Notes: Rules changes force coaches to adjust

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Offensive line coach Paul Alexander sees a big change without the chop block.

The headlines coming out of the NFL owners' annual meeting this week in Boca Raton, Fla., bannered sportsmanship and the yellow card rule. But for two Bengals assistant coaches and their peers around the league, the footnotes have tilted their worlds.

After hearing about the elimination of the chop block, Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander predicted "a real change in the game."

On Tuesday, special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons thought the proposal to move a touchback to the 25-yard-line was dead. On Wednesday, it passed for a year. On Thursday, he was still trying to let it soak in.

 Both rules were passed for safety reasons and Simmons and Alexander get that. They're not looking to get guys hurt. But their game has been altered and they'll have to adjust.

"I've got to look at a lot of statistical analysis," Simmons said. "But the one thing I looked up last night is that the Minnesota Vikings led the NFL in kick-off returns with an average drive start at the 25-yard-line last year. So if you decide to take only touchbacks, you could lead the NFL."

Five yards in Simmons' world of field position is a novel in ours. Particularly since one of the strongest elements of his strong unit is covering kicks, which is the prime reason running back Cedric Peerman became the first Bengals cover play to go to the Pro Bowl this past season.

For most of last season the Bengals led the NFL in kick cover, holding teams' average drive start just short of the 20-yard-line.  When they allowed a ball past the 30 in the season finale, they lost the title to the Bills' average drive start of 19.9. The Patriots were at 20 and the Bengals at 20.2.

So, no, the Bengals as they're currently built don't want you to take a touchback.

"Every team is different so their strategy is different," Simmons said. "Here's one number you have to look at and it's scoring when a team starts from the 20, compared to the 25."

Alexander isn't dealing with numbers on the offensive line. It's more like science. As a couple of his linemen have said, the chop block (where one lineman blocks a defender high while another one takes him low) is a key to running to the perimeter and off tackle.

"Its simple physics," Alexander said. "If a reckless force is charging ahead, then you stop it on either ends of the center of gravity. So right now the defense can charge low but not the offense. Plus, they can hold but the offense can't. It's not an equitable shift in the competitive balance."

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Darrin Simmons' kick cover unit was one of the best in the NFL last season.

Simmons has heard how the rule might spawn more "pooch kicks," or "mortar," shots where the ball is kicked short to the 10, 15, or even 20 to make them run it out. He thinks that's a misread of the rule because he says that kind of short kick is used primarily to avoid the return man.

"You still want to get it to about the goal line outside the numbers with great directional kicking and hang time," Simmons said. "You have to have confidence in your coverage people and your kicker."

With Peerman and kicker Mike Nugent coming back, it sounds like Simmons wants to keep it going and try to get the drive started inside the 20. When Phase II of spring practice begins and they're able to go on the field, he'll be working with Nugent on directional kicking and hang time as he begins his response to the rule

"Why not try to make the play inside the 20?" Simmons asked.

Meanwhile, Alexander is also trying to keep things going with one of the better offensive lines in the game. But he's got to find another way to slow down the most aggressive defenders.

"There have been several defensive linemen who over the years played recklessly but once you cut them a few times, they played with more balance," Alexander said. "Some would even quit for the day. There have been a number of defensive tackles that the fear of a fair game completely changed their effectiveness."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: The agents for backup Bengals defensive tackle Brandon Thompson tweeted a one-year deal with the club Thursday as he recovers from ACL surgery. They've already re-signed backup defensive tackle Pat Sims and also have promising sophomores in Marcus Hardison and DeShawn Williams. Since Thompson got hurt pretty recently _ in the Jan. 3 season finale_ one way to free up the logjam is to put him on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) to start the season . . .

 Several outlets are reporting 12-year linebacker Karlos Dansby's visit to the Bengals this week. It's expected he'll meet with coaches and take his physical Friday. The Bengals have seen plenty of Dansby the last two seasons with the Browns, and as a member of the Cardinals he had one of four interceptions of Carson Palmer in Palmer's worst game as a Bengal during Arizona's 2007 win at Paul Brown Stadium.

It fits because Dansby was cut before free agency and the Bengals can use some more cover linebackers, although they're also expected to re-sign Taylor Mays. It doesn't fit in one way because the Bengals aren't usually inclined to sign a free agent from another team who turns 35 during the season. But there is a precedent. Wide receiver Terrell Owens signed at age 36 in 2010 and turned 37 late in the season.

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