When I see a Bengals article by ESPN AFC North blogger James Walker, I think of two things: 1. I'm about to be depressed and 2. this is going to be about Carson Palmer (which is depressing now too). However, sometimes Walker throws a gold nugget out there that can make Bengals fans puff their chests out and walk as proudly as they can being Bengals fans. This is about one of those nuggets.
During a Q&A session with All Pro Blogger John Thornton, Walker was asked what three things Bengals fans should look forward to. Walker said the 2010 draft class, the 2011 draft and Marvin Lewis.
The first positive is Cincinnati’s 2010 draft class. I think the team added some good pieces it can build around in Jermaine Gresham, Jordan Shipley, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. This could turn out to be one of Cincinnati’s better drafts if these players continue to work hard and improve on their rookie seasons.
In his rookie season, Gresham finished fourth on the team in total receiving yards with 471. He finished with 26 first-down receptions and four touchdowns. He also broke the Bengals franchise record for most most receptions by a rookie tight end, a record previously owned by Tony McGee.
Shipley had another great rookie season for the Bengals in 2010. He finished third on the team in total reception yards, behind Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, with 600 yards. He also proved to be a reliable target on third downs, hauling in some very tough catches in traffic. He finished the season with 52 catches and three touchdowns.
Dunlap and Atkins breathed some new life into the defense and proved that a Bengals defensive player could get to an opposing quarterback. Atkins, playing in the interior line, finished with three sacks and 10 tackles, having only started in one game. Dunlap finished the season with 19 tackles and led the team with 9.5 sacks, which is another rookie record. Both Atkins and Dunlap should see some serious playing time next season.
Second, Cincinnati has high picks this year in a very deep and talented draft. That will give them another chance to add good players to try and close the gap with Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
The Bengals are seriously hurting in a lot of positions, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. They need a new quarterback moving forward and possibly a new running back, wide receiver and definitely some help on the offensive line. They also need a new starting safety, help on the defensive line and possibly a new cornerback, depending on whether or not the Bengals can re-sign Johnathan Joseph. While teams use the draft to fill their needs, the Bengals may have too many needs to fill in just one draft.
If they had four first-round picks I'd feel a little more secure but that's not the case. Let's hope they find some talented players in later rounds like they've been able to in the past couple years.
The third positive is Marvin Lewis. I know some Bengals fans may be rolling their eyes about that, but from a national, outsider’s perspective, Cincinnati was not going to find someone better and more experienced. Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and John Fox were not coming to work for the Bengals. It’s simply not an attractive job in league circles. For a while, I had my doubts Lewis even wanted to come back — and he’s had the job for eight years. In my opinion, Lewis is not a bad coach. He’s a decent head coach working for an unstable organization, and most years that uphill battle is too difficult to overcome.
In reality, Lewis was probably the best coach the Bengals could have hoped for in 2011. While's presence will be felt by all Bengals fans until he steps down as emperor and general manager, Lewis has made that presence a little more tolerable. He's been able to make a few changes in his tenure as Bengals head coach and install an expectation of winning for Bengals fans.
In reality, Lewis' return to Cincinnati was probably for two reasons: he wasn't able to find the job he wanted elsewhere and nobody worth paying well wanted to come to Cincinnati to take the Bengals head coaching job. If the Bengals had decided to hire a different head coach, it probably wouldn't have been a coach with a winning track record, because guys with winning track records don't want to go to teams that don't have dedicated owners.
Lewis is likely the best chance the Bengals have to move forward. If he can get the Bengals back on track in the next few years and then decides to go elsewhere, then the Bengals may be able to find a head coach that has some sort of winning record, but until that happens, Lewis is our guy.