The streamlined preseason has NFL coaches scrambling and after the Bengals practiced Saturday special teams coach Darrin Simmons and secondary coach Kevin Coyle talked about how this looks to be the season of less is more.
"The teams that play well in the beginning are the teams that don't make mistakes," Coyle said. "They're going to play fast, play simple. You're not going to out trick them with a million plays and a million blitzes. You don't have time to get it already. But that doesn't mean you still can't play at an extremely high level on both sides of the ball."
That's one of the reasons Bengals are breathing a little bit easier with the signing of free agent cornerback Nate Clements, an 11-year guy now the senior man on the defense. The loss of Johnathan Joseph is a huge blow, but they believe they have a guy in Clements that is still a top cornerback who can run and cover. Coyle indicates that the defense won't have to change its approach with Clements and that it can keep the same style.
"He's played at a high level for a long time," Coyle said. "He's got a lot of experience, he understands the game, he's smart, competitive, tough. He's been through the battles against the best receivers in the league and he's won a lot more of his share than they have."
Backup safety behind Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson is another matter. The Bengals are looking to replace Roy Williams and Chinedum Ndukwe, and Coyle thinks the return of Gibril Wilson this week helps. It will be recalled that Wilson's ACL injury in the third preseason game last year helped spur the cutdown day trade for Nelson. And Nelson has had an active week on the practice field.
"I'm excited about what Gibril can give us if he holds up," Coyle said. "The way he was playing before he got hurt had me thinking he was going to be a real factor for us."
A lot of this, as usual, will come down to special teams when, as Simmons likes to say, the lights go on in the preseason games. Simmons remembers when one of his top special teams players now, linebacker Dan Skuta, was a rookie and he "just froze" during the intrasquad scrimmage.
"He can even tell you what play it started on," Simmons said.
Rookie Robert Sands, the rangy 6-5 safety from West Virginia, has flashed a ton of athletic ability, but can he be in the right spot on both special teams and in the defense? Jeromy Miles, last year's rookie who became a factor on special teams late last season, has the same questions after he also flashed some this week.
Tom Nelson, who made the club as an undrafted free agent two years ago before hurting his knee, is back running around and Coyle says he looks good. (He did have a pick Friday night.) Nelson and Rico Murray can swing between all three spots, including nickel, which could give them an edge.
"We've got a mix of guys," Coyle said.
WILLIE MAKES A BID: As usual, former Bengals right tackle Willie Anderson went all out. As Andy Dalton prepared to take snaps in Saturday's practice, Anderson tweeted that Bengals fans could thank him when Carson Palmer returned. He later took it back, but it was an honest effort. He thought he could get No. 9 back in.
"I thought my text would get him. It was a nice long one. But I just don't see it happening," Anderson said. "I don't know necessarily what it is, but I think they've talked and it's not going anywhere."
It's believed Palmer and the Bengals have talked since the lockout ended, but the only public signs have been that both parties are moving on. With Brown refusing to trade Palmer, the Bengals consider him retired. But they have to leave his $11.5 million salary available if he does come back.
"I know how I feel and I'm going it into what, my third season retired?" Anderson asked. "I still burn about playing, so I know how he's going to feel when they start playing and he looks out there and sees his team. I was telling him I thought they'd made some changes. A new offense, Chad's gone, and they've got some young receivers and there's the tight end (Jermaine Gresham).
"But it doesn't look like it. It's too bad."
TE UPDATE: With the signing of pass-catcher Bo Scaife behind Jermaine Gresham and Chase Coffman getting a lot of reps in camp, it looks like the Bengals are set at tight end. They've also liked what they've seen out of college free agent Colin Cochart and claimed John Nalbone from the Eagles.
Although Scaife has played H-Back, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden looks like he's keeping the tight ends and fullbacks separate. Reggie Kelly, their anchor at tight end for the past eight seasons, could be an option in case of injury or they don't like the way the preseason unfolds. Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting the Steelers are mulling bringing in Kelly to get a look as their blocking tight end.