Cincinnati Bengals hope to get busy with free agents

By The Sports Xchange  |  Feb. 27, 2016 at 1:25 AM
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Duke Tobin doesn't seek out the spotlight, but it found him on the first day of the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Tobin is the Cincinnati Bengals' director of player personnel and perhaps the closest thing they have to a general manager. But Tobin insists he's a good old-fashioned scout who'd rather be sequestered in the film room and immersed in scouting reports than be the voice of the franchise.

He will leave that up to team president and owner Mike Brown and coach Marvin Lewis.

"There's no seat change in the organization," Tobin said Thursday. "I'm not looking for that. We work as a group here. Mike and Marvin are the direction. My job is to facilitate their vision and plan."

Following a 12-win season which began promisingly with an 8-0 start but ended on a miserable, rainy evening at Paul Brown Stadium with a gut-wrenching AFC wild-card playoff defeat to Pittsburgh, the Bengals plan needs some tweaking.

Not because of the Steelers defeat, but resulting from 15 free-agent players including several key contributors.

"A large majority of our players welcome the idea of coming back," Tobin said. "But it is a business decision for them."

Especially at receiver, with both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu testing the free-agent waters.

With support needed for A.J. Green and by most accounts a relatively thin draft stock at receiver, Tobin said the Bengals will do what they can to keep both Jones and Sanu.

Offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, who replaced Hue Jackson after spending 13 seasons as the club's quarterbacks coach, will keep a keen eye on the receiving corps while also making sure he doesn't miss additional areas of improvement at other positions.

"You have eyes on all the positions, instead of just the positions you're responsible for," said Zampese of his new role. "We're looking for all spots. If we can upgrade, we will. We'll use the Combine with the film work and see where guys fit."

Zampese isn't expecting to find another Sanu or Jones, who was second behind Green with 816 yards and four touchdowns.

"There probably isn't a guy that looks like Mo or looks like Marvin," said Zampese. "Each guy brings so many unique talents. We want a guy that wins. That comes in many shapes and forms."

Preferably, Cincinnati will retain the bulk of their 2016 free agents and not need to restock any positions in the draft. But, with 15 on the docket, that might be difficult.

"We like to draft, develop and retain," Tobin said. "We're at the retain point with a lot of these guys and that's going to be our focus."

--The Bengals will have new sets of eyes evaluating prospects this year with several new position coaches including Ken Zampese, who moved from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator replacing Hue Jackson, secondary coach Kevin Coyle, linebackers coach Jim Haslett, and quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor. Haslett, a four-time defensive coordinator and Lazor, who most recently was Miami's offensive coordinator, help round out the most experienced coaching staff in Marvin Lewis' tenure in Cincinnati.

--Tobin was asked about the status of linebacker Vontaze Burfict who'll be suspended for the first three games of next season for his repeated violation of league rules governing safety. Tobin said the issue has been addressed with Burfict, particularly his costly actions at the end of the AFC Wild-Card playoff loss to Pittsburgh.

"This game is about passion and passionate players are the best in this league," Tobin said Thursday at the opening of the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

"We're not going to tell him not be a passionate football player. That's what makes him good. Obviously there are some things at the end of plays and decisions he's made in a fraction of a second that he'd like to change. He's come out and said he needs to change some elements of (his game). We're not going to restrict him to the point where he's ineffective."

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