Depending on who you ask, “change” can mean a variety of things. When it comes to Cincinnati Bengals owner, Mike Brown, it means a transition from lower-level personnel and not true figureheads—be it coaches or players and not franchise staples.
Of course, there are, to be kind, mixed feelings among the fans about Marvin Lewis’ return to Cincinnati in 2018. Everyone knows about back-to-back losing seasons and the 0-7 playoff record, but a dichotomy exists with his reviving of a beleaguered franchise from the decade before his reign.
Gone are Paul Guenther and Kevin Coyle on the defensive side of the ball, while Paul Alexander and James Urban are moving on from the offense. Cincinnati has (and is) been doing their due diligence to find replacements for those areas, with the hopes that these changes are the ones to put the team over the hump.
Here are the assistant coaching moves by the Bengals we are most excited about this offseason.
Teryl Austin brings flexibility and change on defense:
If you read the comment threads here at Cincy Jungle on the posts about Austin joining the Bengals’ staff, most aren’t enthralled with the hire. It would seem that most fans would have wanted a bigger name to work under Lewis, such as Jack Del Rio or John Fox.
While those two options would have brought some star power to the staff, the Bengals decided that Austin was a better fit for a number of reasons. There are a number of reasons in which we can places guesses as to why that was the case.
Aggressiveness and turnovers: Under Guenther, the Bengals did a number of good things, but were also middle-of-the-road in others. Yes, “Paulie G.” had enormous shoes to fill as the successor to Mike Zimmer, but it never seemed as if the unit put a complete statistical season together as they did under “Zim”—be it because of coaching, injury, or both.
Though Austin’s 2017 Lions group ranked No. 27 overall in defense, Detroit’s defense knew how to get the football back into Matthew Stafford’s hands. They were second in the NFL with 13 recovered fumbles and fourth with 19 interceptions, which bodes well for the guys in the secondary.
By comparison, Guenther led the Bengals to a No. 18 overall ranking last year, with the 30th-ranked run defense being the major disappointment. They were last in the league with three fumbles recovered on defense and were 20th in the league with 11 interceptions last year.
It’s widely-understood that Austin didn’t have the same level of defensive personnel that Cincinnati employs, so teaching a more talented group the nuances of grabbing more turnovers could change quite a few things about the productivity of the 2018 defense.
A well-respected guy who’s flexible with his scheme: Whether it’s in his description being affable, and/or a guy who creates a scheme around the players he has and brings in, Austin is a coach who has respect around the league. Jon Gruden attempted to add him to his Raiders staff, in what some call an attempt for “an all-star cast”, while there were early rumblings that he’d be in the running for the vacant head coaching job in Detroit.
Teryl Austin is one of the best people I've had the pleasure of covering with the Lions. Great people person, honest, interesting & accountable. Results might not have always been there, but he remained constant in his expectations and approach, despite shortcomings in personnel. https://t.co/aYsdHT9PXW— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) January 8, 2018
He’s also a guy who let’s his best players “do their thing”, so to speak. Even though the Lions weren’t great, in terms of yards allowed per game, Darius Slay and Glover Quin combined for 11 interceptions last year.
Now that Austin has Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Carl Lawson, Vontaze Burfict and four former first-rounders at cornerback, Austin has to be frothing at the mouth at this opportunity in The Queen City. And, instead of fitting square pegs into round holes, Austin has a commitment to play to his unit’s respective strengths.
Teryl Austin is versatile with his Defense. In 2014 when DTs Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were still with the Lions, the pass rush was light years better than in 2017. Not much blitzing that season. Blitzing was a much greater part of Def. in recent seasons. 1/2— David ( D6 ) (@D6plus) January 3, 2018
Bob Bicknell and Kyle Caskey bring continuity and familiarity to Bill Lazor on offense:
For being just 48 years old, Bicknell brings 27 consecutive years of coaching among the college, NFL and NFL Europe ranks. He also inherits a talented group, headed up by A.J. Green.
Yet, even so, he has massive work to do with the young players behind he and Brandon LaFell. John Ross, last year’s No. 9 overall pick, barely saw the field last year, while the team has other, unearthed plans for Josh Malone, Tyler Boyd and Cody Core.
What many don’t know is that Bicknell and Bill Lazor worked together under Chip Kelly in Philadelphia a few years ago. DeSean Jackson saw a career year under their tutelage in 2013, and Bicknell is now grateful to reunited with his former comrade.
“The excitement of just trying to put together something that Chip had brought from Oregon to the NFL was really something special. Anybody who’s around Bill (Lazor), there’s not a smarter guy in football,” Bicknell recently said.
“He’s very well organized. Whenever I thought there was an opportunity (to re-unite), I just remember how I enjoyed football with him. We think a lot the same way and it’s exciting to be on a staff like that.”
Meanwhile, the up-and-coming Caskey also appears to fit into Lazor’s plans. Sometimes poor performances from a position group isn’t indicative of coaching, but rather a bi-product of another group they rely on for success.
Everyone knows that the majority of a running back’s success resides in the play of the offensive line in front of him. Unfortunately for Caskey, half of his four-year stint as the team’s running backs coach have featured a subpar offensive line—particularly last season.
With Joe Mixon getting another year in Lazor’s system and the Bengals getting more comfortable giving Giovani Bernard more touches because of his great finish to the year, Caskey is showing his worth as a talent-developer. His prowess in the position group would be spotlighted more with better blocking up front, but if the Bengals commit to the offensive line this offseason, we expect to see Caskey’s group flourish.
Moving on from Paul Alexander:
If you’ve listened to recent episodes of The Orange and Black Insider, you would have heard about the national respect Alexander has among the pro and college ranks. Unfortunately, for a guy who has been with the team since 1994, his major contributions on the offensive line have been the fine tuning of high draft picks.
While the likes of Willie Anderson, Rich Braham, Levi Jones, Eric Steinbach, Andre Smith, Kevin Zeitler and others highlight Alexander’s resume, it’s also paved with what-could-have-been’s. Alexander hasn’t groomed other undrafted guys for starting positions, as he has been tasked with, while Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi seem to be the crux of a terrible-looking 2015 draft class.
Oh, remember the Evan Mathis versus Nate Livings debate back in 2009?
Sometimes, addition is found by subtraction. There’s no doubt that Alexander has national prominence, whether Bengals fans like to admit it or not, but a change is needed along the leadership of the offensive line.
As of now, the team is looking among both the college ranks in Utah’s Jim Harding, as well as tapping older roots in Jim McNally, for the job Alexander left open with the club. Regardless of who gets the job from here out, a fresh perspective, coupled with an understanding of Lazor’s scheme, will likely usher in a renaissance on Cincinnati’s once-vaunted offensive line.