Free-agent safety Kurt Coleman would fit Bengals' new emphasis on turnovers

INDIANAPOLIS -- According to a source, the Cincinnati Bengals are optimistic about reaching a deal with free-agent safety Kurt Coleman, whom they met with at the NFL scouting combine on Thursday.

Sources said Coleman and his representatives met with the Bengals and the New Orleans Saints in Indianapolis. The Bengals moved quickly on Coleman after he was released by the Panthers on Monday and brought him to Cincinnati for a physical and a meeting with new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, according to the team website.

"I thought he fit the things schematically we want to see and felt really good about his ability to help us continue to upgrade the defensive football team," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Friday.

Coleman, 29, was released by the Panthers after missing four games due to a knee sprain and finishing with no turnovers this season. However, turnovers have been one of Coleman's specialties throughout his career. That's what caught the eye of the Bengals, who have made turnovers a point of emphasis this offseason after generating only 14 takeaways in 2017.

Austin talked at length about the need to force more turnovers in a session with reporters on Friday. Austin said he makes turnovers a point of emphasis in his practices, and that was reflected in his final season as the Lions' defensive coordinator in 2017. The Lions finished with 32 total turnovers in 2017.

Austin's philosophy is that turnovers aren't luck, but can be accomplished through repetition. However, some players have a knack for forcing them, he said.

"Everybody talks about luck, but a lot of times it's not luck when you're in the position you're supposed to be. If the quarterback on the other side overthrows the ball, that's not luck," he said. "If the guy is running and he's got the ball in the wrong hand and you knock it out, that's not luck. if the guys are in the right positions, more often than not, they're going to be able to make some plays. I don't attribute it to luck. It's something guys practice and work out."

Coleman has had that knack during certain parts of his career. From 2014-2016, he had 14 interceptions and two forced fumbles in stints with the Chiefs and Panthers. He had seven interceptions and nine pass deflections in 2015.

"One thing I want to look at it with any defensive guy is can he turn the ball over for us?" Austin said. "When we're looking at secondary guys, we want to see if they can intercept it and see if they can cause fumbles. If we're looking at linebackers, same thing. Defensive linemen, we're looking at guys that can change the game by sacking the quarterback, stripping the ball out. So we're looking at guys who can make impact plays. Getting guys in our system that can turn the ball over. And then you emphasize it. And then you get it. There's a lot of other things, obviously, you have to emphasize on defense. But again, if you win the turnover battle, you're going to win a lot more games than you lose."

Although George Iloka and Shawn Williams are under contract through the 2020 season, the Bengals' pursuit of Coleman shows that they're willing to upgrade at any position and perhaps be more open toward signing outside free agents.

The Bengals are rarely active in the free agency market when it comes to players outside of their facility. Their priorities largely haven't changed, as Lewis said the core belief is still to lock up their own players first. That starts with tight end Tyler Eifert and center Russell Bodine.

However, if the Bengals sign Coleman, it would continue the tone they set early in the year when they parted ways with several of their longtime assistants and hired Austin as their defensive coordinator. The changes might not be drastic, but the amount of new faces on the coaching side is unusual for a franchise that preaches continuity.

Making a move to sign Coleman also reflects a new defensive mindset under Austin. Although the Bengals had 17 interceptions in 2016, they've spent the past four seasons in the bottom quarter of the league in the forced fumble category.

"It has to be part of what you do each day when that time rolls around for that opportunities," Lewis said. "Also, having players such as Kurt Coleman and things like that, if we're able to add him to the mix, that have been really proficient at turning the ball over. But it's got to be a defensive mindset. It's got to be "play fast" and do things that way in tackling, stripping the football, creating fumbles, making plays on the ball that create interceptions."