Last night, we learned that the Bengals have excellent depth at the placekicking position in the form of Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson. Reviews from the media and around the league (except Skip Bayless) seem to approve of Johnson's kick. Jets Kicker Jay Feely gave Chad a 80/85 grade for his extra point from a technical point of view, saying "the only thing form wrong that he did technically is that he followed through too much, and his hips opened up... but, I mean, he got good elevation... and I was just as impressed with his kickoff! I think Skip as mad though because I think he kicked better than Skip could kick."
Feely also gave him an 85/85 for his kickoff. It's safe to say Feely is an Ochocinco fan. Speaking of Chad, Mark Schlereth just mentioned on SportsCenter's Fantasy Draft special that he thinks we'll see our star #1 WR recover to his previous form.
Moving on to the meat of this post, I contend that the Bengals are deeper across the board this year than we've seen in quite some time. Let's go position by position down the depth chart to determine how resilient our team will be as we sfight through inevitable NFL injuries this year.
Quarterback: Carson Palmer is obviously the key to making the Bengals go this year. Without Palmer, Cincinnati will not win that many games. But this year, I'm more comfortable with J.T. O'Sullivan than I was with he who must not be named from Harvard last year. So far this preseason, he's shown the ability to complete passes for more than 3 yards, as evidenced by beautiful throws last night to Chris Henry and Jerome Simpson (there was no pass interference) down the field. If Carson goes down, God forbid, we might not lose as much as we did last year.
Running Back: Running back this year is the first interesting position I'll touch on. Cedrick Benson comes into this season as the undisputed starter. But I don't think he'll get feature back carries, especially if he continues to rely on quickness and agility rather than downhill power running for which he is reputed. Given this trend, which was especially apparent last night, I think Brian Leonard is a definitive lock (he was anyway) to make the team and may steal some goal line carries.
Bengals.com lists DeDe Dorsey at #3, and he is no longer eligible for the practice squad. Dorsey is an injury liability, but has shown explosiveness nearly every time he's taken the field in orange and black.
That leaves Bernard Scott, James Johnson, and Marlon Lucky as the odd men out. Lucky is the first cut here, as far as I can tell. He's gotten only 2 touches this preseason, and must not be ready to go if he's getting that little playing time. In extremely limited time, James Johnson has looked decent, but I doubt he makes the team either.
If the Bengals carry 4 tailbacks, I'd assume they keep Scott since they burned a pick on him and his ceiling is so high. The biggest problem I've noticed with him is slow recognition and decision making this preseason. Last night, he missed a couple of holes as he stood around behind the line of scrimmage while he tried to figure out which way to go. When he does hit the hole though, Scott is quick and elusive, and is a big home run threat.
Really, though, no matter which backs the Bengals keep, this will be a deep position in 2009. There is talent all the way down the line. Of course, tailback success is largely dependant on the men pushing each other around in the trenches.
Fullback: On Hard Knocks, we saw running backs coach Jim Anderson reveal that, essentially, our fullback competition is tight this year. The Bengals.com depth chart lists Jeremy Johnson first, Fui Vakapuna second, and Chris Pressley third.
I have to imagine that Johnson makes the team if he continues to keep his work ethic up. He helped Rudi Johnson to a franchise record setting seasons in 2004 and 2005 and is a veteran of the system. But, the coaches have been really high on Vakapuna and Pressley.
I wouldn't be surprised if two of these guys make the team and the other is put on the practice squad. I'd almost expect the Bengals to try to maintain some sort of control over these guys this year as an insurance policy.
Tackle: The Bengals have at least insurance-level depth at both tackle positions this year, assuming Andre Smith at some point signs a contract. Dennis Roland has played well this preseason, indicating that he will be serviceable in an emergency substitution.
The front-runners, though, have looked pretty damn good for the most part. Andrew Whitworth and Anthony Collins have emerged as above-average offensive tackles. I doubt that either of them are Pro Bowl talents, however.
Andre Smith, if he signs, will get playing time this year. His talent indicates that he'll be a mainstay at tackle for years to come, but he is a rookie this year and I believe he would be only a marginal improvement over Collins, who has been present for camp. Regardless, we've got 3 starting quality tackles on this team right now as far as I am concerned.
Guard: The shallowest position on the offense, Bobbie Williams will have to stay healthy this year or the guards may be a sorry bunch. Nate Livings has played, for the most part, well so far in the preseason. But he will have his hands full with the Casey Hamptons of the AFCN. Scott Kooistra is not the worst back up the team could have, but there's a reason the now 7-year veteran is riding pine and Nate Livings, who was impressive at the end of last season let's not forget, is starting. The starters really need to stay healthy here.
Center: Bengals fans know the importance of quality center play in unifying and leading an offensive line. This year, the unit is slightly more veteran, despite some guys getting their first pro starts, these are men that have been in the league. The unit should benefit from the emergence of Kyle Cook, who looked great against the quality NT Vince Wilfork last night, winning the initial "push" battle about 3/4 of the time in the early going yesterday. The O-Line wasn't great at picking up blitzes consistently, but I expect that is something that will improve when Carson returns to the lineup.
The great thing this year is that we have a legitimate backup in center-of-the-future Jonathan Luigs. Luigs' college record at the center position is excellent. If Cook goes down, there just isn't a huge fall-off when we get to Luigs, whose skill set projects him to be a consistent but not quite dominant offensive centerpiece.
Wide Receiver: The deepest position on the offense is unquestionable the wide receiving corps this year. Antonio Chatman is currently listed as the 6th WR on the depth chart, and for a guy that was the #3 last year to be not making the team, that tells you something about the men that have stepped up and look great so far in preseason play.
Chad Johnson has, so far, looked like the Pro Bowl receiver we've been used to the past almost-decade. Chris Henry looks like he has accepted that wide receivers have to fight for some catches, and has looked good over the middle and over the top, too. You know what you get with Laveranues Coles, a solid guy who might get hurt but will be willing to go over the middle.
Young guys Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson are pretty good friends, and continue to develop in the wings. Chad won't last forever, and Coles is on the downside of his career at this point. Behind these "big 5", which I'd contend are one of the best 5-WR units in the league, Freddie Brown, Maurice Purify, and Quan Crosby should battle for a roster spot. Very deep position this year.
Tight End: This position looked a lot better when Reggie Kelly was healthy. But even without him, I think we're OK at TE. Ben Utecht and Chase Coffman both offer superb receiving potential for Carson Palmer this year, which we haven't had since he was drafted. Hopefully Daniel Coats steps into Kelly's shoes and has a good showing as the primary blocking Tight End this year.
What are your thoughts on the backups this year? Is there anyone I'm forgetting that has been impressive in the preseason?