Last week, I released a top ten list of reasons for Bengals fans to be thankful going into this weekend's Training Camp. While I was proud of the writeup, I'd be the uber-homer if I didn't rain of the parade a little bit as well. The truth is that there are things to be concerned about with this club. So, it's time for a reality check.
So, using the same formula (ripping off, actually) of David Letterman's Top Ten List and Peter King's "Things I Think I Know". Drumroll please...
10.) Mike Brown still owns the team: Mike Brown has to be mentioned on any cautious list with the Bengals. Though he's done some good things dating back to the 2011 offseason, there is still twenty previous years of failure that he has to make up for. However, breaking a couple of streaks this year could go a long way in helping his legacy.
9.) The 2012 draft class: I know, I know--I put this same group on my other list. But, you have to be cautious with any draft class, as many tend to overstate the class' abilities. Dre Kirkpatrick is injured and guys like Kevin Zeitler, Mohamed Sanu, Devon Still, and Orson Charles will all be heavily relied upon to contribute early. They had better stay healthy and step up, otherwise we could see some major issues down the road.
8.) Dre Kirkpatrick's injury: We recently learned that the Bengals' first pick in this year's draft, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, has a knee injury and will miss most of Training Camp. While he wasn't necessarily slated to start at the position going into the season, he was at least figuring to be in a prominent role. Leon Hall is rehabbing an Achilles injury and the rest of the corps is either old, unreliable and/or unproven. The team needed some young athleticism at the position and not having him early could hurt the team. It sounds as if he won't miss significant time in the regular season, but this injury will hinder his development.
7.) Andre Smith: Offensive tackle Andre Smith surprised us all last year with his commitment to an offseason conditioning program and on-field play last season. He played in more games last year (14) than he did his previous two years. But, he's in a contract year and still hasn't played one full season in the three previous years. The team will need him to play well and while it looks as if he's turned a corner as a pro, there is still reason to be cautious here.
6.) BenJarvus Green-Ellis: When former New England Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was signed by the club in free agency, many fans were pleased. He's a touchdown machine and came from a winning culture that this team really needed. However, the lack of a big play capability and subpar receiving skills worry Bengals fans. Beyond this, there has to be a concern that Green-Ellis' limitations will be exposed in a Tom Brady-less offense.
5.) The strong safety position: The Bengals haven't valued the safety position over the years. Since the departure of Chris Crocker, the team will now be relying on young, athletic and unproven players at the position. Taylor Mays currently has the inside track on the job and has all of the physical tools to dominate, but needs to grasp the mental aspect. Rookie George Iloka is a Swiss Army Knife of a player, but slipped about two rounds further than most projected this year. They have a lot to sort out here and there's not much NFL experience to lean on.
4.) The No. 2 wide receiver: Will somebody please step up? It would seem that the running here is between Armon Binns, Brandon Tate and rookie Mohamed Sanu. Not really the most encouraging group at first glance. Each bring something needed at the position, but all are unproven. In order for this offense to progress, someone will have to take pressure off of A.J. Green so that the team can dictate their will to the defense. It will be an interesting camp battle and let's hope that the coaches make the right decision here.
3.) Andy Dalton: Last year, rookie quarterback Andy Dalton surpassed nearly every expectation and had a great rookie season for the club. But, even through a Pro Bowl berth and all of the successes, Dalton's limitations were exposed at times last year. What's more, opposing teams now have a year's worth of film to study Dalton and Jay Gruden's offensive system. Many NFL analysts are predicting Dalton to hit a slump or plateau in his second season and it's a very real possibility. He seems to be the type to continuously want to improve, but this team will only go as far as Dalton can take them.
2.) Injuries: They happen every year to every club around the NFL. The truth is that they're not an excuse for losing. Aside from losing a franchise quarterback, a good team should be able to overcome nearly any injury and still put together a winning season. The Green Bay Packers embodied the "next man up" two seasons ago and won the Super Bowl. While the Bengals' roster looks to be quite deep this year, they still haven't shown the ability to get past certain injuries. Hopefully they stay relatively injury-free in 2012.
1.) The "streaks": We've all heard it before: the Bengals haven't strung back-to-back winning (and playoff appearances) in over thirty years. There's also the streak with the team not winning a playoff game since 1990. Optimistically speaking, this year's roster and character makeup seems to have what it takes to break these streaks. But, the team still plays 25% of its games against perennial AFC powerhouses in the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Beyond that, the Bengals just seem to have the genetic disposition of being "un-clutch".