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Notes: '09 rewind; Brown calls for more concussion research; Gruden looking to take heat off A.J.


Rey Maualuga

Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis spent Tuesday's kickoff luncheon at Paul Brown Stadium enthusiastically embracing the HBO-NFL Films venture of Hard Knocks.

But even they had to admit the camera doesn't always tell the story.

Rewind back to the 2009 show during a personnel meeting with the coaches when Brown asked them about the possibility of moving defensive end Chris Harrington to tight end. The Bengals had just lost their two top tight ends for what turned out to be the rest of the season and they really liked Harrington's athleticism and size but had no spot at end.

With the coaches not exactly opening their arms to the suggestion in an awkward silence, it was roundly taken as an example of Brown's autocratic style with the coaches, another perception that doesn't often match the reality of his open-door management style.

Not only did the coaches not make the move, but Brown said Tuesday that it was Lewis who made the suggestion at breakfast that morning and he simply repeated it in the meeting. Indeed, Lewis recalled he was looking for any way Harrington could make the 53-man roster.

"Anytime you've got a young athletic guy who plays hard, you're trying to find ways to help that guy stay around here," Lewis said. "You always want guys to have that flexibility. For years we've used (defensive tackle Domata) Peko as a short-yardage fullback.

"It's like Troy Brown playing cornerback (former Patriots wide receiver that occasionally went double duty). (Harrington) was here the year before and everyone liked him. But you start counting guys. If he could block as a tight end, we knew he could play on kickoff return, we knew he could back up punt team, we knew he could back up the kickoff team, and he could play on punt return. So you've got a guy that can legitimately give you 20 snaps in the kicking game and match up in other spots."

But it never happened. August is a tough time to teach a guy a position, never mind the playbook.

"The other part is the offensive coaches, no one wants to get stuck spending all their time re-training a guy," Lewis said.

Whether it is the draft, or a personal issue, or an item on a road trip and it has seen the light of day (or Hard Knocks), Brown and Lewis are pretty much certain to have talked it through. After 11 seasons with Lewis, Brown has that comfort level.

"There's nothing that is going to become public knowledge without Mike and me discussing it in private," Lewis said.

BROWN ON CONCUSSIONS: Brown outlined the three concussions he received playing high school and college sports (two in football and one in baseball), but at a month shy of 78 he's not sure it's had an impact on him later in life. In the wake of player lawsuits and the NFL vowing to make the game safer, Brown would like to see more research done on concussions and dementia.

"It's not only not proven, it's merely speculation that this is something that creates some form of dementia late in life," Brown said. "Our statistics—the ones I've seen anyway—don't show that. Yet there's a lot of talk.

"Whether the alarm that is up and about today is deserved is in my mind a good thing because it makes us play it safe, but I'm not convinced that anybody really knows what concussions bring, what they mean later in life, if anything."

When an arbitrator ruled against the Bengals earlier this month and said that the club owed former tight end Ben Utecht his full salary after they cut him late in the 2009 season three months after suffering a concussion, the arbitrator said the Bengals didn't properly test him to get back on the field.

Brown disputed the notion that the Bengals didn't give Utecht the best possible care and said that they only made the move when a concussion expert said he was OK to play.

"We didn't do anything but try to rehabilitate him, which we did for many months. We did it in accordance with the directive we had from our doctors and the experts that we turned to in this area," Brown said. "And we followed their advice and at a certain point in time, we're told he was ready to go back to play. We were told that not just by our doctors but by our concussion experts. So when you get to that point, you have the option of releasing the player.

"He filed a grievance (after the release) and said in his grievance that he wasn't really as ready to go as he thought he should be."

Brown said the decision claimed the Bengals should have worked out Utecht with other players in order to determine his health and that the club should not have just gone by a doctor's opinion.

"If a player is on injured reserve in the National Football League, you can't do that," Brown said of putting Utecht on the field with other players. "Our hands were tied; we couldn't have done that if we wanted to. But in his wisdom, the arbitrator ruled and that's a little bit like the Zimmerman case. We have a system and you adhere to the system. You don't always think it's right, but that's the way it works in the National Football League."

ZIM LOOKING SAFETY: Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer says he wants his No. 6-ranked unit to get off to a better start than last season. It will be recalled that the Bengals defense really didn't settle down until the club signed safety Chris Crocker off the couch before the fourth game of the season. Like last training camp, there's no sign of Crocker or his replacement.

But Zimmer sounded Tuesday like he thinks one of three guys can do it, third-rounder Shawn Williams, second-year man George Iloka, and the starter during the spring, fourth-year Taylor Mays.

"I don't know who it is yet," Zimmer said. "I like some of the things (George) Iloka did this spring. I like some of the things (Shawn) Williams did this spring. I like some of the things (Taylor) Mays did. I do believe we'll find somebody."

ZIM ON REY: Zimmer is one of the loudest and early backers of middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. While every fan poll urged his expulsion from Bengaldom after a horrific Wild Card playoff, Zimmer banged the drum for his return in free agency and continues to bang the drum.

"Go ask (Nate) Livings where his mouthpiece is," Zimmer said of the former Bengals left guard that Maualuga drilled during the Dallas game last December. "He knocked his mouthpiece about 15 feet in the air. I haven't seen a hit like that in how long?

"(Maualuga) is an extremely physical guy. He runs. He hits. One of the things I learned about him in the offseason is how much he cares about not only the Bengals and the city of Cincinnati, he cares a lot about the people in this organization and the fans. Like I said before, everybody doesn't really think the same of him, but this offseason he went out and worked out twice a day. It's important to him. I've always known that. But he's really made a committed effort to getting better."

D-DAY: Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden isn't looking to bury quarterback Andy Dalton about this taking-the-next-step business. Instead, he's looking at himself, the expected maturation of his young receivers, and the drooling matchups offered by a pair of rookies in tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard.

While Gruden got ripped for Dalton not throwing the ball at two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green until the second half of the Wild Card playoff in Houston, there were reasons.

"If you want to throw the ball you need to have guys opposite A.J. who can do some damage. You can double-team A.J. and if you don't have anybody to beat the weakside linebacker then they can get away with it," Gruden said. "Against Houston they had Johnathan Joseph on him, who is a Pro Bowler (at cornerback), and a safety over the top. It's difficult to get him the ball. The matchup you really wanted to exploit was the other side, but we just didn't do a very good job of it. Now with Tyler and a halfback that can beat a linebacker, it will be a challenge for a defense. We've just got to make sure we coach them up and get them ready to do that."

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