I’m unveiling a new feature on Three-Way Chili called “Bengals Rapid Fire.”
Something with that title isn’t going to have a long introduction, so here we go.
Kyle Cook: Most pleasant surprise on the team through eight games. And that’s saying something considering this has been one of the most-enjoyable Bengal seasons ever thus far. He was an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State and only played center one year in college (was also a starting guard for two seasons … was named second-team All-Big Ten as a senior after moving to center). Cook is nasty, smart, and although he’s not huge at 6-foot-3, 312 pounds, he’s physical enough to get the job done against the huge nose guards in the rough-and-tumble AFC North.
AFC North: Best division in the NFL. Seriously, is it even close? You would already be buying playoff tickets if the Bengals were in pretty much any other division in football.
The AFC East would be second in my book (and the AFC South isn’t half bad either).
And no, I didn’t forget about the NFC East. Almost the entire NFC is a joke this year in terms of legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Of course there are some good teams, but not many. There’s New Orleans and Minnesota at the top of the list; they are teams that could actually contend in the AFC. Then there’s a bunch of teams that are going to make the playoffs in the NFC that would be hard-pressed to make the playoffs in the AFC this year. I’m talking about Dallas, Philadelphia, NY Giants, Atlanta and Arizona. Good teams, but let’s put it this way: I’d rather play any of them than the Steelers (and possibly even the Ravens). The Bengals don’t have it easy, yet they’re 4-0 in their division. And if they can somehow make it 5-0 this Sunday with a win over the Steelers (which would mean sweeping the Steelers and Ravens) it would be nothing short of remarkable.
Laveranues Coles: I think Coles has settled down and is suddenly fitting into the offense quite well. There were some rough moments early in the season for him, no question about it. But now, he’s playing his role very well as the No. 2 receiver (or No. 3 depending on what type of day the emerging Andre Caldwell is having).
The Bengals overpaid a bit for Coles at roughly $7 million per season, but I’m glad he’s on the team. And since Mike Brown is always well under the salary cap anyway, it doesn’t matter that the team overspent on him. Cincinnati had to get a replacement for TJ Houshmandzadeh who left via free agency for Seattle. (How is that working out for you, Housh?) And now with Chris Henry going down for the season with a broken arm, the Coles signing looks even better.
J.P Foschi: Not exactly Dan Ross or Rodney Holman, but better than Dan Coats. Did you ever think the starting tight end for the Bengals would be some guy they signed off the street named John Paul? And have the Bengals’ prayers finally been answered at tight end? Well, Foschi might be a flash in the pan, but he looks solid to me.
Chase Coffman: Seriously? You can’t even get on the field when the top two tight ends are lost for the season and Coats tries to catch balls with his facemask? You’re a third-round pick! And you were supposedly a legit third-round pick, not a laughable third-rounder like TE Sean Brewer in 2001. (Sorry, you almost forgot about the Bengals drafting Brewer and I just had to bring it up.) Hey Coffman, time to get off the bust train. You’re starting to make Jerome Simpson look like a good pick.
Jerome Simpson: Totally kidding about Simpson being anything that resembles a good pick. At least Coffman is a rookie. Simpson was a second-round pick last year and still hasn’t seen the light of day. Can’t blame it on not knowing the offense or the “adjustment” from small college ball anymore. He’s just probably not very good. Of course, it’s not Simpson’s fault that the Bengals foolishly drafted him last year instead of DeSean Jackson (which seemed like an obvious pick for Cincinnati since Jackson filled needs at WR and as a return man).
Now Simpson might get the chance to show what he can do as the team’s No. 4 wide receiver due to the Henry injury. There is always the chance they could choose to use rookie punt returner Quan Cosby as the No. 4 WR and activate an extra lineman (like maybe, cough, Andre Smith) but I think Simpson might finally get a chance to suit up on game day.
Quan Cosby: Love what he does as a punt returner. He’s not flashy and he’s never going to be a walking highlight reel like Devin Hester and Josh Cribbs, but he’s a very good NFL punt returner (and that’s saying a lot considering some of the guys the Bengals have used in that role over the years). Cosby is averaging 12.4 yards on 20 punt returns this season, which is fourth in the NFL for players with 15 or more returns.
Morgan Trent: I was wrong about him. Didn’t really have a big problem with the Bengals drafting him since it was only a sixth-round pick, but I didn’t expect him to turn into a solid NFL player … especially not as a rookie. However, due to the Bengals’ poor depth at cornerback, he’s been thrust into the No. 3 corner role and has performed well. He’s also solid on special teams.
Usually, I am pretty good at predicting the success of former Michigan players. As someone who covers Ohio State for a living, I watch a lot of Michigan games. I knew from day one Leon Hall was a good pick. Likewise, I knew as soon as the name “Chris Perry” came out of then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s mouth that the Bengals would regret the pick.
Until now, probably the only Michigan player I had trouble projecting was defensive tackle Glen Steele who the Bengals selected in the fourth round of the 1998 draft. I remember thinking getting Steele was a steal and that he would turn into a stud for the Bengals. However, it never quite worked out for him.
So, kudos to Trent for proving me wrong. The Bengals certainly needed a No. 3 corner to step up and he’s risen to the occasion.
Leon Hall/Johnathan Joseph: Did I save the best for last? Sure did, as in “best corner tandem in the NFL.” They each have four interceptions at the midway point of the season and they both are legitimate candidates for the Pro Bowl. There is a chance both of them will get there, but I bet it will be one or the other.
And their internal competition is good for the team because it brings out the best in both of them. The “anything you can do, I can do better” syndrome. The Bengals invested a first-round pick in back-to-back years to land Hall and Joseph and it’s paid off significantly.