Quick Hits: Simmons Gets Title; Jeff Blake Teams With Marv; Burrow's Alluring Intangibles

San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals at Candlestick Park Sunday, October 20, 1996. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake (8). (AP Photo/Al Golub)
San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals at Candlestick Park Sunday, October 20, 1996. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake (8). (AP Photo/Al Golub)

It appears Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, who has added an assistant head coach in special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, would like to fill any staff vacancies in time for the club's Jan. 19 departure for Mobile, Ala. But there is no drop-dead date and the jobs could be finalized after they coach the South in the Jan. 25 Senior Bowl.

Taylor may have to hire one or two more coaches beyond finding a replacement for linebackers coach Tem Lukabu, the new defensive coordinator at Boston College.

Senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner could always reprise for Senior Bowl week his role from 1997-20002, when he coached the Bengals linebackers and began a stint of coaching the position for 22 NFL seasons. The South backers couldn't have a better intro into the league. But the Bengals also like how Duffner's new job lets him branch out across the defense and they may explore hiring a backers coach from the outside before or after Mobile.

For the first time in a couple of years the Bengals are going to have an assistant head coach in Simmons. Taylor added the title earlier this week and that figures to be one of the reasons Simmons opted to return for his 18th season in charge of the Bengals kicking game.

Simmons, who last season also worked with offensive assistant Dan Pitcher, Taylor's point man for game management, says he's excited about the possibilities of his added role after conversations with Taylor.

The Bengals haven't had an assistant head coach since offensive line coach Paul Alexander's last season with the Bengals in 2017.

MARV VS. HUE PLUS BLAKEMANIA: After Alexander left, then Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis appointed former Browns head coach Hue Jackson as a special assistant to the head coach midway through the 2018 season and those two meet in the Jan. 18 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in the Rose Bowl. Jackson is looking for his first win over Lewis in their fifth meeting as head coaches. The first four came when Jackson coached the Browns in 2016 and 2017.

Lewis has another familiar face on his staff for the all-star game with Jeff Blake coaching his quarterbacks. Blake's first 66 of his 100 NFL starts during 14 seasons came with the Bengals of the '90s in an era when he uncorked the league's prettiest deep ball.

"I know both Marvin and Hue. They're great guys who are really good to young coaches and always trying to give them a shot," Blake said Thursday.

Blake, 49, a new grandfather who lives in Austin, Texas and is moving to Houston soon, is no longer a young coach. When he tried to break into the game he was told, "You don't have enough experience." So he's quite happy as a traveling coach for Under Armour and a private tutor for nationally-rated high school quarterbacks, many of them the best in Texas, that Lone Star greenhouse for pro and college quarterbacks.

One of them, Baylor's third string freshman Jacob Zeno, came off the bench in the Big 12 championship game last month and supplied some Blakemania of his own completing two of his first three passes for 159 yards to get the Bears into overtime against Oklahoma before losing. He's also worked with Philadelphia product Kyle McCord, a 2021 Ohio State commitment.

"I enjoy it and I don't have to get up at six in the morning and get home at 2 a.m.," said Blake, who can make $1,000 a week working two hours a day. "Plus, I get to do some traveling to work with the kids at Under Armour events, like the Future 50 game in Orlando."

Along with having an interest in an exotic car dealership, Blake is also an ambassador for a renewable energy company in Houston studying the impact of climate change and global warming on athletics.

With the Bengals holding the No. 1 draft pick, a spot usually reserved for quarterbacks, Blake had some advice for his old team.

"I think they should go unconventional. Not the standard," said Blake, who was either the Bengals' second or third leading rusher during five of his six seasons in Cincy. "The more athletic quarterback that can do more things. When I played, that was frowned upon. It was like, 'If you run, slide, get down, don't get hurt.' Now it's, 'Do what you can do. Whatever you can get, if you can run and score, go ahead.' If they get (Joe) Burrow, that's good, but it depends who they put around him. A good wide receiver. A good running back. A good tight end."

SCOUTING BURROW ET AL: The Bengals already know they'll coach a trio of quarterbacks in Mobile, Oregon's Justin Herbert, Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts and Colorado's Steven Montez. And, of course, they'd love to add LSU's Joe Burrow.

So would Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy. He spoke with Bengals.com's Emily Parker this week and said he's confident he can land the biggest fish for college football's biggest all-star game.

"There's a lot of people that don't think we'll get Joe here, but I'm a pretty optimistic guy," Nagy said. "I'm still holding out hope that Joe will want to come here for the week and spend a week with the Bengals staff. If that's going to be the number one pick, if that's who the Bengals are going to go with, I think it makes sense for Joe to be here and start that relationship as early as possible here in the Mobile.

"Just so the Bengals can get a feel for him and he can get a feel for the organization and the coaching staff, I think it would be great. That would be the last guy. Other than that, the rosters are completely set."

It could unfold so many ways.

After next week's national championship game against Clemson, Burrow could head down to Mobile to get acquainted with the team. Would he practice? Would he just throw in seven-on-seven and then watch the game on the sidelines learning the Bengals scheme straight from their coaches in real time, as they say? Or would he practice and play in the game like another Heisman Trophy winner did (Baker Mayfield) did two years ago?

No doubt the Bengals would be pleased with any of it. No one in Paul Brown Stadium knows more about Burrow than Mike Potts, the club's director of college scouting who spends so much time scouting the southeast.

He first took serious note of Burrow in last year's Fiesta Bowl, when he led the Tigers to a win over undefeated Central Florida pitching four touchdowns and nearly 400 yards. Since then he's charted him taking off in a new system to heights maybe never scaled by another college quarterback.

But the news is filled with Burrow's intangibles. The people in Baton Rouge continually talk about his commitment to ball. How during the bye weeks Burrow still came into the facility grinding tape. Potts and the Bengals scouts have yet to interview Burrow. Their first chance is in Mobile and they know they'll meet a first-class guy.

It's nice that Potts and the team have a relationship with Nagy, Seattle's long-time southeast scout. He and Potts have crossed enough paths that they can dial each other up.

In an effort to make the game as fruitful as possible for the two coaching staffs, Nagy is checking in with the Bengals to take their pulse on who and what they want to see if there are changes made to the roster. And running other topics past them, such as if there are cornerbacks they'd like to see swing to safety or maybe linebackers they'd like to see rush the passer.

"I know it's a hot-take business. People want to make automatic claims after every play, after every game," Potts said. "But it's a process. The draft isn't tomorrow. You don't have to make any judgments now."

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