INDIANAPOLIS _ The wide receivers ruled Thursday night at Lucas Oil Stadium with a record eight breaking 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash to make them the fastest position group in the last 19 years at the NFL scouting combine.
Each blip of the stopwatch peals a tribute to Bengals founder Paul Brown. Long before the 40 became the marquee of an event that has sprinted from obscure to omnipresent, Brown devised the 40-yard dash in the late 1940s while coaching the Cleveland Browns so he could compare the speed of his players and foes.
Legend is that he made it 40 yards because that was an average punt. Not so, as Bengals president Mike Brown told Bengals.com in the run-up to the 2017 combine: "He thought that was the longest anyone had to run on a football field for the most part. Running 60, 80, 100 yards happens every once in a while. What counts is immediate speed."
Now the family of the Father of the 40 is also fast-tracking at the combine. His granddaughter, Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn, is here for her first combine as the first woman on the NFL Competition Committee. His great granddaughter, Caroline Blackburn, the Bengals senior manager of digital strategy, is at her first combine, period.
Make that her first working combine.
She's attended it before, now and again, with her parents Katie and Troy Blackburn, a Bengals vice president. Family legend is she celebrated her second birthday in an Indy restaurant.
The game means everything, so the NFL calendar has always trumped birthdays and everything else for four generations.
Katie Blackburn grew up going to the NFL spring meetings, where the competition committee presents its work to improve the game for a vote of the owners. For most of her life, Paul Brown and then her father, Bengals president Mike Brown, served on it while she learned other aspects of the league.
Paul was a founding member for the first 23 years of the committee and Mike later served for seven. Now she's the committee's first third generation member and already facing the hot button topic of overtime, an issue sure to confront the owners at their spring meetings later this month.
Like her father and grandfather did before her when it came to the partisan divide of instant replay, Blackburn chooses her words carefully on overtime. She'll study it, understand it, let the committee know how she feels and then she may have something to say.
"It's always fun to talk football. To be just be able to deal with the football side of it is fun," said Blackburn this week, holding one of her may loose-leaf notebooks and dashing to another meeting as if the combine were on campus. "So far the people have been very nice and it's been interesting and informative. To be third generation, that means a lot to me."
WAY TO WORK: The most popular man at the combine may be Steven Radicevic, the Bengals director of pro scouting. Anyone wearing Bengals garb over here gets a "Congrats on a great season," but it is Radicevic who probably leads the parade with handshakes and fist bumps or both. Primarily from agents.
That's because he's one of the two senior people on director of player personnel Duke Tobin's staff and for several years he has cultivated solid relationships with many player reps and the proof is in the last two offseasons of free agency. He point-manned the Bengals to six Super Bowl starters.
The combine is the place where agents and teams meet because that's what teams and agents do. They talk about re-signing their own players (Jessie Bates III, tight end C.J. Uzomah, Larry Ogunjobi, B.J. Hill, etc.), so there is plenty of that going on in the broad daylight of hotel lobbies.
They can't talk about unrestricted free agents until a week from Monday, but the word is several agents are telling the Bengals they have clients that want them to reach out to them at the appropriate time. That's what happens when you go to the Super Bowl with a swashbuckling second-year quarterback.
Tobin joked this week that Joe Burrow isn't only a draw to free agents.
"I mean, I want to stay there. I think the people that cover him, you don't want to trade him out to cover someone else," Tobin said. "He's the real deal.
"It's nice that people respect you and believe in what you're doing. And whether the money that works out, that's the big thing in the NFL when you're talking to players and their representatives. The money has to work out. All things equal, if they are choosing us because we're a contending team which we believe and they believe in the culture that Zac (Taylor) has set than that's even better. That gives you a little better chance."
NO SURPRISE: There was no surprise in the Bengals locker room when backup safety Ricardo Allen, 30, announced his retirement after the Super Bowl. He told his teammates during the season and as the playoff run continued, the defensive backs were constantly talking about sending out the O.G. the right way.
No surprise because he had told Bates early in the season he wasn't there to take his job, but he wanted him to think of Allen as a mentor and helper.
When he surfaced here just days later as a Dolphins special teams assistant learning to coach from the ground up, that was no surprise, either. Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo saw it when he recruited Allen out of Daytona Beach, Fla., for Purdue all those years ago.
"Perfect for him," Anarumo said. "He has always wanted to do it."
Allen knew he was going to coach that 2018 season in Atlanta, where sat on the bench with a torn Achilles. That's when he realized how much he needed the game. He wants to eventually coach offense, too, so it's a quicker trip to head coach. He's so sure that he turned down two nice 9-to-5 jobs, one as a financial adviser and one as a player agent.
