Duke Tobin has been grinding behind the scenes with the Cincinnati Bengals since 1999, quietly and mostly anonymously, which is the way he wants it.
But as his job title has risen from scout to director of player development, so, too, has his profile.
- BENGALS: Team looking to add wide receiver
- COMBINE: Latest Twitter updates here
- FACEBOOK: Cincinnati Bengals News Now
And on Thursday, Tobin served as the voice of the franchise when he made his first podium appearance at the NFL Scouting Combine after head coach Marvin Lewis declined to give his annual address.
“No, there’s no sea change,” Tobin said at the beginning of his 15-minute session. “Our operation remains the same. I was asked to come and talk. It’s a scouting event, so it’s a natural thing. So it’s on me this year. So here I am.”
Tobin reiterated what Lewis has said at past Combines, that the Bengals want to sign as many of their own free agents as possible. But the quality and quantity — 14 players become free agents March 9 — make that impossible.
“You’ve got to keep yourself financially viable to retain these guys, so you’ve got to manage the cap well, and (Katie Blackburn) has done a tremendous job of keeping that as a key focus and giving us the ability to sign them,” Tobin said. “And they’ve got to want to come back. It’s a two-way street. A lot of guys, when they get their first bite of the apple at the end of their first contract, they want to see what their true value is.”
That appears to be the case with both starting receiver Marvin Jones, who told NFL.com he is eager to test the market and will not offer the Bengals a hometown discount, and top slot receiver Mohamed Sanu, who according to a Fox Sports report has “virtually no chance” of returning to the Bengals.
The team will need to fill those voids in free agency or the draft, and Tobin said it likely will be the latter.
“Free agency is not a big focus of what we do,” he said. “We’re not blind to it. We do look at it. We know who’s available. But we’re not going to jump out the gate and start throwing high resources at guys that are coming from other teams that there’s some uncertainty on.”
Another position group impacted by free agency is the secondary, with both starting safeties, Reggie Nelson and George Iloka, and starting cornerback Adam Jones looking for new contracts.
Tobin declined to discuss whether the team would consider using the franchise tag on either of the safeties, a move that would net the player a 2016 contract worth $10.6 million.
In addition to looking ahead, Tobin took some time to reflect on the playoff loss to Pittsburgh and throw his support behind linebacker Vontaze Burfict and Jones, the two central figures in the late-game meltdown.
“I don’t think we lack team leadership or composure,” Tobin said. “I don’t think you get to 12-4 by lacking that. The folks that were involved at the end of the playoff game have spoken their piece on that. I think they’re working to rectify that. I think they wish that they would have reacted maybe a little differently. But our guys weren’t the only ones involved in that.
“The two guys that we had involved in that (Adam Jones and Burfict), I would say over the course of the season, and that game, did far more to cause us to win than they did to cause us to lose,” Tobin continued. “They’re valuable guys to us. I don’t worry about a leadership or a composure issue. I think we’ve got a veteran team that can handle it and bounce back.”
After his podium session, which was open to all media, Tobin talked with local reporters in a hallway at Lucas Oil Stadium.
He was asked if he enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame.
“I guess as much as I enjoy stuff like that,” he said. “It was fine. I thought all the questions were good and not over the top, so sure.”
Is 15 minutes all he’ll get?
“I hope so,” Tobin said. “I hope I can go back to my hole and start watching tape again.”