There are going to be a number of things that Bengals fans will want to observe when the team takes the field for their first game of 2012 against the New York Jets. There are position battles and player development issues to be sorted out and it will be interesting to watch those unfold on Friday and the team's subsequent three games. Our own Joe Goodberry will touch on that later.
For now, I'd like to present my list of five things that all Bengals fans should want to see from their team on Friday night.
6.) Play clean, fundamentally sound football. Usually the first game or two of the preseason is a display of sloppy football. Penalties, turnovers, and mental mistakes abound. Part of the process of the early portion of the preseason is to see how well players implement aspects from Training Camp and with what ease. This leads to a "weeding out" process, where those that don't cut it, well, get cut. Over the years, we've seen the Bengals shoot themselves in foot time and time again with the above-mentioned foibles, so it would great to see those kept at a minimum--especially with the benefit of the full offseason.
5.) Someone begin to establish themselves as front-runners for the No.2 wide receiver and strong safety spots. Raise your hand if you've heard us talk about these topics before here at Cincy Jungle. Through Training Camp thus far, a player at either one of those positions have yet to fully assert themselves. That assertion process will start Friday. Brandon Tate is listed as the team's starter at wide receiver, while Taylor Mays is listed as the starter at strong safety. Regardless, at wide receiver, Armon Binns has been breathing down Tate's neck and Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones are making their share of plays in camp. At safety, George Iloka has been placed at numerous spots and we've even seen Nate Clements take reps at the position. These two positions were the Achilles heel of the team last year and someone needs to step up. Hopefully eyes will be opened by somebody in live game action.
4.) Contributions from the rookies. A major part of the preseason is to showcase the talent of the group of youngsters that a team brought in just a few months ago. Unfortunately, their top pick, Dre Kirkpatrick, as well as fifth-round rookie corner, Shaun Prater will be unavailable on Friday. So, the most noticeable contribution will hopefully be from rookie starting guard, Kevin Zeitler. He'll be compared to David DeCastro for as long as they're both in the AFC North, so getting off to a good start would be great to see. Aside from Zeitler, Bengals fans would love to see great things in the receiving game from wide receivers Sanu and Jones, as well as tight end Orson Charles. It would be great to see the two new big boys, Devon Still and Brandon Thompson, make some plays on defense to cement the depth along the line. Beyond that, Iloka has an opportunity to really help out in the secondary in a number of ways and Dan Herron could do some nice things with Bernard Scott out with a hand injury.
3.) An improvement in the running game. The Bengals have made big strides in attempting to bolster their running game this year. They've added two new starting guards in Zeitler and Travelle Wharton, as well as bringing in a new workhorse at running back in BenJarvus Green-Ellis. What would be a sight for sore eyes here? Picking up first downs on short-yardage situations, punching it in from inside the five-yard line for a touchdown, no fumbles and basically imposing their will up front. Even getting a little something from the position in the passing game would be a nice added bonus. Doing so against the vaunted Jets defense would be a huge first step in the much-needed progression of this area of the offense.
2.) Come out of the game unscathed. Injuries happen to every football team. Unfortunately for the Bengals, they've already been hit by them quite a bit this offseason. Cornerback has become scary thin with injuries to Brandon Ghee and the rookies, Kirkpatrick and Prater. Other roster mainstays from past seasons, Scott and Robert Geathers, will also be out. The Bengals have a bunch of budding stars on their roster and losing any of them for any amount of time would be devastating. You can't play the game of football tentatively, but let's just hope that the players and coaches execute things wisely and get out of the game without any major injuries.
1.) A victory. Most anyone will tell you that preseason games don't matter and there's a lot of truth to that. Often times in the preseason, teams win the game in the final quarter when it's the third and fourth stringers pitted against each other. Still, a win in the preseason, particularly the first game, shows that the team is on the right track and has come out prepared in the early going. Remember the first two games of the 2011 preseason for the Bengals? Because of their lackluster performances, the chatter began that they would go 0-16. They ended up putting things together in the third game and the rest is history. Aside from a win being a confidence-builder, Bengals fans could also sit back and laugh at the devastation that the media would create for the camera-hungry Jets in a loss.