CINCINNATI -- The NFL combine concludes Monday in Indianapolis. That means now is as good a time as any to reflect on a few Cincinnati Bengals-related items we learned while there:
Vontaze Burfict is still a hot topic: Perhaps it's because he entered the news cycle earlier in the week thanks to his interview with ESPN's Josina Anderson that was teased last Monday, but questions about Burfict followed anyone connected to the Bengals throughout the week. Team beat reporters were asked about his immediate future by other reporters, as were members of the Bengals staff. Even assistants who left for other jobs this offseason were asked about Burfict's play in the playoff loss against Pittsburgh. As one former Bengals assistant noted, had it not been for the suspension Burfict received two days after the season, the talk right now might be about his game MVP-like play. Instead of focusing on his potential game-clinching interception, though, the chatter has revolved around the personal foul penalties Burfict and Adam Jones received in the game's pivotal final seconds.
Bengals viewed as model: The Bengals drew a lot of praise all week for the way they have built their roster. The combine is, after all, a scouting event. Cincinnati has been as good at identifying top talent as anyone the past few seasons. With the likelihood that linebacker Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame) will still be a first-round pick despite tearing multiple ligaments in his knee during January's Fiesta Bowl, some have wondered what convinced the Bengals to make their decision to draft Cedric Ogbuehi in the first round last year. The offensive tackle also tore his ACL in his bowl game before last year's draft, and spent his first couple of months in the NFL rehabbing. But by the very end of the 2015 season, he was part of a rotation. The Ogbuehi example was regarded as the mark of a team that trusted its draft board, and one that clearly trusted the rest of the talent it had on its roster, much of which came from the draft in previous years.
Bengals to target WRs, DTs ... or? Based on what Bengals staffers said this week, the team could go with virtually any position in the first round. Receiver depth could take a hit with the possibility Marvin Jones and/or Mohamed Sanu leave in free agency. Then again, this defensive line draft class has been regarded as one of the best ever. If the best player on the board at No. 24 is one of these highly regarded, pass-rushing interior linemen, the Bengals might take him to put pressure on backups, like fourth-year player Margus Hunt, who hasn't contributed much and enters the final year of his contract. A linebacker like Smith or Darron Lee (Ohio State) would be tough to pass up if available, too.
Iloka or Nelson? The free agency chatter wasn't only about the receivers. There also are questions about what moves the Bengals will make in the secondary. Presumably they have a decision to make regarding contracts for George Iloka and Reggie Nelson. Do you re-sign the 25-year-old Iloka, who has been one of the league's top cover safeties in recent seasons? Or do you go with the 32-year-old Nelson, who just earned his first Pro Bowl nod and had a career-high eight interceptions last season. Coaches were praising Shawn Williams' solid production as a backup this week; a sign that one of the two safeties won't be back.