The CJ Chronicle: Bengals Participating in Linebacker Evolution

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A weekly discourse on subjects, topics and obsessions consuming the beautiful mind of Josh Kirkendall. We talk about Marquis Flowers and the evolution of the NFL's linebacker, some OTA happenings, post-draft stuff and yes, more Andy Dalton because he's awesome and we love talking about him.

You know the story about Marvin Lewis' ridiculous influence on linebacker Vontaze Burfict. It's a story of a motivated track that was born from a conversation initiated by Lewis -- who had visited Burfict during Arizona State's Pro Day in '12. Fortunately, Lewis' daughter had a wedding in the area which prompted coach to stop by Burfict's school. What started out as a conversation, led to Burfict seeking Lewis out with the hope of following Lewis back to Cincinnati. After being signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2012 NFL draft, Burfict started (in place of the late Thomas Howard), and within two seasons, became the first Bengals linebacker Pro Bowler since 1976.

What's next? MVP? Argument of being the best linebacker, if not defensive player in conversation? Burfict or Geno Atkins? Has Atkins dropped from the discussion due to the unpredictability of torn knee ligaments? Anyway... that's just Lewis -- he's always had that personality and ability to talk with players, inspiring them to become better than what they were. It's the whole joke about character issues coming to Cincinnati and getting something out of them... usually Lewis is that empowered figure to get that done.

Sometimes it doesn't work (Odell Thurman), sometimes it takes time (Chris Henry and Adam Jones).

Arizona linebacker Marquis Flowers was deemed a "priority free agent" by one NFL head coach.

When the Cincinnati Bengals selected linebacker Marquis Flowers in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL draft, another team had post-draft affection for him. According to Daniel Berk with the Arizona Daily Star, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith was chatting on the phone with Flowers during the final hours of the draft, telling the youngster that they'd like to sign him as a college free agent. Within five minutes of taking that call, the Bengals drafted him 212th overall. Finally, Lewis smirks, we stole something from the Buccaneers.

Flowers met with the Bengals in late-April during the predraft process. Flowers registered 93 tackles and 11 tackles for loss to go with one sack, a pair of fumble recoveries and an interception returned for a touchdown. He made a lot more noise in 2012 with 100 stops and 13 TFLs to go with 5.5 sacks. Flowers also forced three fumbles and recovered one, intercepted three passes (returned one for a TD) and broke up three passes.

Maybe he's the definition of workout warrior with an injury-matted career that neutralized his pure 4.5 speed on the 40-yard dash. Is he a linebacker, or maybe a safety? If he develops into anything, maybe a reverse engineered version of Taylor Mays? There is some truth that Flowers is modeled according to the evolution that wants more athleticism from their linebackers. Mays, Emmanuel Lamur and now Flowers?

"I think there’s some growth potential, since he’s only been a two-year player at the position," said Bengals linebackers coach Matt Burke. "Really, he’s just a long, fast kid that can run and move in space. That carries some special teams value for us as we move forward with him. We’re playing two-thirds of our snaps in nickel situations, and he’s more of a space athlete than he is a ‘take-on’ guy. He’s played some SAM for them. He’s played over the tight end. He’s done a lot. He’s a pretty versatile athlete, and we see the same in him here."

Flowers... Lamur.

"Very similar. E-Man (Lamur) played some safety," said Burke. "E-Man is a little bit taller and longer than Marquis is. But there’s a very similar kind of feel to that — a former safety transitioning to linebacker and may have gotten lost in the shuffle a little bit because of it. So I’m excited to have him."

Welcome to the new NFL.

From NFL.com.

STRENGTHS Excellent timed speed and explosiveness -- clocked a 4.51-second 40 and 37 1/2-inch vertical jump at his pro day. Is tough and will battle through injuries, finishing 2012 season with a shoulder injury and 2013 with a spatted right ankle that noticeably affecting his movement. Solid tackle production -- has great range, is around the ball a lot and can track down speed backs. Good recovery speed (when out of position).

WEAKNESSES Has a lean build and could use additional bulk. Lacks physicality and plays small. Does not play to his timed speed. Average instincts. Lacks a plan as a blitzer/edge rusher and gets overwhelmed and engulfed by bigger bodies. Struggles with adjustments, and overall work ethic has considerable room for improvement. Did not play on special teams. Can be too chirpy when concentration is needed.

BOTTOM LINE An overgrown box safety, Flowers converted to "Sam" linebacker as a junior and possesses intriguing measurables to warrant interest as a developmental, fast-flowing linebacker prospect. Has clear make-it athletic traits but must learn what it means to be a pro to earn a roster spot.

Let's move on. First question... Why isn't Jermaine Gresham in camp?

'Damn it! That drop in 2010 still burns me,' says mostly all Gresham detractors. Keep in mind: Despite those unspoken winks that you receive from people with a superiority complex on every subject... summer camps without the word "mandatory" are voluntary.

According to the mothership, Gresham has an injury.

