Bengals load up on WRs with Henry gone, Johnson's status in doubt
The Bengals drafted Florida's Andre Caldwell in the third round Sunday, giving Cincinnati two receivers in their first four picks. They already had invested a second-round pick in Jerome Simpson from Coastal Carolina.
It took a dire situation for the Bengals to focus on the position that was once their strength.
"We went from a very strong and deep group to a group that we were able to replenish with these guys," offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said. "I don't think it's necessarily a message to T.J. [Houshmandzadeh] or any of these guys. We needed depth at that position."
They may need more than depth. They may need somebody to step in right away.
After three years of putting up with Henry's off-field issues, they released the No. 3 receiver earlier this month when he was arrested again. Henry missed the first eight games of last season under an NFL suspension, and wasn't very productive when he returned.
Johnson is threatening to sit out the season if he's not traded, turning himself into a major problem for the franchise. Houshmandzadeh tied for the NFL lead in receptions last season, and is entering the final year of his contract.
The two new receivers have one thing in common. Both admire Johnson, whose look-at-me antics and never-ending trash talk have become divisive.
When asked to name his favorite receiver, Caldwell said, "Chad Johnson!"
"I idolized him," Caldwell said. "I see him make plays. That's who I model my game after."
Unlike Henry, who came to the Bengals in 2005 with a history of problems, the new receivers have clean pasts. Coach Marvin Lewis noted that the Bengals passed on several other receivers who had off-field issues.
Then, in the fifth round, the Bengals took a defensive tackle who has a defense lawyer and a court date.
Jason Shirley missed most of his final season at Fresno State while getting arrested and serving three suspensions -- the kind of background that the Bengals have overlooked in the past and regretted.
"This is a little bit of a risk, yes," Lewis acknowledged. "But there's a lot of guys who have gone [in the earlier rounds] over the last two days with more substantial things hanging over their heads. At this point in the draft, we felt like his ability and potential and what was pending and so forth, that we were able to deal with it."
Shirley was suspended for the first two games last season for violating a team rule. He played in three games, then was suspended again after he allegedly crashed a car into an apartment complex on Oct. 8 and fled the scene.
He was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. Police said he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.12, above the legal limit of 0.08 in California. His trial is scheduled for May 21. His defense lawyer blames a concussion sustained on the field before the accident.
Shirley was reinstated to the team after the accident, then suspended again for the rest of the season after he was charged with driving with a suspended license and expired registration.
"I'm just overwhelmed with the opportunity," Shirley said, in a conference call with Cincinnati reporters. "I just want to thank everybody on the coaching staff for giving me an opportunity to come to Cincinnati and show what I can do. I've had off-the-field issues. All of that is behind me now."
Cincinnati took a different kind of risk in the third round, choosing a player with limited experience. Defensive tackle Pat Sims started only 13 games in his career at Auburn, taking off the 2005 season to regroup after his sister died of a heart attack.
"I needed some time away from football to get myself together," Sims said. "It was something I needed to get over, and get back to being my normal self."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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