Morning Stripes: Bengals get up close

Good Thursday morning from Indianapolis.

After a quick drive over from Cincinnati on Wednesday afternoon, yours truly is here along with several other ESPN.com staffers to bring you coverage from the NFL combine. We'll have a number of Cincinnati Bengals-specific items here this weekend, particularly across Friday and Saturday. With Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis speaking Friday, along with former Bengals coordinators (and new head coaches in Minnesota and Washington, respectively) Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden, there should be a fair amount of news coming that day.

News isn't necessarily what Lewis and the rest of his coaching and scouting staffs will be looking for between now and Tuesday, but they will be wanting their questions and concerns about some of the league's top draft prospects answered. And this year, like so many before it, they will have an opportunity to have all of that addressed when they step onto Lucas Oil Stadium's field or into the rooms used for medical exams.

New linebackers coach Matt Burke will be among those Bengals assistants helping coordinate drills at the combine, as will special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, who will be running the punting portion of the on-field workouts that begin Saturday.

That firsthand look at not only punters and kickers but other special-teams possibilities has proven invaluable over the years for Simmons. Along with watching various drills up close, his interviews with prospects has given him an idea of how his special-teams units could come together if the Bengals drafted particular players. That's one reason it's hard to accurately predict a team's draft. While linebackers and safeties aren't major needs like a few other defensive positions, Cincinnati may still end up taking players from those position groups specifically because they like the contributions those prospects could give them on special teams.

By May 8 and the start of the draft, we'll see how much this year's firsthand look benefits the Bengals.

In the meantime, we start this Thursday's Morning Stripes with a deeper look on the value of the on-field evaluations from Simmons:

  • Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson has that story. Earlier this week, Simmons walked him through his notebook from the 2013 combine. Stars and notes indicated that he wasn't too far off in his expectations for running back Giovani Bernard, whom the Bengals drafted in the second round last year, and defensive end Margus Hunt, another second-round selection.

  • Hobson also has this item for Bengals.com on former Bengal John Thornton, who will be attending his first combine as a player representative. After getting certified for agent status by the NFL Players Association last summer, he has completed the transition from player to media member to player rep. One of the current Bengals he's co-representing is defensive end Michael Johnson. Deep in the story, he has some interesting comments about the existence of talks between Johnson's camp and the Bengals. Johnson is arguably Cincinnati's most valued unrestricted free agent, but appears to be the one who will be most difficult to re-sign because of how much he could be owed.

  • Finally, here's a broad combine primer from the Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy. In case you missed it Wednesday night, Reedy, who has covered the Bengals the last five years, announced in a podcast he was leaving the beat in the coming weeks to cover the Cleveland Indians for Fox Sports Ohio. Even though I've only known Joe for barely six months, it's been an honor working alongside such a dogged veteran NFL reporter. All the best to him in this new endeavor.