The Jake Fisher pick summed up how the Bengals are attacking this draft and this season.
The Bengals did what they were supposed to do in Friday night's third round of the NFL Draft.
They virtually said good-bye to the Jermaine Gresham Era when they selected their highest rated tight end in Tyler Kroft of Rutgers and added the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year to a depleted linebacker corps suddenly energized by the arrival of Texas Christian playmaker Paul Dawson.
But it was the second round selection of Oregon left tackle Jake Fisher that crystalized the fire head coach Marvin Lewis is trying to add to his locker room and how director of player personnel Duke Tobin is setting up the draft to do it.
For the first time in their history the Bengals selected offensive tackles back-to-back in the first and second rounds when they took the versatile and energetic Fisher with the 53rd pick, less than 24 hours after they took Texas A&M left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi with the 21st pick of the first round. It opened them up to the criticism of stacking and not meeting needs, but they pulled off the two step. They stayed true to their board and then met their needs a round later.
On a night Lewis praised Bengals president Mike Brown for sticking to the conviction of the board, troubled pass rusher Randy Gregory's name never got traction. "In my mind there were 40 top players in this draft and the rest is a crapshoot,' said Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham. "These two guys are way up there in the 40s.
"(The critics) don't want to hear about setting the board. I thought 21 was a little too rich for (Fisher), but this is not too rich for him. He's a good player."
The critics wonder where they can play Fisher on a line already intact. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, coming off a Pro Bowl-type year, and right tackle Andre Smith, in his prime at 28, may be heading into the last year of their deals, but not now.
They just re-signed left guard Clint Boling for $5 million per year, a few days ago they exercised a $8 million option for 2016 on right guard Kevin Zeitler, and they traded up to get center Russell Bodine last year.
The Bengals answer is they'll figure it out later. As one draft room insider said Friday, "We're in the talent accumulation business." So Fisher most likely becomes the sixth man, the first guy off the bench, because they think he can play all five spots and Lewis said, "He'll play on Sundays."
It gives offensive coordinator Hue Jackson another toy. Fisher is already his big tight end in the goal-line and short-yardage packages and who knows what he can come up with using his versatility in his unbalanced lines and run-oriented packages? Fisher's freshman year as a tight end is intriguing.
"That's the beautiful part — we get to pick and choose how we want to attack teams, based on what we think is best for us to win that game," Jackson said. "The fun part is that we now have some pieces that can do a lot of different things up front. It gives us the flexibility to do things like that, but at the end of the day; we're going to find out what these guys do really well and give them an opportunity to do it."
It brings the mind back to the second round in 2006 at No. 55, when the Bengals opted to take Whitworth over returner Devin Hester and the pick was greeted lukewarm. The Bengals already had a left tackle only 26 years old in Levi Jones. But Whitworth had the look in his eye of a leader and the talent to match, a guy they couldn't pass over, much like Fisher. And when Jones' knees gave out over the next two years, unthinkable on Draft Day 2006, they were thankful they stuck to their board.
They usually keep nine offensive linemen, so seven, eight, and nine could be backup tackle Eric Winston, backup guard Trey Hopkins, and backup guard-center T.J. Johnson with Ogbuehi on the physically unable to perform list (PUP).
"Now you've got seven, eight guys active that are quality," Lapham said.
Lewis indicated there was a discussion with Fisher on the board along with Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, which was short-circuited when Miami grabbed Phillips at No. 52. But even if Phillips had been there, it wasn't a lock he was headed to Cincy. They weren't talking about him in the first round like they were Fisher.
"If you go for another position and don't put quite the value on that player, you're overshooting your thought. And then you're somewhat disappointed, and you've allowed a better player to go elsewhere," Lewis said. "We can't tell what happens with the football team, with injuries and so forth, so we want to fill up the seats (in the position room) the best we can, and then move from there onto the next one, and then the next one.
"And if you bypass one and you leave one sitting there — in your own minds, because everybody has done the work — valued at a different grade, then how does your system ever work? Why go through the exercise, if you're just going to hodge-podge around and choose willy-nilly? You have to trust your system, trust your board, and go with it. These guys come off the board basically the way we've had them ranked. There's always going to be an outlier, one way or another. But we've got to trust our own conviction and go with it."
The Fisher pick was driven by his impressive pre-draft visit a few weeks ago. His energy and presence permeated the draft room. It's just the kind of guy Lewis needs to juice up a team looking for a spark to get them out of the playoff rut. The kid's got a mean streak.
"He plays the game that way," Jackson said. "Obviously there are so many characteristics that drew us to him, but obviously that's one of them. He plays with a mentality that you like your offensive lineman to play with."
Lewis doesn't give many speeches in the draft room. He and Bengals president Mike Brown discuss things privately every day, but he made it clear in his news conference that he didn't want to let a personality and a talent like Fisher's slip away like two got away to the Packers. They never had second-round chances at two charismatic and productive guys, wide receiver Jordy Nelson in 2008 and wide receiver Randall Cobb in 2011.
"This is one of them. With the second round, we can talk about Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb — guys like that who we spent time with and had what we deemed special qualities, a special energy about them, and they've come into the league and proven that. And we didn't quite get to them — they went a little bit before we were picking. It proves the exercise.
"Take those kids that have the passion and look in their eye, who on Sunday you want to put in front of your football team. Andrew Whitworth has that. We have guys like that on this football team who we feel good about in that way. Bodine last year was one of those guys for us. Gio (Bernard), Jeremy (Hill) — when you put those guys in the room, that's what you want to have. As I said before that, we're fortunate that we can continue to add guys that fit that mold throughout the team."
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander believes, like Ogbuehi, that Fisher can play all five spots, and could project to Ogbuehi's future book-end on the right side.
But that's a long way off. Fisher made an impression on NFL scouts this past season when he moved from right tackle after a year- ending injury to the left tackle. Not known as an elite athlete, Fisher, 21, from Travers City, Mich., flashed enough reliability and versatility to get projected to the next level even though he had six holding penalties. Like Ogbuehi, he's also got that get-to-the-second-level athleticism the Bengals seek in their zone runs.
"Fisher's versatility and selflessness stood out to evaluators," said draft specialist Rob Rang of CBS Sports.com
Fisher started the previous two seasons at right tackle after making the move from tight end, so the thinking is he's still growing into his body.
"Very agile for tackle position," according to Sports Illustrated. "Still developing: Weighed in low-200-pound range not long ago."
Lewis is banking on the energy of kids like Fisher, Dawson, and Kroft to team with de facto captains like Whitworth and Domata Peko.
"Jake Fisher plays with just great attitude. Tremendous energy, passion kind of guy," Lewis said. "Obviously after taking Ced yesterday, we thought he was the best player we had. We just couldn't go past him. Find a way to fit him in.
"He's what you want, man. From right up the road. It's exciting to have him."
Fisher admitted he was getting anxious and he did notice Ogbuehi went to Cincinnati even though he said the Bengals kept in contact with him throughout the process.
"A little bit (surprised)," Fisher said when Lewis called. "But you never know what happens. God has a plan. He knew what was going to happen. I'm just happy to be part of the Bengals organization. I was getting a little anxious. But it's more motivation to go in and work hard."
Thankful he's staying in the Midwest after going out west to college ("That's what I was hoping for and my family was hoping for that as well"), he let it be known he'll even play center if asked even though he's only joked around snapping it in practice.
"Since day one as a young player I've been coachable and have played multiple positions in high school and college," Fisher said. "I love the challenge. I love to play football. Anything I have to do to help my team win is what I'll do."