Tight end Jermaine Gresham wasn’t here for the first day of voluntary practices on Tuesday and word is he’s dealing with a physical issue. Indications are it could impact his participation in the voluntaries but there doesn't seem to be a concern he’d miss a big chunk of training camp…

People outside the organization -- media, fans -- tend to make a much bigger deal out of an absence from a voluntary camp than the team themselves. If Gresham wants to hang out in Oklahoma for another week and play Tony Hawk on the Playstation 2, more power to him. Perhaps, he's holding a charity event or football camp for kids. It's his choice and since the team isn't going to offer an itinerary of every missing player during OTAs in May, we might as well move on.

Could he actually be holding out for more money?

We call this the fall-back talking point for the uninitiated (or ESPN). But under the umbrella that anything is possible, sure. Why not. Let's play that game. But it's highly doubtful if you think about it. Along with the fact that he was in Cincinnati for conditioning workouts last month, Gresham will earn $3.4 million this season -- which ranks 11th among all tight ends in the NFL. Not bad.

Maybe he wants more long-term security. Reasonable... if he had more negotiating power, it might even work. Unfortunately, he doesn't. For someone averaging 54 receptions for 565 yards receiving 19 touchdowns in four seasons, the team os looking at extensions for Andy Dalton and A.J. Green while grooming Tyler Eifert. Where's the incentive?

Training camp, not OTAs, are when those statements are usually made.

Doesn't he have a workout bonus?

Yes. For $200,000... oh, I see what you mean. Maybe he suffered his injury carrying home $200,000 in single-dollar bills to his car? We kid. We're kidders.

But Gresham could use the time in this new-found offense

This is a completely different offense. The Collective Bargaining Agreement restricts the amount of work a player can put in during the summer. Hue Jackson's offense is up-tempo while offering new formations and designs. Gresham has, at this point, missed that valuable time with an undisclosed physical issue -- for which Tyler Eifert is clasping his hands together for an epic Monty Burns impression.

Mr-burns-saying-excellent_medium

"I can tell it’s going to be a lot different. It’s going to be a shake, I tell you that," said cornerback Adam Jones via Bengals.com. "As long as the timing is good, I think it will be alright. There’s a lot of different looks, too. A lot of different looks. You have to know what is going on while you’re out there. Everybody. It can’t be one guy off page because if you do, they’ll get you. We saw four wide receivers today on one side. Then they shifted and I said, ‘Oh my God."

How long did you expect BenJarvus Green-Ellis to be demoted?

First of all, let's not pretend that the proverbial OTA depth chart is anything but a hurricane of fluidity. What happens in May, stays in May -- players with minor soreness will sit out when they'd usually practice during training camp. That said, I'd be surprised if Green-Ellis sticks around much longer. He might be on the precisest of being "disgruntled." Writes Geoff Hobson.

And on offense, second-round pick Jeremy Hill took the No. 2 snaps behind starting running back Giovani Bernard. BenJarvus Green-Ellis politely declined comment after practice as the Law Firm Era arrives at the crossroads.

Crossroads. That's a kind definition. More like warp speed the hell outta here. Cincinnati will hold onto him though. Unless they need the cap space for extensions, money isn't the issue and having depth will settle those unsettled nerves when contact occurs. Are you a student of the theory that believes less contact during summer actually puts players more at risk for major injuries? Green-Ellis might even find new life, fighting for a job at this stage -- and not just in Cincinnati, but auditioning for roles around the NFL. In Cincinnati's case, it's a good problem to have.

Are you going to talk about Dalton now?

Yes. Opinions are prevalent, the future is one massive variable, and ignoring it would be like saying, "I'm tired of talking about the country's healthcare system. Let's talk about horses and rainbows!!" That said, I grouped my questions and opinions later in the article so that people can advance on the discussion on their own. It's like the radio. If you don't want to participate, you can move on. But if you do, then you've made your own choice.

Was Teddy Bridgewater ever a serious consideration in the draft?

According to one predraft report from ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen, Bridgewater was a "fallback" option for the Bengals at No. 24. We wrote in response that week that "we have it on good authority that the Bengals will not take Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater... or any quarterback for that matter, in the first round." Bridgewater was never even on Cincinnati's radar. Hell, they never spoke to him on the phone or in person.

The Bengals would eventually draft Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron at No. 164, who signed his four-year rookie contract this week.

Would a quarterback controversy destabilize the lockerroom?

It was one of the more popular question marks for a community that's entering a two-month phase of offseason boredom. And because so many people have already abandoned Andy Dalton, the slightest issue with the incumbent quarterback could inspire donation-rich fans to fly a banner over Paul Brown Stadium in a rented airplane. But in this lockerroom? Nah.

Didn't McCarron 'just win games'?

Yep. But so did Dalton. Let me re-phrase... so DOES Dalton. During his final two years in college, Dalton won more games (25) than McCarron and has already built a 30-18 regular season record in the NFL, where his yards, touchdowns, and passer rating have increased every year (as has his interceptions... but we're being nice and cherry-picking our statistics at the moment).

