The Bengals are talking NOW. That’s GOOD. I HOPE it works. But what about THEN? The releasing of Odell Thurman back into the wild had blogsters resurrecting the Police Blotter Draft of 2005. But my faded Memory Lane doesn’t include that 11-3 start, Palmer's emergence as a top-tier QB or the promise of a young, versatile Chris Perry.
My rewind to '05 brings back Palmer's knee—and Marvin Lewis' eyes. The moment it was obvious Palmer was lost that day, Lewis sadly seemed to be, too. Yeah, okay, our QB is down ... but hello, we're still in a playoff game here, guys!
When leadership was most needed, it was then back-up QB John Kitna rallying the troops, full of fire—while the head coach stood stunned, as if his house was on fire. (Is it possible Kitna’s fiery leadership was more responsible than Lewis’ coaching for getting the team so quickly from 2-14 to 8-8?)
Lewis’ failed leadership then seemed obvious to me, and upon sharing that observation via blog posts, well, one would have thought I’d spat on Mother Teresa, or worse, had asked Obama a legitimate political question (those were the hardcore “In Marvin We Trust” days).
But this isn’t an anti-Lewis post. It’s a ‘who is the real Bengals’ leader today?’ post.
These Gen Y Bengals seem to be latch key kids with no one in charge. Okay, it can be argued Palmer fills that role and I’ll concede to a point, but he’s the quiet Gary Cooper type ... the “cool guy” ... the “real nice guy” ... “who’s laid back”. As players, Palmer is Hall of Fame talent while Kitna was Hall of Fire temperament, a quality still sorely missed on this team. Another obvious pick is Big Willie, but can an aging OT with eroding skills really be that guy?
So who is “the” team leader? Chad Johnson? No-cho. Not at all-cho. NFL rules state one must be emotionally older than age 10 to lead an NFL team. Chad’s leadership skills go about as far as his yards after catch—pretty much nowhere.
TJ? Maybe, but Houshmandzadeh too often complains publicly about front office moves, and when discussing the team speaks in “they” tense, not “us”. Hugely talented, but “the” leader? Plus, missing all the OTAs takes him out of running. Rudi? Too quiet. How about good guys John Thornton, Reggie Kelly and Kenny Watson? They’re all talented, high-character guys, but the on-field production doesn’t measure up to “the” leader status.
So, where’s our current-day Boomer? Anthony Munoz? Paul Brown? Forrest Gregg? Anyone recalling the 1988 Super Bowl team knows what I mean.
If there’s really such a thing as team chemistry, today’s Bengals are 53 different lab beakers—and no one seems to be mixing the brew. When Kitna moved north, the team’s heart and soul went south. But Lewis’ recent moves are encouraging. Jettisoning the Capone Bros—Chris Henry and Thurman—is a positive step; so after 5 years maybe Lewis is ready for a breakout coaching year, and dare say “the” leadership role.
The Bengals no doubt have enough physical talent, but until someone runs a 4.2 in leadership, the team risks wasting a QB with Hall of Fame skills. Question is, though, who’s the ‘fire’ to Palmer’s ‘ice’. We can only HOPE someone emerges. NOW.