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Bengals Mailbag: Options at No. 12, Marvin Lewis’ power and veteran roles with new coaches

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Our readers and listeners have spoken up about various curiosities and concerns--especially in the wake of the recent coaching changes.

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With the offseason in full swing, it’s time for another round of mailbag questions surrounding the Cincinnati Bengals.

Is No. 12 overall automatically set for an offensive lineman?

The Bengals have another high pick this year and while they went with flash in last year’s draft, this one may be more about substance. By that, I mean Cincinnati will likely be seeking options to bolster the both lines on their football team.

Cincinnati’s offensive line surrendered 40 sacks last season, which was 13th-most in the league. The team also had the 27th ranked passing attack, obviously pointing to a by-product of the lack of protection, while also stumbling to a No. 31 ranking in rush yards per game.

Yuck.

Meanwhile, the defensive line was pretty consistent in getting to the quarterback last year, but the front seven was porous in the run game. The Bengals’ usually-stout defense had an uncharacteristic dip against opposing rushing offenses, as evidenced by their No. 30 ranking in the category.

Conventional wisdom and the growing list of mock drafts have the Bengals taking either a linebacker or an offensive lineman at No. 12 overall. And while those wouldn’t be as exciting as last year when they grabbed skill position guys like John Ross or Joe Mixon, they are necessary positions.

There is a handful of names Bengals fans are quickly becoming familiar with for this reason. At offensive line, Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey and Texas’ Connor Williams are the two top names who could be available at that point in the draft. At linebacker, Georgia’s Roquan Smith and Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds should pique interest.

Williams is a solid prospect and may very well be the best lineman in this draft, but he battled a knee injury throughout most of the 2017 season. McGlinchey is gigantic at 6’7” and has 12 starts at left tackle, along with 13 at right tackle in college.

If you watched Georgia’s run to the National Championship, you would have likely seen Smith flying around the field making plays. However, he is an inside linebacker, which isn’t always a position teams draft with a high pick.

Edmunds is a bit of a wild card. He’s versatile, huge (6’5”) and even has pass rush ability. He had 10 sacks and 202 total tackles over the past two seasons and could be a great addition to a Bengals defense that likes to vary its looks.

Of course, other positions could be in play, with tight end being one of the other options lingering in the background. Still, it would seem as if offensive line and linebacker have to be the pick at No. 12, depending on how the board falls.

What will be interesting is to see how much possible influence new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and new offensive line coach Frank Pollack will have in the war room. Obviously, both Marvin Lewis and Paul Alexander have/had quite a bit of sway with ownership when it came to draft picks, but this staff has more of a Lewis stamp on it now.

I’d be fine with any one of the four. But because of a combination of specific positional need, flexibility, safer picks and bringing more physicality to the team, I’m leaning slightly to Smith or McGlinchey at No. 12 if they’re available.

Do the recent coaching changes signal more organizational power for Marvin Lewis?

This one is so hard to say definitively. Really, the only people who know this for sure are Lewis and Mike Brown. Still, there were some very interesting statements made in a recent candid interview with the team’s owner.

“Quite often I permit him to go forward when I don’t necessarily see it the same way,” Brown said via the Enquirer. “Occasionally, I will say ‘No, it’s going to be this way.’ It’s a mix of all that.”

For those who held the belief that some sort of combination of Lewis, Duke Tobin and Katie Balckburn were running the show with Brown as a mere figurehead, the above quote isn’t the most ringing endorsement of that sentiment. If we are reading into what the old man is saying, the transition that has seemingly taken place from the deplorable ‘90s to now went from “I call the shots”, to “Check with me first”.

Still, even though Brown made the somewhat-unpopular decision to re-sign Lewis this offseason, it seems as if Marv got some pull in his staff. The biggest arrow of any kind of power shift points to Paul Alexander not being retained in Cincinnati after 23 seasons with the club.

Alexander, who held the titles of offensive line coach and assistant head coach, was definitely a “Mike Brown guy”, for better or worse. For those who are new around these parts, the Brown family is notoriously loyal to a fault and it’s likely that the grizzled line coach was a family favorite.

Of course, Alexander played the “I was ready to move on” card, and while there may be truth to that, my sense is that Lewis could have kept him if he truly wanted to. Why? Because of continuity and familiarity from both parties, and in Alexander’s proclamation that, oddly enough, 2017 was his favorite season.

“I’ve never had a line improve like this one,” Alexander said to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “Obviously they had the longest way to go, but probably my greatest memory is my last one. It was my most rewarding year.”

Whatever.

For the record, I wasn’t on board with Lewis coming back to the Bengals. I think a fresh start and new message were needed in the locker room (and still do), as well as a head coach who isn’t afraid to put his best players on the field at all times, regardless of tenure and/or contract value.

Still, this is a team that operates unlike any other current NFL franchise, because of the owner in place. Maybe things will change once he finally passes the reins to someone else, but for now, the Cincinnati Bengals start every season with a handicap.

And, for that reason, maybe it’s best that Lewis sticks around, as he is one of the few people who doesn’t have the Brown surname, yet has seemingly moved Mike to change some of his modes of operation. Because of the old-fashioned ways Brown still utilizes in running a football team, Lewis, even with his own faults, has brought some semblance of modernity to the front office.

Maybe that is the only type of power Lewis has wrestled away. It’s led to a 15-year run of good times and bad, in which fans are largely grateful, but also ready to move on from him. It’s not happening for at least another two years, so we have to hope Lewis got more in these recent negotiations than Brown is letting on.

What should some veterans expect with some changes on the coaching staff?

One interesting question we received was about how some long-tenured Bengals players will be affected with some of the recent coaching changes. This roster is in an odd state right now, with some positions being stacked and others seeming to either be top or bottom-heavy.

With a new defensive coordinator, secondary coaches, as well as at the wide receiver and quarterback coaching spots, certain veterans may be on notice—particularly if they are starters.

On defense, Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones spring to mind. After signing a lucrative deal last offseason, Kirkpatrick had a down season. And, at 34 years old, Jones ended the season on Injured Reserve after some of his own ups and downs.

Complicating matters are the jumps in progress we saw from both William Jackson and Darqueze Dennard. Should the above-mentioned veterans be on notice?

Probably so, but at least Kirkpatrick will still be a starter for a couple of reasons. First, the Bengals won’t want to swallow their pride and that contract in admitting it wasn’t the best deal. Secondly, despite his struggles, Kirkpatrick has been a contributor to a pass defense that is normally ranked towards to upper portion of the league (No. 8 this year).

Regardless, given what he showed last year, Jackson should be a starting corner for this team. He was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL by Pro Football Focus’ metrics and performed at his best against the highest competition (go back and watch his matchups against Antonio Brown). Dennard still excels in the slot, with flexibility to move outside, if needed.

On offense, Brandon LaFell and Russell Bodine are obvious candidates to be examined as well. LaFell has stepped up in an admirable and affordable way after the departures of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu back in 2016. Still, this offense lacks sizzle and with Ross and Josh Malone sitting in that position room, one has to wonder about the future.

Bodine is an impending free agent and his biggest supporter (Alexander) is no longer in Cincinnati. Pollack is used to a team spending heavy draft capital for premium players at his position group, as was the case in Dallas, including a first round pick on center Travis Frederick.

Given those two factors, Cincinnati could be looking in a different route at the center position on offense this season as well. It will be interesting to see if Lewis and his supposedly new band of coaches he hand-selected will be able to rule the free agency and draft strategies, or if Brown will still have his (non) thumbprint on both facets.

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