Posted: 7:15 p.m.
A few headlines left over from this past weekend's minicamp:
Offense heads to next Brat-o-sphere
Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski didn't offer much about his new playbook. He's been saying since February that this is the most his offense has changed since Dick LeBeau brought him here after the '00 season of 00 points. Yet details are scarce and even if they weren't head coach Marvin Lewis's totalitarian regime would be in crackdown mode.
But Bratkowski has already made his biggest point of sale. It may be just a shutout away from imploding, but wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who made no bones about being unhappy with the state of the offense the last couple of seasons, likes what he sees so far and says teams won't be so apt to double him.
"Everything is changed. I'm not sure what Coach Brat is doing," said The Ocho during a break between practices last week. "But it's going to put the defense in a lot of difficult positions. They can't double me. That used to kill me. The double team. But he's doing a lot of things that are going to free me up a lot.
"What Coach Brat has done, there is really no answer for it. Defensive coordinators that have to face us, they're going to have to gamble and just pick what you want to take away. There's going to be an option for me regardless of what you do defensively."
As Chris Henry said, his fellow receivers are going to have "a lot of different plays to give us a little more room to do different stuff. That's going to be fun."
Old Chad guarantees the good old days
Yes, The Ocho was bouncing around like the old days. Optimistic and outrageous, the anger and resentment of being blamed for the '07 fiasco and the trade-me sulks of '08 weren't a part of the script. Twitter has replaced bitter.
"It's not really about me," he said. "You know how refreshed they are upstairs that I came in like this? Think about it. From the top to the bottom. Down here (the locker room) they don't really care. Everybody feeds off me anyway. It's refreshing to them. Especially the coaching staff, Coach Lew."
How long does it last? Better yet, if it doesn't last, do they let it blow up the team? Same old answer. If they win, he's a charismatic Pro Bowler. If they lose, he's a cancerous underachiever. He can only win if they win,
Defensive rookies stake claims
The rookie defensive MVP of the spring is third-rounder Michael Johnson, the pass rusher from Georgia Tech. But once the pads come on in training camp, it could just as easily be linebacker Rey Maualuga, the second-round thumper from USC.
You know a guy that fellow SAM linebacker Rashad Jeanty says is "crazy" when it comes to mixing it up isn't exactly going to be showing his strengths in shorts and a helmet.
"Time will tell. There's still a lot to prove once the pads come on," Maualuga said. "Ask me two weeks into training camp. I'll tell you how I'm doing."
And the 6-7, 266-pound Johnson knows the knock against him is he slows down when the physical stuff starts. Although it looks like nothing is going to stop him since he didn't appear to bat an eye rolling around to three different positions: Defensive end and tackle and SAM backer.
"Playing linebacker has helped me learn more of the defense and understand more what the guys are doing around me. The more positions you learn the better you understand how the different pieces of the puzzle fit together," Johnson said. "I'm trying to make sure I lower my hips when I engage because I'm so tall. That's the key point they want me to focus on."
Like No. 1 pick Andre Smith, Johnson can certainly talk the game. While backup quarterback Jordan Palmer advised him to get tape of a rookie Jevon Kearse, the video vicars have already supplied Johnson with DVDs of current long and lean sackers like his two favorites, Jared Allen and DeMarcus Ware, as well as Kyle Vanden Bosch and Aaron Kampman.
"(Allen) throws that long arm in there and you can't stop it," Johnson said. "DeMarcus Ware has a nice inside out with a side scissors move."
The Bengals hope Maualuga does as well as his jersey. His No. 58 has been the biggest offseason seller on the club, which means merchandise manager Monty Montague made the right call after the draft when he decided which rookie jersey to market.
It was really a no-brainer. An offensive lineman is an offensive lineman and never comes in with much fanfare. Plus, Smith's No. 71 is more associated with Willie Anderson's freshly earned four Pro Bowls.
And the other top picks are pretty much regional names. But Maualuga came in with great national presence as the most recognizable player on USC's historic defense and jogged some local connections as the guy that made the biggest play (an interception return) in the win over Ohio State.
Montague is on his third order of the adult No. 58 jerseys and has ordered up a Youth jersey as well as T-shirts. And when the rookies signed at the Pro Shop last week, Maualuga drew the maximum of a little more than 200 autographs.
Collins key player of training camp?
The coaches wanted second-year tackle Anthony Collins to keep a low profile this spring and he did exactly that. He lost his job at left tackle when Andrew Whitworth moved from left guard to left tackle, and the right tackle job went to Smith. So now he's quietly backing up both, although Bratkowski did mention a few weeks ago Collins has looked good as he moves around the line.
