Mario Alford is looking to use his speed to get a foothold in the Bengals receiver picture.
Bengals wide receivers coach James Urban is running the NFL Draft's version of a go route even though his foot is in a cast as he continues to scramble to get a leg up on the raft of prospects in next week's extravaganza.
From the time Urban tore his Achilles' in a pick-up basketball game last Wednesday night to his surgery Friday morning, all of 36 hours had passed and then he was on the field Tuesday morning at Paul Brown Stadium in scooter shepherding the receivers through the team's local prospects day.
"Tough tear, easy repair," is the diagnosis and the Bengals can only hope their effort to reconstruct their receiving corps goes as well.
Urban is teamed with Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin and his staff, along with club president Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis to uncover some new talent in what conventional wisdom says is a draft where nabbing at least one and maybe two potential starting receivers is the top priority.
"Every time I turn on the film l 'm looking for somebody better than A.J. Green," Urban of the Bengals' five-time Pro Bowler. "It's a blank slate."
After five years, he hasn't found him yet.
Cincinnati Bengals host local players at Annual Pre-Draft Workouts 4/19/2016
"But that's where I start," Urban said.
As they look to replace one starting wide receiver, Marvin Jones, and their top slot receiver, Mohamed Sanu, look back at how they drafted those two in 2012 and look ahead at what they have coming back from last year's rookie class.
Sanu, a third-rounder, ran a glacial 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, then 4.54 at his pro day. Borderline NFL speed. But his game-tested 115 Big East-record catches as a senior, his 6-2, 211-pound physical -play, and his Wild Cat quarterback versatility made him a no-brainer in the third round.
Marvin Lewis Jones arrived via the fifth round courtesy of the trade for Chad Ochocinco Johnson in another no-brainer. NFLDraftScout.com had Jones projected in the second or third round with his stock rising. At 6-1, 199 pounds, Jones had NFL size. When he ran a 4.46-second 40 at the combine, he had the NFL speed. With just seven touchdowns in his last two seasons at California, the production wasn't there, but the Bengals were able to uncover that was more of a product of Cal's quarterback situation than Jones' talent. Both Sanu and Jones had another Bengals' trait: the willingness and ability to jump and catch the contested ball.
Since the Bengals have taken two wide receivers under six feet tall in the Duke Tobin-Marvin Lewis draft room (third rounder Jordan Shipley at 5-11 in 2010 and seventh-rounder Mario Alford at 5-9 in 2015), the Bengals seem to have a templet. And make that two drafted receivers fewer than 190 pounds, the 180-pound Alford and the 182-pound Bennie Brazell, a 2006 seventh-rounder.
"It's a big man's sport, truth be told," Urban said Tuesday after the pro day. "But that doesn't mean we preclude guys that aren't the exact measurables. We want football players. It's the on-going conversation we've had for months. Open conversation (with scouts and ownership). What about this? What about this? Strengths and weaknesses. How do they fit? How will we use this player?"
Go back to what Lewis said at February's NFL scouting combine. He said a draft pick has to have at least one trait that makes him special. Size or speed or brains or just innate play-making ability that translated into big-time college production. Look at LSU's Brazell, now a track coach for the Tigers. He was slight, but he was a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic 400-meter hurdles team. That's special fast.
The Bengals may get a shot to draft at least one of what is appearing to be the consensus top four receivers according to most big boards at No. 24, but they don't exactly fit the templet.
They do have something, but do they have enough for the first round?
The 6-2, 221-pound Laquon Treadwell of Ole Miss scared the bejeezus out of everyone with two 4.6 40s at his pro day. But he's got two things the Bengals have loved in the past. Great hands and a big catching radius that gobbles 50-50 balls (think Carl Pickens) to go along with big numbers in a big conference with an SEC-leading 82 catches. Lewis loves productive big-school guys.
What does the 4.6 40 mean for Laquon Treadwell?
But is that enough for a first-round pick to counter the lack of speed?
