Updated: 6:15 p.m.
PALM BEACH, Fla. - They always used to tell Chinedum Ndukwe that the safety is the quarterback of the defense. Now there is the radio helmet to prove it.
"Ever since the quarterbacks had it I always thought it should even out for the defense," said Ndukwe, the Bengals second-year safety, after hearing Tuesday's news that the NFL had adopted the radio helmet for the defense.
Ndukwe's coach, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, isn't sure which two players he'll designate to wear it, but both know it has to be a three-down player.
"I'd like to wear it, to be in the middle of it like that. But first I'd have to win a job and be on the field for that long," said Ndukwe, a backup strong safety.
When Zimmer heard the proposal was only two votes away from getting voted down, he said, "It was probably the teams with offensive guys like (Mike) Holmgren and (Mike) Shanahan."
Holmgren's Seahawks were one of the seven teams to vote against it. Shanahan's Broncos were not. But the Seahawks, Packers, Eagles, Rams, Buccaneers, Raiders and Redskins all have head coaches who were offensive coordinators.
Lewis"It gives a degree of equity to the defense. You're still going to have to be prepared to signal in calls," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, a former defensive coordinator. "It might enable some young players to do it earlier. We have had to play a lot of young linebackers. It will help young players be a more integral part of the defense (because they can be instructed from the sideline)."
Bengals president Mike Brown, an offensive guy , endorsed it all the way.
"I don't know what took us so long. None (of the reasons against it) make sense to me, like a defensive guy getting hurt because he gets banged around more," Brown said. "I think it can help. We have young guys who can benefit from instruction. If you have a veteran team like the Patriots, with a solid, smart linebacker corps, it's easier for them to do it the old-fashioned way. It is timely. It does away with this concern of picking up signals."
Zimmer says he may have to make sure that he doesn't rely on the helmet too much with his young players.
"I'm not sure how much it's going to help," Zimmer said. "It might help get you the right personnel groups in there. But maybe you don't want to tell a guy too much information, either, and just want him to play."
ZimmerZimmer says the only thing it will really change is the defense no longer has to rely on an elaborate set of signals. But even then, the coaches know they are going to have to turn to the defensive players in hurry-up situations. And since only one radio can be on the field at a time for the defense as well as the offense, they can already envision snaps there might not be one at all because of injury or subbing.
"You're going to have to be prepared because there might be a timing issue with it, I don't know," Lewis said. "I don't know who's out there. It's going to be a three-down player. I think it will probably be a linebacker or safety. Another guy who could handle it is Robert Geathers, who has been trained as a linebacker. He is a three-down player. We will have some flexibility that way. It could be a safety. A linebacker."
Ndukwe thinks it will now be much easier getting out of the huddle.
"It's going to give you an extra three or four seconds and that's huge," Ndukwe said. "In the heat of battle, I think it's going to be a lift for the defense."
Saints head coach Sean Payton is one former offensive coordinator that thought the time had come.
"It just makes sense from the standpoint of eliminating the feeling that we're not doing a good enough job getting signals," Payton said. "It's like baseball. Everyone in baseball has a chance to get signals visually. It makes it consistent and fairly simple."
Currently both the offensive and defensive helmets shut off with 15 seconds left on the play clock. Payton says that eventually the times have to be staggered to prevent the offense from waiting until the last second to signal.
HAIR TABLED: Before bringing it to a vote, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says he wants to meet with players about the Chiefs' proposal to ban hair so it doesn't obscure names and numbers on the uniform. Lewis, a member of the competition committee, is non-committal.
"It's kind of like the uniform. The uniform is what it is," Lewis said. "Now let's get back to what the uniform is and what the hair is. You can't enforce what is not a rule. You don't worry about things you can't control."
Brown said the collective bargainning agreement was discussed Tuesday, the last full day of the meetings. The re-seeding plan for the playoffs is expected to get shot down Wednesday with all four AFC North teams voting against it. But all the other proposals, such as eliminating the forceout and the five-yard facemask penalty, are expected to pass.
Lewis, who has worked for three North teams, is a diehard divisionalist against the proposal that would seed teams three through six by record and not hand out automatic home games for a division title.
"I like the division structure. From the point of view ... it gives you the opportunity right away to know who you're competing against," Lewis said. "You have the opportunity to win your division and have another home game. From the other standpoint, when you're selling to your fans that you compete against Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cleveland and we can beat those teams, we have an opportunity to get a home game for them. I would hate to see us go away from that model."
Lewis is also in the camp that you can't guarantee teams from resting players if they already clinched. He looks at the NBA, where regular-season games notoriously mean little.
"You can't gaurantee that, no matter what model you have," Lewis said. "You're always going to, no matter the model, and why penalize teams that win their division? You've won that right."
MARV ON ZIMMER: Another word Lewis is saying a lot this offseason is "sound," and he's saying it in conjunction with defense. That's what Lewis seeks from Zimmer and the fact he's been sound in 4-3s and 3-4s is a big attraction. That, and Zimmer's volatile obsession with technique as a former secondary coach.
"(Zimmer) will have a lot to do with getting us to be sound and doing things correctly all the time, him being the stickler he is," Lewis said. "I think Mike sees the big picture. He understands you have to have a mix and blend of it. He has an opportunity to put some things together. He's done it a couple of different ways. His experiences kind of hit me the right way."
Lewis again reiterated why he doesn't call the defenses and says calling him a defensive coach is unfair when he's the head coach.
"I can't call the defense because you have to make adjustments and you can't decide whether to run the football or pass the football on offense when you're making adjustments," Lewis said. "It's an unfair thing."
But he had some pretty good insight why the defense has struggled during his five seasons as Bengals head coach. It was elicited when asked if he could only have a great pass rusher or cover guy, which he would choose.
"Based on where we are right now, pressure is more important," he said. "We can cover effectively in the back end, but we had very few guys who could win a one on one."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
Lewis continues to talk up cornerback David Jones, the fifth-round draft pick the Saints cut just before last season and arrived via waivers the next day. Lewis says the 6-0, 196-pound Jones will push all top three cornerbacks for playing time even though he was a special teams player appearing in just seven games.
"We feel good about David Jones. We got to watch him in practice every day," Lewis said. "He has great speed, he's got long levers, he's got enough speed out there so that he's not afraid. He plays the ball well in the air."
Deltha O'Neal, now the nickel corner in the wake of the Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall drafts, may not have been happy with his $2 million plus salary. But he's still affordable, unless a guy like Jones really comes on. Still, the coaches like what O'Neal gives them with experience and athleticism.
"He wanted a new contract a year ago, but it's not going to happen," Lewis said. "Last year, he basically got beat out. He has to get himself ready to go to compete for a starting job if that's something that's important to him. His snaps, he finished the year with good snaps."
The plan is still to have franchise player Stacy Andrews start along the offensive line, but Lewis won't say guard or tackle or left or right side.