During Wednesday's session with beat reporters, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis gave a review of the 2008 draft class and concluded that it gave the club more than he thought it would.
He thinks left tackle Anthony Collins can be a great pro, safety Corey Lynch is going to play "lights out," and defensive tackle Pat Sims "can be as good a player as he thinks he can."
First-rounder Keith Rivers started the first seven games with 50 tackles at the Will linebacker before Steelers receiver Hines Ward ended his season with a block that broke his jaw. Second-rounder Jerome Simpson made one catch as a rookie wide receiver plagued by foot and ankle injuries and played in just six games. He also didn't play in the finale even though starting receivers Chad Ocho Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh didn't play, either.
"With Keith getting injured, you don't get the full effect of things," Lewis said. "With Jerome hurt, we're down two there. Unfortunately whenever Jerome was getting ready to be a part of things, he got hurt. He's a key person for us. When you put a second-round draft pick on a player, you expect that player to contribute at some point in his rookie year and be a major contributor in his second season.
"We knew he was raw," Lewis said. "But obviously we have to do double time now to reap the rewards of him. His athleticism, his speed, his ability to catchThat's coaching. That's my responsibility and my job is to get more out of Jerome Simpson."
The first of the team's third-round picks, defensive tackle Pat Sims, didn't make his debut until the sixth game but he started six of the last seven and was a reason the Bengals held foes to less than four yards per carry during the last half of the season.
"We got more out of Pat Sims than I think we knew we could get. I thought he would be coming into his own this year," Lewis said. "He played through some injuries, he showed some toughness. He had to deal with some family issues and I think he came out of this year understanding what pro football is about, and he kind of got a taste he can be lot better player. I think he can be as good a player as he thinks he can and sometimes guys don't understand that."
Wide receiver Andre Caldwell really opened up some eyes at the end of the season with his versatility in running, catching and blocking while starting four of the last five games. He even returned a kick for 43 yards.
"We got what we expected and maybe more. As I looked at the receiver prospects," Lewis said, "if I could have identified a guy, 'Boy this guy is ready to play NFL football,' it was Andre Caldwell and watching his tape from Florida and we got that out of him."
Collins, the fourth-round tackle, got shoved into the real world when the left tackles in front of him, Levi Jones and Andrew Whitworth, went down in the Nov. 16 tie against the Eagles and he had to start the last six games. The first two, naturally, came against the NFL's top two defenses, and Lewis said he "obviously exceeded expectations."
"As a kid (he) was way better than advertised," Lewis said. "He's got a chance to be a great pro and one of those tough guys you can build around for a long time."
Fifth-rounder Jason Shirley, the monstrous 340-pound defensive tackle, got more ink for his legal problems back in Frenso, Calif., than he did for anything he did on the field. His DUI was resolved late in a season he played in just three games and Lewis says his problems are behind him. Shirley had a knock in college for lacking intensity, but Lewis likes how he's responded to the tough love of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and line coach Jay Hayes.
"Not as much as maybe we had hoped to get, but I think now (he) understands what NFL football is," Lewis said. "The light is on. Because he wants to be good. Mike Zimmer and Jay climbed up his butt (every practice), so he understands what's ahead for him. He has to have a great offseason. You know what? Maybe we hit a home-run there. That would be big."
The two sixth-rounders, Lynch and tight end Matt Sherry, got hurt but Lynch flashed before missing the last eight games with a knee injury on an interception from scrimmage and five special-teams tackles.
"I liked the things Corey was doing before he got hurt," Lewis said. "Being a guy that understands football and has the feel for the game like Corey Lynch, I think next year he'll play lights out and really compete hard at being a starting player and we'll be able to give him some roles."
Sherry underwent season-ending shoulder surgery during training camp, but the club saw enough to keep him around on rehab.
"I think he's going to grow and develop into a bigger man and might be that kind of multi-talented tight end than can receive the ball and be more of a threat in the passing game that we kind of keep looking for," Lewis said. "He has a chance to be like some of these guys that are playing and doing a good job in the passing game and be a threat. A guy that can separate and win on third down, yet gives you the blocking and things you need out of the tight end position based on some of the (pass) protections and things we do if we're going to continue to work with three wide receivers being the primary focus of things."
Wide receiver Mario Urrutia is the one seventh-rounder who stuck around (defensive end Angelo Craig was cut after camp and ended up in New England at the end of the season), but never got off the practice squad. Lewis likes his 6-5 height, but not the excess of 230 pounds.
"He got better as the season went on," Lewis said. "He was inconsistent with his hands coming in and by the end of the year I think he caught the ball very well. His focus is to keep his weight down."