PHOENIX, Ariz. — The Bengals traveling party, headed by president Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis, has landed at the NFL league meetings and here is the reset:
» The indications are that the Bengals are closing in on deals for linebacker Rey Maualuga and cornerback Adam Jones.
» Cornerback Terence Newman, who started opposite Leon Hall last season while Jones took over the other side when Hall went into the slot on passing downs, is also high on the club's list of to-dos that it would like to get done here this week.
» So is right tackle Andre Smith, but he remains in purgatory. Or, at the very least, waiting for Jake Long to decide between the Rams and Dolphins. The St. Louis-based Ben Dogra represents Long, Smith and Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, and the league is apparently waiting for Long to set the market. But since Long is a left tackle and Smith is a right tackle, that may not have an impact.
It's believed that Dogra is headed to the meetings and since he also reps Newman, that should heat the desert up a little bit.
» The Bengals have already hosted one veteran backup quarterback (Josh Johnson) and are deploying offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese to various campus workouts to look at the draftable quarterbacks. But one guy you've got to believe the Bengals are going to pursue at some point if he can't find a starting job is former Bengal Ryan Fitzpatrick.
He's the consummate pro who is highly regarded in the organization after he backed up Carson Palmer so well in 2007 and 2008 and set the table for the '09 playoff run when he led the Bengals to a 4-3-1 finish in '08. It was in '09 Fitzpatrick began a four-year run in Buffalo that ended last week when the Bills decided to cut him and go young and cheap after he started 52 games and threw 80 TD passes compared to 64 picks.
Also on tap are the annual rule changes and player safety is again carrying the day. There are three significant proposals that pass only if at least 24 owners vote for them: the elimination of the Tuck Rule and peelback block and, the most controversial of all, outlawing hits to the crown of the helmet by running backs and their tacklers outside the tackle box.
In defending the "Crown" proposal last week during a conference call, NFL Competition Committee co-chairman Rich McKay cited input from medical consultants.
"It is a foul if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside of the tackle box. Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or tackler against an opponent shall not be a foul," McKay said. "We are trying to protect the runner or the tackler from himself in that instance. We are looking for the obvious fouls in this one. We did not put in the language that says, 'You should err on the side of player safety and throw the flag.' We realize this is a major change for players and coaches so we want the obvious foul."
Lewis is one of the coaches on the committee and he, along with Rams coach Jeff Fisher, the other co-chairman, doesn't think it's going to be difficult to take out of the game.
"The ball carrier is still going to be permitted to lower his shoulder and the head is also going to come down to protect the football. We're not taking that part of the run out of the play," Fisher said. "We're saying that in space, one-on-one, head-up. We're not going to allow you to load up and use the crown of your helmet. It's an obvious thing that I don't feel—nor did Marvin and some others (coaches) that we've talked to—we don't feel like it is going to be difficult to explain it and to coach it. We've been teaching the young players and the youth football organizations to see what you hit for years."
The outlaw of the "peelback" comes in reaction to the play in which Texans linebacker Brian Cushing suffered a season-ending ACL injury this past season.
"This proposal will make it a foul if they block low even if they are in the tackle box," Fisher said. "Currently, we allow offensive players to block back towards their end line low in the tackle box. It is a foul if they are outside the tackle box and they block low … basically to simplify things, it is no longer permissible to block low in the peelbacks any place on the field."
Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander appeared before the competition committee last month in Indianapolis and argued for blockers to still be able to go low and apparently he and his fellow offensive supporters had an impact.
"When we said that you cannot block from the back, meaning you can't clip, they feel very comfortable with it," McKay said. "We went through it from start to finish with them because we had put out in the survey the idea that the chop block was under consideration and I think the players and the coaches—defensive line and offensive line coaches—convinced us otherwise."
And it looks like the Tuck Rule is no more. If the quarterback pulls back the ball toward his body and fumbles, the new proposal would make it a fumble. McKay said during that meeting in Indy that the officials made a compelling case for the change.
"I think this year we were swayed by the officials themselves. They said they're very comfortable with this change. This change fits a little more into how college football calls it," McKay said. "Then we went through the calls this year and on tape, what is happening is, the great majority of these are called fumbles, and appropriately called fumbles.
"Because of the written rule of how the 'Tuck Rule' was written, they go into replay and they look at it and under the rule, the tuck had not been completed so it has to be reversed from what is a fumble. We just felt like with the officials being more comfortable and being almost assertive that they think they can call it and they understand when a passer lost control of the ball and still trying to throw it versus trying to begin to tuck the ball."