ESPN writer and commentator John Clayton, a.k.a. "The Professor," rolled out some observations regarding the Cincinnati Bengals after visiting training camp on Monday. What Clayton reports is largely positive, calling the 2013 Bengals squad the one of the best Bengals teams he's seen in the last few decades, "on paper and even in person."
In regards to training camp battles, Clayton remarked at the surprising depth on the roster. He commented on the competition at strong safety -- a position widely considered to be the biggest weakness heading into training camp. Between George Iloka, rookie Shawn Williams, and Taylor Mays, the three-way battle at strong safety is one that Clayton likes the most. He doesn't offer any idea on who he prefers, but acknowledges George Iloka's position as first on the depth chart for the time being.
Clayton offers praise for rookies Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert. Adding Bernard to the backfield adds an explosiveness that Clayton concludes will give offensive coordinator Jay Gruden the options he wanted in 2012 with Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott. He anticipates an eventual 50-50 split between Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Tyler Eifert is the player that Clayton is the most impressed with.
"As a tight end, he does most things well. His hands are exceptional. He runs good routes. He has the ability to get downfield quickly. He's a star in the making at a position that has become only more valuable around the league. Those watching try to come up with tight end comparisons. Some say he looks a little like Owen Daniels of the Houston Texans. Others say he has some qualities of an early Tony Gonzalez. All I can say is he is one of the most impressive rookies from the 2013 draft."
Clayton dedicates a lot of his recap to Cincinnati's defensive line. Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Michael Johnson, Robert Geathers, and even rookie Margus Hunt; they all form a unit that Clayton envisions will torment opponents in 2013.
Finally, Clayton comments on a very familiar topic for Cincinnati fans: Andy Dalton's third year. Like most writers (including your very own staff here at Cincy Jungle), Clayton stresses the opportunity that Dalton has in front of him after back-to-back playoff appearances. Dalton's offseason work and overall desire to improve as a player and leader isn't lost on Clayton, but he writes that Dalton needs to close the gap statistically on Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger in order to be a contender in a division that Clayton believes is still ruled by the Ravens and Steelers.
Clayton depicts the Bengals as an "AFC sleeper." After his remarks on the depth of the Bengals roster, the talent on the defensive line, and the arsenal of weapons at Dalton's disposal, the label "sleeper" may be a tad conservative of Clayton. Sure, the conference is a tough one. But the AFC North is a division that the Bengals have every opportunity of winning. It's not a question of what the Bengals need to do in order to take the AFC North; it's a question of what the Bengals need to do in order avoid losing it.