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Bengals image and recovering from major injuries

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Anyone outside of Cincinnati’s sphere believe the Bengals have an image problem. Do we care? In the meantime, we shouldn’t expect much from players recovering from major injuries.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The idea that Cincinnati is not only giving rookie Joe Mixon a shot at the NFL but a significant role within their offense, despite documented history of violence and overreactions (hitting a woman and an altercation with a parking attendant), corresponds with owner Mike Brown’s approach in similar circumstances. The Redeemer, who exemplifies compassion when making public comments, provided a similar tone on Tuesday when discussing Mixon.

"He's a young guy. He turned 21 [on Monday]. The incident that he was involved in was three years ago," Bengals owner Mike Brown said. "He made a terrible mistake. He struck a young woman. He hurt her badly. It was a reflexive action in my mind, when I see the tape of it. I just think he acted without thought. But it was a terrible result."

Aside from “terrible result” sounding not unlike a reaction after missing a five-foot putt, Brown accurately surmises that the Bengals are “going to bet on him. It's up to him to prove that's what it was. He's going to be watched carefully forever more because of it. I think he will hold up. I really do. But only time will tell."

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Minicamp Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Clearly Mixon will be shielding his eyes from a spotlight emitted by concerned fans and a controversy-loving national media (that enjoys old anti-Bengals tropes... looking at you Bob Costas). If he’s unable to keep his emotions under control, which nearly derailed his collegiate career, then his NFL career becomes much more complicated.

Worse still is the Bengals will struggle to shed this decade-old image if Mixon does anything to embarrass the organization. Those wounds were festered last week by Bob Costas, who mentioned the Bengals during a CNN segment that discussed Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment status (aside from wanting starting money and bringing significant, and unwanted, attention to a locker room).

"Domestic abusers - people guilty of various forms of misbehavior - find a place on NFL rosters," Costas said. "(Adam) Pacman Jones was just suspended again - for a single game - for some run-in with the police several months ago. This guy's got a rap sheet a mile long, and collects millions of dollars for the Cincinnati Bengals, who at various times seem to have been running a halfway house for miscreants."

In fairness, Costas isn’t wrong to mention Jones in the context of his conversation. Where Costas lost his moral high-ground (which is much more higher than yours... just ask him) is when he insulted every other player on Cincinnati’s roster, most of whom have had zero legal encounters and are extremely charitable with their time and money. Seriously Bob, do you know nothing about Andy Dalton?

Costas quickly followed up with comments via the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I was making a point about how Colin Kaepernick can’t even find a backup job or even an offer or an inquiry about a job,’’ Costas said Wednesday. “There’s no buzz. He’s off the board. That was the context.

“I wasn’t speaking about the Bengals in particular. I said people who have acted in objectionable and even criminal ways can find their way back into the league. A guy who makes a political statement can’t get a phone call. Pacman Jones popped into my head as an example because his suspension happened only a day or two before.’’

But you literally used the words “Cincinnati” and “Bengals” in your example, Bob. That’s as particular and specific as it gets.

It’s clear that anyone outside of the Cincinnati Bengals sphere (fans, local media, residents) believe the Bengals still have an image problem. Those inside the Cincinnati Bengals’ sphere really don’t care.

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NFL: Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of running backs.

Hope that Bengals running back Giovani Bernard, who suffered a major ACL injury during a 16-12 loss to the Buffalo Bills on November 20, would participate during camp’s opening practice was realized on Friday.

This is phenomenal news.

However, the question is obvious: Should we expect much out of Bernard this year? Granted, he had an impressive afternoon on Friday without any threat of collision, but we’ve monitored, observed, obsessed over and digested enough Bengals information during the years to justifiably conclude players coming off significant ligament injuries are not the same during their first year back.

Geno Atkins is a good example. During his second and third season as the team’s primary three-technique defensive tackle (aka, excluding his rookie season), Atkins averaged 10 quarterback sacks per season. And prior to his ACL injury in 2013, Atkins had already generated six sacks; that’s 26 quarterback sacks during a period of 41 games. For a defensive tackle, that’s astonishing.

When he returned in 2014, Atkins was different. He was noticeably overprotective of his surgically-repaired knee, but production eventually improved when he realized that his knee would hold up. Despite being named to the Pro Bowl, Atkins only generated three quarterback sacks that year. After spending the ensuing offseason training instead of rehabilitating, Atkins’s follow-up campaign in 2015 ended with 11 quarterback sacks and a place on the First-Team All-Pro team. He’s resumed his Hall-of-Fame pace as of the most disruptive defensive tackles in NFL history. Too soon?

Offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi suffered an ACL injury during the Liberty Bowl in 2014, was drafted by the Bengals during the 2015 NFL draft, spent the first 10 games on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury (NFI) list, and eased into game conditions as an extra blocker. During his sophomore season in 2016, Ogbuehi had a hell of a time getting anything to work. After starting the first 11 games, Ogbuehi was benched.

With Andrew Whitworth departing for sunnier pastures in Los Angeles, Cincinnati desperately needs a return with their Ogbuehi investment. Early impressions seem positive.

"I have full confidence that he's going to be a fabulous player for us," Bengals offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said this week. "It's no different than a new guy at wide receiver or a new guy at another position. You find out what his skill set is so you can put in your game plan to keep it in his wheelhouse. No different than any other player."

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Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Congratulations to former Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, who announced his retirement this week, on a successful career in the NFL, which may continue in a different capacity. Hawkins earned a Master’s Degree in Sports Management earlier this year, which he hopes will translate into a front office or agent position.

Hawkins spent three seasons in Cincinnati, generating 85 receptions, 995 yards receiving, and four touchdowns. There’s one reception I’ll always remember (from an article five years ago):

“In the meantime, Hawkins uses a false outside step then slants inward. In reality, it didn't help Hawkins attempt at separation from defensive back Trevin Wade. When Dalton began scrambling, Hawkins took note, defied physics with an all-stop. Wade, unable to do the same, drifted away from Hawkins, giving the receiver plenty of separation for Dalton to comfortably make the completion.

Hawkins caught the football and then did what Hawkins typically does. Here's an accurate recreation of Hawkins' route and his post-reception run that scored a touchdown to give Cincinnati a 31-17 lead.

Good luck, Hawk.