Eric Steinbach became the latest Cincinnati Bengal to run afoul of the law over the weekend when he was arrested and charged with boating under the influence. The Bengal guard was stopped for violating an idle-free zone and then failed several sobriety tests administered by a Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources officer.
Steinbach will be in good company when he returns to Bengal camp. Four of his teammates have spent time in the care of the state over the offseason. Defensive end Frostee Rucker is facing charges of battering his girlfriend, rookie linebacker A.J. Nicholson was arrested for burglary and grand theft and defensive lineman Matthias Askew was felled by a stun gun after resisting arrest during a traffic stop. And then there's the walking crime wave that is Bengal reciever Chris Henry. He commits more crimes before 9 A.M. before most people commit in a lifetime. Henry has been charged with speeding, drunk driving, plying minors with alcohol, marijuana posession and brandishing a weapon in an eventful offseason. And middle linebacker Odell Thurman is suspended for the first four games of the upcoming season for violating the league's drug policy.
The Bengals have spent this offseason making a mockery of any suggestion that character counts in building a NFL team. Rucker and Nicholson's brushes with the law each came before the men had even signed after being drafted in April and each had sketchy resumes that gave the other 31 NFL general managers pause in the face of their talent. The Bengals then went on to select Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks in the supplemental draft after Brooks had been kicked off the school team by coach Al Groh.
In the NCAA they call it a lack of institutional control. In the NFL there isn't a handy word for it but the Bengals are getting dangerously close to fitting that label to a T. They've lost two key players, Thurman and the sure to be suspended Henry, for a quarter of the season at least and can't seem to find any players that you could actually count on for a full campaign. Certainly there have been teams made up of less than savory characters who still went on to glory - the '86 Mets and Bobby Bowden's entire history come to mind - but I'd be surprised if the league wasn't getting more than a little peeved by all of this. And I certainly think that if Paul Tagliabue were still in office that they would have done something publicly or privately to try and rein in the out of control Bengals. Marvin Lewis made his bones as a defensive genius, a label that tends to go hand in hand with words like hard-nosed and disciplined. There's been little sign of that in his leadership and with the uncertainty surrounding Carson Palmer's health the pieces are in place for a pretty mighty fall from grace for Lewis. A return to 7-9 or so wouldn't be lethal to Lewis all by itself, perhaps, but coupled with the ongoing police blotter available as a presumed cause for a slide Lewis's seat could get mighty hot.