At Cincy Jungle, we've spent most of our time discussing the return of Chad Johnson, the emergence of a mature Chris Henry and the prospects of two rookie wide receivers marking this offense with as much optimism as there are question marks. And maybe it's my fault, or the presumed inwardness, but we've only mentioned Laveranues Coles in passing lately; talking depth chart, contract, whatever. We've failed to expressively point out Coles, not as a new Bengal, but as a starting wide receiver opposite of Chad Johnson.
When he signed a four-year deal in early March, I was mixed. It was good that the Bengals brought in an established veteran to integrate himself among a very young core of receivers. There was no telling how the Chad Johnson saga would go; so insurance could be another description. By minicamp, the young the receivers are showing their marks and Chad Johnson is as back as he's ever been. On the other hand, I was worried. I didn't mark 2009 as a season that the Bengals would make a run for the playoffs. I called it rebuilding year. New personnel, new systems, why not build the team's foundation for 2010? Why not give the younger receivers a majority of the playing time so they can work and be great contributors by next season (2010)? In my phases of fence-sitting nimbleness, I would have supported both; they made sense to me.
Once everything started coming together -- once a feeling started rising that, if all the pieces fell into place with a little bit of luck, the Bengals could make a playoff run this year -- mentions of Coles started fading. Maybe it's our fault. We're so enamored with our own guys that "outsiders" tend to get mentioned less. Who knows.
The point now, as it probably always has been, is that we're not viewing Coles as a T.J. Houshmandzadeh replacement. Few people can replace Houshmandzadeh's presence in the passing game. Furthermore, in the past two seasons, years in which Houshmandzadeh really took off, the Bengals passing game had few dependable receivers. If not for youth, or injury, or both, the passing progression often went: Houshmandzadeh, Johnson, Houshmandzadeh, Houshmandzadeh, Houshmandzadeh, check-down. While I'm not trying to deflate Houshmandzadeh's role in Cincinnati since 2007, the Bengals offense had few options and most of those options were #84. He rose to the occasion and became an elite receiver.
Coles is considered crafty. Palmer says that Coles is tough, complete and more versatile than Houshmandzadeh was.
"Throughout his seven years here, (Houshmandzadeh) played one specific position," Palmer said. "Laveranues is learning three right now. So he's very versatile. He plays extremely tough. He loves to block. He loves to do the little things. He's complete.
Coles admits that he likes Cincinnati because of a calmer media and that Chad Johnson being around, means even less publicity for Coles.
"I came here to get away from (the media)," Coles said over his shoulder, when asked for an interview during Friday's minicamp. "You've got Ocho."
So maybe it's not our fault. He just likes it that way. We think.