Bengals season in review: The year of the rookie

Heading into the 2009 NFL Draft, the Bengals were in dire need of improving their personnel across the board. More importantly, after the departures of Levi Jones, Eric Ghiaciuc and Stacy Andrews, the Bengals desperately needed to address the offensive line. While they didn't necessarily draft in order of their prioritized need, they were benefactors of players like Rey Maualuga and Michael Johnson falling into their laps. In my opinion, this was the best overall draft to date during the Marvin Lewis' era. Let's quickly examine the year of the rookies by looking back at the Bengals draft class. 

ANDRE SMITH. Though much of his first offseason with the Cincinnati Bengals was spent doing drills in front of HBO cameras for Hard Knocks while negotiating a contract, Andre Smith spent the first ten games of the season on the bench mostly due to an injury he suffered during non-contact drills. The entire Bengals fan base slapped their heads in unison in what scientists called an unexplained regional phenomenon. Smith made his debut against the Cleveland Browns on November 29, was limited, playing the role of sixth offensive lineman during running downs. His playing time kept increasing as the season wore on, even starting against the Minnesota Vikings.

What's in store for the future: Smith showed he has the versatility and power in both the passing and rushing offense. While Paul Alexander refused to nominate him as next year's starting right tackle, expect Smith to have an inside track on the position. It's his to lose.

REY MAUALUGA. What can we say about Maualuga that hasn't been said so far? Easily the team's rookie of the year, Maualuga beat out Rashad Jeanty at strong-side linebacker during preseason and played the season's first 15 games before breaking his leg against the Chiefs. Against the Vikings, Maualuga recorded a career-high 11 tackles and forced a fumble during a punt that the Vikings would recover anyway. The rookie linebacker finished the season with 80 tackles, ranked fifth on the team, and led the team with three forced fumbles, a sack, and two passes defensed.

What's in store for the future: Several criticisms on Maualuga when the Bengals drafted him were mostly about his aggressiveness and bad pursuit angles. Those things did surface at times. Expect Maualuga to recover fully from his broken leg and return to the starting lineup as the team's strong-side linebacker.

MICHAEL JOHNSON. Pro Football Focus charted Johnson as having three quarterback sacks, an additional three quarterback hits, 11 quarterback pressures and six passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage -- one of which led to an interception against the Lions.

What's in store for the future: Of all of the rookies on this team, I can't shake that feeling that Johnson could have the most potential.

CHASE COFFMAN. For as encouraging as the first three picks were, tight end Chase Coffman was as disappointing. Admittedly, most of the disappointment stems from the expectations that Coffman put up record receiving numbers as a tight end in college and we just assumed it would automatically translate into the Pros. Problem was, he played like a wide receiver which stunted his growth into an NFL-style tight end. So the learning curve was steep and he struggled to jump guys like Daniel Coats and J.P. Foschi until he was placed on injured reserve in early December with bone spurs in his left ankle.

What's in store for the future: Hope is always in supply and another season gaining bulk and learning the position in the NFL will do him wonders. And it's not like the competition will be tough next year. Darius Hill and Clark Harris (who is only a long snapper) are the other tight ends under contract in 2010.

INTERESTING NOTE: The Bengals still have all 11 of their 2009 draft picks on this year's offseason roster.

JONATHAN LUIGS. When the Bengals drafted Luigs in the fourth round, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the team's center. Dan Santucci and Kyle Cook were the only players returning from 2008 and both players were hurt most of that season. In order to find the right player, the team needed competition. Luigs made the squad, but Cook won the starting job. The 2007 Rimington Award winner actually played in eight games in 2009, mostly all on special teams with some snaps at center during the blowout against Chicago.

What's in store for the future: This is actually a good scenario for the Bengals. While Luigs didn't work his way onto the field with the offense, the 315-pound lineman does have potential. Not only as the team's primary backup center, the team could work Luigs in as a left or right guard.

NOTE ABOUT FREE AGENT GUARDS : Nate Livings and Evan Mathis are exclusive-rights free agents while Bobbie Williams is an unrestricted free agent.

KEVIN HUBER. You want to talk about arriving on the scene with style? Kevin Huber tied a franchise record in his first NFL game, dropping his first five career punts inside the 20-yard line. Other than throwing a touchdown pass, curing incurable diseases and freeing all Jaffa in the universe, Huber's debut for a punter was perfect. Of course, we kind of over-reacted, headlining a post that reads "Kevin Huber is on pace to shatter the NFL single-season record for punts inside-the-20." We're nothing if we're not dramatic. Huber came 32 punts short of that record, but finished with a 43.2 yards-per-punt average, which ranked 21st in the NFL. Don't let that ranking fool you too much. Only once during this millennium has a punter for the Bengals averaged more.

What's in store for the future: Lots of potential, but started becoming inconsistent as the year wore on. Great talent and an ability to flip the field and change momentum with one kick.

MORGAN TRENT. First it was David Jones. Then it was Geoffrey Pope. Then it was Chris Crocker. Finally, after enough experimenting and scouting and judging, the Bengals were impressed enough with their first sixth round pick that Trent eased into his role as a nickel cornerback. Unfortunately, Trent is being remembered as the guy that allowed Zach Miller to score a touchdown, tying a game that the Bengals would eventually lose to the Oakland Raiders. However, his season was far better than that. Including a quarterback sack, Trent led the entire Bengals secondary with most quarterback pressures. He had four passes defensed and contributed to special teams with at least five tackles. One deflection was against Ben Roethlisberger that led to a Frostee Rucker interception.

What's in store for the future: Put in this perspective. You drafted a cornerback in the sixth round who very well could be a long-term contributor in the secondary as a nickel cornerback. They call that a good pick.

BERNARD SCOTT. During a two-game stretch between November 22 and November 29, Bernard Scott rushed for 206 yards on 39 carries -- including a 151 all-purpose performance against the Raiders. Scott finished the year with two starts, 13 games played rushing for 321 yards on 74 carries for a respectable 4.3 yard-per-rush average. Scott would eventually become the team's number one kick returner, taking a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown against the Steelers and winning the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

What's in store for the future: Scott has the ability to be an all-purpose back on offense and on special teams. With Cedric Benson entering the final year of his contract, one has to wonder if the Bengals should have Scott more active on the offense to evaluate if he can take the pounding if he's to take on a prominent role.

SEVENTH ROUND PICKS. Fui Vakapuna, Clinton McDonald and Freddie Brown were shutout this season, either playing on the team's practice squad, or simply not being activated from the 53-man roster on game day. Brown is supposedly a good kick returner and Clinton McDonald could help with the team's depth on the defensive front. Fui Vakapuna could compete against Jeremi Johnson as the team's fullback. However, Johnson is a free agent heading into 2010.

CONCLUDING. Most experts will tell you that it's necessary to wait three years before grading a draft class, or a player. The Bengals 2009 Draft is arguably Marvin Lewis' best draft to date, finding several starters and quality backup personnel. Not only that, but guys like Michael Johnson, Chase Coffman, Rey Maualuga and Bernard Scott have the potential of being play-makers as they develop.

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