With the Chiefs and Browns looking at major upheavals and no extreme talk coming out of the Bengals camp, head coach Marvin Lewis' staff could be coaching the Senior Bowl for the second time in five years.
The Bengals would get an up-close-and-personal look at the prospects coaching for the North or the South in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 24, as they did in 2004 when they coached the North.
Two draftnicks say the numbers suggest the Bengals are going to take one of four left tackle prospects with the sixth pick in April's draft. With right tackle Stacy Andrews undergoing reconstructive knee surgery and headed to free agency and left tackle Levi Jones sidelined with a back problem, it has become a glaring need.
"That looks to be the fit. You can put any of them in there rather quickly," says Jerry Jones, the former Cincinnati pharmacist who publishes the draft survey The Drugstore List.
"Unless they are sold on Cedric Benson being their bell cow," says Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLscoutdraft.com, "then another possibility for them has to be Beanie Wells. But any of those four tackles can come on in and pretty much play right away, especially the three seniors."
The junior tackle that is expected to come out, Alabama's Andre Smith, is probably going to be gone by six. So will Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree, says Rang. Wells, the Ohio State running back, should be on the board.
But Jones, who used to sit in on Bengals drafts in the '80s and '90s, doubts the Bengals take a back or receiver with the first pick. There is no monster pass rusher on the defensive line or linebacker at that point (Rang says Florida State end Everett Brown is undersized) and Jones says the draft's best linebacker, Wake Forest's Aaron Curry, could be available.
"If you had Keith Rivers at WILL and Curry at SAM, they would be real good running mates for a long time," Rang says. "While Rivers is fundamentally sound, Curry is an explosive guy that makes a lot of plays."
It sounds like Curry would be the closest thing to old middle linebacker Odell Thurman, but a little bigger at 6-2, 240 pounds: "He can do whatever you want him to do," Jones says. "He can blitz, drop in coverage, take on the run."
Speaking of Thurman, the Bengals have had six different Opening Day middle linebackers in Marvin Lewis' six seasons. Dhani Jones is coming off a fine season as the leading tackler in all 16 games, but he also turns 31 in February. Although six may be a little high for an inside backer, Jerry Jones thinks Ohio State's James Laurinaitis and USC's Rey Maualuga are worthy.
"On every list I've seen, they're 1-2 at the inside backer and it just depends what you want in a player," Jones says. "Laurinaitis is very productive and a real instinctive player, not as violent as Maualuga. Marvin Lewis will take one look at Maualuga and think 'Ray Lewis.' He's a big guy, about 255, 257 pounds and he'll run through a brick wall."
But it keeps coming back to tackle.
Rang thinks Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford is going to declare, so he takes him and Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford off the board before six. Also gone, he believes, is Andre Smith. So too could be Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins.
"Given Andrews' injury and the fact he didn't have a year that a franchise player should have had and Levi's injuries, it makes the most sense," Jones says. "I think they'll fall in love with one of those guys."
After Andre Smith the tackles are Virginia's Eugene Monroe, Mississippi's Michael Oher and Baylor's Jason Smith. Rang thinks Smith and one of those other tackles could be gone by six, "but the other two guys should be there."