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Bengals Are Dysfunctional No Longer

Nov 16, 2009 – 7:00 AM
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Dave Goldberg

Dave Goldberg %BloggerTitle%

Cincinnati BengalsThe Cincinnati Bengals have just one scout in their employ, one of the reasons given (beyond their various off-field malfeasances) why they have been consistently dismal for two decades. .

Someone's doing something right in that department these days.

The hero of the Sunday's 18-12 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers that gave Cincinnati control of the AFC North was Bernard Scott, a 25-year-old rookie from Abilene Christian who was one of their sixth-round draft picks. He returned a kickoff 96 yards in the first quarter for the game's only touchdown and took over the running back duties when Cedric Benson went out with a hip injury. He had just 33 yards on 13 carries (it was that kind of smash-mouth defensive game) but he also had a 21-yard reception that set up a third-quarter field goal in a game in which every field goal was like a piece of gold.

But Scott was just one of a bunch of picks and pickups who are part of Cincinnati's turnaround. This year's draft class that harkens back to the one the Giants had in 2007 in which eight rookies played a role on a Super Bowl winner. (No, we're not advancing the Bengals that far. Yet. Nor is Carson Palmer. "We're not good enough to win the Super Bowl right now. We have a long way to go,'' the Bengals' QB said.).

The one most people know is Rey Maualuga, the All-American linebacker who fell to the Bengals in the second round and became an instant starter on the strongside of a defense that looks now like one of the league's best. The third-rounder was Michael Johnson, at one point a potential first-round pick who slid but has all sorts of potential -- he was in Ben Roethlisberger's face several times on Sunday. Fifth-round pick Kevin Huber is the punter and another sixth-rounder, Morgan Trent, is doing well as the nickel back.

In fact, the only dud might be Andre Smith, the first-rounder and sixth overall pick in the draft, who's been in trouble since the combine . The Bengals still took him sixth overall, he held out longer than anyone but Michael Crabtree and then broke his foot on Sept.. 2, two days after he signed. So while the other rookies thrive, he sits although if he loses weight, gets healthy and works as he should, he'll be a starter on the OL for a decade.

But right now, the Bengals are a defensive power and defense wins.

The defense started to come together last season, but no one noticed because they were losing --Palmer was hurt and Ryan Fitzpatrick was the quarterback. The defense ranked 12th in the NFL, hard to do with an offense that ranked last and was leaving it on the field all the time.

Given the lack of a scouting department, credit coach Marvin Lewis, who also is the de facto general manager, the boss of Greg Seamon, the lonely scout (the former Colts and Bears personnel director Bill Tobin and former Ohio State coach John Cooper are "consultants.") It's not only the rookies, it's former good draft picks, too -- Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall, the No. 1 picks in 2006 and 2007, may be the best cornerback tandem in the league.

And it's some unsung pickups, like Laveranues Coles, Brian Leonard and Dhani Jones.

Coles can be troublesome -- he got himself traded from the Jets to the Redskins and then traded back with contract problems. But he's 31 now, more mature and plays the complimentary role to Chad Ochocinco that T.J. Houshmandzadeh played for all those years.

Jones is a journeyman linebacker in his tenth season who is starting the middle. He was quite ordinary on the outside with the Giants and Eagles in his first six seasons but a lot better than that with the Bengals, especially the last two years. He's also a high-character guy and leader for the youngsters and remaining malfeasors. Plus a first-rate pianist (who played on the NFL Network set at a Super Bowl. But that's another story.

Leonard is a third-down back who made a fourth-down play that helped the Bengals beat the Steelers the first-time they met. He's another character guy -- a back who was being pushed for the Heisman at Rutgers when Ray Rice showed up. So he abdicated his high-profile role to become a receiver and blocker. He was picked up in the offseason in a minor trade with the Rams and, like Jones, is another example as of a selfless team player.

Yes, they still have some dubious characters.

They brought back Chris Henry, who's now out for the season, signed Tank Johnson and still have Frostee Rucker, who had an interception on a deflected pass Sunday. But Rucker's never done anything nasty in the NFL -- the Bengals, already saddled with so many troublesome characters, took a hit for drafting him after he got into trouble at Southern Cal. The injury Sunday to Benson, who carried the offense after failing with the Bears, has set off rumors they might sign Larry Johnson, who never was the best guy in the Kansas City locker room.

But locker-room troubles go away when you win.

All of a sudden, the wrong guys are being overshadowed by the right guys -- the rookies they drafted and the veterans they acquired.

And they're proving you can do it with just one scout.
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