I know what you're thinking: I can't believe we're kicking off the preseason on Sunday. This Sunday. This soon? I know. Walking around work, handing out my mandatory "Who Dey", it's still a shock, fully aware that we'll be seeing our boys in pads for the first time since the team's heartbreaking loss to the New York Jets in January. I'm even connecting with old friends who share the same pride, the same concerns and the same love.
Football truly brings people together and there's few fanbases that unites like Bengals fans. See, we have something in common; a shared emptiness filled with misery before the Marvin Lewis era. Many of us spent our winters watching the team that we love, faltering out of the gates, embarrassing the city with hurricane gusts slamming into our chests. We hated every minute of it. But being as loyal as we are, we withstood it. And as a result, we gravitated towards each other with that shared misery.
Then Marvin Lewis shows up and within the first four months, drafts Carson Palmer. Chad Johnson, his name before he lost his mind, quickly rises as one the league's best receivers and guys like Rudi Johnson and later, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, are born long after being drafted. We go from a fanbase that so many felt sorry for to a prideful clan that no longer accepts the big brother treatment of division fans. Much like our team, we grew.
Some worry about the team's character choices, but many of us do not. We realize that as long as those players help us win and do not embarrass us, then we're accepting of that. We know that Mike Brown won't open the pocket books for the high priced free agents. So if our fearless owner finds cheap talent, then that's fine with us -- we know he's not going to go after the most expensive talent and maybe there's more evidence that overpaying for players rarely helps teams win.
As we head into Lewis' eighth season as the Bengals head coach, tying for longest tenure with names like Paul Brown and Sam Wyche with the franchise, the Bengals are expecting the Super Bowl. Many truly believe it, with confidence pouring through their pores like a sweat during a hot summer practice. Our roster of running backs is as good as we've seen and our defense is loaded with talent. Our wide receivers are comparable to the 2005 team with some making the argument the 2010 squad is better. With an evolving defense that ranked in the top-five last season, a running game that was one of the most respected attacks in the league and a passing game that we expect to be miles better than last year, we know one thing. This season is going to be fun as hell.
THE STORY OF THE WEEK: JERMAINE GRESHAM SIGNS. I know, I know. I'm getting tired of the Bengals not signing all of their draft picks by the start of training camp too. Keith Rivers, Andre Smith and now Jermaine Gresham, players that missed practices in the past three years because the player and team couldn't agree to a deal, in which the likely holdup was a few guaranteed dollars. But the NFL is a business and the players generally have enough leverage that enables them to wait and see. It's not so much the Bengals fault, who has to be wondering why they're giving so many millions to Andre Smith. Rather the fault has long been the system. While rookies in the top ten are paid so much, the system will always be broken. And while rookies expect a pay raise from the rookies signed a year earlier, and while teams are forced to wait for other teams to sign their draft picks, the system will always be broken.
OH ANDRE, BE AN EFFECTIVE GIANT; NOT A WORTHLESS ONE. To say Andre Smith brings a surge of strong reactions would be an understatement. While the team's sixth overall draft pick was expected to be the foundation of an offensive line rebuilding project last year, Smith has been a massive disappointment (pun totally intended). He was sidelined through the first half of the season last year after suffering an injury during a non-contact drill. Then he had a procedure done over the offseason that wasn't so much deemed necessary as it was preferred to prevent additional issues with his foot. Unfortunately, that procedure has kept Smith on the sidelines during Training Camp. Some have suggested that Smith didn't do much towards his recovery, forcing him to miss at least 2-3 weeks after the start of Training Camp, when his recovery was expected to be completed before minicamps.
However, the one positive this week is that Smith did get some on-field work with Dermontti Dawson doing basic line drills.
REY MAUALUGA WORKING TOWARDS AWESOME UTILITY LINEBACKER. Much like the Bengals experiment to move Michael Johnson to outside linebacker, the team worked towards moving linebacker Rey Maualuga all over the place. While he's listed as a starting strong-side linebacker, Maualuga is getting looks at middle linebacker in 3-4, nickel and even base packages.
FORMER HARD KNOCKS ARE "KNOCKING BACK HARD". Reports indicated this week that two players featured during last year's hard knocks are growing up. Aggressively. Fui Vakapuna, the Bengals likely fullback heading into the regular season, and Chase Coffman gave great efforts during the annual Oklahoma Drill.
Unfortunately, Vakapuna suffered a shoulder injury during Special Teams later in the week. While a shoulder injury is particularly a concern with fullbacks, there's no known concern that the injury will be lasting beyond the preseason.
+ OH CHASE, OH CHASE, WHERE COULD MY TIGHT END BE? As we sometimes do, we project things in our minds. Daydream if you will. One of those daydreams remains the prospects of having tight ends Chase Coffman and Jermaine Gresham line-up in double tight end formation; an alignment in which tight ends either flank both sides of the offensive line or bunch on one side. This brings natural unpredictability. While the double tight end, single back formation could potentially give the Bengals four big threats in the passing game, it's also a well-used formation to run the football. With their speed and talent, opposing defenses may be forced to put safeties on Coffman and Gresham, freeing up receivers like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco to run their routes with only single coverage.
+ IS JEROME SIMPSON READY FOR THE NEXT LEVEL? We've seen Jerome Simpson make amazing receptions in the preseason. Many of us acknowledge the talent he has, but remain suspicious if he can translate success on the field during the regular season. However, like the praise he's received in the past, Simpson is being praised again, but this time for understanding the mental side of the game -- the biggest knock on him since joining the Bengals in 2008. During this week's press conference, Marvin Lewis gave Simpson additional praises.
"Jerome’s thing has never been to not look good physically, but now he’s doing other things much, much better. He’s understanding the concepts and routes better now."
Simpson is one of several receivers battling for a roster spot. However, many of the training camp reports suggest that Simpson is doing everything right. His youth, along with his talent gives him a huge advantage to claim a spot on the roster and finally reach that next level. However, he has to show it on the field. He can't have another stretch from the past two seasons where his only contribution is a single reception.
+ ANTONIO BRYANT IMPROVES. While he's not expected to play on Sunday, Antonio Bryant is happy with his progress.
"The best thing I can say is there’s a lot of progress, a lot of things are on the up and up," Bryant said. "There’s no decline in what I’m doing. I feel very encouraged by that. I’ve been able to do some things with my leg that I haven’t done ever since I’ve been rehabbing it. I feel good about that."
Even though this comes before a report that the Bengals could make a decision on Bryant's 2010 fate by saying that they're not "going to fool around", the wide receiver is expected to test his knee as early as next week.
More stories from the week that was.
+ This week's Primer between the Bengals and Cowboys.
+ Bengals quarterback coach Ken Zampese believes that Carson Palmer will answer his critics this year.
+ This week's Six-Pack of Hu-Dey examined the six things we're looking for during the Hall of Fame Game.
+ Terrell Owens doesn't believe his incentives are reachable. But he's cool with that because he thinks that the Bengals are talented enough to be Super Bowl bound.
+ Cincy Jungle's own Jason Garrison detailed his visit in Georgetown during the Bengals practice on Wednesday.
+ Dave doesn't think that this weekend's game will offer much in the way of what to expect with the 2010 Bengals.
+ CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco believes that the Bengals are playoff bound.
+ The Bengals set up autograph tents for kids.