Will the Bengals Use Onterio McCalebb As A Returner?


Aug 28, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; A detailed view of a Cincinnati Bengals helmet on the field during warms ups prior to the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Today the Bengals called up second year cornerback Onterio McCalebb to the 53-man roster for tomorrow’s game against the Ravens.

The move likely indicates that the Bengals want additional depth in the secondary as rookie Darqueze Dennard is listed as “questionable” for the game (due to a hip injury).  McCalebb has been transitioning to the cornerback position after spending his college career as a running back and return man.  The Bengals won’t likely use McCalebb in the secondary unless they suffer some injuries, but where else might they use the young speedster?

Aug 28, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Onterio McCalebb (39) against the Indianapolis Colts at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

When final cuts came around this off-season, the Bengals chose to keep veteran returner Brandon Tate, but the team also gave several players a look at returner including both McCalebb and veteran cornerback Adam Jones.  Jones was the Bengals most dangerous punt returner in the past and when they added Dennard during this year’s draft, special teams coach Darrin Simmons expressed a desire for Jones to return to this role.  Here’s the question and answer from Bengals.com editor Geoff Hobson.

"GH: Do you think Adam Jones can still be a factor returning punts?DS: Sure I do. When people tell him he doesn’t have it, that motivates him and drives him even more. So I love telling him he doesn’t have it any more because that makes him mad."

Jones needed to give up his returner job last year due to injuries and may have to cede the job this week if Dennard misses the game.

If this does happen, Tate could easily step into the role as he’s done so often in the past.  But McCalebb has the speed and elusiveness to be highly effective in this role.  In college, McCalebb was primarily a kick returner, but proved to be effective in the role (he had a career return average of 25.7 yards and scored twice).  It would be interesting for McCalebb to finally get a chance to make an impact on the game field and for fans to see what he can do.

The likely scenario tomorrow is that the Bengals continue to use Tate and his reliability (I highlighted the Bengals thoughts on this in an earlier article) as they always have.  Here’s another thought from Darrin Simmons regarding this.

"“When I talk to other coaches…they like Brandon. It’s none of the stuff I read around here about him. And he’s a team player. When you look at returners, everybody likes to look at their averages, but you also have to look at decision-making and ball protection. The goal of the play is, and coach (Marvin) Lewis will echo this, we want to have the ball. He’s turned it over twice (out of 217 combined returns) and that’s pretty impressive.”"

It may be early in the season and the Bengals could be willing to try some new things because of it, but this is a divisional game, so taking “chances” make not be seen as the most prudent move by coach Marvin Lewis; he historically loves his veterans.  McCalebb could also see the field in a gunner role on special teams.  The Bengals lost their ace of the position this off-season when Andrew Hawkins left for Cleveland.  If McCalebb does get a shot as a gunner, maybe he can earn a chance at a return.  And if he does well there, maybe McCalebb can earn himself more looks from the coaching staff down the line.