The lasting image that Bengals fans have tattooed to their long-term memories is Chris Crocker's embarrassing attempt to tackle Texans running back Arian Foster down the sidelines during Cincinnati's 31-10 postseason loss in Houston. We mention that play and know that there's no need to discribe it. What should have been a considerable gain but contained without a score, turned into a 42-yard touchdown and the proverbial nail to Cincinnati's postseason coffin. It also earned Crocker a Mike Mayock "I can't believe what I just saw" exasperation on NBC's broadcast. Not that players care what analysts say.
After being released by the Cincinnati Bengals during the offseason, attempting to go younger at safety, the Bengals simply haven't had the play at safety that they expected. Taylor Mays still struggles in coverage while a constant threat for a 15-yard penalty for a nuclear detonation against an opposing player. He's already been benched on defense, but recoup some playing time against the Redskins last weekend. Jeromy Miles has looked lost at times, the result of a touchdown late against the Cleveland Browns.
To say the least. The Bengals need Crocker back.
But we should point out that this isn't so much the same Chris Crocker that collapsed at the end of 2011, who, if you remember played coming off major knee surgery to repair an MCL that he tore midway through 2010. As Joe Reedy with the Cincinnati Enquirer notes, he's had plenty of time to get healthy.
"I’ve had a lot of time to do things on my own and rehab and get healthy at my own pace. That was sort of a positive," Crocker said. "The negative was I hadn’t played any football since the playoff game. I know this defense, it’s just a matter of getting back out there and being in a group and doing things I’ve done for a long time."
One of the biggest advantages that Crocker also brings to Cincinnati is versatility. Strong safety has been a huge learning curve for the younger players sure, but the cornerback position is also currently decimated with injuries. Dre Kirkpatrick likely won't play until after the bye week. Leon Hall, Nate Clements and Jason Allen are nursing injuries and could be questionable this weekend against the Jaguars. During much of his time in Cincinnati, Crocker would often play nickel, either against the No. 2 or slot receivers, depending on the matchups.
Yet Crocker brings several attributes to this team. Having spent nearly four seasons in Mike Zimmer's defense, he can plug away at any position in the secondary. He's intelligent enough to know where's he supposed to line up before the snap and during the play. And he brings an attitude that Cincinnati's secondary could use.
Obviously fans are going to remember his postseason performance last year and they should. It was embarrassing, not for just Chris Crocker and the organization, but the fans that unconditionally support them. But he remembers that performance too and he intends to correct that with his production going forward.
"It was my last game so obviously I wasn’t too pleased how I played. I get to right that wrong over the next couple weeks," Crocker said. "It wasn’t my best game but I haven’t dwelled on it. Try to move forward. I’m healthier. I wasn’t healthy at all in that game. I was just trying to tough it out that game. I’m normal now and healthy."
This early in the young NFL season, what have the Bengals, with one of the worst defenses, have to lose? It's another low-risk high-reward scenario that could give this defense a desperate surge that they've been needing.