It was very reassuring watching the Bengals draft according to needs rather than wants. By no means is this ship water tight, but some holes have been filled. So with the raw talent available how will it be developed? There is a good ratio of young talent and veteran experience to provide quality leadership and mentorship to this squad. While there are still questions surrounding the offensive line my guarded optimism has given me enough hope to make a few predictions.
On offense Coles and Ocho Cinco will be the go-to guys with Henry re-emerging as the deep threat. If he can keep his mind on track Henry could have a career season. Simpson will begin to show his real potential as the Bengals prepare for Ocho Cinco's departure. Tight end corps should be more productive this year with more catches and the development of Chase Coffman. Of course this will all hinge on the elbow of Carson Palmer and less predictable play calling. The backfield of Benson and company will have to produce 1500 yards to provide the balance to reduce the stress on a less experienced offensive line in pass protection. This will make Palmer's play action fakes more effective and we will see a few more deep ball receptions.
The offensive line is the only glaring question mark. Who will anchor the offensive line? The value of holding on to Levi Jones is not necessarily the production as much as providing unity and leadership. With all the questions surrounding the O-line the key to initial success will be in having someone to teach blocking techniques in the trenches. Jones could also be the guy who unites the line in executing schemes and reducing confusion. The biggest fear for this year will be the lack of experience and a line that has not gelled. If the Bengal's line can pull together and mature as a cohesive unit they will mask and overcome some of the pitfalls of inexperience. Having all offensive weapons healthy will allow the line to produce enough to win.
Bengal fans should be very optimistic about the defense this year. They could very easily be the "Rodney Dangerfield" of the AFC North that finally gets a little respect. The speed of the younger athletes mixed with the power of the veterans will be an intense combination that will be fun to watch. The Bengals have their best defensive coordinator since Dick Lebeau in Mike Zimmer. This was a coach and unit that were the only bright spot last season. The draft and addition of free agent acquisition Tank Johnson will reap rewards.
The pessimist and naysayers out there will undoubtedly ring in. Being a Bengals fan for so long I can only manage cautious optimism as a defense for so many past disappointments. But I am optimistic! If the Bengals stay health and drama free then they can make a run this year. The biggest question is no longer; "do we have the talent?", but "what can we do with the talent we have?" Marvin Lewis has to be excited about all the potential and chomping at the bit to get started. When the Ravens and Steelers look in their rearview mirror this fall they need to read the bottom where it reads "things may be closer than they appear". That would be the Bengals coming up fast.