TDBH: Bengals draft defense again with LBs Spikes, Simmons in first round
April 18, 2018 04:00 AM | Geoff Hobson

For the sixth time in their ninth draft of the 1990s, the Bengals take a defensive player with their first pick today in Auburn linebacker Takeo Spikes at No. 13. Not only that they take another linebacker four picks later in North Carolina's Brian Simmons. Not only that they take University of Cincinnati cornerback Artrell Hawkins in the second round and then Northeast Louisiana linebacker Steve Foley with their first pick in the third round. This defensive offensive comes in the wake of the 7-9 finish when late last year quarterback Boomer Esiason famously leads the Bengals to a 42-41 lead in Philly in the last two minutes only to come to the sideline and say to no one in particular, "Not enough." Boomer knows his Bengals. Bobby Hoying leads the Eagles right down the field for a 44-42 win that's the only loss of Esiason's final reunion tour. The Bengals resolve they need more of a commitment in the second year of coordinator in Dick LeBeau's 3-4 defense that is in hand-to-hand combat in the AFC Central with the juggernaut he sires in Pittsburgh and the emerging elite of Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis in Baltimore. "We identified the need on defense. We need to give Coach LeBeau and his staff some physical help," says Bengals head coach Bruce Coslet. "I would love to have the opportunity to win a game, 14-10. You can only do that by putting better athletes on the field."

The Bengals rolling on defense today gathers no Moss. As in Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss, a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in 20 years. The Bengals, who pass him twice, aren't alone. The Vikings take him at No. 21 even though off-field problems as a youth force him to leave Notre Dame and Florida State. Bengals president Mike Brown doesn't think Moss is a gamble. "I really do believe he'll be a very good pick for someone," Brown says. "It's been a couple of years since he's been in trouble." But with two-time Pro Bowler Carl Pickens and the freshly-signed Darnay Scott for $15 million, the Bengals believe wide receiver is a strength and Coslet wonders aloud, "So who comes off the field for the lead back for Corey Dillon if we take him?

The focus on defense intensifies when the two linebackers they star before the draft are sitting there for both first-round picks. LeBeau needs inside backers for the 3-4 and here are two gifted ones to compete with the Steelers and Ravens. "When he hits you, you stay hit," says linebackers coach Mark Duffner after they select the quick, ravenous Spikes. Simmons, a speed demon who has already had his number 41 retired in Chapel Hill, comes courtesy of one of the picks in the Dan Wilkinson trade to Washington a few weeks ago. "The guy is already at a high level. He's a three-down player who has the ability to walk out and cover a split end," Duffner says. "And he was the (weight) lifter of the year in the program, which tells you about his dedication."

The theme is speed. The 235-pound Spikes is timed at 4.62 in his combine 40-yard dash, but Duffner says he has been clocked at 4.48. There is the 240-pound Simmons' ridiculous 4.5. Hawkins is one of the fastest corners at the combine with a 4.45 40 and Foley is a 4.6ish guy who leads the country in sacks with 18.5. They all start for the Bengals' only top ten defense in a span of 20 years in 2001 when they give up less than 20 points per game and they do it in a 4-3 when LeBeau decides to switch out of the 3-4 in the middle of the '99 season. But the '01 offense can't keep up and they finish 6-10.

That signals the beginning of the end as the team breaks up after the 2002 season when both sides of the ball break down. But those top four picks play at least seven seasons in the NFL. Spikes goes on to play 15 years with four other teams after five in Cincy and puts up border-line Hall-of-Fame numbers. Simmons leaves after nine seasons as one of their all-time linebackers and leaders, starting at three different spots on Opening Day. He becomes one of Marvin Lewis' staples in the re-building project that features their first AFC North clincher in a 2005 game in Detroit that marks Simmons' 108th as a Bengal on a Sunday his son is born back in Cincy and his grandfather dies in North Carolina on a day the Bengals come full circle. In the orange glow of history, Coslet makes a pretty good call today. "You can't coach speed," he says, "and I'm going to quit coaching effort."

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