BOCA RATON, Fla. - After the Vikings signed former Bengals right tackle Andre Smith and 49ers guard Alex Boone in free agency, head coach Mike Zimmer texted running back Adrian Peterson and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, "No more excuses."
During Wednesday's NFC coaches media breakfast here on the last day of the NFL's annual owners' meeting, Zimmer, the Bengals' former defensive coordinator, continued his offseason onslaught on his offensive line and said he thought it lacked toughness last year even though his club won the NFC North in just his second year on the job.
"Teddy was running for his life half the time and we had a bunch of one-yard runs. I just felt like we needed to make some changes," Zimmer said.
He changed offensive line coaches and brought in Boone, a resident tough guy veteran, and Smith, a gifted former first-round pick who started 73 games for the Bengals during seven seasons before taking a one-year deal in Minnesota last week.
Then he said Wednesday that everybody is in competition and wouldn't rule out Smith playing guard or left tackle. After being with Smith for five seasons in Cincinnati, Zimmer liked him as a guy and he felt like he had a more realistic view of him than a lot of the NFL that may have the wrong image of him.
"I think that was a big part of why he didn't get a whole bunch of play," Zimmer said. "He doesn't have weight issues. He doesn't have issues off the field. He's a good guy . . . He's got experience. I like having first-round draft picks that leave other places because of their pedigrees.
"Andre's a really good athlete and I still think he's got room to develop."
That was the thinking when he signed former Bengals linebacker Emmanuel Lamur as a role player in sub packages in the first few days of free agency. Zimmer was in Cincy when the Bengals plucked the former Kansas State safety in college free agency four years ago, converting a plane ticket to the rookie minicamp into a playoff start at the end of his rookie year.
Zimmer knows the 6-4, 240-pound Lamur can run. He played about a third of the time last season for the Bengals, largely as a nickel backer and sometimes at SAM in the base defense.
"I'm going to play him in a different position than where they were playing him, where he's covered up a little bit more and where he can run," Zimmer said. "He's a good athlete and I think he's got a chance to be a good player. He'll be in some sub packages, but as our WILL linebacker as opposed to SAM. I think he's got a lot of value in a lot of different areas."
PLAYER OPPS: We walked out of the breakfast with a new word, thanks to Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. "Opps."
As in the one-on-one opportunities they think former Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu is going to get after signing him to a five-year, $32.5 million deal in free agency. With the raise Sanu gets a promotion from the third receiver to the No. 2 opposite perennial Pro Bowler Julio Jones. Quinn said the fact Sanu played with a similar natural phenomenon in A.J. Green in Cincy helped them project a guy that had just 49 targets last season.
"The biggest thing was his ability to separate," Quinn said of the film study. "We found (the routes) he was man-to-man. Much like they're playing with A.J. and we're playing with Julio, there is some coverage that goes one way. So you're going to get some opps when you play with a really good receiver. Those (man-to-man routes) were the ones that stood out.
"The players recognize that," Quinn said. " 'I got some real opps here.' When you're playing with guys like Green and Julio, unique players, they are going to have unique coverages that go their way. Seeing Mo beat those one-on-one opps, that was an important part of the evaluation."
Plus, Quinn liked how Sanu played with toughness and competitiveness.
"I wanted to make sure we had more guys like that," he said.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: The Bengals appear to be still talking to free-agent wide receiver Brandon LaFell, but nothing looked imminent as the owners prepared to break for home mid-morning Wednesday . . .