Now especially keep an eye on him with all the scuttlebutt that the Bengals are digging in for a long holdout with Smith, the sixth pick in the draft. The club has certainly sent enough smoke signals to agent Alvin Keels that if he thinks they're going to get close to the $28.5 million guarantee of No. 5 Mark Sanchez and the more than 50 percent hike over last year's No. 5 slot, forget it.
Sanchez is a quarterback while Smith is an offensive lineman who has battled weight and maturity issues. It seems as long as Collins can hold down the right tackle spot, the longer the club can wait out Smith.
Of course, a long holdout hurts both sides. Certainly going by this team's history, holdouts have been bad foreshadowing. David Klingler, Akili Smith, Chris Perry and David Pollack all had three-week blues. Certainly the holdout didn't lead to Pollack's career-ending neck injury, but it did hurt his progress his rookie year it could be argued the other three never recovered.
Then again, Willie Anderson and Justin Smith had 20-plus day holdouts, too (Smith was 40 days), and still made big-time contributions as rookies as well as during their entire careers.
But the money is so big now and the future so cloudy with the economy and the lack of a collective bargaining agreement after next year that this has all the whiff of a much different game.
Keep an eye on the man called AC.
Go slow on Coffman
Third-rounder Chase Coffman had his first team work as a pro over the weekend and looks to be as advertised. A big, rangy tight end that can catch. If the Bengals are looking to solve the third-down problem left by T.J. Houshmandzadeh's vacancy, the tandem of Coffman and slot receiver Andre Caldwell could be the antidote.
But not on Sept. 13.
After all, Coffman is still getting acclimated after missing most of the spring workouts with a broken foot on the last snap of his Missouri career. And he has to adjust to putting his hand on the ground, something he hasn't done in spread offenses in high school and college. If he's going to be a threat, he has to pick up some blocking.
But after watching him this weekend, the club is convinced Coffman be a big-time factor sooner or later. Some club insiders believe he has the ability to catch a Danny Ross-like 70 balls in the coming seasons.
Giant leap for Utecht
If tight end Ben Utecht can have the kind of season he's had off the field, he'll go to the Pro Bowl. He capped his watershed spring last week when he shared a dressing room with one of America's last certified and legit heroes, first moonwalker Neil Armstrong.
They appeared at The Cincinnati Pops' celebration of Riverbend Music Center's 25th anniversary that Utecht opened and closed singing the national anthem and "God Bless America," and Armstrong stirred reciting Copland's "Lincoln Portrait."
"Awesome," said Utecht the next day, his eyes still as big as moon rocks. "What a great guy. Really down to earth. He's a Bengals fan, a sports fan. His grandson was there and he's a sports fan. Great family guy. I know he doesn't talk much at all about the moon. But we talked about being a pilot and going into space and some football."
Two months ago Utecht, a Christian music artist, released his first CD "Ben Utecht."
Receivers running out of room
Assuming the Bengals are going to give wide receiver Jerome Simpson another year to pan out, a couple of good receivers are going to get cut. Aren't The Ocho, Caldwell, Chris Henry and Laveranues Coles locks? Add Simpson and there's just one spot left for Antonio Chatman, Maurice Purify and rookies Freddie Brown and Quan Cosby.
Simpson, a second-rounder in his second season, started out well but tailed toward the end of the workouts. Will he even be active on game days if Chatman or Cosby sticks as the punt returner?
Coles eventually showed up as advertised. The media was taken aback by his big-market cantankerousness, but he went about his business daily and got better as he learned the system and the quarterbacks.
By the time camp ended Saturday, he was catching everything and showing the hands and smarts that have already produced 631 NFL catches. He also got a little better when The Ocho showed, which backs up his M.O. that he's the kind of competitive pro that shows up on Sundays.
Palmers next 1-2 punch?
Jordan Palmer looked good this month. Maybe good enough to finally get the phrase "Carson Palmer's brother" replaced by "Bengals No. 2 quarterback" after his name.
J.T. O'Sullivan, brought in during free agency to replace Ryan Fitzpatrick, is going to have something to say about that in camp. But Palmer, who has the exact same specs as his brother, has taken advantage of being in his second year in the system and made a number of big throws this past weekend.
Angst down on the corner
Last week defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer fretted that no one had stepped up this spring to be the third cornerback. On Saturday they went as far to work out veteran Travis Fisher during the final minicamp practice but chose not to sign him. Which is one thing about that tall Bengals receiving corps. Fisher looks to be about 5-10 and that's a trait that really stands out in some of those matchups.
The decision not to sign Fisher also shows the experience dilemma. The trio of David Jones, Simeon Castille and Geoff Pope have at least a year in Zimmer's system and it figures that one of them would have been gone if Fisher was signed. The Bengals like the sixth-rounder, Michigan's Morgan Trent, but he hasn't taken a team snap since suffering a stress fracture in his foot the second day of rookie minicamp .