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Duke Tobin's star rising in Bengals' front office

Who holds decision-making power in the Cincinnati Bengals' front office?

That has been one of pro football's biggest mysteries since owner Mike Brown acknowledged that "the ball has essentially been handed off" to a committee of power brokers comprised of several members of the Brown family, Marvin Lewis' coaching staff and director of player personnel Duke Tobin.

A family-run operation from the outset, the Bengals are the only NFL organization to eschew the practice of hiring a general manager throughout their nearly half-century of existence.

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"I don't know if anyone really knows (the organizational structure) -- I really don't," one AFC general manager told NFL Media's Albert Breer in 2014. "Because that family keeps it close to the vest."

The team offered a hint this week that Tobin's role is growing beyond player personnel executive after he reportedly turned down opportunities in January to interview for the general manager openings of the Lions and Titans.

Tobin will replace Lewis as the face of the franchise when the Bengals take the podium at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday, fielding questions alongside 45 other head coaches and general managers.

It was in Indianapolis three years ago that Lewis first disclosed that Tobin was running the Bengals' draft war room. Brown acknowledged as much this week.

"I have some role. So do our coaches," Brown explained, via Geoff Hobson of the team's official website. "Duke has become the focal point for everyone. He keeps it on track. I would say today the responsibility is largely his. He puts it all together."

Tobin understands the Bengals' front office will always be a collaborative effort under the Brown family, with the coaching staff assuming a greater share of the evaluation responsibilities in Cincinnati than in other cities. Still, he has no interest in expanding his power and prestige by defecting to another franchise.

"I'm a loyal guy. Loyalty matters. Ownership here is loyal to its employees and employees ought to mimic that loyalty," Tobin said, per Hobson. "(Ownership's) lives are football. ... They don't have outside business interests. This is what their lives are all about and they're excellent at it. That's what makes it a unique, special place. It's all about football. From the lowest guy all the way up to the owner. It's all about football."

Even if Tobin is never recognized with the general manager title, he has at least started to gain respect around the league.

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Ravens coach John Harbaugh has hailed Cincinnati as the most talented outfit in the league. Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian recently praised the Bengals' 2015 roster as the NFL's best "from top to bottom."

Under the guiding arms of Tobin and Lewis on the football side of the operation, the Bengals have shed the lost decade of the 1990s and emerged as a beacon of stability.

Former Eagles and Browns president Joe Banner stated Monday that Tobin "has not received the credit he deserves" for directing the NFL's fourth-best record over the past half-decade.

Tobin is content to deflect whatever newfound credit comes his way and spread the praise for Cincinnati's AFC North success.

"It's not an individual game at any level," Tobin offered. "It's not an individual game in personnel; it's not an individual game on the field. When you start reaching out for individual glory, it breaks down."

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