Consider this. Carson Palmer is highly regarded as one of the better passers in the league; yet 2006 will only be his third season starting (first season he sat behind Jon Kitna). Is this accelerated maturation process expected from his talent or the cast around him? Or both? His technique is nearly flawless and effortless. Most quarterbacks depend on the team around them (lone exception, Brett Favre pre-2005). If that basic NFL principle remains consistent, along with unquestionable talent, then the former Trojan should have a spectacular season.
You can quickly see that by observing the offensive line. In 2005, Palmer tied Peyton Manning for the best (lowest) sack ratio (3.6% of their total pass attempts resulted in a sack). You have Willie Anderson who's been selected to the Pro-Bowl in the past three seasons. Eric Steinbach and Levi Jones are two guys the Bengals are desperate to sign to long term deals; both alternates in the Pro-Bowl. Bobbie Williams earned a contract extension this off-season. Some say this offensive line is one of the best in the league. I say it IS the best offensive line in the league (Bengals bias there?).
But it helps having receivers that can create exciting plays. Chad Johnson is highly regarded as one of the best wide receivers in football. T.J. Houshmandzadeh is consist and dependable. Chris Henry (minus off the field issues) was far superior than the #3 cover guy. Tab Perry and Antonio Chatman should fight out for the #3 spot on the depth chart if Henry finds himself suspended. Both are the special teams aficionados.
There is a dark-horse however at wide receiver. Kelley Washington was a promising draft pick in 2003. His failure to materialize is mostly due to the overwhelming talent at that position. However, a rookie (Henry), special teams ace (Tab Perry), and backup running back (Chris Perry) have all had greater contributions and playing time then Washington. The guy has talent, but he first needs to find a way to remain on the active roster each week (inactive for nine games in '05).
On a personal note, if you enjoy players dancing in the end-zone, then Kelley Washington is your guy. Squirrel nuts. That's all I'm saying.
It's become known that Marvin Lewis would like a more "grounded" offense; in part to protect Carson Palmer. But all indications are that Rudi Johnson is far healthier and rejuvenated. For all but a few early games in 2005, Rudi had a "banged-up wheel". He took off Wednesdays during the week to rest a wounded knee but never took off a game (or even a play!). This off-season Rudi had arthroscopic surgery to his knee to "clean house". Geoff Hobson called Johnson's 2005 season one of the "true grit chapters in club history".
Johnson said, "I'm really looking forward to this season. Playing the whole season with a banged-up wheel is no fun at all. I know I'll be stronger, faster, quicker." Hells yea!
The biggest question on Rudi's mind is 1,500. He wants to become the first running back in club history to reach 1,500 yards in a season. His chances are good. Johnson has averaged 1,456 yards in the past two seasons with 24 total touchdowns. If Johnson played on a banged-up wheel last season and still broke his franchise record for rushing yards in a single-season, and with Lewis saying the offense will be more "grounded", then could 1,600 be obtainable?
Palmer has incredible talent. If Nostradamus were around, he'd probably say some general quatrain that most enthusiasts conclude Palmer becoming the best quarterback in Bengals history. All I know is that Palmer could become great simply by the awesome cast around him.