While the Cincinnati Reds remain in the thick of baseball's playoff race (go REDS!), the Cincinnati Bengals kicked off training camp last week, arguably drawing a lot of the city's attention. Training Camp came and went and the Bengals have already played their first preseason game this year. Unfortunately, it wasn't a showing we had hoped for. Expecting a 300-yard performance by Carson Palmer during the first-team's first two offensive possessions and the entire offensive line hovering over the Cowboys like nine foot monsters scaring little children, the offense was largely ineffective. But can understand that. Expectations on August 8 isn't only unfair, it's borderline ridiculous. Are the wide receivers already running crisp routes? Does the quarterback have perfect timing a month before the regular season? Does the offensive line already have the experience to see every stunt and scheme and the corresponding presnap call?
Some refused to excuse them for only having a week's worth a practice, nearly ten less sessions than the victorious Dallas Cowboys. But the truth is, the Bengals had just over a week to prepare for this game. And the reality is, preparing for this game, expecting to win, wasn't high on their priority list. Rather, they evaluated the team based on circumstances and situations. Where are we at now, was likely the question the coaches were asking. Not why we lost. That's unimportant. What's important is to see the progress of the offensive line's cohesiveness, progress with transition players like Michael Johnson and the evaluation of players like Adam Jones, several wide receivers and maybe, just maybe, Joe Tronzo, who contrary to popular belief, isn't just a body they signed for a meaningless competition battle for Fui Vakapuna. How would defenses line-up and scheme when Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens are on the field? Would Chad get single-coverage? Which receiver would defenses roll their zone towards? Would Palmer have enough time to take a five-step drop so our receivers could run 10-15 yard routes?
In fact, I would argue that if a preseason was more meaningless to judge, it would have been this one. Have we ever judged the Bengals after an intra-squad scrimmage or a mock game? Of course not, because we knew they just began training camp and they were working out the rust, learning new schemes and putting together match-ups to see what best works for the Bengals. So judging the Bengals after the Cowboys, the same weekend that typically takes place during the intra-squad scrimmage and mock games, isn't just premature, it's completely unadvisable.
But it's also hard not to. This is the first time we've seen the Bengals on the field since last year's wild card loss. Since then, the Bengals have added a wealth of talent through free agency and the NFL Draft. Arguably, at least on paper, this squad is a stronger unit than last year's group. How could we not judge? We're fans, not scientists. We're emotional, not detached robots. So while we threw around our creative, and custom, collection of curses during the team's preseason loss in Canton, we also had to keep reminding ourselves that this is the worst game we could possibly use to judge how the Bengals will look in 2010.
BRIAN LEONARD'S ROLLER COASTER OF UNKNOWNS. When he left Sunday's game due to an injury, Leonard was convinced he suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury (an injury that ended my high school career) that could actually threaten his football career. The injury is defined as a fracture of the joints in the midfoot, "where a cluster of bones forms an arch on top of the foot between the ankle and the toes." After unbearable uncertainty, Leonard finally received word that an MRI indicated no torn ligaments nor breaks, diagnosed as a mid-foot sprain. He's expected to return to the field at the end of September.
JOHNATHAN JOSEPH'S FUTURE. A report earlier in the week suggested that the Bengals and Johnathan Joseph were returning to the negotiating table. Joseph is playing the final year under contract. While that happens, one has to wonder about Joseph's leverage. Even if Joseph demands something less than what Darrelle Revis will undoubtedly receive, the Bengals could have the superior bargaining position based on how well Adam Jones and Brandon Ghee perform this year. Joseph, I believe, is better than both cornerbacks, which gives him some leverage. But is he so much better that the Bengals will offer millions upon millions with cheaper options on the roster? You know Mike Brown and you know if he has a cheaper option on the table, historically speaking, he's more likely to go that route. I hope for Joseph to sign long-term, but I wouldn't be surprised if a deal isn't resolved before the regular season.
