BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals got two things for their defense when they drafted David Pollack and Odell Thurman out of Georgia in the first two rounds back in April.
They’ve shown enough of that speed since they’ve been here that head coach Marvin Lewis virtually declared them “first day starters,” after Wednesday’s voluntary practice. And on Wednesday, they flashed that won’t-back-down attitude on the Paul Brown Stadium steam table when Pollack got into a training camp-like shove and shout skirmish with veteran left tackle Levi Jones after the whistle.
“I thought Odell was going to get into one before that,” Pollack said. “I was all set to go in behind him, but they stopped. But if they were coming up swinging, I was going to help him out.”
Thurman, the second-rounder who has taken ownership of middle linebacker with Landon Johnson still rehabbing from shoulder surgery, is never surprised what Pollack does on the field. And vice versa.
“He’s a real aggressive player. When some people take it wrong, you got to do what you got to do. You’ve got to have a little attitude,” Thurman said. “If you don’t have attitude, you got nothing on a football field. You’ve got to be a little cocky, to have a little chip on your shoulder to be a defensive player.”
Lewis likes Thurman because he’s showing he’s all football player as a natural middle backer, from his sideline-to-sideline speed to his take-charge demeanor in the huddle as the signal caller.
“He does a good job, he gets the call in and communicates well,” said left end Justin Smith, “and he does it well considering he’s just learning the defense. He’s got some good wheels.”
“Wheels,” or speed, as well as intensity, are the operative words with these two guys.
“They bring a lot more speed to the defense,” said safety Madieu Williams. “They’re guys that play hard and two guys always around the ball. They’re guys that feel very confident in themselves. It’s expected.”
The Bengals hope some of this new chippiness is going to help lift the defense in key moments of games. Last year, for example, in the second quarters of losses in Cleveland and Tennessee, the defense didn’t stand up against the run and it became a factor in letting the games get away. With new defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan preaching that he won’t tolerate big plays and the two new starters flying around in an open challenge, this defense is vowing not to back down.
“We’re not talking much. We have to go out and prove it,” Smith said. “That’s going to be our M.O. this year.”
Pollack, the first-rounder, continues to impress Lewis with his ability to transform from a college end to a NFL left outside linebacker. Last month Lewis said he had never seen anyone do it so quickly, and Pollack’s one week off for his honeymoon following the May 21 wedding obviously didn’t hurt him.
“He’s had a good week,” said Lewis, who thinks the key to the conversion is understanding how pass coverages work.
“I think I can be a good linebacker, but I’ve got a lot to learn,” Pollack said. “I’m just picking it up. I’m coming along.”
Meanwhile, Pollack has watched Thurman get plugged into the same position he played at Georgia in a similar scheme and hasn’t seen him miss a beat.
“Odell knows more than I. He knows what’s going on. It’s the same defense we ran in college,” Pollack said. “Odell is going to shock some people. I think people already know he’s going to be good, but he’s going to be pretty dominant.”
Thurman is turning into the Chad Johnson of the defense in the sense that he goes hard every snap, virtually never comes off the field, and isn’t afraid to goad the guy across from him to fire up a little intramural competition.
Even Chad himself. One day last week Thurman got on Johnson when he didn’t track down a long pass. “You got to get those 85.”
“I know he’s one of the best guys on the team,” Thurman said. “I just play around with him to get pumped up myself.”
He admits Bresnahan has thrown, “a lot at me, but I’m catching on quick. I’m out there in every regular and nickel package, so I’m doing everything. I like that. The more you’re out there, the better the odds are you’re going to make plays.”
Pollack made some plays Wednesday, and maybe a little more in his scuffle with Jones. In Jones, he picked a guy who has one of the meanest and longest competitive streaks on the field.
“No, I won’t,” said Pollack about backing down. “That’s how I am, too. Scuffles and stuff like that happens on the field. That’s part of it. I’m competitive and it takes over some times. No big deal. We’re teammates and that stuff stays on the field in practice.”
Practice has been good enough to elevate the rookies on a defense hoping to use this speed and toughness to upgrade its run stopping with an attitude that takes over games instead of leaving them hanging.
“I feel like,” Thurman said, “I’m the final piece of the puzzle.”
I love our two new linebackers already. This type of swagger and attitude is exactly what this defense has missed since the departure of Takeo.