The experts over at The Sporting News are putting together 2012 Training Camp previews for each NFL team. In these previews, the publication is relying on local reporters who cover the team to provide insight. In this year's case TSN leaned on The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy for a breakdown.
In it, Reedy goes over the new faces on offense and defense, this year's camp goals, and the bottom line. Some of what's covered is familiar territory, but some other aspects caught our attention.
For instance, the "camp goals" section has some familiar stories that have been covered:
1. Find a second receiver. Late last season, teams could take away the passing game by shutting down A.J. Green because the Bengals did not have a receiver who excelled on short to medium routes. With Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell gone, it looks to be a three-player competition among Brandon Tate, Armon Binns and Mohamed Sanu. Tate and Binns showed improvement during OTAs and minicamp, but Sanu, a third-round pick, might have the edge because he is a physical receiver who excels between the numbers.
2. Determine which veteran corner gets cut. The Bengals signed Jason Allen and Terence Newman and re-signed Adam "Pacman" Jones. They also drafted Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round. With Leon Hall and Nate Clements expected to be the starters and the team expected to keep five corners, a veteran will be released. Newman and Allen did well during OTAs while Jones missed most because of a hamstring injury. Jones might have an edge though because of his ability as a punt returner. Speaking of Hall, who tore his Achilles in Week 10 last season, he could be on the field for the first practice on July 27.
3. Figure out who else starts at safety. Reggie Nelson is one of the starters after re-signing for four years, but the other spot is up for grabs. Taylor Mays, acquired last season from the 49ers, has the inside track, but defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer still sees inconsistent play from the third-year player. Fifth-round pick George Iloka remains a possibility, but after Nelson there is a big dropoff in terms of experience. Mays and Jeromy Miles are in their third season, but most of their play has been on special teams.
A great rundown of the goals and it's quite accurate in saying that these should be the primary objectives in Training Camp, but it's nothing we Bengals fans haven't heard before. Where there's some new pieces to Reedy's take is in the two sections that follow the camp goals.
For instance, Reedy's selection for the Bengals' 2012 breakout player is defensive end, Carlos Dunlap.
Breakout playerDefensive end Carlos Dunlap had 9.5 sacks as a rookie but his play has been inconsistent because of injuries. He also has gotten off to slow starts at the beginning of the season due to injuries in the past two training camps. He has great quickness off the edge and has the potential to be one of the top pass rushers in the AFC but has also improved on run stopping.
With Robert Geathers and Michael Johnson both in the final seasons of their contracts, if the third-year player is going to break into the starting lineup, this should be the year.
"You saw Geno (Atkins) emerge last year. I have to get the title back from him," Dunlap said. "Geno has the Pro Bowl (recognition), and I think he'll draw just as many double teams as I will. But it is still my job to get to the quarterback whether they double team me or not."
While it's a somewhat common theme to pick Dunlap to have a breakout season, there are many other names that have been thrown out there to claim that title. Jermaine Gresham is one, Andy Dalton is another and so are many of the rookies this year. Still, Reedy makes a solid case for Dunlap and the pick makes sense.
Then we come to Reedy's "bottom line". In this final part of the preview, Reedy summarizes the Bengals' offseason moves, as well as the current roster state and provides a prediction on their finish in the division.
Bottom lineThe Bengals added depth at key areas on the defensive line, secondary and offensive line along with adding some players at the skill positions, but it remains a young roster on a team that hasn't proved it can be consistently successful. This could be one of the most competitive training camps in Marvin Lewis' 10 seasons as head coach.
They could still add some experience at receiver, linebacker and safety since those positions remain the biggest question marks. If the Bengals can get more production from skill players other than Dalton and Green, they could contend for the AFC North title. But depth continues to be a concern.
Prediction: Second, AFC North
It's a fair prediction, especially because of the division consisting of two AFC powerhouses in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. It's never a safe assumption to believe that a second place finish in the division would lead to a playoff berth, but the Bengals finished third in the division last year and still made the postseason. If Reedy's prediction comes true, I'd be hard-pressed to believe that they wouldn't make the playoffs once again.