As we reported last week, Pete Prisco with CBSSports.com visited Paul Brown Stadium to watch the Cincinnati Bengals practice. On Wednesday, Prisco reported his observations and opinions after visiting Cincinnati last Thursday. Prisco’s assessment of the Bengals preparations this offseason should be viewed as one of particular interest to fans considering his belief that the Bengals will make it to the AFC Championship this upcoming season. It appears as though visiting the Bengals last week hasn’t softened Prisco’s stance regarding his optimism for a team he predicts will have a regular season record of 10-6.
Prisco begins his training camp report by immediately countering the belief held by some NFL insiders, calling Dalton’s speculated "sophomore slump" absurd.
No, he isn't a big, strong-armed passer who makes your jaw drop when you watch him work, but he is accurate and, more importantly, he knows where to go with the football. Dalton will be even better in 2012.
Prisco goes on to praise Dalton’s impressive rookie season and points out that a full offseason along with a more developed Jay Gruden offense will only benefit Dalton further.
These days, it seems as though any discussion of Andy Dalton’s budding NFL career must address his arm strength. Prisco is clearly on the other side of the fence from those that consider Dalton’s arm strength a liability.
"You don't have to have the strongest arm," said [A.J.] Green, who was also a rookie in 2011. "Peyton Manning doesn't have the strongest arm, but he's one of the best to ever play. It's accuracy. Once you get that receiver you have chemistry with, the sky's the limit." With those two playing pitch and catch, and actually knowing now what they are doing, the Bengals passing game should be even better.
Prisco lists two objectives for the Bengals: Establish a running game, and find a receiver to field alongside A.J. Green. While he seems relatively confident in running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Prisco concludes with the simple fact that the Bengals must see improvement in the running game after a 2011 season where they were ranked 27th in rushing yards per attempt. It’s hardly debatable that the Bengals 2011 backfield was lackluster the majority of the season. However, one aspect of the running game that Prisco does not mention is the addition of guards Travelle Wharton and Kevin Zeitler, who are believed to improve the running game. Last Thursday when Prisco attended camp, the Bengals were in full pads. His omission of any credit toward a refurbished offensive line is worth noting.
Prisco touches upon the wide receiver battle twice in his article. He addresses A.J. Green’s eventual counterpart under his list of Team Objectives and subsequently, his list of Camp Battles. The biggest takeaway from Prisco’s mention of the wide receiver battle is the impression he had of Armon Binns last Thursday.
The early favorite is Binns, who was undrafted and already cut by receiver-needy Jacksonville. He doesn't run that well, but he's a T.J. Houshmandzadeh-type receiver, a capable player who knows where to go in terms of assignments.
[Binns] might not have the speed Simpson had, by he at least knows where to go.
In terms of other camp battles, Prisco projects that Leon Hall and Terence Newman will earn the starting cornerback roster spots. He does acknowledge that Clements could be used at safety. The camp battle at safety is Prisco’s final point:
Strong safety: Taylor Mays was running with the first team the days I was there, but he really struggles in coverage. He is too stiff. I would look for the Bengals to move a corner -- maybe Clements -- inside to team with Reggie Nelson. They also like [Jeromy] Miles. Projected winner: Too tough to call.
Prisco labels Jermaine Gresham as "Somebody To Watch."
Gresham caught 56 passes last season, but he could easily be an 80-catch guy. He has the ability to split out wide and create matchup problems for a defense. I see that happening more in 2012.
Gresham himself humbly labeled himself as "average" this offseason. Considering Gresham an 80-catch guy in 2012 definitely supports the possibility of Gresham emerging as the player that will step up alongside Green in the receiving game.
Pete Prisco concludes his training camp report with a handful of final thoughts. He establishes that the Bengals defense is talented enough to pose problems for every team in the AFC North, reiterates that Dalton and Green experiencing a full offseason will only improve the offense, and addresses the potential dominance of the Bengals defensive front. Prico’s last statement, however, proves that he is convinced of the Bengals potential based on the product he witnessed in Paul Brown Stadium last Thursday:
They will win the AFC North -- and push for more.