BENGALS SIGNED JAMES JOHNSON. In response to the uncertainty with Leonard's future at the time, along with Eason Cordera's injury against the Cowboys, the Bengals signed running back James Johnson for another tour of duty.
TERRELL OWENS SHRUGS OFF HAPPY MEAL CORNERBACK. Brandon McDonald did what many people do these days . Trash talk others behind the safety of a computer. We call it the modern telephone tough guy. Owens had no idea who McDonald was, although I think he had a sudden hunger for a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Chad was pleased.
HOUSHMANDZADEH IS THINKING QUEEN CITY. After a disappointing season in Seattle last year, former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh turns his thoughts towards Cincinnati. No, he didn't talk about the good times, or how much he missed us, the fans that are poor and had the audacity to ask for an autograph on the street. He talked about how great he was and how he was the go-to guy in the Bengals offense. The truth is, he really was. I don't really miss Houshmandzadeh the person, but we have yet to replace Houshmandzadeh the player.
MORE DEMANDS KNOWN FROM LEWIS. It's no secret that the Bengals head coach is in the final year of his contract. I believe his return will be critical. Sure, you could argue a Mike Zimmer promotion as head coach. But personally, I'd like to keep him as the defensive coordinator for as long as possible. While talks have reportedly been ongoing since last year, Lewis has added to his demands. Even though those specifics have been kept secret, some have suspected that he wants greater personnel control. We haven't gotten the impression that he wants to be a de facto General Manager, but we do get the impression that he'd like to have one implemented. However, one demand was let out this week with Lewis wanting an indoor practice facility. As it stands, the Bengals travel 20 miles, during rush hour to practice because of inclimate weather.
THIS YEAR'S CONVERSION IS DAN STUKA. In the past, the Bengals have converted players. Either from one position to another on defense -- read Eric Henderson -- or from defense to offense. Last year's version was Jason Shirley, who moved from defensive tackle to offensive guard. It was Marvin Lewis' way of saying, "I really like you, so I'm giving you another shot at another position because you won't make the squad as a defensive tackle" This year, the move was out of necessity. With Fui Vakapuna suffering a shoulder injury last week and Brian Leonard going down during last week's preseason game, the Bengals found themselves wondering about fullback; a position that we felt they largely disregarded during the offseason.
Even though Joe Tronzo appeared to be serviceable against the Cowboys, the team decided to move Dan Skuta from linebacker to fullback. After a prep career that included a 20-touchdown senior season, Skuta played the majority of his college and professional career as a linebacker. This week, the Bengals had him turn in his number for #47 and head back to the offensive backfield. He quickly received praise from the team's running back coach Jim Anderson and quarterback Carson Palmer.
THE BENGALS WILL PERFORM A PRACTICE IN DAYTON. On August 22, the Bengals will travel to Dayton to put on a practice for our fans 30 minutes north of Cincinnati.
ROBERT GEATHERS IN A BOOT MEANS MORE OPPORTUNITIES. Bengals second-round rookie, Carlos Dunlap sat out from the team's preseason opener after suffering a concussion earlier that week. He's since returned. Geathers suffered a foot injury this week, forcing him to wear a boot, which will give Dunlap plenty of snaps this weekend against the Denver Broncos. Geathers is still expected to be back when the regular season kicks off.
THE UNDERAPPRECIATED DEFENSIVE LINEMAN. Jonathan Fanene has been a key contributor on defense for some time now. The problem is, he's also underappreciated and often sits below the radar in favor of bigger names like Rey Maualuga, Keith Rivers, Tank Johnson, Antwan Odom among others. However, Fanene still contributes and receives a fair amount of praise from the defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer.
BACKUP QUARTERBACK COMPETITION UP IN THE AIR. Even though J.T. O'Sullivan receives the majority of the team's second-team snaps between the backup quarterbacks, Jordan Palmer is making a charge to replace him as Carson Palmer's backup.