Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
Beware the people in gray.
This one goes out to the guys in sweat pants. Most of the roster performed admirably, some underwhelmed, and yet a handful never had a chance at all. They cheered from the benches throughout the season, pacing the sidelines and looking relaxed in their sock hats and gym shoes. These men led a conflicting lifestyle, pining for more playing time yet living comfortably and out of harms way. They were paid the same despite not playing and they of course had a bevy of sweatpants at their disposal. They lived in luxury and, in a sense, had Sundays off.
Some of this was due to sheer injury. Bengals fans have no idea how good Travelle Wharton is. The guy seemed to blow his knee up before he even put his pads on. I honestly forgot he existed. He returns next year as a ghost that will haunt Clint Boling around until he gets his job back. The only thing we can be sure about is that his presence adds depth, which is always important along the offensive line, but other than that, the jury is out.
Thomas Howard was another guy that had a ruined 2012. He's been a lovely fit in Mike Zimmer's scheme since coming over from Oakland, and his torn ACL ripped a hole in the Zim Clan fabric that took time to stabilize. He is now a 30-year old free-agent coming off of a major injury. The Bengals soldiered on nicely without him and he appears to have little leverage with the team at the moment. Many draft wizards are pointing toward outside linebacker for the Stripes this year as high as the first-round. Vontaze Burfict showed tremendous NFL readiness in his rookie year and gives the Bengals options there. I would assume Howard's days are numbered here in Cincinnati and that we should all thank him for his efforts.
Not everyone who wore sweats, however, was dressed that way because they were hurt. Some of these hooded lurkers simply were not needed on game days. In fact, a few were actually called upon once or twice, but largely ignored and buried within the depth chart. Of these were two robust rookie defensive tackles, drafted high and brimming with potential. Whether they were truly in the Bengals' immediate plans or not is unknowable, but once Pat Sims returned from his injury, their already limited opportunities dried up altogether. They were rendered useless and team managers ordered extremely large sweats for the two of them. In their brief appearances, only Devon Still comes to mind getting a half sack on Monday Night Football against the Steelers. Brandon Thompson was an ever rarer whale to behold, only surfacing three times last year.
Their future may still be bright, but as of now, they find themselves stuck behind Big Geno, Peko and The Pat Sims Stop-the-Run Foundation. The Bengals also liked shifting Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers inside on occasion, making it even more difficult for the rookie pair to fit into the short-term plans of the defense. Marvin Lewis has given them generic praises like "very good football players" and we know that Still is the pass rusher and Thompson the run stuffer, but at what point does this beef become a viable commodity and not just a future investment? If they are only depth, they are of the most valuable kind. So valuable in fact, one might even call it a waste.
Within that same vein, another premium backup struggling to get a chance is one Mr. Anthony Collins. I've always been high on Collins and I think he is of starting pedigree, but he finds himself displaced by such pros as Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth. Collins can play either tackle spot, has accumulated 18 starts in his career and has remained pretty healthy. Smith is a free agent and was a dominant run blocker for long stretches of the season in 2012. He will command a healthy contract to match his healthy appetite and if the Bengals are thinking that dinner with Andre is too pricey of an affair, the name of Anthony Collins will be heavy on the collective mind of their fans.
These men in sweats will wear pads again soon enough. They will don a helmet too and crash themselves into another person wearing the same. They are eager to earn their money in a more worthwhile way-to show that they are football players and not mere spectators. Which way the future will take the Bengals is anyone's guess, but I have a feeling that these men in grey jersey-knit material will play a big part in the team's decision making at some key positions. Proof once more that every person along that sideline matters. Every person.
Mojokong-the unturner of all stones.