"Football is a part of me," he said.
So early this past season when Allen felt his body balk at 30, he made up his mind. He had opted to re-unite with Anarumo for a year after six seasons with the Falcons as a starter that included a captaincy on a Super Bowl team and he appreciated how they gave him the wide berth of a coach.
"The coaches and players allowed me to come in and share all the time," Allen recalled in a combine hallway this week,. "On the sidelines during the game, talking to all the players, throwing in a little adjustments here and there and they never pushed me away."
Allen made it clear early on to Bates and the other safety, Vonn Bell, he was in his last roundup and that he just wanted to help and not impede on their playing time.
"It gave them the freedom to go out and play," Allen said. "Especially in the beginning when Jessie was concerned about that stuff with his contract and there's a vet behind you. But he knew me and I just told him to go out there and be you. I was giving my last little bit and I told him don't think I'm here to replace you, just think of me as a mentor and helper."
Allen, who played on special teams and didn't take a defensive snap in the postseason, watched Bates blossom in the playoffs.
"He's one of the more adaptable safeties in the league," He does things a lot of safeties aren't asked to do," Allen said. "He's a safety that just doesn't sit in the middle of the field or just plays one high or two high. He plays man on the slot, he blitzes, he guards tight ends. He doesn't do them all great, but he does them. He's in the middle of the field and go gets the ball really well. He tackles in the open field and does that really well. All that other stuff is add-ons. He's one of the best."
Allen says his Bengals experience confirms what he discovered with the Falcons.
"It's not always about the talent," Allen said. "But a lot of times it's about how the coaches believe in the players and the players believe in the coaches and get everybody blended together to play. It's cool to see it in two organizations."
Allen is still shaking his head. He had the lead in two Super Bowls with 85 seconds left and he came this close to becoming the only man to play in both overtime Super Bowls and is 0-2. His Falcons famously blew a 28-3 lead to the Patriots with 57 seconds left in regulation and then lost in overtime.
"I can get to (85 seconds left). I have to figure out how to get past that barrier," Allen said. "That certainly fuels my coaching career."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Bucs head coach Bruce Arians waved congratulations to one in Bengals garb and stopped to heartily endorse Bengals new linebackers coach James Bettcher.
"You stole one, kid," Arians said. "He was my coordinator (for three years in Arizona). He should be a head coach." …
Former Bengals running back Eric Bieniemy, the Chiefs highly decorated offensive coordinator, somehow still doesn't have a head coaching job. That's a surprise, but what isn't is how Chiefs head coach Andy Reid went to bat for him at his combine media availability. After the AFC title game loss to the Bengals, everybody, from Reid to Bieniemy to quarterback Patrick Mahomes took the heat.
"This whole thing with Eric Bieniemy, that's been written has gotten fabricated," Reid said. "We were on vacation and over the two weeks I came back and all of sudden it was I didn't like Eric and Eric didn't like me and Pat Mahomes and everybody else. That's not the case. We all get along good and I'm glad he's back with us and rolling. I thought he'd potentially get a head coaching job, which I would've been happy with too, but that's not how it worked out. Anyway, I just wanted to put that to rest."
Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has an NFL record breaker back in rookie kicker Evan McPherson, but even he has some things to work on.
"I want to get his kickoff leg as powerful as his field-goal leg," Simmons said. "He has a very powerful leg. Very powerful … We just have to find a way to transfer that power to kickoffs. We're not necessarily looking for more touchbacks. You walk a fine line (with touchbacks) and able to control the ball for distance and hang time. I haven't had a guy like that who can dop so many things in his tool belt and I've got to help him develop those tools." …
Linebacker Logan Wilson chose to play with a torn labrum after getting hurt Dec. 5 against the Chargers and taking the next three weeks off. He played five games with it and Tobin said he could have kept going because of his toughness and the magnitude of the games. But now the season is over and Wilson has had it repaired, the team confirmed, and he'll be ready for this season …
The drafting of Wilson in the third round in the 2020 draft was a barnburner and helped jump-start the personnel department on these last two gold-plated drafts, if you count Burrow a simple no-brainer.
There was no question the Bengals were going wide receiver in the second round and the scouts were really pushing wide receiver Tee Higgins. The coaches became convinced. The down-side was they also had a second-round grade on Wilson and had a long wait.
"I know our scouting department really, really loved him during the process," Taylor said. "He was in that conversation at the Tee pick. We took Tee and crossed our fingers for 32 picks and there was Logan right there. I don't think we were probably wrong in that decision of wanting to take him potentially at 33 as well. He's just had a tremendous first two years for us and he's got a bright future for us." …