's a different game, so there are things I am going to have to work on. Nobody's perfect."
Ghee, the cornerback from Wake Forest, also said the ride in was impressive, and that's saying something. He's a military brat and figures he has lived in 14 different towns growing up. But it was his first time in Ohio.
Still, since he had watched Hard Knocks last year when the Bengals were featured, he felt like he knew the team. The competition of that camp is the one thing that stuck out in his mind. Well, that and "Besides laughing at Ochocinco the whole time."
"I thought they were a very hard-working team," Ghee said. "You hear about teams not hitting in practice and not going through drills hard, but all the way through Hard Knocks I saw them doing the Oklahoma drill and etc. It seemed like a lot of competition as a family out there. It's a great organization."
When you're talking about Ghee, think Leon Hall, half of the Bengals cornerback tandem that is considered one of the best in the NFL. When Ghee pulls a ballcap over his eyes, he bears a striking resemblance to Hall. As do his fast-clipped answers that arrive well thought out.
He has started 33 games but he knows that streak is about to end with Hall and Joseph around. But the competition for the nickel spot with last year's incumbent, Morgan Trent, and the '08 nickel, David Jones, has been upped a notch. Ghee said he's not discouraged coming to a team so set at starters.
"Yeah. Joseph and Hall. I think it's going to help me," Ghee said of sitting behind them. "I'm going to take advantage of learning from them."
Lapham wasn't the only guy that recognized all three players were dressed professionally and tastefully.
"The way I see it, the first impression is the only impression," Ghee said. "This is a job and I'm going to treat it like any other job and that means a suit and a tie."
It seemed to be a mutual first impression. Indeed, Ghee said it when he offered, "I think the best thing about that is that we all love to compete. I think we are all competitors and that's why they chose us as their draft picks. Competition brings a great team, great camaraderie. Hopefully, we can contribute to them."
Shipley has been hearing comparisons to not only Houshmandzadeh, but also Patriots Pro Bowler Wes Welker. He joins a receiving corps that looks drastically different than the one that lined up last spring. The Ocho has his third different running mate in as many seasons, eight-year veteran Antonio Bryant. Caldwell, Shipley, and one of Shipley's best friends, former Texas teammate Quan Cosby, are crowding into the slot. Briscoe, former No. 1 pick Matt Jones and journeyman Chris Davis are making the numbers game uncomfortable for Simpson.
"I believe competition is the big thing there," Shipley said. "I think when you get used to winning, that's what you expect. I think that's why they drafted us. Because we're competitors. That's always been the way that I've approached the game at any level. I expect to win. I am going to compete as hard as possible. I think that's the same for all of us."
They have to if they want to play, which is the idea when you're supposed to reload and not rebuild.