One of the many illuminating things about the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is the results of availability of coaches and scouting personnel, who tend to give some insight into the recent past while offering a portal into the not-too-distant future.
For example, Cincinnati director of player personnel Duke Tobin talked this week about controversial Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict's style of play, in the wake of the Bengals' meltdown on defense in the final two minutes of the AFC Wild Card playoff loss to Pittsburgh. Tobin agreed with Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis that changes Burfict needs to make in his aggressive and sometimes violent playing style are more of a conceptual nature, and absolutely can not take the edge off the Pro Bowler's impassioned play.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is mad at cornerback Adam Jones, an impending free agent, and also touched on the topic of perceptions about Burfict, while offering the surprise comments of the Combine. He defended the linebacker's hit on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown that played a role in the handing down of a three-game suspension to start the 2016 season, and said he'd be happy to have Burfict as a coach.
“I think it’s awful. The way he’s being perceived right now is terrible. I feel terrible for the kid," Guenther said of Burfict. "Yeah, he’s done some things away from the ball that he’s had to clean up. He’s got the tag on him, but not on the play we’re talking about. That’s what I don’t get. What I’m more mad about is Adam (Jones). He got the penalty when Joey Porter was in the middle of the field. That’s what nobody is talking about. That was Adam’s penalty. It’s lumped into Vontaze, just thrown into his basket, and I think it’s wrong."
We got to hear about quarterback Andy Dalton's offseason itinerary, and how he will soon be back on schedule following recovery from the broken right thumb on his throwing hand. He's throwing. He'll see QB guru Tom House this offseason for the third year in a row.
Lewis, at his 14th consecutive combine as Bengals head coach, said on Friday that the harrowing conclusion to the 2015 season was bad, but not enough to drive him away from the team. He countered a claim that said he considered walking away following the playoff ouster. He recalled sitting at his desk for six hours after the devastating loss. He walked past team owner and president Mike Brown, who was going through the same stage of grief in the wee hours of the morning on his way out of Paul Brown Stadium following the 18-16 loss.
Reporters on Friday weren't the only ones wanting to know if the debacle against the Steelers was enough to make Lewis reconsider his Bengals future, which is secure for at least one more season with a current contract. So did Brown. Lewis said Friday that the first question Brown asked when he saw him after the loss to Pittsburgh was if it would force him to walk away from the job.
“That’s literally the first thing we talked about,” said Lewis in a rare bit of candor. It was his seventh playoff loss without a win, and Brown was wondering if Lewis was going to say, enough is enough. “There was no doubt. That’s the first thing he always asks me. But, no.”
Seems like Brown has been checking Lewis' head after each of the last five first-round playoff losses, or at least the last few, certainly more than one, hence the use of the word "always". If Lewis' desire to return to the Bengals is questioned every year, in person, by his boss, who continues to retain the coach, what have we learned? That Brown and Lewis are human beings? News flash: They are. That Brown and Lewis are working toward the same common goals while putting a personal touch on what can be the cutthroat nature of the business of football? Sure. Any surprise there?
Lewis said he never wavered from his desire to return.
“Anytime you go out there, there’s an opportunity to fail,” the coach told a handful of local Bengals reporters at the combine. “And you can’t do this if you don’t; you just have to detest losing, hate losing, and that’s part of it. That’s what drives you. It’s not the winning part of it. It’s the losing part of it. It’s hard – we were having this conversation with somebody the other day – coaches, we unfortunately remember the game we don’t win more of than what you do win. Because you expect to win. And when you don’t win, that part sticks with you more.”
Lewis said it was never his intention to retire had the Bengals won their first Super Bowl, something that became a story on the eve of the playoffs. If anything, his is energized to start anew.
“There needs to be no complacency of anything,” the coach said. “We’ve got to start fresh. We weren’t good enough. We didn’t get to be the last team standing. We’ve got to drive, and drive harder, and find better ways to do our job in every way, and that’s coaches and players alike throughout this thing. And when we get started in April, we’ll spend a lot of time about that. It’s not going to be about X’s and O’s. It’s about all the other things that contribute to winning and losing throughout.”