It's fair to say that Dalton really is doing things that most quarterbacks in the history of the NFL have never done. However, Dalton and McCarron had similar statistics during their final two years in college... the biggest talking points about both players is that Dalton played against inferior competition (compared to Alabama's opponents) whereas McCarron was surrounded by first-round talent.

Last Two Years In College Dalton ('09-10) McCarron ('12-13)
ATT 639 650
CMP 408 437
CMP PCT 63.8 67.2
YDS 5,613 5,996
TDs 50 58
INTs 14 10
COLLEGE RATING 159.1 171.1
WINS 25 24

Those aren't the games that I'm talking about.

Oh yes. The big game. Dalton's kryptonite. In games played against the Ravens and Steelers, or in prime time, or in the playoffs, Dalton's record is 5-12 -- including a depressing 0-3 in the playoffs. Granted, the Dalton argument conveniently gives Cincinnati's defense a free pass.

A free pass is bull crap. We're talking about Dalton, not how other aspects of the team game are letting people down just as equally!

True. But seriously: What happened to that incorruptible Mike Zimmer defense in the postseason, allowing 180.7 yards rushing over the last three years? Dalton has been putrid in the postseason, but this defense equally becomes a disappointment in the playoffs. They've just benefited from people instinctively directing their irritation at the quarterback and head coach.

DEFENSE ('11-'13) REGULAR SEASON POSTSEASON
AVG. POINTS ALLOWED 19.8 25.7
AVG. YRDS ALLOWED 313.8 359.3
AVG. PASSING YARDS ALLOWED 211.0 178.7
AVG. RUSHING YRD ALLOWED 102.8 180.7

Aren't all teams better in the playoff?

In the immortal words of Clay Davis... sheeeeeeet.

In two of the last three years (Texans '11 and Chargers '13), the Bengals played their postseason opponents during that regular season. The Bengals were winning 16-3 at half-time against the Texans in '11 before turning a 13-point advantage into a one-point loss, thanks to a last second touchdown pass from T.J. Yates to Kevin Walter.

Wait, the Bengals defense lost a game to T.J. Yates and Kevin Walter?

Yates actually pumped out 300 yards passing and two scores while tight end Owen Daniels did what tight ends usually do against the Bengals defense. However, Cincinnati has holding onto a 19-13 lead with 2:33 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Yates-led offense traveled 80 yards -- with help from a 17-yard defensive pass interference by Adam Jones to put Houston at the Bengals 6-yard line -- to eventually scoring a game-winning touchdown against the incorrupted and vaunted Bengals defense.

But the Bengals wouldn't have been in that position if not for the offense, right?

Andy Dalton completed a 14-yard pass to Bernard Scott on third-and-15 with 2:43 remaining in the game. Being at their own 48-yard line and with Houston having used their final time out, Cincinnati could have wiped out most of the clock with a first-down conversion.

Go for it!

Alright, said head coach Marvin Lewis. Instead of Cedric Benson securing the football and powering through the line of scrimmage, Mike McGlynn committed a false start before the snap and the Bengals were forced to punt. Think how things changed in that game had Cincinnati converted and wiped out the final two minutes? Well, not much actually. Even if the Bengals beat Houston in the regular season, Cincinnati would have still been the sixth seed and Houston the third seed.

Back to the original point... the Bengals defense in the postseason?

Despite how close their regular season game turned out, the Bengals postseason effort (in Texas this time) was a complete reversal. Losing 17-10 at half-time, Cincinnati's self-destruction felt much more distant than that -- which would also be reality after Houston wiped out the Bengals with a 14-0 second-half.

But again, you're giving Dalton a free pass...

No. Not really. For the lack of a more appropriate statement, he has sucked in that game and every postseason effort since. We're just acknowledging that Cincinnati's defense turned out to be a BIGGER disappointment due to the overall dependability on them.

What about the defense against the Chargers?

The Bengals held Philip Rivers to 23 completions for 252 yards passing and a second-quarter touchdown during a regular season win on Dec. 1. Cincinnati's old school philosophy of power running and clutch defense held a 17-10 lead with Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis wiping out the final 4:35 in the game.

It was artistic. Inspirational. A masterful gameplan that was implemented with a resolve to stick with it. Plus it was in San Diego. When the Chargers claimed the final postseason berth, confidence -- if not swagger -- bolted from Narnia's cabinet -- no longer would postseason success be a fantasy. We're going to finally win a playoff game! Cincinnati hosted the Chargers in the first round and it was a replay of every postseason game during the Marvin Lewis era. San Diego ran 40 times for 196 yards rushing (bad defense!) and Andy Dalton turned it over three times (bad Dalton!) to eventually lose 27-10.

The blame game was rich with contestants on that day.

NOTE: Comments, questions and everything else will be addressed next week.

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