Alright, so some fans/sites aren't drinking the Kool-Aid. That's fine. It's hard to imagine that a transformation from failure to a system of success could happen overnight, or through an offseason. Carson Palmer is coming back (again) and there's no telling if he'll be able to sustain the success he had earlier in his career. Bob Bratkowski is changing the playbook. Marvin Lewis is changing his demeanor. The offensive line has gone through personnel changes, so there's an "incomplete" score in the preseason forecast. Chad Johnson came off the worst season in his career, T.J. Houshmandzadeh is gone, and the offense is depending on Chris Henry; a guy that wasn't so dependable early in his career. Cedric Benson had a nice finish last season, but for the most part, like the offensive line, we're not sure how strong the position will be.
There's the draft, which many have rated as very good. Free agency brought in pieces to an overall puzzle -- none of whom are designed to be the best player on their respective unit. Last year's (lack of a) pass rush put the defensive secondary on their heels -- and for the most part, they did as well as expected of them when the quarterback has time to scan the field, set his feet, and deliver passes with patient technique.
A Mike Brown factor still exists, which will never go away until he doubles the scouting staff and upgrades the general personnel staff.
If you have reservation about this year, then that's alright. History tends to be on your side and projecting the Bengals to go better than .500 in 2009 is based on a faith that the Bengals have improved everywhere on the field. On the other hand, if you're excited about that faith that the Bengals have improved, then that's alright too. We wouldn't be fans if we weren't unique to our own opinions.
Is it fair to say that the Bengals offense is coming back to form? Look at Joe Reedy's reports:
- Laveranues Coles made two nice catches on sideline routes. Chad Ochocinco also got into the act along the sideline, diving forward for a low catch inbounds.
- David Richmond beat Geoffrey Pope on a 45-yard pass by Carson Palmer.
- Chris Henry caught two long passes, first with Jonathan Joseph covering and then closed the practice with a reception with Castille covering of which he said afterward “you can’t play me like that.”
- Jordan Palmer had a nice completion to Jerome Simpson on a double reverse and completed a 40-yarder to Ochocinco
- Carson Palmer and Laveranues Coles connected on a 50-yard pass with Johnathan Joseph covering.
The defense isn't too shabby, intercepting their share of passes and, as Bob Bratkowski says, a decent amount of pressure on the defense. “The blitz packages have been strong. It’s been exciting because it forces us to be spot on." Furthermore, the defense is getting great work in by playing against a good core of receivers.
“They’re more versatile than in previous years,” said cornerback Leon Hall. “Chris (Henry) gives you the tall receiver that can stretch you down the field, Laveranues is crafty and Chad always makes plays. It makes it better for us to see receivers like that.”
A leader is emerging. Andrew Whitworth stood up during a winless first-half in 2008 and took charge of the lockerroom.
Andrew Whitworth became an instant folk hero for the Cincinnati Bengals in their 21-19 victory over Jacksonville on Nov. 2, 2008.
That was the day he gave a rousing pre-game speech — he was mad as you-know-what about the Bengals’ 0-8 record and wasn’t going to take losing anymore — then he retaliated against Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson, who pulled off Whitworth’s helmet after a heated blocking exchange and attempted to gouge Whitworth’s eyes.
Playing at left tackle, he wants the responsibility of being the team's elite blocker:
“Left tackle is a position that you have one of your elite players play,” Whitworth said during a break at minicamp, which concludes Saturday, June 20, at Paul Brown Stadium. “That’s the position I want to take the responsibility of playing, and playing well.”
+ Linebackers. Joe Reedy writes that the Bengals linebackers, while underrated, could be very good. The popular vote for the team's starting lineup is Keith Rivers, Dhani Jones and Rey Maualuga. However, because of the competition that Maualuga will bring, Rashad Jeanty isn't just lying down either.
The player though who has made the most gains – and has the most to prove – is Rashad Jeanty. He has held on to his spot at SAM (outside), but figures to face competition from Rey Maualuga.
Even before Maualuga was selected in the second round, Jeanty was making plenty of changes. He cut off his dreadlocks and also changed uniform numbers, going from 93 to 53. FitzGerald said the fourth-year player has gotten lighter and stronger during offseason conditioning.
And with a position battle between Jeanty and Maualuga figuring to be among the most watched of training camp, the upcoming competition has made both players stronger. While the Bengals are expected to be more aggressive with pressure, Jeanty knows the defense will have to earn that trust first.
And yea, we still have Brandon Johnson to think of, who finished second on the team with 112 tackles. The most noticeable thing is that since 2003, the Bengals have used a collection of middle linebackers. All who have started at middle linebacker, saved for Dhani Jones, are no longer with the team (and several are out of the NFL).
2003 – Kevin Hardy
2004 – Nate Webster, Caleb Miller, Landon Johnson
2005 – Odell Thurman, L. Johnson
2006 – Brian Simmons, Ahmad Brooks, Caleb Miller
2007 – Brooks, Miller, Anthony Schlegel
2008 – Dhani Jones