Q: When will we see signing of draft picks? Shouldn't most of them be signing contracts this week? What's the best way (the best time/place) to meet players and coaches at training camp?
--Jim S., Louisville, KY
JIM: Start looking Monday afternoon. From what can be gathered, the Bengals have their proposals on the table and indications are the second-day guys (rounds four to seven) are going to be in on time. There's not much coming from the camps of the top two picks, but past history with one of the agents suggest nothing ugly.
There are always two sides to this story. The team says the agents don't want to be the first guys to sign in case someone gets a better deal and they look bad trying to recruit for next year. And the agent says they only want a fair increase from the year before and they just want what everybody else is getting in the slot.
Of course, there's more to it than that, and much of the debate isn't over money but escalators. Particularly for the lower-round picks where the pain of singing a four-year deal can be lessened by an easy-to-reach escalator in that last year.
It's a little bit more complicated for the top picks, but not much. Both sides would probably be more comfortable with some more deals done around Leon Hall's spot at No. 18, so the Steelers' deal with Lawrence Timmons at No. 15 should be helpful.
Agents Doug Hendrickson and Mike Sullivan of Octagon are doing Hall's deal and Sullivan is a veteran of big contracts that doesn't have a big holdout history. The one memorable one was another corner, Quentin Jammer, several years ago with San Diego. Last year Hendrickson and Sullivan got another corner drafted around Hall's spot, Tye Hill at No. 15 in St. Louis, in on time without missing a full team workout.
The year Sullivan had Jammer (2002), he and the Bengals went to the wire on second-rounder Lamont Thompson but got a camp eve contract. That's the year the firm opted not to allow Thompson to work with the club in the spring because the Bengals wouldn't guarantee Thompson injury protection in writing, a policy that Hendrickson says the club has since changed. But it shows that didn't even get in the way of a deal.
Without a doubt the best way to get close to the players are the three weeks at training camp. After practice coming off the field or out of the locker room seems to be the best time to shake a hand or get a signature. Try and get offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski before he gets on his And-Your-Little-Dog-Too bicycle.
Actually, the coaches are tough to get any time because they're just so damn busy. Usually after practice they're busting to get back to their dorms or offices to break down film so they can get ready for meetings. Not only are they toiling over preparation for intense practice sessions, but they're also working on preparations for the intrasquad scrimmage and Mock Game soon followed by the preseason opener.
Training camp is simply not a day at the beach for NFL assistants. But if you happen to catch one, they'd be rushed but pleasant and accommodating.
The players are clearly more relaxed and accessible and it depends how much you want to wait around before and after practice. You might get some guys before practice if they've got time and aren't hurrying to get there. But they seem more into it right after, or on the way to eat and/or rest before meetings.
Q: As training camp approaches, I have been reading about the status of a number of different players but I haven't heard much about Dexter Jackson, who I think is a huge key to the defense. When he is healthy I feel that gives the 'D' a big boost. Do you know if he is back to 100 percent from his ankle injury?
--Adam W., Cincinnati, OH
ADAM: A non-issue. He participated in the spring drills and looked fine and, you're right, he's a physical guy that can really help them now that he's healthy.
Everyone keeps talking about this defense getting an attitude (rightfully so) and here is a guy from the outside that brings it. It looked like he had a tough time last year between getting acclimated with the guys around him and the ankle. There is nothing tougher to shake than an ankle injury, and worse, he got it early, the second week during the Cleveland massacre that claimed Rich Braham, Tab Perry and David Pollack for the season. He also displayed some of that attitude in the locker room when he publicly undressed the defense after the Chargers' 42-point second half.
The Bengals can use some of that on defense, particularly in a secondary that is now much younger without Tory James and Kevin Kaesviharn. As the dean of the DBacks, the fiery and committed Jackson should provide an anchor for Hall, as well as rookie safeties Marvin White and Chinedum Ndukwe.
Q: Do you think Rudi Johnson and Kenny Irons will share the same amount of carries?
--Alex L., Maumee, OH
ALEX: No, not this year anyway. The best road map is 2005, Chris Perry's only healthy season that is also Johnson's best season. Johnson carried 337 times to Perry's 61.
Given that Perry racked up 4.6 yards per carry, there was a certain buzz that he should have had some more carries. It remains to be seen how well Irons plays, but he's certainly not the receiver that Perry is. That gave the Bengals 51 other occasions to get Perry the ball. If they can't do that for Irons, will they give him more chances to run with it? Maybe, but not enough to change Johnson's role of bell cow. Plus, remember, Perry was in his second season and not a rookie.
It's not going to be like in Indy, where Joseph Addai had 226 carries and Dominick Rhodes had 187. Or where Maurice Jones-Drew had 166 carries to Fred Taylor's 231 for the Jaguars. It's probably going to be closer to Miami and Ronnie Brown's 241 carries to Sammy Morris' 92, if that.
The Bengals obviously want about 100 more carries than 241 for Johnson because they hope to be balanced and have the lead. But the fact that Johnson's career-best 4.3 yards per carry that resulted in a career-best 1,458 yards came with Perry in '05 shows a complement can be quite complimentary.