Bengals catch up on wides

Updated: 4:40 p.m.

Marvin Lewis gave fair warning in the week leading up to the NFL Draft that the Bengals would seek new players in every skill position. Even for a wide receiver group that includes the most prolific pass catcher the franchise has ever known and the player who caught more passes in a single season than any player in team history.

The Bengals added two wide receivers among their first four picks in this draft, backing up Lewis' words. First came Jerome Simpson of Coastal Carolina in the second round on Saturday; then on Sunday the Bengals chose Florida's Andre Caldwell in the third round with the 97th overall pick.

The position group may not be in full transition but the Bengals now feel they are better equipped to handle any turmoil or turnover that might arise in the coming year.

"I think it's hard for a lot of these receivers to muster up to what we're looking for because we look at our guys every day and we get comfortable with how they run and how big and explosive they are so when we look at some of the prospective guys coming out you're looking for them to match those types of characteristics," said Lewis on Sunday. "I think we've been fortunate to find two guys that really fit that bill, that have that kind of explosiveness and athleticism and ability to go track and get the football. That's important to us for what we do offensively."

The Bengals finished last season with the No. 7 passing offense in the league, averaging 250.8 yards per game. Quarterback Carson Palmer set club records with 4,131 yards passing and 373 completions while tossing 26 touchdowns. Those raw numbers, however, hide the fact that the passing attack is in a state of change and is in need of improvement. Palmer also threw a career-high 20 interceptions last season.

The team released Chris Henry this month, ending their relationship with the talented wide receiver who was equally troubled when it came to off-field conduct. Chad Johnson has vowed to sit out the season if he's not traded, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who tied for the league lead with 112 receptions last season, is entering the final season of his contract.

The trio combined for 226 receptions, 2,926 yards and 22 touchdowns. Henry's 21 receptions were more than any other wide receiver on the team after Houshmandzadeh and Johnson despite missing eight games due to an NFL suspension.

That was the lowest number of receptions for a Bengals third wide receiver since 2000, when Danny Farmer had 19 catches.

"You always have to stay ahead of the curve a little bit," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "We've lost Chris Henry, we've lost Kelley Washington last year, we lost Tab (Perry) and we lost Kevin Walter. You look at that group and we've gone from a very strong and deep group to a group that we weren't able to replace any of those guys.

"I don't know that it's necessarily a message to what T.J.'s situation is or anything like that but it's that we needed depth at the position and now it's going to be a very competitive situation for the group that's going to be there to make the roster."

Simpson and Caldwell both showed the ability in college to not just get open but then produce points once they got their hands on the ball. Simpson scored 43 touchdowns among his 157 career receptions at Coastal Carolina, while Caldwell reached the end zone 16 times in 185 career receptions.

That included one touchdown against Ohio State in the BCS National Championship game two seasons ago, a 1-yard scoring pass he caught from Tim Tebow to give Florida a 38-14 lead with 23 seconds left in the first half. The Gators eventually won the game, 41-14.

"I just remember that it was the best feeling in the world when I scored my touchdown in the national championship game and when I saw zero-zero on the clock and we were victorious and we were the No. 1 team in the country," said Caldwell during a conference call Sunday.

He also said that Johnson was one of the players he idolizes and patterns his game after. Simpson echoed that sentiment when he spoke to media members Saturday evening.

"I know that I'm going to make big catches in big situations because big-time players make big-time plays," said Simpson. "I hope (Johnson) doesn't hold out so I can learn how to run some of those great routes he runs."

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