Relatively surprised by the lack of overall reaction from other fan sites, I had hoped for an idea of what others thought about the team's 53-man roster. Maybe some expected the look we received Saturday afternoon, thus electing to play off the analysis. Others could be sitting by, waiting for the practice squad announcement, as well as any changes after the Bengals make claims on the waiver wire; as well as possibly signing veterans; not that the practice squad has anything to do with the 53-man roster the Bengals will have heading into the regular season. And then maybe some are simply too disgusted to logically differentiate how the Bengals look this year, compared to last year, that led to a 4-11-1 season.
I've often chalked up last year as a season in which the Karma gods said, "it's your turn" to have a bunch of things happen that you won't recover from -- such as losing the starting quarterback, a disgruntled receiver, over 20 guys on IR (many of whom were starters), aging players where their body's are breaking down, etc. I know. It's an excuse. Excuses don't change the fact the Bengals started last year 0-8 and finished with the worst ranked offense in the league (note: we had a better record than Cleveland, so that's cool). That also doesn't mean the Karma gods won't point at us again in 2009. Perhaps it's our turn again. Carson Palmer goes down, the offensive line continues to struggle and the rushing offense becomes the biggest disappointment after high expectations. The defense has to bail us out, and historically speaking, that's not something we're capable of believing. Then again, if you believe in balance, all the went wrong last year, is righted. Palmer retains his title as the God of Golden Arms, the rebuilt offensive line comes through and Cedric Benson resumes what he did in the final three games last year -- averaging 154 yards from the line of scrimmage per game. Oh, and last year's 12th ranked defense with added personnel, makes a run at the top ten. Hey, anything could happen, right? After all, the Bengals are playing a much weaker schedule than they were in 2008. And in the division, during the past two even numbered seasons, the Baltimore Ravens struggled (6-10 in 2005, 5-11 in 2007) and the season after winning the Super Bowl in 2005, the Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoffs. We can only hope for trends.
Will the Bengals make a run this year? That, like most things in life, is totally unpredictable. And no one predicted that quarterback Carson Palmer would miss 12 games in 2008. However, I believe that the Bengals will be far better this year than 2008. You can see that if you take a position by position look at the roster.
Quarterback - Saying that Palmer is returning assumes he won't get hurt again in 2009. And I won't say that durability issues are starting to become worrisome with our starting quarterback. The fact is, injury forced him to miss 75% of the regular season last year and this year's preseason (though mostly out of caution and additional time for rehabilitation during needless preseason games). The foundation of where the question is more answerable, points towards the team's backup quarterback. If Palmer goes down again, do you believe J.T. O'Sullivan is a better passer than Ryan Fitzpatrick? Some could point to this years preseason and answer yes. O'Sullivan also has a history of being a decent performers in some regular season games. Others will point to the same collection of arguments saying that Fitzpatrick had a good preseason in 2008 and J.T. O'Sullivan also has a history of being a disaster in some regular season games.
Running back - Let me remind you of last year. Chris Perry and Rudi Johnson had decent offseasons which fooled enough people into believing that both would mimic their incredible one-two combination in 2005. Johnson was hurt through the preseason and subsequently released. Perry never recorded more than 75 yards rushing and through six games in which he recorded 10 rushing attempts or more, he averaged three yards or more in only two games.
This is what you have to ask this year, adjusting your mindset into a comparitve analysis of where we were last year: Is Cedric Benson a better option than Chris Perry? Is Bernard Scott a better option than Kenny Watson? Is DeDe Dorsey in 2009 a better option that DeDe Dorsey in 2008? I suppose if he plays more than four games this year, that answer is yes.
Wide Receiver and Tight End . T.J. Houshmandzadeh leaves and Laveranues Coles arrives. This, to me, isn't the argument. Chad Ochocinco is far more motivated to play this year and he looks to play two combined Pro Bowl seasons in 2009. Chris Henry looks like he did his first two seasons where he recorded 15 touchdowns; along with his total life change in which you get the feeling that you can finally trust him. Even if you're asking for a comparison between two wide receivers (Houshmandzadeh and Coles) to see if the position is stronger, I believe looking at Chad and Henry's motivations clearly makes the position stronger alone.
Tight End on the other hand, is different. I do believe the position is weaker. I won't go on what we expect out of Chase Coffman, he's a rookie. We won't know until the season plays itself out. Reggie Kelly and Ben Utecht going down hurts the position, because two rookies are manning the position with Daniel Coats, who benefited greatly after Kelly went on IR because he was fighting for a roster spot with Coffman as the team's third Tight End. Now Coats, having the perfect scenario of two injuries playing out to make a roster spot, is now the team's starter. This will be the second time in two seasons he became the default starter because of injury.
