There's obviously reasons that some fans will pluck from a lake to increase their own self-expectations about the Cincinnati Bengals. It wouldn't surprise us if someone actually believed Andy Dalton will lead this team to undefeated record, a Super Bowl win while single-handedly disarming Iran's suspected nuclear weapon development program; so badass that Chuck Norris would have Andy Dalton quotes.
Even so, the truth is that the 2011 season is already better than 2010. Why? There's five reasons.
|#5 Jay Gruden|
Jay Gruden is bringing a fresh face to this offense. His work ethic explodes through the roof, as does his youthful enthusiasm. It's refreshing. An offensive philosophy that's proven to be successful in the past, largely born in Cincinnati, captures an abundance of enthusiasm that's coming from fans with an entire offense being given a clean slate.
But the truth is, the excitement for Gruden runs deeper than that.
An example of this. For several years I've dealt with an infliction known as sleep apnea. Those of you that suffer from it know how scary it can be. You're suddenly rocked out of a deep sleep with the inability to breath. Seconds feel like minutes, your lungs unable to capture air as if you were stuck on a foreign planet with your eyes bulging out -- you know, like the scene on Total Recall. For a brief moment, you begin to wonder if you cleared the history on the browser last night so you don't die with that site being remembered as part of your legacy.
Then Bob Bratkowski was fired and I haven't suffered an episode since. Simple as that.
|#4 Everyone Wants To Be A Leader|
If the lockout has promoted anything positive, it's explored an increase of leaders on this team. Andrew Whitworth held offensive linemen workouts and with Domata Peko, got the entire team together for two weeks worth of player-only workouts. Rey Maualuga has joined the leadership fray as has backup quarterback for life, Jordan Palmer.
During the Carson Palmer era, we always searched for a leader. A guy to take the bull (Chad) by the horns and become the visible leader on the sidelines talking his teammates up. More times than not, we were treated with a slow walk to the sidelines after an interception while counting the blades of grass along the way.
If this keeps up, this roster will now have guys that want to lead; rather than following an appointed leader in Palmer that never seemed to want the job.
|#3 Youth Movement|
Do you realize the turnover that's happening with this team?
Last year's draft class could already be considered one of Marvin Lewis' best. Jermaine Gresham broke a franchise rookie record for most receptions (52) by a tight end. Jordan Shipley posted the most receptions (52) amongst all AFC rookies. Carlos Dunlap's 9.5 quarterback sacks ranked second in the NFL, behind NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh. Based on pressure per pass rush, Geno Atkins was a better pass rusher than Dunlap and linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy will compete for the outside linebacker spot with Maualuga moving inside.
The Bengals 2011 Draft class offers as much, if not more, potential. Don't you love that word? A.J. Green (WR), Andy Dalton (QB), Clint Boling (Guard) and Robert Sands (S) could be starters as early as this year. Dontay Moch could become one of the team's better pass rushers and we often hear that Korey Lindsey is an absolute steal. Ryan Whelan could be that the infield utility guy that just does everything he's asked and does it well.
Not a bad looking future, huh? It's better than signing overused wide receiver veterans that no one wants -- read Laveranues Coles, Antonio Bryant, Terrell Owens.
|#2 Quarterback Expectations|
When training camp was nearing, months after Cincinnati claimed the AFC North title with an undefeated division record, the Bengals signed Terrell Owens. This gave Carson Palmer, who demanded talent in the passing game, a compliment of wide receivers. Mind you, we were still confident at the time that Antonio Bryant would recover, even if he had to take time off early in the season. Expectations were so high that some of us, not mentioning who, predicted another playoff run and (perhaps) accidentally writing that the Bengals were the best team in the AFC. Palmer would go on to tie a career-high 20 interceptions with his lowest pass rating since his rookie season -- excluding his four-game 2008 season -- well on his way to leading a 12-loss season.
Now Palmer is on the outs, threatening to retire if he's not traded. The Bengals respond by drafting TCU quarterback Andy Dalton during the 2011 NFL Draft.
Veteran quarterback remains a possibility to start the season, but who? Coaches have reiterated that they drafted Dalton because of his potential to start the season at quarterback as a rookie. While we love their confidence, there's no way of knowing that during a lockout that "prevents" contact. The original training camp date is scheduled within the next 3-4 weeks and the Bengals coaching staff have yet to see Dalton throw the football since he was drafted.
How could this possibly be better than last year, you're asking this suddenly senile writer. The truth is, we have no expectations at quarterback this year. A veteran free agent signing will last only until Dalton is ready and whose to say that Dalton will be that good during his rookie year while the entire team is looking to rebuild their roster? That being said, our expectations are low, if nonexistent, for 2011. That's not a bad thing. It'll just be a pleasant surprise later when Dalton performs well.
|#1 General Team Expectations|
Carrying over from the previous point, there's no reason for Bengals fans to expect this team to go off on another 2009 tear in the division. The principle for your expectations in 2011 should be something like this: Expect nothing. Too many changes have happened, all in the middle of a lockout that might be capturing player unity, but not help from the coaches.
Think of it like 2009. The Bengals went 4-11-1 in 2008 with Carson Palmer, the franchise quarterback, suffering a major elbow injury. We didn't have many expectations heading into 2009. Cincinnati exploded by winning seven of their first nine games that year, none of which was predicted by anyone. It was more than a pleasant surprise; it was friggin' awesome.
Personnel turnover, an offensive overhaul with new offensive coaches, change in the secondary roster and at linebacker; there's changes everywhere. We're not saying you shouldn't expect competitiveness and professionalism. But it makes it easy to deal with when you're highest expectation is watching this team grow week after week.