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Bengals mailbag: Early Bengals breakout players and strengthening the staff

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We received a bunch of recent questions from Bengals fans, including some on the issues with the medical and training staffs.

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The Cincinnati Bengals have had their first practices under Zac Taylor and everyone is gearing up for training camp. Internally-speaking, things are looking up, but this team still has a lot to prove going forward.

Some of what needs to be proven is in the behind-the-scenes facets of the operational practices. In this vein, a recent question came our way.

In the comments section of our recent live Q & A session, “Bama Bengal” asked about the the efficiency and validity of the team’s medical and strength/conditioning staff.

It’s a valid question, given the shoulder injury that popped up with Jonah Williams (which has since been revealed to need season-ending surgery on) as mandatory minicamp hit, but the hope was that this was another facet Taylor looked to revamp with his arrival.

Did that actually happen, though?

It’s hard to say. You’d probably have to be in the building on a daily basis to know for sure, but there are some signs that the team has recognized an issue.

For instance, Taylor brought in at least three new members on the strength and conditioning staff. Joey Boese takes over from Chip Morton, who had been with the club in that capacity since 2003—when Marvin Lewis arrived as the head coach.

Joining Boese as assistants are Garrett Swanson and Todd Hunt—both in their first NFL year in this capacity. All three are on the younger side, and all three are from Southern California, which has a reputation for being on the cutting edge of fitness and innovative exercise practices.

Even so, from the outside looking in, there still appears to be some questionable practices in these areas.

Aside from Lewis overhauling the medical side of the staff a handful of years back, familiar issues keep plaguing the team. One has to only look at the myriad of severe injuries last year as a head-scratcher.

Yes, these injuries ranged from the unlucky to the unavoidable severe ones, but this team still seems to get bit by the injury bug more frequently than most—especially recently.

Is that an indictment of this staff and the various rehab, stretching and conditioning practices they employ with he players? Are they too knee-jerk reactionary to put guys on I.R.?

Or, should they more closely examine who they draft (maybe beef up the scouting department) to make sure they aren’t bringing in guys who have proclivities to getting dinged up?

All of the above?

With this team’s inability to win a championship and its coming off of three straight losing seasons, not area should go overlooked for potential improvement—even if it sounds like the stuff of tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists.

I don’t know the definitive answer to the question here—I mean, the injury issues could simply be chalked up to some extremely tough luck. What I do know is that all things should be examined and invested in if the Bengals truly are committed to being a top-notch franchise.

For instance, if you’re attempting to sell the idea to fans that 2019 could be a special year “if” most guys stay healthy, wouldn’t you want to invest heavy resources into having state-of-the-art rehabilitation machines, practices, etc.? Spending on preventative and rehab cares should be of high priority if certain things are available, shouldn’t it?

We aren’t totally privy to what the Brown family has spent money on, in terms of these behind-the-scenes aspects, but I think we’d hear more about how this was a major emphasis this offseason to go with the coaching overhaul. The training staff may be a good start to turning the tides in this often-overlooked facet of football operations, though.

For now, we’ll have to wait and see if the training staff overhaul is all that is needed to avoid so many devastating injuries. Unfortunately, one has already hit them with Williams, which is causing a ripple effect on offense.

Ailments happen to all pro teams, but if their other key guys remain healthy and the team does make a playoff run this year because of it, don’t forget to thank Boese, Swanson and Hunt as you laud Taylor and Co.

*****

We received this text message on our OBI line recently:

My name is Isaac and I’ve been watching you guys a lot and I feel like one of our bigger sleeper players whose role could expand and be a real difference-maker is Rennell Wren. How good do you think he could be? What do you think his ceiling could be?

Thanks, Isaac—we hope you keep tuning in to the program.

Regarding Wren, it depends on who you ask. He’s polarizing, for good reasons, as it’s why he landed smack in the middle of the NFL Draft.

In terms of a football player, Wren has the size and tools that teams drool over as an interior defensive lineman. At 6’5” and nearly 320 pounds, his stunning performance at the NFL Combine brings a lot of optimism, in terms of his career arc.

On film, Wren flashed explosive plays that brought him to every team’s attention in the pre-draft process. If you were to ask NFL.com, they rated him as a guy who has a solid shot at being a good NFL starter.

Wren is the quintessential boom-or-bust prospect, and with his landing in Cincinnati, there is good and bad news. On the positive side, Cincinnati has had an excellent recent track record with mid-round defensive tackles.

Guys like Domata Peko, Pat Sims, Frostee Rucker, and, yes, Geno Atkins, were all drafted in either rounds three or four. In many instances, the team has been able to take moldable clay and turn them into quality rotators, able starters and even Hall of Fame players.

The film buffs and draft gurus aren’t as hot on Wren, though. His low college production doesn’t match his immense measurables and potential. It’s in this facet that has some worried about the pick.

Wren only had three sacks with the Sun Devils, to go with just 14.5 tackles for loss in his collegiate career. By comparison, and probably not a fair one because they are different types of interior linemen, but Ed Oliver had 53 tackles for loss with one less accrued NCAA season.

In some ways, Wren is a lot like former Bengals second-round pick, Margus Hunt. The physical profile and tools are there, but it’s all about putting it together. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, the Colts are know reaping the benefits of the early work the Bengals put in with the day two project.

The team didn’t invest as high of capital in Wren, but it’s going to take the right formula of coaching and scheme to get the most out of him. With a rookie defensive coordinator in Lou Anarumo and newcomer Nick Eason coaching Wren’s unit, it may be a year or two before big impacts are felt from him.

But, if everything clicks, this kid could be a terror up front for the division rivals. Personally speaking, I see too many tools for the kid to have a wasted NFL career and he was one of my favorite picks in the Bengals’ draft class. Still, we’ve seen even more talented players do absolutely nothing in the league.

Our thanks to the readers of Cincy Jungle and the listeners of The Orange and Black Insider Bengals podcast! Be sure to get in touch with us to have your questions answered on air, or on these mailbag posts!

If you’re unable to join us live for here at Cincy Jungle or YouTube every episode, all Orange and Black Insider content is available here on CJ, the Stitcher, Spotify and Google Play Music apps, our YouTube channel, as well as throughMegaphone and, as always, on iTunes! You can tweet us @BengalsOBI or get in touch with us via email at theobinsider@gmail.com. Thanks for listening and go subscribe to our channels!