Bengaldom is sitting on pins and needles at the moment, as the team is now past Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday without a large contingent of their coaching staff in place. The NFLPA Bowl, East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine are on the horizon, so the team will need to play a bit of catch-up in the prospect-vetting process.
While fans seeming got what they asked for in a reported hiring of the complete opposite from the previous regime, there are a lot of concerns about what lies ahead for the Bengals.
On this week’s Orange and Black Insider, we were asked by a listener about which positions the Bengals should target in the first round of the draft this year. With a new coach and a No. 11 overall pick, the team should be able to net an immediate-impact player.
As rumors continue to point to Rams quarterback coach Zac Taylor being the Bengals’ next head guy, a lot of folks seem to automatically assume that a quarterback will be the pick to usher in a new era. After all, new quarterbacks usually come hand-in-hand with new coaches, a la Carson Palmer and Marvin Lewis back in 2003.
Unfortunately, if that’s the route they want to go, the Bengals picked a bad year to grab a rookie signal-caller. As opposed to last year’s five first-round talents, this year may only have one or two and they come with more question marks than those in the 2018 class.
Dwayne Haskins has nice size and insane college production, but it’s only from one season. Kyler Murray has the same issue, plus he’s 5’10” on his best day, while Will Grier, Drew Lock and Daniel Jones all have respective traits that draw, but also some concerns. And, with a lot of these guys, proper value with the 11th overall pick has to be calculated.
So, are you getting Patrick Mahomes (No. 10 overall in 2017), or Christian Ponder (No. 12 overall in 2011)?
Assuming Taylor is the guy who will be Cincinnati’s head coach, the best route might be for him to bring in some seasoned coaches to round out the staff. As a guy who’s never been a head coach at the college or NFL level, having some Yoda-like figures to lean on will help Taylor early in his coaching career (more on that in a minute).
Call it a “safer route”, at least in that one facet, in an offseason of other risky decisions by the team. This could also be applied with some of his first draft picks as head coach.
We recently went through the financials with Andy Dalton’s contract and the team-friendly outs in 2019 and 2020. Couple that with his 0-4 postseason record and his being a “Marvin Lewis guy” and we can see why there could be an even more emphatic pressing of the reset button this spring.
By now, we’re pretty certain of the other bigger areas of need coming into this offseason. Linebacker, offensive tackle and offensive guard should top the list, with the ever-pressing need for able pass-rushers lurking on the periphery.
If we’re going the safe route to follow the coaching overhaul, Devin White of LSU is one of the more sure things in this year’s class. However, in today’s NFL, is it prudent to draft a linebacker so high?
White is essentially this year’s version of Roquan Smith, who went No. 8 overall to the Bears. Well, Smith spearheaded a Chicago defense that was No. 3 overall and No. 1 against the run. The rookie linebacker had 121 total tackles and five sacks in 2018.
Did we mention that the Bengals’ defense was 32nd and 29th in the league in those respective statistical areas last year?
At tackle, Alabama’s Jonah Williams, Oklahoma’s Cody Ford and/or Ole Miss’ Greg Little could make sense. Williams got pushed around a little in the National Championship versus Clemson, but all should be big upgrades on the right side.
Speaking of Clemson, Bengals.com editor Geoff Hobson recently mocked star Tigers big man, Christian Wilkins, to the pro’s version of the jungle cat. Wilkins was a monster as a versatile guy up front, racking up 14 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
If we’re being asked right now—as in before a head coach and staff has been officially announced—I’m saying it’s White or one of the quarterbacks. The new coach may want to usher in his arrival with “his guy” under center.
We received more emails this week with one asking of the effect of a new staff on some of the veterans on this roster. Cincinnati’s 2019 roster is quite dichotomous, as there is a core of younger players in the middle of their rookie deals, but a handful of their best players are nearing the end of their stellar careers.
We caught up with receiver Tyler Boyd last week, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal. In our interview, Boyd not only said he was excited at the possibility of the Bengals bringing in an offensive-minded coach, but also that he’s potentially open to staying in Cincinnati despite the current uncertainty of the team.
But, does he also speak for A.J. Green, Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap? These guys were brought in by Lewis, became perennial Pro Bowlers under him, but certain facets about their careers might be changing with the staff—particularly for Dunlap and Atkins.
Here’s an excerpt from the email:
...if you’re looking at a reset (translation-roster change over); not sure if players like an AJ Green, Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap will buy into it. Players that are in their 30’s and see only a couple of more really productive years left in the tank, may opt to complete their careers with another club; seeking their respective skill sets, to get them to the “Show”...
The team doesn’t have a defensive coordinator yet, but could a 3-4 system be coming to Cincinnati? Or, will the new staff work with these guys and concoct a system to their great, respective strengths?
Of course, the other point is if these guys, who only have a couple of years left in the league, will want to sit through a reset and potential rough patches in the years ahead. It’s also common knowledge that Lewis was a “player’s coach”, so some new hot-shot coming in and barking orders may not sit well with some guys who could be close in age.
Then again, Dunlap wasn’t overly-stoked with things in the 2017 offseason when the Bengals sat on their hands. They ended up going 6-9-1 that year. \
I don't see the plan but guess that's not my role to either.— Carlos Dunlap (@Carlos_Dunlap) March 14, 2017
It is possible that a new staff comes in and has an immediate effect to push the team to greatness, but that’s more the outlier, rather than the common occurrence. In short, it’s going to take an extremely charismatic head coach to have these well-versed veterans buy into what he’s selling.
Fortunately for the Bengals, if Taylor is the guy, he seems to be able to command a room.
Latest rumor is that Rams' QB coach Zac Taylor is the favorite for the #Bengals head coaching job. Heard he's been very impressive in interviews.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 10, 2019
As of now, I think most within the club are probably excited for the change. As much respect and love that most of those players had for Lewis, the need for a change was evident.
Ideally, we’d like to think that all players will buy in to Taylor (the supposed head coaching pick). That very well may be the case in 2019, but as we all know, losing can change things quickly.
Even the ever-positive Joe Mixon—AKA the guy who guaranteed that the Bengals would be in the postseason next year—isn’t currently thrilled with the direction of things. He recently had an eye-opening tweet about the departure of Frank Pollack.
If success doesn’t come early, we’ll see just how much command Taylor has of the room with the adversity that will inevitably follow.
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