Nearly two years ago, Zac Taylor assembled the largest coaching staff in the history of the Cincinnati Bengals. For a franchise that deals with the perception of being small potatoes and embodying the less is more mentality, suddenly envisioning strength in numbers became a fresh change of pace.
Most of the original 24 coaches helped produce that exact number of losses in their now two years together. Fair or unfair, change had to happen somewhere, and the Bengals’ front office surely won’t see any turnover anytime soon.
Before the Bengals closed out the season against the Baltimore Ravens, reports of OL coach Jim Turner, DL coach Nick Eason, and defensive assistant Gerald Chatman not returning to the coaching staff in 2021 surfaced. Two of the three firings were very predictable; the other one makes sense in hindsight. Why did the Bengals make these changes and not more? The answers are pretty simple.
There was no other way to start the offensive line rebuild
Low-level signings and late-round draft picks aren’t going to cut it anymore for the offensive line. The Bengals need to seriously invest in the protection of Joe Burrow over the next few months and beyond, and it’s not just on-field talent they need to invest in.
Jim Turner’s responsibilities involved both player development and player evaluation, but an OL coach will oftentimes have to focus on the latter more than the former. So much of the NFL is about scheme implementation, and if the talent isn’t equipped to fit the scheme, then everything else falls behind. Everyone knows the Bengals could’ve done more to improve the offensive line after 2019, but they put their faith in someone who’s more notorious than accomplished in his profession. Yes, Jimbo Fisher wanted him for his staff at Texas A&M, who really cares?
Before they dip their toes in what will likely be the market value for quality offensive linemen, the Bengals needed to answer one question. If Turner couldn’t properly evaluate this underwhelming collection of blockers, why should the Blackburns and Mike Brown trust him with more expensive pieces to the puzzle?
Oh, and he’s also not a good person, his relationship with head coach Zac Taylor be damned
That doesn’t help.
The struggles of the defensive line and the offensive line aren’t quite equal
Nick Eason appears to be the main fall guy for yet another poor Cincinnati defense. While the secondary and linebackers featured players who play up to their talent, the defensive line was the unquestioned weakness of the unit. Aside from Carl Lawson, the group was grossly incompetent at rushing the passer, and the run defense wasn’t too much better over the course of the season.
Eason is liable for these issues, but not even he could’ve predicted the immense loss of depth the team would experience there. Josh Tupou and Renell Wren never played a single snap. Geno Atkins played only 119 of them, D.J. Reader just 140 more. That’s just the injured/opt-out group, Carlos Dunlap is in a subcategory of his own.
Mike Daniels, Amani Bledsoe, Christian Covington, Xavier Williams, and Margus Hunt. All of whom were brought in and helped field them a front four. Attrition, not evaluation error, became their downfall. I’m not sure how much of that belongs on Eason’s shoulders, but man they couldn’t sack a quarterback to save their lives this year. The case against Eason became too strong with that damning piece of evidence.
Roster turnover will soon follow these moves
Think about this. Last offseason, the Bengals let go of their cornerbacks coach, Daronte Jones, and essentially gutted the position group during free agency. Linebackers coach Tem Lukabu took the defensive coordinator job at Boston College and the Bengals ended up reshaping that position as well.
Both sides of the trenches are set to have money thrown at it, and nearly all of their position coaches are gone. Ben Martin, the assistant offensive line coach, isn’t rumored to be out the door, but Gerald Chatman, the defensive assistant that specializes in defensive line coaching, will indeed be looking for work. Chatman actually coached for Eason for a couple weeks this season while Eason was on the COVID-19 list. Aside from a few pressures against backup offensive tackles for the Dallas Cowboys, there wasn’t a lot to like from Chatman’s group during those two weeks.
Football may not be won in the trenches anymore while Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen still breathe, but the Bengals did confirm that you still need animate bodies playing those positions up front. It’s the foundation of the game, and no penthouse suite featuring a franchise quarterback can be supported without it.
These moves show the Bengals are remembering that.