Vita Vea watched Justin Smith and Domata Peko.
INDIANAPOLIS - This just may be the draft the Bengals go big or go home.
Maybe not right away at No. 12. But they have four picks in the first 100 and could/should/would end up with three offensive and defensive linemen in the first two days before heading into the fourth round on the last day on April 28.
“This is the draft to do it,” says Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com. “It’s about as deep as it’s been up front on both sides of the ball.”
And don’t the Bengals need linemen?
Head coach Marvin Lewis hates to be definitive when it comes to the club’s plans, but he said during this week’s NFL scouting combine here that the Bengals are going to add players to the offensive line during the offseason. And during his media availability new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin emphasized his desire for size and run-stoppers.
Austin pointed to his years in Baltimore (2011-13) as a secondary coach that included a Super Bowl title and the Ravens’ penchant for stopping the run. In the middle of it all was the great nose tackle Haloti Ngata. “One of the premier run-stoppers ever,” Austin said.
Like Austin says, going small and fast in the AFC North doesn’t end well and in 2006 his boss in Baltimore, general manager Ozzie Newsome, made the ultimate AFC North move when he traded up a spot to 12 to get Ngata in the first round. And nine years later another AFC North team grabbed another massive nose tackle at No. 12 when the Browns took Danny Shelton.
On Saturday, one of Shelton’s groomsmen at last week’s wedding showed up at the podium and Washington’s Vita Vea had a chance to make this combine his own moving down the aisle Sunday when he runs the 40-yard dash. He’s huge (6-3, 345) and strong (he promptly left the podium to rep 225 pounds 41 times) and he’s fast enough to joke about his college teammate’s record 40 last year.
“You can tell John Ross and Adidas I'm coming for the island,” he joked.
He didn't annex any territory, but 5.1 seconds is pretty good considering it was marred by a tweaked hamstring that took him out of the rest of the drills.
The Bengals have that 12 spot for nose tackles, but is he a top ten pick? Vea has a nice sense of history (he watches Reggie White tape) and he’s quite aware of fellow Samoans who have come before him, such as former Bengals nose tackle Domata Peko.
“Oh definitely,” Vea said. “Haloti Ngata when he played for the Ravens. He was outstanding down there. Obviously when he made that transition to Detroit, he did great
over there. He continued to shine. All of them, you know, Danny still now that he's up in the league and making his mark up there. Even in the backfield, Troy Polamalu, as a kid growing up you want to be those superstars and you watch all of them, and Peko, definitely watched some of him when he played fullback back at Cincinnati.”
Oklahoma tackle Orlando Brown Jr. struggled in Indy.
But the player he emulates is another Bengals draft pick, Justin Smith, a Pro Bowl act Vea caught while a kid in the Bay Area after Smith had moved on to the 49ers.
“I really admired Justin Smith growing up,” Vea said. “He was a very powerful man. And that's what I feel like one of my strengths was growing up was just being strong and having that power. Definitely watching him and trying to model my game after him.”
The knock on Vea is that he won’t give you much of a pass rush but the Bengals don’t need it with first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Geno Atkins next to him. If the Bengals don’t have a shot at Vea, they should have a chance at other run stuffers later. They could use some height and ballast in there and prospects like 6-3, 291-pound Taven Bryan of Florida, 6-2, 335-pound Tim Settle of Virginia Tech, and 6-4, 288-pound Da’Shawn Hand of Alabama may be answers in the first 100.
At the moment, the pundits don’t see an offensive tackle worthy of No. 12.
Orlando Brown Jr., of Oklahoma isn’t going that high after he combined a glacial 40 with a weak bench press. Connor Williams of Texas missed eight games with a knee injury over the last two seasons and the draftnicks wonder if he has the speed to deal with NFL edge rushers. Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey sounds like he’s one of the most well-rounded, but even his most visible supporter, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, says he’s a second-half of the first round pick.
But there are going to be some interesting guys in the next round or two, such as UCLA’s Kolton Miller and Ohio State’s Jamarco Jones. The 6-8, 308-pound Miller came here so under the radar that he took as many questions about UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen as he did about himself.
But he tested so well (setting the broad jump combine record for O-linemen at 10-1 while logging the third fastest 40 of the day on the line at 4.95 seconds and the second-best vertical leap at 33.5 inches) that teams are now going to go back and watch his games again. Humboldt State’s Alex Cappa just doesn’t look to have the big-school pedigree the Bengals covet.
And there are guards out there, too. We know they like Georgia guards since their incumbent left guard is Clint Boling and here comes Isaiah Wynn, another guy that played left tackle for the Bulldogs. Texas El-Paso’s Will Hernandez is viewed as one of the more powerful guys in the draft. Wynn may be on to something when it comes to guards.
“Nowadays, you're getting more of the quicker guys,” Wynn said. “They're not just powerful; they're also quicker and able to work moves. I feel like they're looking for guards who are more athletic than probably in previous years.”
There are also centers. If Russell Bodine re-signs we’re not having this conversation but he hasn’t yet.
Maybe Ohio State’s Billy Price ends up sliding a bit after he suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle in his combine lift. He says it’s a minor injury and that he should be fine for training camp, but what does that do to the spring he needs to get in sync with the offense? Just ask the Bengals’ last first-round pick.
Also getting some heavy run are Iowa’s James Daniels and Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow.
“I think it’s one of the deeper interior offensive line classes I’ve seen recently, especially at the top end,” Mayock said. “Wynn is highly intriguing … he’s going to be in that (same) conversation,” Mayock said. “When you talk about drop off, Wynn, Daniels, Hernandez, Billy Price, maybe even Frank Ragnow, all are in that conversation of late one to mid two.”
Three linemen in the first two days?
“It’s a big man’s game,” said Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin. “I wouldn’t have any problem with that if that’s how it unfolded.”
This gallery features photos of current Bengals players at past NFL Combines (AP Photos)