It's getting to be about that time. Monday, usually, when the Bengals vote on season captains and because of the heavy off-season influx of solid locker-room presences it should make the player balloting quite interesting.
Two of the incumbents, quarterback Andy Dalton on offense and the special team captain Clayton Fejedelem are no longer here. The veterans sent a clear signal how they feel about rookie quarterback Joe Burrow's leadership skills during last week's social justice meetings when they asked him to read their mission statement along with center Trey Hopkins.
So you could definitely see Burrow joining offensive incumbent A.J. Green with "Cs" on their jerseys. If they go with three on offense like they did last season, Hopkins is a candidate and so is running back Joe Mixon, since his infectious enthusiasm is one of the reasons he earned a four-year extension earlier this week.
Defense could be an open convention. Tackle Geno Atkins figures to win re-election but the other incumbent, strong safety Shawn Williams, is no longer a starter. Still, he remains one of their best leaders and figures to play a role as kind of a big linebacker.
Maybe the defense has three captains. There is 11-year man Carlos Dunlap who has the experience and there is also third-year man Sam Hubbard, an emerging player who showed a lot of leadership during the offseason.
Plus, free-agent pickups Vonn Bell, a strong safety, and Josh Bynes, a middle linebacker, play the positions and possesses the personalities that fit the 'C.' Bell has already asserted himself in the secondary with early-morning wake-up calls to get in the weight room or on the grease board, and the slew of rookie linebackers have flocked to Bynes.
There could always be two special teams captains. Williams figures to play a bunch of snaps in the kicking game, where special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons covets his experience while Simmons has raised the profile of running back Giovani Bernard on kicks.
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Bernard was an offensive captain last season, but he's been lining up a lot as the punter's personal protector, which is basically the special teams quarterback. With Simmons seeking to replace Fejedelem, his eyes have fallen on Bernard's speed, brains, tenacity and natural leadership skills he has seen here since 2013. Bernard is so highly-regarded by his teammates you figure he'll be wearing a "C,' again this season.
"At the end of the day you want to be that guy that your coaches can count on, and obviously it's something where I want Coach Simmons to be able to count on me," Bernard said Thursday. "He's a guy that's been here my whole career. I've obviously been on special teams here and there. This is obviously a bigger role and I'm excited for that role to be able to go out there and just show him and show this team what I can do not just on the running back side or offensively, but what I can offer on special teams as well."
Bernard has seen some good ones do it. Running back Cedric Peerman went to a Pro Bowl doing it and Fejedelem just missed a trip there two years ago.
"There's a guy my rookie year, Cedric Peerman. He's a guy that came in and worked his way up to being that guy, to be that special teams captain and excel at it as well," Bernard said. "Not only him but Clayton Fejedelem, a guy that we lost last year. Those two guys have obviously been the guys who have protected Kevin (Huber) and he got those punts off in crucial moments. So, I want to be able to be that guy that the team can count on when it does come down to crunch time to make that right call and get everything set."
Bernard was a prime mover behind the scenes on the social justice issue and he was impressed with that side of Burrow.
"I wasn't a big college football guy," Bernard said. "I didn't really watch too much, but the word around town was that he was one of those guys that really did a great job of leading his players. He's doing that exact same thing here. A lot of guys are following his lead. I think it's going to be an exciting year for him, an exciting year for this entire city. I think everybody here is excited."
PLAYBOOK PLAN: Bernard says a second year in head coach Zac Taylor's offense should benefit everyone, although there are some new wrinkles via the Bayou.
"There's definitely a little bit of Joe Burrow mesh with it," Bernard said. "We watched (some) stuff they do at LSU, so it's been pretty cool just to have him along and kind of see what they've done and kind of mesh that with Coach Taylor's offense. Obviously, from year one to year two it gives everybody a little bit of confidence, too.
"Everybody remembers what they did last year and we want to obviously get better. There is plenty of room for improvement. A second year in the playbook because this offense is very detailed and you have to be very detailed. So, having that confidence from last year and rolling over into this year should be fun."
GIO, GREEN TALKING '15: The Bengals haven't been above 26th in NFL offense for the past three seasons, but the Bengals are bullish on this unit that looks so much different with Burrow. According Elias, since the common draft in 1967 Burrow is the only overall No. 1 quarterback to have a two-time 1,000-yard rusher in Mixon and a pair of multiple 1,000-yard receivers in Green and Tyler Boyd.
Last week Green talked about how this offense reminds him of what they haven't had since 2015, when the Bengals won the AFC North and tied a franchise-best 12 victories with a pair of veteran wide receivers in Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu helping him out.
"That was as far as accolades and statistics, that was my best year," said Bernard, who had career-highs with 730 yards on 4.7 yards per carry on an offense that finished 15th in '15. "And I think as an organization we came out rolling. We know the type of offense that we had that year, and it was something special. And we obviously feel that way this year.
"Bringing in that quarterback and having the pieces that we do at wide receiver, having the running back group and being led by Joe (Mixon), so it's obviously something we have. As far as offensively, we have a stacked, stacked, stacked offense. So I'm super excited to see what everybody has to bring and get out there on game day."