Day in the trenches?


Andrew Whitworth

The biggest draft of head coach Marvin Lewis's 10 seasons in Cincinnati is a day away, so one of his best ones may be a good place to start as Bengaldom begins Thursday's Late Night viewing (8 p.m., ESPN, NFL Network) for those two first-round picks.

And with left tackle Andrew Whitworth and defensive tackle Domata Peko from the 2006 draft arguably the best value picks in the Lewis era, the Bengals could very well be staring at another "Trench Draft" that always seems to play well in the AFC North as they mull the 17th and 21st selections.

"Those are the two positions of strength in the first round," says Rob Rang, resident draftnick for CBS Sports and the Sports Xchange. "The kind of guys the Bengals like, big guys on both sides of the ball, that's about right where they're picking. When you think about it, a solid offensive lineman or defensive lineman you know is going to help you makes more sense than gambling on a cornerback or a wide receiver."

There are even those who wouldn't be surprised if the Bengals opted for two defensive linemen in the first round, but history would scoff. Len Pasquarelli of the Sports Xchange reports that in the last five years 16 teams have exercised two first-round picks and only once was it two defensive players.

Of course, it was a pretty good haul when the '09 Packers took tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews. But six times teams took two offensive players and nine times they took one of each.

In the second round of the 2006 draft, the Bengals chose the safety of Whitworth instead of the unknown of Miami's Devin Hester. Hester was the intoxicating pick as a gamebreaking punt/kick returner, and Whitworth was hard to get excited about because the Bengals were talking about giving left tackle Levi Jones a long-term deal. But Hester didn't have a position and Whitworth was solid at a premium position, and while Hester has been brilliant, Whitworth has been a huge part of this team on and off the field as he developed into a Pro Bowl level player after Jones's career was cut short by injury.

"I had no idea where I was going to go," Whitworth said of Draft Day. "Some said the first, some the second, some didn't know."

Which sounds like some of the top offensive linemen in this draft, like Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin, teammate David DeCastro at guard, and Georgia guard-tackle Cordy Glenn, all projected to be solid pros.

So are a slew of defensive ends and tackles that are going to be available at both picks. Some surely won't be there, such as Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and South Carolina end Melvin Ingram. But guys like a trio of athletic tackles in Memphis' Dontari Poe, LSU's Michael Brockers, and Penn State's Devon Still would have to give any AFC North team pause and one or all could be there. Lindy's draft publication compares them to current pros Kevin Williams, Richard Seymour and Red Bryant, respectively.

Rang notes the Bengals are filled up with veteran cornerbacks and have the luxury of digging into the trenches early and often and don't have to roll the dice on what is always one of the more iffy positions.

"If you look what the Bengals have done lately, they've done a good job with the down linemen they've taken down in the draft," Rang says.

Virtually all the snaps on the defensive line last season were taken by third- or fourth-rounders in Peko, Pro Bowler Geno Atkins, Robert Geathers, Michael Johnson, Pat Sims and the departed Frostee Rucker.

Rucker, a third-rounder, and Peko, a fourth-rounder, were in that '06 class that has to go down as Lewis's best, although the '10 and '11 classes are going to give it a run. Peko is always among the NFL leaders in tackles by defensive tackles, Whitworth is a perennial Pro Bowl alternate on the cusp of making it, Rucker snagged a big free-agent deal in Cleveland last month and first-rounder Johnathan Joseph made the Pro Bowl last year in his first season with Houston.

Defensive line coach Jay Hayes ran a lot of Peko's drills during the Michigan State pro day, so we know that athleticism is high on Cincinnati's list. Maybe more so than bulk.

"He had that tape of the long return for a touchdown and that was something very athletic, very impressive," Hayes said of the epic 75-yarder against Michigan. "And when I worked him out up there, he did a great job being able to get his body into athletic positions."

Meanwhile, Rang reiterates what people have been saying for months: If teams don't go for Boise State running back Doug Martin or Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill at No. 21, they can find a starting No. 2 receiver as late as the fourth round and a serviceable back that can help right away in rounds two and three.

"Especially for the Bengals when it comes to receiver," Rang says. "They don't need a speedster with A.J. Green. They need the kind of guy they usually go for: a big guy on the outside that can catch the ball and there are a lot of those guys out there."

HALL OF FAME TREND: Bengals scout Bill Tobin has had plenty of good draft days. While calling the shots in Chicago and Indianapolis, he took five Hall of Famers off the board, as well as a future Hall of Famer. In Chicago running back Walter Payton, middle linebacker Mike Singletary, and defensive linemen Richard Dent and Dan Hampton arrived during his watch. He also took running back Marshall Faulk in Indianapolis. Tobin also took Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison, thought to be a first-ballot lock.

Tobin on the traits they all had in common as they sat on the board: "They came from winning teams. They had intelligence. They were competitive. They were team-oriented, weren't afraid to work, were leaders.  A lot of it is talent. A lot of it is intangibles. When in doubt, bet on character."

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