Offensive Line. Not only is this the most critical for the team to improve upon, it's also one of the more dramatically changed compared to the starting lineup last year against the Baltimore Ravens.
|LT||Levi Jones||Andre Whitworth|
|LG||Andrew Whitworth||Nate Livings|
|C||Eric Ghiaciuc||Kyle Cook|
|RG||Bobbie Williams||Bobbie Williams|
|RT||Stacy Andrews||Anthony Collins|
I believe while we've improved at left tackle, we've dropped at left guard; Livings is replaceable at best. I also believe it's obvious that we've improved at center, while as of right, we're kind of pushing at right tackle. However, I'm too hesitant to actually say if we're improved or worse. Apart of me wants to say we are, because of the changes in perseonnel. However, another part of me just isn't sure.
Defensive End. Oddly enough, this position holds the same personnel this year as it did last year with one exception; Michael Johnson, who did not record a single sack during the preseason. In fact, this group only recorded two sacks in four preseason games; Robert Geathers sacked Tom Brady and Frostee Rucker had a sack, forced fumble and fumble recover.
This is where I believe we improved (albeit only slightly). Antwan Odom entered last year with a bum ankle, having been carted off at the start of Training Camp when he suffered the injury. He missed four games in the season and recorded three sacks on the first year of a well-paid contract. During the offseason, he gained bulk without losing the speed. Geathers looked great in the preseason, aggressively fighting blockers against the run and pass. I believe he's the best overall defensive end on the roster. Fanene has always been solid and can play both end and tackle. The biggest chance that the Bengals took was holding onto Rucker for one more season. It's not that he lacks talent; he just lacks the ability to stay healthy.
Defensive Tackle. John Thornton went into semi-retirement after this year, Jason Shirley converted to an offensive linemen and Michael Myers wasn't re-signed. The Bengals responded by replacing all of them with Tank Johnson. The Bengals will go into the regular season (as of this post) with three defensive tackles, likely using Rucker and Fanene in rotation. Is the position improved, worse or is it a push? I think this has everything to do with Sims, who led the team with three quarterback sacks during the preseason and led all defensive linemen with 13 total tackles. It's with my belief that he, not Tank Johnson, made a convincing argument to start opposite Domata Peko. The question though, is the position stronger than it was last year? I believe it is.
Linebackers. Think of it this way. Brandon Johnson recorded 112 tackles and Rashad Jeanty recorded 97 tackles last year. They ranked second and fourth respectively on the team. And there's a shot that neither will be starters against the Denver Broncos. Keith Rivers will retake his spot as the team's weak-side linebacker and it's evident that the Bengals coaching staff wants to start Rey Maualuga over Jeanty on the strong-side. Having two guys that combined for 209 tackles just shouts to the heavens that the Bengals strongest position, in terms of depth, is linebackers. The team's starting middle linebacker, Dhani Jones, is coming off a season in which he led the team with 165 tackles.
Compared to last year, the Bengals replaced Darryl Blackstock with Maualuga and Mays with Abdul Hodge, who led the Bengals with 18 tackles (13 solo) this preseason. Furthermore, if you watched the way Rivers played this year, he already looks far superior last year. He's quicker, stronger and far more aggressive than he was last year. He has the potential to be a multiple Pro Bowler. It's my belief that the Bengals linebackers is the strongest position on defense.
Secondary. Simeon Castille, Dexter Jackson, Herana-Daze Jones, Corey Lynch and Marvin White all have something in common; all were with the Bengals in 2008 when the season started; none are with the Bengals in 2009. Replacing those five are Geoffrey Pope, Morgan Trent, Chris Crocker, Roy Williams and Tom Nelson. I believe cornerbacks is improved, mostly because Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall look better this year than last. Morgan Trent lacked a solid pedigree with the Michigan Wolverines that makes us conclude we've improved the position with Geoffrey Pope as a filler. The Bengals could even look at upgrading the position from now until the season kicks off on the waiver wire or on free agency.
As for safety, we appear better. The questions are; is Tom Nelson better than Corey Lynch and is Roy Williams better than Marvin White? Chris Crocker is obviously an improvement, considering he could be one of the team's secondary leaders.
Special Teams. Kyle Larson. Kevin Huber. Set. Serve. Match.
The roster as it is, isn't perfect. No roster in the NFL could possibly be perfect. However, that isn't the question. The debate right now is: Is the 2009 Bengals better than the 2008 Bengals?