CINCINNATI - Bengals first-year defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said he isn't worried about putting his stamp on a unit that ranked third in the NFL last season under Mike Zimmer.
CINCINNATI — Bengals first-year defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said he isn’t worried about putting his stamp on a unit that ranked third in the NFL last season under Mike Zimmer.
Instead, Guenther wants the players to create their own identity, one that has a unique name.
“Smart bullies,” safety George Iloka called it yesterday.
“Our mentality is to go out there and play aggressive and physical, but we’ve got to be smart,” Iloka continued. “We’ve got to know when to take chances. You don’t want to be too aggressive where you’re hurting yourself. But when the time comes to make the hit, then you bully them and you make the play.”
Guenther isn’t just imploring his players to be smart on the field. He’s asking them to know their own roles as well as everyone else’s inside and out, and he’s calling guys out in meetings and bringing them to the whiteboard in the front of the room, where they break down coverages and responsibilities based on what the offense is showing.
“I’m really hammering home being a smart football team,” said Guenther, who is in his 10th season on the staff after spending the previous two as linebackers coach.
“The first day of install, I’m not going to say, ‘Here’s our first coverage.’ I’m going to say, ‘ Hey, Leon (Hall), get down here and install the defense. Install this right here.’ Every day, a player is going to come down and get on the board and say, what if this happens? What if that happens?”
And what if they can’t?
“Then you help them through it,” Guenther said. “But our guys are so proud that they want to win, they love each other. I would be surprised if there are many guys that come down into the room and couldn’t do it because that’s how much respect each and every one of these guys have for each other.
“I was never great at school, but if I had a teacher that called somebody up in front of the class every day, I’m going to make damn sure I’m prepared in that class.”
Even though Guenther has not changed much of the philosophy or terminology that Zimmer used to lead the defense to top-10 rankings three years in a row and four of the past five, there are still plenty of wrinkles to learn and many if/then adjustments to digest depending on what the opposing offense shows.
“It’s definitely a way for the whole team to know, ‘All right, does this guy know what he’s doing?’?” said cornerback Terence Newman, a 12-year veteran. “It’s a way we can all learn it together. We can all understand exactly what everybody else is doing.”Punter returns
It was nothing like punting in a game with a full-scale rush bearing down on him, but Bengals punter Kevin Huber passed his first test on Thursday after being cleared by doctors to practice.
“That was the first time since Pittsburgh that I was actually behind the punt team,” Huber said yesterday. “At first, it was a little uncomfortable, with a lot of moving parts. I felt a little rusty, but after a couple of reps, I settled into it and it was fine.”
Huber suffered a broken jaw and a hairline fracture of cervical vertebrae against the Steelers on Dec. 15 in Pittsburgh when he was hit by linebacker Terence Garvin as he attempted to corral punt returner Antonio Brown.
Huber had to wait five months before he could resume kicking.
He averaged 44.2 yards per kick last season.