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How fine is nine?; Bengals alive and kicking with Simmons at helm


Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton: good fit or reach at No. 9?

The Bengals head to this week's NFL scouting combine in uncharacteristic fashion. They hold a top ten pick for just the third time in the last nine years and they've got a backup quarterback they can use as ammunition to move up in the other early rounds of the draft.

Mike Mayock, the NFL Network's inexhaustible draft analyst, is hearing plenty of buzz about quarterback Andy Dalton but he's not sure if the interest is going to match the Bengals' desire in trade. But while there is some fear that a weak quarterback class may put their ninth pick in no man's land, Mayock says the top ten will provide a big-time player, maybe even one of those  coveted pass rushers.

 Is this No. 9 just high enough that the pick demands a Pro Bowl player but is just low enough to miss out on the highest impact players?

Have no fear.

This gallery features photos of current Bengals players at past NFL Combines (AP Photos)

 "Regardless of what happens, you'll be fine at No. 9 and you'll get a good player," says Mayock, whose NFL Network team is live with the 9 a.m. workouts from March 3-6.

Of course, a few things will help the Bengals get one of those guys.

"You want all three quarterbacks to go and a couple of  those running backs," says Mayock of positions he believes the Bengals won't touch at No. 9.  "(The QBs) might. You could easily make a case for Cleveland at one, San Francisco two, Chicago three and the Jets six (that) they need quarterbacks desperately. You would imagine at least one, if not two or three are gone by the time you get to nine."

Mayock doesn't have a quarterback anywhere near getting picked in the top ten because none of them can help a team right away. Still, he says the Bengals could have a shot at Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett ("He can play") and while he finds No. 9 a bit much for Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton he also finds that not far-fetched. 

"He fits what the defense is. He looks like Carlos Dunlap. He looks like Michael Johnson. At 6-6, 270," Mayock says of Charlton.  "That's what (defensive coordinator) Paul Guenther loves. Those kinds of guys. That's a little high for me for him. But still, he's a first-round defensive end and I know Coach Guenther will get the most out of him."

Mayock also says two safeties, Ohio State's Malik Hooker and LSU's Jamal Adams are top five worthy, and Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore is top ten. It remains to be seen where the Bengals rank a guy like Hooker since they aren't overly fond of prospects that play just one year of significant snaps.

Mayock says he's hearing McCarron's name just below the trade talks dull roar for Jimmy Garoppolo, Tom Brady's backup.

"There's interest around with the (league's) quarterback situation," Mayock says. "Underneath the Garoppolo situation there is McCarron interest out there. I don't know what kind of value to throw on him or what Cincinnati would be willing to take… I don't know if it's a second-round pick or third-round pick. I don't really know what the value is but what I do know is there are people saying, 'Is AJ McCarron better than what we have right now?'"


AJ McCarron is immersed in trade rumors.

EARLY TRYOUTS: This is just the second time in special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons' 15 combines the Bengals don't have a veteran kicker that was with them the year before. They've never drafted one since Simmons has been here, yet with extra picks in the sixth and seventh rounds that drought may be at an end.

Especially since Simmons has a bird's eye view of the proceedings on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, where he has run the combine's punting and kicking drills for more than a decade.

But don't hold your breath.

As long as he had veteran kickers like Shayne Graham and Mike Nugent, Simmons never saw a prospect he'd rather have than his incumbents. And even though Simmons only worked with him in the final three games of last season, he sees veteran Randy Bullock in much the same light.

"When you've got a guy, you keep him. They're a valuable commodity," Simmons says. "When Jacksonville made an offer to Shayne, we matched (in 2006 restricted free agency). When you've got a guy you want to keep him and the same held true with Mike. Randy was Mike Nugent at one point. It's about finding the right opportunity."

The thinking is they'll sign a young guy, most likely a rookie, and have him compete with Bullock in the spring and training camp. But it's just a fact that a lot of kickers don't get drafted. Simmons says it's a supply-and-demand issue, but it's also just a lot different. The two best kickers of this era, Baltimore's Justin Tucker and New England's Stephen Gostkowski, weren't invited to their combines.

The leading candidates to get plucked this year are the two kickers from the Senior Bowl, Arizona State's Zane Gonzalez and Memphis' Jake Elliott. Gonzalez, the Lou Groza Award winner, is projected to go starting in the fifth round and Elliott starting in the sixth, according to

No matter what, Simmons is going to be giving them some serious scrutiny because even if the Bengals don't draft one he'll see their names on a list somewhere down the road. In free agency. Probably sooner than that.

On this Friday, Simmons gives the prospects 15 field-goal attempts from both hash marks and the middle of the field with the longest tries from 50 yards. That goes with about a dozen kickoffs. It's pretty clear what he's seeking.

"Leg strength," Simmons says. "That's No. 1. I can't coach leg strength."

But more importantly, Simmons gets to view the intangibles while he's running the workout. Attitude. Demeanor. Competitiveness. That's why he chooses to be on the field in the thick of it.

"You can't see that from up in the stands," Simmons says. "I like to be up close so I can see body language. How does he respond when another guy misses? How does he respond when he misses? That starts right away on Wednesday at the weigh-in. How does he handle himself walking across the stage?"

WHIT'S WORTH: Here's another first in about forever. The Bengals head to a combine without their starting left tackle under contract for the first time in more than a decade. But it's believed that they are going to meet with the agent for Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth during the combine.

Pat Dye Jr. has done numerous big deals with the Bengals down through the years (Geno Atkins and Robert Geathers to name a few) and Cincy is hoping to add another one to get Whitworth in the fold. The Bengals figure to have about $15 million to spend that's going to be focused on bringing back their own guys with Whitworth, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, right guard Kevin Zeitler, and running back Rex Burkhead heading the list.

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