With starting lineups on both sides of the ball virtually intact, safety Chris Crocker still doesn't think the Bengals are getting the respect worthy of a team coming off its second AFC North title in five years and its first-ever division sweep. He thinks it stems from the 1-4 ending in which the losses came by an average of 17 points.
"For a lot of people it's still a fluke. It will drive us. It makes us hungrier," Crocker said during Wednesday's weekly offseason locker room media session. "It's because of the way we finished last year. Whether it was injuries or what not, we didn't finish very well and I think people thought it caught up to us.
"There are a lot of teams, especially in our division, that felt like last year was just one of those years where we just swept the division and it will never happen again. We really feel like this year we're going to come back and earn respect and say it's not a fluke. We feel like this is our time. You have such a short span of years like this and this opportunity may never come. The guys on this team are going to take advantage of it and not go taking things for granted."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Center Kyle Cook, coming off his first season as a starter, signed his one-year tender for an exclusive rights free agent ($470,000), but there have been rumblings that both sides are interested getting a longer deal at some point before 2011.
"As of now there is nothing, but I'd love a longer deal and I see that as a viable option," Cook said. "Whether it's tomorrow or whenever, it's not really up me. But I'd love to play my entire career here. It's a really nice location and I'm comfortable." » Cincy is only a four-hour drive from Cook's hometown of Macomb, Mich., and he likes the Midwest feel. And he does get recognized. Last week when his Michigan State Spartans were playing Butler in the NCAA tourney, he went with his "significant other" to a wings and rings place to watch it with backup center Jon Luigs and wide receiver Matt Jones and their wives. Cook felt like he was the only person in the joint rooting for Tom Izzo's guys, but a couple of Bengals fans stopped to talk to him as they left.
"That doesn't happen too much to offensive linemen," he said.
» Cook has a new deal, but no plans to change his wheels. He's still got the '01 Ford 150 truck, now with 145,000 miles. But he gave it a rest Wednesday for the '07 version that he usually just uses to get to and from Michigan.
» Luigs is going to be shelved until training camp after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on what he called "soft tissue damage" in his hips. Luigs, a fourth-round pick out of Arkansas last year, played in eight games, mainly on special teams.
» The 6-6, 222-pound Jones is more than an interested observer for such games. He played basketball during his first three seasons at Arkansas and actually guarded Kentucky's Tayshaun Prince for a night and made 12 starts in his last season. But he made the right career choice. At that point he figured he only could have played hoops overseas professionally while he knew he'd have a shot at going high in the NFL Draft as a receiver and he did at No. 21.
» If you put him out there at Paul Brown Stadium on Wednesday, Jones says he could have ripped off a 40-yard dash in the mid-to-high 4.4s. This is a guy that corked a 4.37 at his 2005 scouting combine workout, which pretty much got him taken at 21 even though he played quarterback in college.
"If I trained for it like I trained for (the combine), I'm sure I can still run a 4.3," he said.