CINCINNATI -- Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone.
Before consuming copious amounts of chicken wings and ribs, may you reflect on the real reason for this extended weekend -- the sacrifice so many men and women have made in an effort of preserving the way of life you and I have enjoyed for so long. To those who have served, are serving or will one day serve, many thanks.
As it pertains to the Cincinnati Bengals, next week marks the start of the organized team activity (OTA) portion of the offseason calendar. Coaches are now permitted to lead players through a series of non-contact seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills. Starting Tuesday, for the next three weeks, coaches will lead three days of OTA sessions. Media will be allowed to watch all of one practice per week. So make sure to check the Bengals blog often Tuesday.
One of the players I'll be keeping my eye on is quarterback AJ McCarron. It doesn't appear I'll be the only one:
@ColeyHarvey. Good question, av. For those who don't know, players placed onto a team's practice squad once training camp ends in September could be claimed at any point during the regular season by another team. Practice squad players are scooped up from various teams all the time. So that makes any practice squad decision a risky one, particularly when it involves moving a player there who the respective team is interested in developing. That's exactly the kind of quarterback McCarron is.
@ColeyHarvey With the recent signing/development of Pryor, do you think the Bengals attempt the risky sneak of McCarron to practice squad?— av (@blahmed) May 22, 2015
The throws McCarron makes during these OTAs will be among the first snapshot Bengals coaches have gotten of the second-year signal-caller since he was drafted last May. He was rehabbing through an arm injury nearly all of last season and didn't have much time in the Bengals' practice rotation. McCarron said a couple weeks ago that he has honed his technique while still valuing his competitive approach: he knows Andy Dalton is Cincinnati's starter, but he plans on pushing him hard later this summer. Bottom line is this: the Bengals are in the business of developing McCarron. Period.
Even after signing veteran Terrelle Pryor earlier this month to compete during training camp, Cincinnati's priorities for now remain with the player it spent a draft pick on last year. Maybe if McCarron were in a different stage of his career the Bengals explore the practice squad possibility. For now, though, it doesn't look like they would even think about that with him because not only do they want to ensure keeping him, but they also want to see how well he pushes Dalton.
@ColeyHarvey. Since it's so early on the offseason calendar, Matt, I can assure you, all options are on the table at kick returner and punt returner. Denarius Moore, Cobi Hamilton, Rex Burkhead, Cedric Peerman, James Wright, Onterio McCalebb and Derron Smith will all line up at the respective return positions if the coaches ask them to beginning next week. Of that group, I could most see Moore, Hamilton and McCalebb get return opportunities throughout the spring and summer. But that doesn't mean they'll end up there in early September if they each make the team.
@ColeyHarvey Will team look at all KR/PR options? Moore, Hamilton, Burkhead, Peerman, Wright, McCalebb, D Smith all might have ability.— Matt Kramer (@MrKCincy) May 22, 2015
Remember, Brandon Tate has returned at both spots throughout his Bengals career, and will be expected to do the same now that he's back for another year. Adam Jones likely will be the team's primary punt returner again. Seventh-round draft pick Mario Alford should warrant his share of attention at both positions this summer, after starring as a kick returner in college. Cincinnati definitely has options, and will give all potential returners chances to take Tate and Jones' jobs. At this point, though, it's hard seeing anyone outside of Tate, Jones or Alford handling the primary return duties.
@ColeyHarvey. They most certainly could part ways with Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth after this season, Joel. The likelihood of that happening, though? At this point it seems rather slim. As you may know, much has been made about team president Mike Brown's knack for being loyal to players he's drafted. Domata Peko and Rey Maualuga are two recent examples of career Bengals who have been given extensions under Brown's watch. That track record makes Whitworth, the team's unquestioned leader and driving force behind the positive change in locker room culture, likely of being renewed.
@ColeyHarvey Bengals really let Whit go after 15, or strategizing for negotiations? Can't think of more solid player+mentor for rookie OTs..— Joel418 (@Joel418) May 22, 2015
But the thing is, Whitworth isn't the only career Bengal whose contract expires after this season. Leon Hall, George Iloka, A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Andre Smith are among other pending free agents. If Whitworth isn't brought back in 2016, it likely would be because the Bengals simply couldn't afford to re-sign him and the many others eligible for extensions. Whitworth, Hall, Green and Smith should be the big earners on that list. Based off what I've heard in recent weeks, though, there seems to be at this point a good chance Whitworth will have a new Bengals contract later this summer. But we shall see.
@ColeyHarvey. Layne, it's been a long time since you posed a question. Yes, Bengals coaches do self-scout during the offseason. A lot of it comes right when the season ends so they can see what worked and what didn't from the year that just ended. They'll be spending a lot of time the rest of this offseason looking at upcoming opponents, but you can be sure that time will be spent studying their own tendencies, too.