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Matchup of the Game: special unveiling


*Cody Core is one of those fast, young (second year) special teamers.    *

*           BENGALS WLB JORDAN EVANS VS. RAVENS P SAM KOCH*          It's more symbolic than anything. Evans, the ultra-talented sixth-round nugget, represents the speed and youth the Bengals unveil in Sunday's opener (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) with potentially about nine  players taking their first NFL snap on special teams at Paul Brown Stadium. Koch is the savvy 12-year innovator that mirrors the success Baltimore has had on special teams in the last decade as the Ravens also go through some growing pains to surround their Pro Bowl kickers.

Cincinnati Bengals feature Bengals All-50th team banners in Paul Brown Stadium

All 13 players that have yet to take an NFL snap for the Baby Bengals II aren't going to dress Sunday. But whatever the number that do, special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons is looking at one of the more daunting of his 15 openers. With guys like Evans, fellow rookie linebackers Carl Lawson and Hardy Nickerson, rookie defensive end Jordan Willis, and red-shirt rookie cornerback  William Jackson, that is going to be a hold-on-to-your –hat-welcome-to-the-NFL-moment opening kickoff.  When kicker Randy Bullock is counting them up, more than half the guys running down with him could be making their first NFL contact.

"So we are going to be young. But we are going to be faster. We are going to be athletic. We have to get them molded quick, in a hurry," Simmons says. "I don't know that you feel comfortable until they get their feet wet. You just try to get them to prepare and prepare them as best we can knowing there are going to be things that come up we haven't gone through, we haven't got covered completely."

This is a heck of a coaching matchup between Simmons and Ravens special teams maven Jerry Rosburg. When it comes to measuring NFL special teams, the standard has been "The Goose Index," as compiled by Dallas powerhouse scribe Rick Gosselin. The Ravens have been in the top five each of the last five seasons, a stretch the Bengals have finished in the top ten three times.

The 6-3, 245-pound Evans didn't get the pub fellow draft picks Lawson, Willis, and his college teammate Joe Mixon got during training camp until his hellacious pre-season finale last week in Indianapolis. And it looks like Evans is ticketed to have just as much of an impact this season. Which is to say huge.

Evans didn't get invited to the NFL scouting combine and ran the famous 4.35-second 40-yard dash that would have led all the backers in Indianapolis. But the Bengals knew all about Evans long before then through area scout Bill Tobin's reports. He saw what Mixon did.

 "He's got good instincts," Mixon says. "He can sniff out the ball … Yeah, he's fast. He's the best cover linebacker in the country."

Linebackers coach Jim Haslett has been either playing or coaching linebackers in the league since the Carter Administration. He knows a pro linebacker when he sees one and he loves Evans.


Jordan Evans has been one of the talks of camp in becoming a core special teamer.

"He's smart," Haslett says. "He's got great speed, good length, good range. And he's tough.  The question about him coming out was could he play the run and it had nothing to do with him, it was just the league he played in because they pass the ball all the time and he's come in here and done that. I think Darrin likes what he sees. I think he'll help in that area and also on defense."

 With defensive coordinator Paul Guenther staring at a roster of just 23 players and veteran WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam Jones sitting this one out, he's vowing to play everyone. On paper that means Evans is going to get some significant scrimmage snaps with veteran Vincent Rey in Burfict's spot and William Jackson is going to get plenty of time with veteran Darqueze Dennard filling in for Jones.

A visual look at the 2017 Bengals roster.

But where Evans is really going to make his impact is on special teams, which is undergoing as massive of an overhaul as the offense did in 2011 when rookies A.J. Green and Andy Dalton became bell-cows right away. Pro Bowler Cedric Peerman is gone for the year with injury and three of last season's top four special teams tacklers are no longer here. Plus, Rey, along with Peerman the long-time co-captain of special teams, is going to have his role in the kicking game reduced while he helps fill in during Burfict's suspension.

"We'll see how it all shakes out. Some of it's going to be playing it by ear a little bit. But yeah, some of this will be by committee," Simmons says.

So like the Green-Dalton Era took the torch from Chad-Carson, what we're looking at here on special teams is the Rey-Peerman Era snapping it to the Fejedelem-Evans Regime. Both are core guys for Simmons, but underlying Sunday's challenge is that Fejedelem's role on teams is going to be impinged by his expected start at safety for the injured Shawn Williams.

"He has been and he will be," says Simmons of Evans' core role. "He's shown he's everything (we thought) when we took him, and more probably. He's very smart, very intelligent, understands football and he's a quick study. If he makes a mistake, it doesn't happen a second time. He learns from it. I think he'll be up to speed here rapidly."

But while Baltimore special teams maven Jerry Rosburg has three Pro Bowlers in his long snapper, punter, and the ridiculous Justin Tucker at kicker, he's also re-tooling. He also doesn't have his best teams player with the retirement of Zach Orr. His longest-tenured guy, linebacker Albert McClellan, is gone with an ACL injury. Kamar Aiken is in Indy, Kyle Juszczyk   is in San Francisco and Matt Elam is out of the league,


Darrin Simmons is re-building again.

So, like Simmons, Rosburg is looking for core guys and he's staring at his share of rookies Sunday, like cornerback Marlon Humphrey, linebackers Bam Bradley, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, and safety Chuck Clark.

This is how Simmons is looking at it:

"There will be new guys in there but like I told them in the meeting the other day. Ced Peerman was that guy at one time, too. A young guy. Vinny was a young guy, too. We had a lot of them that way. With youth comes opportunity. It's an opportunity for those guys to establish themselves and be counted on that way."

It all makes defending AFC kick return champion Alex Erickson a wheezing geezer in his second season.

"I wouldn't exactly say that," says Erickson, who is also going to be charged with catching Koch's array of knucklers and darts.

He's got a point. The cupboard isn't exactly empty. Dennard, defensive back Josh Shaw, and wide receiver Cody Core have experience at gunner, safety Derron Smith has 28 games in the middle of it, and tight end Tyler Kroft had 10 teams tackles as a rookie.

"Missing a guy like Ced is tough," Erickson says. "We have to play within ourselves. You can't be Ced Peerman. You just have to be yourself. Trust everyone around you and it makes everything easier … Watching film and preparation can close the gap (of inexperience).

"It's a great opportunity for guys to come in and make their mark," Erickson says. "Jordan has all the tools. He prepares the right way. The sky's the limit for him."

The Green-Dalton Era got it done in their first year. Evans-Fejedelem?

"You never want the mistakes, but I am realistic, too," Simmons says. "There will be some things that come up from time to time. More of this stuff to get experience the better we will be. Whether in practice or games it's hard to replicate all those things in practice but we have shifted gears from preseason mode to more game plan oriented, more personnel-oriented. It's important they start to learn and understand other players as well as they do other schemes."


Go behind the scenes as the Bengals take their team photos.

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