North Beats South As Bengals Go Into Evaluation Mode

South cornerback Kindle Vildor of Georgia Southern (2) celebrates with South cornerback Dane Jackson of Pittsburgh (11) after intercepting a pass during the first half of the Senior Bowl college football game Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Georgia Southern cornerback Kindle Vildor celebrates his Senior Bowl interception with Pittsburgh corner Dane Jackson.

MOBILE, Ala. - The Bengals didn't coach the winning team in Saturday's Senior Bowl, but they did call the shots for the game MVP when Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert led the South to a touchdown on the first drive of the North's 34-17 victory at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

And the man calling the plays was offensive coordinator Brian Callahan instead of head coach Zac Taylor in an exchange of roles for only this game.

"We planned it from the get-go," Callahan said. "I put everything together for the game and installed it all. Did all the normal stuff we do and then called the game today. It gives (Taylor) a chance to evaluate all the positions. He can go evaluate the defense, he doesn't have to worry about the offense. He can strictly be in evaluation mode."

Herbert, who on Saturday seemed to pretty much cement the label of second-rated quarterback in the NFL Draft behind LSU's Joe Burrow, played only the first quarter. He was 9 of 12 for 83 yards, including a 16-yard screen pass for a touchdown to Florida running back Lamical Perine, a Mobile product named the South's player of the game. The 6-5, 237-pound Herbert added a nifty 19-yard run after a sudden sack that had the patrons buzzing.

"He'll be a really good player in this league," Callahan said. "He's calm, he's poised. He managed the offense and ran what we wanted him to do. It was a nice showing. He can run it. He can do that, he's a really good athlete."

Many head coaches give their staffs the week off after they work at the Senior Bowl, but the Bengals will be back at their desks Monday morning entering the next phases of the offseason that Taylor calls "free agency and the draft." He'll have a step up evaluating the Senior Bowl prospects after letting Callahan call the game. It also eased what had been hectic preparation for the head coach because in the week before Senior Bowl week Taylor was conducting interviews and then hiring cornerbacks coach Steve Jackson and linebackers coach Al Golden. Taylor actually hired Jackson in Mobile.

"Just get to be a part of all three phases a little bit more than I normally would. It was good," Taylor said. "(Just) good for this game. We (talked) like we always do (during the game), just the other way around. For the most part let him do his thing. Unfortunately I couldn't go out there and block. But he did a good job."

Callahan last called a game when he was the Raiders quarterbacks coach and head coach Jon Gruden gave him the helmet communicator for the 2018 pre-season finale against Seattle, a 30-19 victory producing 352 yards. This one wasn't as pretty with an offensive line down to just five players at the end of the game after two tackles exited during the proceedings with injuries.

"I feel confident enough in my ability to do that, but Zac and I function great together," Callahan said. "We have a great working relationship as far as the offense and how the offense goes in a game. We're in constant communication. It probably wouldn't have looked all that different to be honest. We've got a good thing going."

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