TCU's Josh Doctson has the size (6-2) and speed (4.49), but he comes out of a spread and has limited route running experience. Still, he's another guy that was productive with two 1,000-yard seasons and he goes up and gets it.
Baylor's Corey Coleman, 5-10, 190 pounds, and Notre Dame's Will Fuller, 6-0, 185 pounds, don't fit the Bengals' specs. And the draftnicks say they both have a tendency to drop it. But both can also flat out fly with special speed. Coleman is a beast in the return game and Fuller scorched enough DBs for 30 career TDs. Is the speed enough to counter the size?
"This draft is going to be very interesting because there is no, 'This is the guy,'" Urban said. "Whoever that guy has been the last few years, there is not that guy. It's the eye of the beholder that will come into place. Somebody may take a guy we don't have as much esteem, but is a perfect fit for them in their eyes. And we may take a guy they don't quite have the esteem but is a perfect fit for us. You have to go with what you're asking that guy to do as much as anything."
Do they have that one really special thing that makes them worthy of a first-round pick? Or will the Bengals do what they did the last time they lost their No. 2 wide receiver and slot receiver in free agency? That was in 2012 when they waited until the third and fifth to draft Sanu and Jones?
No one knows until April 28-30, but what we do know is they're encouraged by Alford after he played just one game last season and by Jake Kumerow, the undrafted Wisconsin-Whitewater product who spent all last season on the practice squad after dominating Division III.
And that's what the 6-4, 206-pound Kumerow had to do on that level to get noticed after he transferred from Illinois.
"He was a man among boys at times on the college film. Straight up," Urban said. "He was a Division I athlete, so he was in the gene pool so to speak. If you're playing on that level, I need a guy to show. I can't watch a game and say I can't remember what he did."
He believes Kumerow has a couple of clear NFL traits. He says he can see it in the drills when compared to his teammates.
Jake Kumerow gets a chance to show off the game that dominated Division III.
"Jake has unbelievable get off (the line of scrimmage)," Urban said. "When I do get-off drill-type stuff, he'll be right with all of them in the first five to 10 yards. He threatens vertically, he comes off aggressively. And he can really start and stop. The routes need to be cleaned up. We do them a little differently here. But he can run fast and he can stop really well."
Urban says Kumerow simply needs more consistency, which should come from more snaps. He says the same thing about Alford, who counters his small frame with a blistering 40 that once hit 4.27. That's his special NFL trait.
"He's dynamic. He has to cut it loose and show that he's dynamic," Urban said. "If not, he's just a guy and he knows it. He has to go play fast and make plays. A lot of guys go through that. 'How do I play fast at this level?' It's trusting what's been taught. I don't think it's about learning the offense. Mario does well there."
But while leading the Big 12 in touchdown catches he did play only one spot for a West Virginia offense that used hand signals to call plays. So there has been an adjustment.
"I just have to show them I'm mentally ready and focused," Alford said. "Second, I just have to show them I can play fast at all times. After being here for a year looking up to these guys and learning from them it seems easy so far. As long as I'm consistent, that's the key. It's wide open now. Why not take it? I have to get it myself."
Kumerow, Alford and the rest of the receivers have been told they'll practice at every spot this spring and summer, a dictum handed down by new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. Alford played primarily in the slot last year and a little at flanker. Kumerow pretty much played both outside spots, flanker and the X and only very rarely in the slot.
"We'll find out," said Urban, when asked if Kumerow can play the slot and the same could be said for Alford on the outside.
"Right now, like Coach Zam said, right now everybody is going to play every position," Alford said. "So if anyone goes down, the next man has to know each position."
It's going to be one of those years at the wide out spot. Urban may be limping, but the competition is just kicking in.
"We're going to play everybody everywhere," Urban said. "There's a new coordinator, he wants to see everybody . . . We're looking for everybody's strength."
Take a look at the 2016 Bengals schedule in pictures.