Now that the euphoria over the draft and the excitement about free agency has come and gone, a national backtracking has begun in regards to the Bengals' chances this season. While most of this lurking doubt is awash with the old attitude that Cincinnati is a cursed football place that will never lift itself out of the muck along the Ohio River, others have attempted to point out more logical approaches to their naysaying. Yet even these sound silly to me.
The first and perhaps most reasonable explanation to predicting a letdown for the Bengals in 2012 is that the departure of Jerome Simpson has rendered the team empty of a capable number-two receiver.
Firstly, a number-two, or complimentary receiver, is simply the worst of the two starters at the position. A slot receiver might be better than the number-two receiver because of their unique skill-set—as is the case with the Bengals—and with the evolution of the tight end and spread formations, the "other" wide-out becomes less critical each year. While Antonio Brown and Torry Smith are both quality young players, neither define why their respective teams will succeed or fail.
Secondly, who is to say that the next crop of receivers won't produce as an upgrade over Simpson? Perhaps the national media only remembers the highlights, but we who watched every catch and every drop have a complete understanding of the real Jerome Simpson. A gifted athlete? Obviously. A crisp route-runner and reliable third-down guy? No way. He was one of the remaining questionable attitudes on the team, and frankly, he was dumb. Putting his infamous mailbox of dope aside for the moment, the man couldn't keep his emotions in check on the field, often fighting and drawing penalties.
[Especially this one]
I don't mind mixing it up, but I always felt that Simpson was giving in to the taunts of his opponents and it distracted him from his job. Until he can show more maturity, he will continue to be a potential liability both as a football player and as a dude.
The next generation is eager for us to forget all about No. 89. Mohamed Sanu has all the early superlatives and comparisons to make him the front runner of becoming the next No. 2, but Marvin Jones and maybe even Armon Binns will not likely go quietly into the night. What Simpson could not do is make football simple. With A.J. Green drawing the lion share of the attention from opposing secondaries, all the other guy has to do is run the right route and catch the damn ball.
If anything were to happen to Green, then I would be really worried. Maybe that is the best argument for a decent No. 2, general depth. Then again, you could say that about any true superstar. A.J. Green is irreplaceable, but if he were to go down to injury, the Bengals would no longer have a true No. 1 and some serious improvising would be necessary on the part of Jay Gruden. So in that case, yes, the Bengals do not have a viable substitute for their best player, but I don't see that as an automatic reason that the Bengals will not live up to their expectations this season.
If any player departure has that deep of an impact on this team, I would think it would be the absence of Cedric Benson. Throughout his career in Cincinnati, Benson has been the only consistent offensive cog in the striped wheel, playing along side a cast of rotating teammates including three different quarterbacks. Not to say that BenJarvus Green-Ellis isn't an upgrade—I think that he is—but the team will likely face a more profound adjustment to life without Benson rather than life without Simpson.
So even though I don't see it, the Bengals could slide a bit from their mark last season but not because they haven't adequately replaced their complimentary receiver. This is still a young, blossoming group, from the o-line and the skill players, to the quarterback and the offensive coordinator. There is a plenty of untapped potential that is seeping through this summer and the fruits should be visible sooner than later, and if said potential is to be realized, why would it not transpire, at least in part, this season? Sadly, the Bengals will have to win multiple Super Bowls to earn the respect of the "outside" media before ever getting the nod as a capable franchise, and while some criticism if more fair than others, we as Bengal fans must stand up to flimsy rationale that the Bengals will struggle in 2012 because of the departure of an average receiver.
Mojokong—not laying down.