Solomon Wilcots (left) and Takeo Spikes shake on it Monday and are Sirius about the old team. It was Throwback Monday at Bengals training camp when four members of the franchise's First 50 as voted by the fans surfaced to watch this year's edition begin preparations for Friday's pre-season opener (7:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against Tampa Bay.
All four are members of the media and to a man they went on the record to say the Bengals are faster, deeper, and have a shot.
Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham (No. 18) has been saying it all training camp in his daily reports filed with Dan Hoard on Bengals.com. After seeing them for the first time Monday, along with a crowd of 1,050, No. 1 Anthony Munoz, No. 10 Takeo Spikes, and No. 40 Solomon Wilcots agree.
"Some teams come into training camp wishing and hoping they find a couple of more pieces," Spikes said at the end of his old walk in from the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields to the locker room. "This is not (that) team. This team has every tool in the toolbox."
Spikes and Wilcots, both of Sirius NFL Radio, say the only question is if they have a handle on the head game.
"They've got talent. We've been saying that for a few years. I thought they lost some of that talent last year. But going back to last year's drafting of (slot receiver) Tyler Boyd and the addition of two more young receivers to the group helps them. I'm excited about Joe Mixon. I just think he was the best running back in the draft and that's saying a lot in a draft that had a lot of good running backs. I'm excited. I'm doubly excited.
"I think they can win ten games, but it's going to be hard," Wilcots said. "My greatest concern is the offensive line. New guys. Different positions … It comes down to what do you think about yourself from the neck up? Do you really believe you can beat the best teams? They should."
Wilcots conjures up the Bengals' 1988 AFC title when he was in his second year and first year starting at safety.
"In '88 we believed we were good. We expected to win. We didn't stumble into victories. I can't say we felt that way in '87," Wilcots said of that 4-11 season. "They need to get a couple of wins early to get that confidence. We cemented that in Week Two when we beat Philadelphia and we never looked back."
Wilcots says the Bengals had one of those uplifting wins early in the 2015 season with a 27-24 overtime victory over defending NFC champion Seattle that featured a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback.
"You leave a game like that," Wilcots said, "and you think you can beat anybody. Anybody."
It's not the same team, of course, but it does have Mixon. He had another "wow," moment Monday when he took a pass at the line of scrimmage and turned into a work of art by running away from the pack as Spikes and Wilcots traded glances
"Mixon looked pretty good. He had some good runs," said Munoz, taking notes in his role as analyst for the Channel 12 telecast.
But, naturally, the greatest left tackle who ever lived was also paying close attention to the pass rushers and you can count him as a fan of rookie Carl Lawson, too.
"He's a good pass rusher," Munoz said. "I love the way he stays low going around the corner."
Munoz is hesitant to critique the biggest question mark of all after watching the offensive line because of the speed even though it was a fully padded practice.
"There's a lot of half-speed and three-quarters speed, but you can get a good idea of the guys on the perimeter and they look good on both sides," Munoz said. "(Linebacker) Vontaze Burfict looks better than he's been in a while. He looks really good."
And Munoz already checked in on left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi last week. That's a mental thing, too: "He has to play with confidence."
The kids looked as advertised to Spikes. Yes, Mixon. But also cornerback William Jackson, the first-round pick from last year who missed the season with a pectoral injury and has had a very active camp.
"The biggest things to me to see were the speed and also seeing Joe Mixon get in and out of cuts," Spikes said. "Jackson is always around the ball. As a teammate, I know good things happen when you get around the ball.
"A lot of team speed. They have playmakers on the first and second teams. Like legitimate playmakers. Some guys could probably go to other teams and compete for a starting job from the second team here. So that means they have quality depth and reliable depth."
Enough for ten wins?
"If," Spikes said, "they do what they need to do from a mental capacity." SLANTS AND SCREENS;Spikes, 40, the 15-year NFL linebacker who retired after the 2012 season, couldn't even get through an "I'm pissed about not being in the top ten," gag without breaking into a laugh. Spikes played his first five seasons here (79 games) after the Bengals took him with their first pick in the 1998 draft.
"I'm just fooling with you. It's great," Spikes said in between interviewing players in the locker room before practice. "Ideally I would have liked to have been in the top ten and maybe if I'd played my entire career here. At the end of the day, man, this is how I look at it. It's a huge honor and anytime someone stops to recognize you, that's big time. That's big time to me. To be in the top 50 Bengals in the 50 years of existence of the Cincinnati Bengals, my pillow will become a little softer tonight."
Wilcots, 52, a safety, played here even less with 60 games in four years. But one season was as a member of the famed S.W.A.T. Team secondary that helped the Bengals to the Super Bowl in 1988. And he put down roots here while becoming one of the best network analysts on air.
On the 30th anniversary of his eighth-round selection by the Bengals out of Colorado, Wilcots has decided to switch industries as the team leader for Russo Partners' health and sports division. But he's working for Sirius off and on and on Monday he admitted he doesn't see himself as a top 50 player.
"I think of guys like Isaac Curtis. Phenomenal players," Wilcots said. "I have so much respect for guys like Coy Bacon. Lemar Parrish. Kenny Riley is one of the greatest players this league has ever seen. I have great respect for a guy like Tommy Casanova, who (retired) early and started his own medical practice."
When Wilcots broke into broadcasting with Cincinnati's Channel 5 he remembers doing a story on another Bengals top 50 guy that retired early and how Mike Reid was smart and so good on the defensive line in the first five seasons of the '70s before giving it up for Nashville.
"Those are the guys I think of," Wilcots said. "I don't think Ken Anderson gets enough credit for being such a great player. I don't put myself in that category."
But he senses the reasons.
"Maybe it's because of the impact. We won when I was here," Wilcots said. "I think about the impact in the community and I always wanted to make sure that I didn't want them to make them regret bringing me to town. I wanted them to be proud of that pick. Maybe it's because as a contributor to our community in whatever shape or form, whether putting a good light on Cincinnati when I worked at Channel 5 to tell the stories of people in our community.
"And even as a broadcaster on a national level. To always portray the Bengals in a good light, their impact on the city and what a great place it is to live. If all of those things are part of that decision to put me on that list, all I can say is I'm humbled and really honored."
Cincinnati Bengals host Training Camp at Paul Brown Stadium Practice Fields 8/7/2017