Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals representative to the NFL Players Association, is going to be in for a whirlwind session once he arrives in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine.
More than 300 draft prospects converge this week and early next week for NFL teams to scrutinize them on the field, in the weight room and under the microscope of every club doctor and trainer. Throw in a few psychological exams and it's the ultimate job fair.
But it could also be the last NFL event before the March 4 lockout and there are going to be some interested NFL vets in the house.
As a newly selected member of the players' group that meets with the NFL competition committee, Whtworth is going to be in a Thursday meeting where committee members probe the players on how they think the game can be improved. His head coach, Marvin Lewis, is on the committee that looks at player safety as well as rules and Whitworth says he'll wait to tell them first before he makes his thoughts public.
Then Friday morning a group of player reps and alternates (the Bengals alternate duo is tight end Reggie Kelly and right guard Bobbie Williams) for a welfare summit. The players review the people and businesses that are pushing the NFL to buy their products, from helmets to energy drinks.
Then, some time Friday afternoon Whitworth expects the players that are in Indy to get an update on the collective bargaining talks and those reps that aren't there will be hooked into a conference call. Very little has leaked from the talks in Washington D.C. in which a federal mediator is brokering negotiations between the league and the players in an attempt to thwart the March 4 lockout.
"They've maintained their silence pretty well," Whitworth said. "I don't know how far they've gotten but I'm sure we'll be updated this week in Indy. I think they're just working hard on it. It's a good sign that they're meeting. It shows both sides are cooperating. You can't get it done without talking, so it's hopeful."
It's believed the Bengals are taking Carson Palmer's threat to be traded or retire quite seriously and that they are kicking the tires on all kinds of options. They want Palmer to return and believe he is their best chance to win, but everyone is also expecting them to take a close look at the top quarterbacks at the combine.
Whitworth is hoping Palmer comes back, too, and he thinks he can. But he also gets the sense the Bengals believe this is no idle threat.
"I think they're taking him seriously," he said. "He's not the kind of guy who's going to come out and voice something like that without thinking it through. You don't know the answers, but I don't think anybody thinks Carson Palmer is an irrational guy. You have to take a guy like that seriously. I don't know how it will play out."
GUENTHER ON THE DIME: Paul Guenther has proven to be a jack-of-all trades on head coach Marvin Lewis' staff and Lewis again turned to Guenther's versatility this week when he moved him from assistant linebackers coach to assistant secondary coach in charge of the safeties after Louie Cioffi took the secondary job in Arizona. In his seventh season with the club, Guenther also continues to assist special team coach Darrin Simmons.
"You always say you want to know what's going on at every position," Guenther said. "It's a neat deal for me because I feel pretty good with the front seven and working with (secondary coach) Kevin (Coyle) is really going to help me with the DBs because he's a guy that knows his stuff and has a lot of experience. It's going to help with the big picture of the defense."
Guenther is going to have a big say in how the picture looks on third down as his role expands in game-planning the passing downs. He had already been doing some of that working on various blitzes with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
"I like working with Zim because he's so aggressive and likes to be on the cutting edge," Guenther said. "It's important to understand the whole concept. What kind of routes are they running against the pressures? What are the protection schemes against the pressures we run? How does it affect the DBs? Get them to understand how they react as well."
Safety is a huge question mark heading into this week's combine. Of the club's top three, Roy Williams and Chinedum Ndukwe are free agents and Chris Crocker has just been cleared after an MCL injury. Guenther is on the lookout for guys like linebacker Dan Skuta. They don't have to be highly rated, just good. Skuta wasn't drafted out of Grand Valley State, but when Guenther went north to work him out at the Allendale, Mich., campus, he liked his brains and athleticism that allowed him to play all sorts of spots in college. Skuta has become the staple of special teams in his two seasons as well as a solid role player on defense.
Don't look now, but Jeromy Miles, a free agent safety out of Massachusetts who had five special-teams tackles in six games last year as a rookie and helped the Bengals lead the NFL in punt coverage, could be the kind of safety the Bengals would like to develop.
"I would think if you're a safety you'd like to play here; we ask our safeties to do a lot," Guenther said. "They play the half field, they play the middle third, they blitz, they run. What we're looking for is a guy that has good movement and is eager and willing to learn. We're going to blitz him a lot and he's going to be aggressive in run support. To play safety here is different than other teams that play guys in the half field. We do a lot of different things and they're interchangeable."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Jay Gruden is playing it close to the vest as he prepares to attend his first NFL combine as an offensive coordinator.
"We're looking for every position," he said. "We're not going to discriminate against greatness."
» Marvin Lewis is scheduled to meet the local media in Indy at about noon Friday. The big question is going to be how does the club plan to respond in the offseason to Palmer's edict.
» The Bengals have a decision to make on right tackle Andre Smith in the next month or so. Exercise an option to keep him for four more years or let the date pass and have him for two more years. The conventional wisdom is they won't do anything because this is such a big year for him, the second straight year he has come off the offseason with foot surgery. If he plays well and is healthy, the Bengals still have time to sign him up. But they don't have to make the call yet.