Bengals 2013 Training Camp Preview: Wide Receivers

USA TODAY Sports

We continue our position-by-position breakdown heading into training camp on July 25.

Wide Receivers (11): A.J. Green, Andrew Hawkins, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Brandon Tate, Ryan Whalen, Dane Sanzenbacher, Roy Roundtree, Taveon Rodgers, Cobi Hamilton, Tyrone Goard

ADDITIONS

Cobi Hamilton ('13 Draft No. 197 Overall)
Roy Roundtree ('13 UDFA)
Tyrone Goard ('13 UDFA)

DEPARTURES

None since the end of the 2012 season.

THE OPENING

When you look at the league rankings, the Bengals were an average offense in 2012 across the board. In regards to their passing game, Andy Dalton and his receivers were ranked 18th in the NFL. The team eclipsed 300 passing yards only twice - Week Two against the Redskins, and Week Six against the Browns. Each of those games involved A.J. Green surpassing well over 100 receiving yards, and each of those games involved three players having at least 60 receiving yards.

There was never a consistent surge in the passing game like the five-game stretch the running game saw in which the Bengals amassed 841 total yards on the ground. It seemed that any time a wide receiver would shine, they'd disappear (Andrew Hawkins) or fall victim to injury (Mohamed Sanu). Aside from A.J. Green, you never really knew which receiver would emerge each week. 2013 finds the Bengals ripe with opportunity for any receiver that can reap the benefits of A.J. Green diverting the attention of any defense the Bengals face.

THE CAST

After his impressive rookie debut in 2011, A.J. Green was naturally expected to improve in his second year. He didn't disappoint. Green's sophomore season resulted in 1,357 receiving yards on 97 catches and 11 touchdowns - a significant improvement in every statistical category. Green will always be expected to deliver every Sunday, and there's no reason to believe he won't deliver. At this point in his young two-year career, Green must continue to develop not only as a player on the field, but as a leader and teammate.

Andrew Hawkins turned heads in the 2012 regular season opener against the Baltimore Ravens when he racked up 86 yards on eight receptions. The following two weeks held some momentum as Hawkins totaled 138 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. After Week Three, however, Hawkins saw less targets but was still considered one of the Bengals more versatile role players. Hawkins is dangerous in open space, and can handle duties in the backfield and on special teams both as a returner and more commonly as a gunner. Regardless of how often Hawkins is used in the receiving game, it's hard to imagine him not being valued in other areas.

Speaking of versatility, if it weren't for Jerome Simpson's front flip into the endzone in 2011, Mohamed Sanu may have the most memorable offensive play in recent Bengals history. Sanu's 71-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green against the Redskins had everyone standing in Cincinnati the moment that it happened. Five weeks later, Sanu went on a three-game, four-touchdown tear before his season prematurely ended with a stress-fracture in his foot. 2013 is an opportunity for Sanu to prove he's the physical inside threat we witnessed in 2012.

Marvin Jones is the receiver on the Bengals roster with the ability to stretch the field alongside A.J. Green. Chemistry between Jones and Dalton seemed to surface during the final weeks of the 2012 season, as Jones totaled 110 yards on ten receptions and a touchdown. Hopefully Jones and Dalton will pick up where they left off in training camp. Even though the Bengals are a bit crowded at wide receiver, Jones is one of the few receivers with the potential to thrive on the outside.

Brandon Tate's job security may entirely depend on his ability to maintain his role as return specialist. The Brandon Tate experiment in 2012 offered a lackluster receiver on the offense, and a polarizing player in the return game. As much as his decision-making has been questioned in the return game, he's still the team's all-time leader in in average yards per punt return (10.1).

Ryan Whalen will be entering his third NFL season after being drafted by the Bengals in the sixth round of the 2011 draft. When given the opportunity, Whalen is a reliable route-runner with equally reliable hands. He saw more playing time during the last half of 2012, and one of Andrew Luck's top targets at Stanford will be fighting for a roster spot among a crowded group of receivers in Cincinnati.

Dane Sanzenbacher might as well invest in real estate in both Chicago and Cincinnati. He's been on each city's NFL team two times in as many years. Sanzenbacher, a Toledo native and Ohio State alum, is a slot receiver on a team that has no shortage of competition at the position. It will take a lot for Sanzenbacher to find a roster spot, but if he's working with any advantage it's the fact that the Bengals are in still in flux at many positions behind A.J. Green on the depth chart.

Roy Roundtree, like Sanzenbacher, is coming into Cincinnati as a slot receiver. He's going to need to prove a lot to stand out among the crowd. Roundtree holds Michigan's single-game yardage record with 246 receiving yards, and ranks sixth in Michigan history in receiving yards and receptions. If Roundtree doesn't make an impression in camp, he could be one of the better players to consider for the practice squad.

Taveon Rodgers will more than likely be hoping for a practice squad opportunity as well. Now entering his second year, Rodgers was brought into Cincinnati as a wide receiver but was converted into a cornerback during the injuries plaguing the position last Summer. He spent the majority of 2012 on the Reserve/Injured list.

Marvin Lewis has already praised Cobi Hamilton as a player that will make the Bengals better in 2013. The 2013 sixth round draft pick has shown flashes during rookie minicamp. The former Arkansas receiver holds the SEC record for most receiving yards in a game (303), among his many other Razorback accolades.

Like Roundtree, Tyrone Goard is an undrafted rookie with steep competition ahead of him in Cincinnati. At 6'4", the former Eastern Kentucky receiver is one of the taller players fighting for a roster spot. Not much word about Goard has surfaced from the coaching staff, but he figures to be a practice squad contender for 2013.

THE EXPECTATION

The expectation for 2013 is largely what was expected of the Bengals offense in 2012. A.J. Green is the team's undisputed playmaker on the offense. We want more playmakers.

Minimally, the expectation would be to see more receivers taking pressure off of Green. Ideally, we want to see receivers punish defenders for focusing on Green. Dalton needs more options, and he needs to trust those options.

We saw flashes of it with Sanu last season. Marvin Jones teased us from time to time in the last half of 2012, and Andrew Hawkins was electric on several occasions.

This is a year when it needs to come together. The offensive success falls on the coaching staff to some degree, of course, but Green has proven that this offense can be explosive at any given moment. It's time to attack the middle of the field, or stretch the defense with another outside threat, or better yet: Accomplish both and accomplish it consistently.

This is still a young group of receivers, but it isn't the completely raw group of receivers it's been over the last two seasons. Most of them are entering their second or third year, and the expectation is that the receiving game balances into a fully realized identity.

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