Chick Ludwig
Chick Ludwig

For the past 30 years, Chick Ludwig has been one of the Miami Valley’s most popular sports columnists, the past twelve as the Bengals beat writer for the Dayton Daily News. He retired from the DDN in October of 2009, and currently writes a weekly Bengals blog for the Cincinnati Enquirer and is the Bengals correspondent for the The Sporting News. A former voting member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, Ludwig is a journalism graduate of Ohio State University.


With pick #24 in the May draft the Bengals need help for an aging secondary, or maybe, just maybe, a defensive end, offensive tackle, outside linebacker, safety or center. The club needs ‘em all. Seriously? Absolutely.

CINCINNATI — One by one, the dominoes began to fall — and rather quickly — when the Cincinnati Bengals’ 2013 season ended with that disappointing 27-10 playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers on Wild Card Weekend.

Slam: Running backs coach Hue Jackson was promoted to offensive coordinator on Jan. 9 after Jay Gruden, coordinator since 2011, was named head coach of the Washington Redskins. Kyle Caskey is the new running backs coach.

Boom: Linebacker coach Paul Guenther was elevated to defensive coordinator on Jan. 16 after Mike Zimmer, coordinator since 2008, assumed the head coaching duties of the Minnesota Vikings. Matt Burke is the new linebackers coach.

Bang: Vance Joseph, who spent the past three years as an assistant with the Houston Texans, joined Mark Carrier on the Bengals’ staff as co-defensive backs coaches.

How do you reward two new coordinators? With new players. Draft picks. Free agents — unrestricted veterans and undrafted college players. Fresh faces eager to learn the system, contribute and make a positive impact.

Unofficially, the 2014 season begins with the NFL Combine, which unfolds through Feb. 25 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

It’s considered the “World’s Largest Meat Market” — after all, teams have to know what they’re paying for — with NFL owners, general managers, coaches, scouts and medical staffs scrutinizing 350 draft-eligible players, who undergo workouts, interviews and physical exams as the first step in the evaluation process that builds to a crescendo for the May 8-10 NFL Draft.

And with the 24th pick in the first round of the 2014 draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select …

This is where it gets dicey.

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Draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay agree on the position the Bengals must address in Round 1 — cornerback — but they differ on the player. Cornerback is arguably the team’s No. 1 area of concern because of age and injury. Leon Hall is recovering from a second torn Achilles in three years; Terence Newman turns 36 in September; Adam Jones turns 31 in September; and Dre Kirkpatrick, the club’s top pick in 2012, has struggled to capture that elusive butterfly known as consistency.

Kiper likes Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard as the Bengals’ selection because Dennard has the ability to start right away. He shows tight coverage, outstanding ball skills and he’s a willing tackler in run defense.

McShay, on the other hand, believes Lamarcus Joyner from Florida State is a perfect fit for the Bengals. He’s a bit undersized at 5-foot-11½ and 189 pounds, but Joyner brings the kind of blue-collar attitude and work ethic that reminds coaches of Bengals’ Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

The Bengals could target a cornerback as their first-round pick or maybe, just maybe, a defensive end, offensive tackle, outside linebacker, safety or center. The club needs ‘em all. Seriously? Absolutely.

Despite an unprecedented three straight trips to the postseason — four playoffs berths in five seasons — the Bengals have holes to fill in the quest for their first postseason victory since Jan. 6, 1991. Twenty-three years without a playoff victory is a complete and utter embarrassment. To end the futility, the Bengals have no choice but to get better.

But how? Jackson, the new offensive coordinator under 12-year head coach Marvin Lewis, has an idea. Run the football more and pass the football less.

“The running game defeats teams,” Jackson told the Cincinnati media. “Offensive teams become really good when they’re physical.”

Jackson believes that a stronger running game — led by bruising BenJarvus Green-Ellis and shifty Giovani Bernard — will take the pressure off quarterback Andy Dalton.

How often did Gruden ask Dalton to make a clutch, pressure-packed pass deep downfield in short-yardage situations? Too often. Instead of pounding the ball, grinding out the first down and living to play another series, Gruden swung for the fences with too much French pastry. Hue Jackson is all about meat-and-potatoes.

Bernard doesn’t mind the extra work. In fact, he relishes it.

“For me and Benny, I think we’ve done a good job thus far,” Bernard told the NFL Network (via ESPN). “I think we can continue to keep doing a good job. We’ve just got to go into it with an open mind. (Jackson’s) going to create the craziest playbook ever, but it’s going to be fun. I’m excited for it.”

Don’t rule out the Bengals drafting a quarterback. For all of Dalton’s success — his 33 touchdown passes and 4,293 passing yards in 2013 are single-season club records — he has yet to win a playoff game.

Dalton completed just 56.7 percent of his passes when under pressure, according to statistics provided by He was joined by the Colts’ Andrew Luck (56.0 percent) in the “Bottom 10” among quarterbacks in the category of “accuracy percentage under pressure.” Dalton and Luck endured “six pressured picks apiece” according to the Web site.

It’s clear that both young guns need to learn one of the golden rules of quarterback play. When under pressure, don’t toss the ball up for grabs. Throw it away. Live to play another down.

(Chick Ludwig hosts “The Chick Ludwig Show” weekdays 3-6 p.m. on Dayton’s WONE-AM (980) and “Monday Morning Quarterback” on Mondays from 6-9 a.m. on Cincinnati’s Fox Sports 1360 (WSAI-AM). Follow Ludwig on Twitter @ChickLudwig)