CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 12: Dre Kirkpatrick #27 of the Cincinnati Bengals talks with coach Hue Jackson during a rookie minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium on May 12, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The next phase of offseason workouts are commencing for the Cincinnati Bengals this week in the form of minicamp, and there are a number of things that we all will want to keep an eye on. The 2012 season is shaping up to be an interesting one for the team, as the roster has an odd mixture of continuity from 2011, as well as a blend of youngsters and veterans.
The roster shakeup isn't the only place where changes have occurred with the Bengals, either. There are new faces on the coaching staff--three of them on the defensive side of the ball. The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy provides a nice glimpse into the upcoming workouts and it led us to present a series of "what to watch for".
There has been a growing sense of fear that some of the magic from the recent years' successful Bengals defenses will be lost with coaches leaving. Jeff Fitzgerald and Kevin Coyle are out (for other jobs, respectively), and in are Hue Jackson, Mark Carrier, and Paul Guenther. With this massive turnover on the staff, coordinator Mike Zimmer has admitted that there have been some growing pains and an adjustment period over the first few weeks of OTAs.
Aside from the coaching turnover, Zimmer is dealing with an overhaul of the secondary position players (whom Carrier and Jackson are both helping with). A strong safety has yet to assert himself as the starter and, as Reedy notes, the two rookie cornerbacks that the Bengals drafted in 2012 have been largely unavailable in OTAs. Dre Kirkpatrick and Shaun Prater both have an opportunity to play big roles on the team this year, but the coaches just haven't seen much from them, as they have been fighting injuries.
The linebacker corps has undergone some changes as well this offseason. Keith Rivers was traded to the Giants and Vontaze Burfict has been setting himself up nicely for a roster spot--and that's in addition to Guenther taking over the coaching responsibilities for the group. However, Rey Maualuga has already noted a difference in the tempo of practices. Reedy writes:
Even though Zimmer has split most of his time between the two, making sure that things are taught the right way, Maualuga said he has noticed things are a little more up tempo.
The linebacker corps will feature some of the same faces from 2011 in Maualuga, Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson et al, but Burfict and third-year man Roddrick Muckelroy will also be pushing for playing time. Making sure that things run smoothly in this group will be another key cog to the unit's success in 2012.
It's still early, but minicamp is where things are tightened up and more of the playbook is installed. It begins the process of "separating the men from the boys" in that respect, and hopefully the Bengals players will rise to the challenge that's ahead of them this week. It will begin with Zimmer getting his new coaches on the same page, philosophically-speaking, and that has to continue to develop this week.