The Cincinnati Bengals, despite shortcomings in other areas, have consistently been able to field good special teams units. The strong performances in the third phase are, in large part, thanks to coordinator and assistant head coach Darrin Simmons, one of the most widely respected coaches around the league.
However, this offseason, Simmons’ department faces uncertainty perhaps unlike anything he’s seen over the course of his 18-year tenure with the Bengals.
Not only is his punter (Kevin Huber), long-snapper (Clark Harris), and ace returner (Brandon Wilson) set to hit the open market in free agency, but so too are a number of other core special teamers. Shawn Williams, Alex Erickson, Cethan Carter, Mike Thomas, Jordan Evans. The list goes on and on.
Simmons will have to deal with all of this before even getting to the fact that he has to find a new kicker in the coming months as well. Randy Bullock clearly fell out of the good graces with the coaching staff towards the end of last year after missing a number of key kicks. He was replaced by Austin Seibert, but head coach Zac Taylor showed hesitancy to rely on him, an indication he isn’t the answer either.
A lot of the focus has been centered around fixing the offensive line or addressing the pass rush this offseason, and rightfully so. But special teams play is a big factor in winning games as well. It can be the difference between closing out the tightly contested games they’ve failed to win in recent history or getting over the hump.
The Bengals can use the late rounds of the draft to help Simmons
The front office will certainly retain some of the important players mentioned above that are getting ready to enter free agency. However, with priority going towards re-signing Carl Lawson and William Jackson III, along with netting some additional offensive linemen, there’s a chance Simmons loses a good chunk of his unit.
The Bengals will have to turn to the late rounds of the draft to replenish their special teams players. The club is armed with a sixth-round pick and two seventh-rounders.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a consensus kicker that analysts seem to agree on that’s worthy of one of those late-round picks, although a guy like Jose Borregales may be someone Cincinnati takes a flier on with their final selection in the draft.
Last year, Borregales hit all 37 extra points and 20 of his 22 field goals. His misses came within the 40-49 yard range, but he was able to nail two kicks from beyond 50 yards out, including a 57-yarder.
Beyond looking into Borregales, the Bengals should focus on linebackers, corners, and other positions capable of doing the dirty work on special teams. After all, it’s unlikely to find a starting-caliber player that late in the draft. The success rate of finding special teams aces is much higher.
Undrafted college free agents will likely be more important to Cincinnati than it has in the past too. The club will need to scour the undrafted ranks to ensure they get capable special teams players in camp to compete for a spot on Simmons’ unit.
Add special teams to the long list of units with major question marks surrounding it this offseason. Darrin Simmons certainly has his work cut out for him.