Now that we've heard the endless praise and received enthusiastic feelings from the Bengals rookie minicamp, it's time that we shelve the sensationalism that typically personifies unknown qualities being injected into an already talented roster this time of year.
Tyler Eifert, with impressive receptions and a fantastic resume that ideally fits into Cincinnati's offense, has yet to practice (much less play) against quality NFL talent. Nor has he seen a hanging spiral from his starting quarterback, Andy Dalton, who with voyeur eyes, witnesses the appreciation of Eifert's talent level over the weekend. Giovani Bernard and the triumvirate offensive linemen haven't squared off against Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson, Domata Peko or dealt with complicated Mike Zimmer schemes.
Offensively the Bengals were mediocre last season. Despite being impressive with come-from-behind wins in 2011, they were awful against stronger opponents. It's always been argued as a matter of talent surrounding Andy Dalton; ranging from an average running game that lacked versatility to a shattered confidence in protection schemes that Dalton, despite a solid pocket, rolled into the pass rush.
Adding Giovani and Eifert are luxuries.
The real test, the real growth comes from within.
Andy Dalton's third year is critical, aiming to overcome a poignant Jay Gruden response of "everything" when asked what Dalton needs to work on. We don't (and nor should you) view it as a criticism. It's just a point of fact. Dalton needs to grow and the general belief is that he will. If he doesn't, Eifert and Bernard's wildly predictive production may become insignificant. God forbid that, with this lot of backup quarterbacks, Dalton suffers a sustained injury. We need him.
Jermaine Gresham, for all the talk of having two tight ends, has to become more consistent and reliable. Yes. Pro Bowler. I get that. He hasn't earned it outright yet, but we've witnessed enough growth over three years to believe that he's extremely capable. Concentration departs from the moment sometimes. Adding focus to an extremely athletic body could finally lift Gresham above expectations. And don't believe that Eifert is the eventual Gresham replacement. He's not. Gresham is signed for another two seasons and the Bengals are clearly using Eifert... everywhere.
We're not here to exfoliate the offense either. On the contrary. Solid with probabilities using day-dreaming mechanics, this piece of paper detailing an offensive roster thirsting for a postseason win is impressive. Along with the rookies acquired during the NFL draft, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones are entering their second seasons respectively and one of my anxious storylines heading into training camp is their growth and development in year two. Clearly Cincinnati is injecting impressive doses of talent into an offense that desperately needs it. Every indication suggests that Eifert and Bernard Giovani will offer that. So will Giovani and Eifert. I have goose bumps.
But let's not mistake this for an offensive team. It's not. It hasn't been Since Mike Zimmer joined the Bengals in 2008. Without that, there are no playoffs in three of the past four years. Most of the expiring contracts will imbalance the team's payroll, heavily favoring the defense if they're all renewed. They should be. That's how this team has been built since 2009 when the team drafted Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Rey Maualuga. Even undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict is a product of the Zimmer vision. Let's also not forget the young defensive players that red-shirted their rookie seasons in Dre Kirkpatrick, Brandon Thompson and half-a-redshirt in Devon Still. Are we ready to write off Shaun Prater yet?
Consider that while the Bengals offense struggled against the Houston Texans in the past two years, it was the defense that failed to live up to their billing. It's not fair, especially considering the offensive struggles. It just is.
Get excited about the offense. I'm excited. It's exciting. Probabilities, possibilities with toys being unwrapped under the Christmas tree. But feel comfort from within your excitement that it's the Bengals defense that snacks on offensive players for a greater hunger this team hasn't had in nearly 25 years. A postseason victory.
+ I really enjoy the story of Shawn Williams, going from hard luck to a man that made it work on his own.
+ If Marvin Lewis played Nicki Minaj at a Bengals practice, I would demand his termination. No excuses.
+ How does Patrick Willis resolve a snake problem at his home? He grabs a pellet gun and Duke Nukem's his... tail. We doubt that Willis will have to give speeches about the preciousness of snacks, but feedback is expected.
+ Sad story of former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith, who was sentenced to six years in prison for possession of cocaine and possession of a firearm by a convinced felon. Best comment? "Titus Young isn't even the best wide receiver in prison right know."