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Re-setting the Bengals offense, did they improve, get worse or stay the same?

The madness of free agency typically can take fans through any different set of emotions; from frustration, to euphoria and everything in between and beyond its extreme. So after a week, our roster has changed. How much? Let's take a position by position look on offense.

Quarterback (Carson Palmer, J.T. O'Sullivan, Jordan Palmer)
With the signing of O'Sullivan, the Bengals filled an off-season need. The former 49ers quarterback threw seven touchdowns in the first five games in the 2008 season, so we know he can throw. After that, he had a two touchdown to seven interception ratio, which seems like a typical stretch of any Mike Martz offense. Jordan Palmer threw his first career regular season passes during three blowouts in 2008, completing seven of 12 passes and two interceptions for 41 yards passing. With Ryan Fitzpatrick gone to Buffalo, it's presumed that the Bengals lost his scramble ability. However, O'Sullivan rushed/scrambled 30 times for 145 yards for a yard-per-rush average higher than any Bengals running back on the roster last year.

In the end, I strongly believe that if Carson Palmer goes down, then the season is done anyway, no matter whom we have at quarterback.

Possible Changes: Another quarterback acquired to give Jordan Palmer competition.

Runningback (Cedric Benson, Kenny Watson, DeDe Dorsey, Chris Perry, James Johnson)
Cedric Benson re-signing was a top priority for the Bengals entering free agency. One could argue that it was T.J. Houshmandzadeh or his replacement, and that's fair. However, Benson was a higher target than Derrick Ward, whom most considered the best running back available in free agency while Houshmandzadeh had no real intention of re-signing and Laveranues Coles was singed only as a result of T.J.'s departure. So Benson has returned, looking to continue his maddening 282 yards rushing on 63 attempts closing out 2008.

Watson is a serviceable third down back, a favorite of Palmer. He blocks, he sneaks out of the backfield and when asked, he rushes the ball well. I complained last year, while the Bengals rushing offense was struggling, why he wasn't given more chances. After all, he was the team's best back in 2007 and recorded two 130-plus yard rushing performances.

Dorsey is the best of both worlds. He has talent, and the Bengals can't seem to keep him off the roster. However, the primary concern with Dorsey is his durability. Chris Perry and James Johnson are on a bubble; Perry specifically who is likely to be a salary-cap casualty.

Possible Changes: Bengals acquire another running back in the NFL Draft to give the offense a one-two punch complimenting Cedric Benson.

Wide Receiver (Chad Johnson, Laveranues Coles, Andre Caldwell, Chris Henry, Jerome Simpson, Antonio Chatman, Maurice Purify, Mario Urrutia)
The most commonly asked question right now is this. Did the Bengals improve, decline or even-out with Houshmandzadeh's department and Coles' arrival. There's arguments for all three. Coles has a better yard-per-catch average, and therefore can pick up more yardage. Coles isn't the type of reckless over-the-middle-body-sacrificing receiver to pick up a first down on third and three. In the end, they're both possession receivers and the biggest differences between them are minimal.

Johnson is expected to stick with the Bengals in 2009, unless another team makes an offer for Johnson that Mike Brown can't refuse. There was talk when Caldwell was picking up more playing time that he could be Houshmandzadeh's heir, given more experience. Henry is working with Carson Palmer to rebuild and re-brand himself to become a leading receiver on the team.

I'm not convinced that Chatman will make the cut heading into the regular season, while Simpson is the fifth receiver and the team doesn't always activate six receivers. Therefore, a case can be made that Chatman is released, that Urrutia is the team's sixth receiver and Purify returns to the practice squad.

Possible Changes: None expected after Coles signed. However, a late-round receiver could be drafted to give Purify and Urrutia competition.

Offensive Line (Anthony Collins, Andrew Whitworth, Bobbie Williams, Levi Jones, Dennis Roland, Nate Livings, Evan Mathis, Kirk Barton, Scott Kooistra, Dan Santucci, Kyle Cook, Andrew Crummey, Digger Bujnoch)
The offensive line is the least improved since the start of free agency -- each position has been addressed so far except the line. We think that big changes will happen, definitely during the and after the NFL Draft. However, don't be surprised that if the team can't secure a center in the draft that Dan Santucci and Kyle Cook battle it out for the starting gig. Both players were praised at one point in camp last year, only to lose their respective seasons to injury. In fact, there's another thought that should be promoted. Even if the Bengals draft a center, there's a likeliness that they won't put him in the starting lineup to start the season, giving him time to develop against the beasts in the middle of the AFC North. Of course, that depends on the center that we draft.

Overall at this exact point, I don't believe that the Bengals offense improved anything. Signing a backup quarterback is only judged if Palmer goes down; if he goes down, we're already in trouble anyway. With that said, I don't think that the Bengals got any worse either. If Benson didn't come back, it put a premium on finding a running back and the Bengals did find a receiver that could replace Houshmandzadeh.

Of course, free agency wasn't targeted to improve the team's offense. I don't believe that was ever the intention. The biggest judgment will come after the draft next month.

Possible Changes: Bengals could draft as many as four offensive linemen (that's a high number, I know). It's generally believed that they'll draft a tackle and center in the first two rounds. However, with Bobbie Williams playing on the final year under contract, they'll need to start thinking of his replacement and the team could go after another tackle for depth.