CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 16: Donald Brown #31 of the Indianapolis Colts scores a touchdown in front of Chris Crocker #42 of the Cincinnati Bengals during their game at Paul Brown Stadium on October 16, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals defeated the Colts 27-17. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
In 2010, the Cincinnati Bengals crashed and burned. After lofty expectations were heaped upon them, they crumbled under the pressure and major repercussions ensued. Carson Palmer, the franchise's boy scout and number-one marketing tool, shocked the world by abruptly resigning from his post. The team was forced into a sudden era of major change and fans worried the adjustment would be long and painful.
What blossomed however was a striped tulip of immediate success. The Bengals made the playoffs and left the mouths' of their critics agape. The new guys, including that friendly new sheriff, Andy "Woody" Dalton, didn't appear phased by a dubious franchise history or oceans of naysayers. Dalton, O.C. Jay Gruden, and hot shot A.J. Green got down to business as if they were paid to win. They didn't wait to be successful; they went against conventional logic and played without fear right away. Marvin Lewis looked good, and Mike Brown looked better.
Now, after a long track record of wild unpredictability, the Bengals have everyone flummoxed as to what to expect in 2012. Lately, a lot of negative press has been shot at the Bengals, like blow-gun darts dipped in hate. Most of the losing predictions seem based on Andy Dalton regressing in his second year. There is still a pervasive attitude that second-year quarterbacks are destined to struggle. Many people who will tell you that they don't believe in ghosts will admit that they believe in the sophomore slump. Yes, there are stats that can be used to strengthen the argument that a downward trend exists in production from a quarterback's first year to his second, but you can refer to Mark Twain's opinion of the manipulative nature of statistics to understand the flip-side of that argument.
Many Bengals fans have dubbed their team a Super Bowl contender and feel terrific heading into the Monday Night opener in early September against the Ravens. The fact that the team has never had back-to-back playoff seasons only fills their cups of optimism even higher. "It has to happen someday, surely this will be their time," is the general attitude. Despite the two diverging view points on the matter, I feel the difficulty to predict their season is more about the fact that they are young, rather than about their coach or their history or anything else. Which leads me to today's question: are the Bengals still rebuilding or are they rebuilt?
The topic was raised in my head due to some recent NBA news. Steve Nash, that googly-eyed Canadian mad ball of a point-guard, joined the ranks of Kobe Bryant and Jed Clampett and moved to Los Angeles. Bringing in another veteran to match Kobe and crew shows the Lakers hesitancy to begin a rebuilding process of their own. I remember after Magic, Kareem and Worthy retired, and suddenly the Lakers best player was Sedal Threat, I felt weird about the transition. Kobe, Jerry Buss, and Mitch Kupchak must remember that too. What would a rebuilt Lakers team look like? What would a rebuilt Bengals team look like? Are the Bengals already rebuilt?
The sheer definition is hard to pinpoint, but typically a rebuilding process is the removal of the more marketable players on a team simply to make room for any replacement. Often it's a youth movement that purges the veterans into sudden free-agents. The frustrating part for fans is that most times it takes multiple seasons to harvest the talent collection that comes with high draft picks.
The Bengals followed the rebuilding formula to a tee. Gone are Carson, Ocho, TO, Cedric Benson, Bobbie Williams, Dhani Jones, Chris Crocker and other aged, overpaid grizzly bears. Here is a bumper crop of money-making talent, baby-faces of the franchise ready to shed the old Bengal image like a dried up corn husk. The surprise was the immediacy of the youngsters' impact. Although struggles bubbled to the surface in lengthy stretches at times last year, a 9-7 record and a trip to Wild-Card Weekend was light-years ahead of most Bengal prognoses.
But a solid record and some high-potential offensive players do not mark the end of a rebuilding process. This team is not without a veteran presence. Both outside linebackers are in the second half of their careers, a couple of the cornerbacks were alive for the Bengals first Super Bowl appearance, and, as baffling as it is, Robert Geathers still plays football in Cincinnati. As each day passes, my worry about this defense grows. The unit does come equipped with some fearsome young d-linemen and a first round corner, but linebacker and safety depth seem to be sold separately. A lot of faith has been granted toward Mike Zimmer and his defensive wizardry. He is a man who speaks of his guys and his program is unshakeable, but how much success can one man wring out of a largely no-name group? Can effort and knowledge of system alone continue to be enough to end up a top-10 defense again?
Despite what may or may not be missing on defense, the Bengals are going mostly young and mostly on the strength of their coaches in 2012. They expect their youth to further blossom—unimpeded by superstitious slumps—and excel with the aid of a full off-season. The rebuilding phase is largely complete, it's only deceiving to recognize because of the speed of its development. The front office actually lucked out when Palmer took his ball and went home and the ensuing draft allowed the team to become immediately better without him or his old mates. Then the two high draft picks Oakland gave up to get him was like manna from heaven. Next year, like every year, will bring more youth and excitement, but the foundation we see before us today, the current marketability of the Bengals franchise, is here to stay for a full and extended era. Better...stronger...faster!
Mojokong—going heat crazy.