As we draw near Training Camp, we'll take a closer examination of the team's best position battles. More like vicious position battles. The most popular will obviously be the competition between Carson Palmer and J.T. O'Sullivan. Can Palmer hold back Just Turnovers O'Sullivan in a bid to save face and his job? No, no. That's not the position battle I was thinking of. No. With clearly the most intrigue, the battle between Andre Caldwell and Jordan Shipley as the team's third receiver is shaping up to be a good one. Caldwell, who is working hard this offseason is taking on Shipley, who was one of the better slot receivers out of the draft this year. Obviously there's other positions we'll see.
Scouts Inc's Matt Williamson writes that the position battle to look at -- not just for the Bengals, but of interest in the NFL -- is at defensive end (ESPN Insider)
This defense can be exceptional, but more production is needed up front. I think Cincinnati has the best set of starting cornerbacks in the league. There is depth at all the defensive positions. I have worries at safety, but again, more is needed up front. The Bengals were among the worst pass-rushing defenses in the league last season.
Surely, there will be a rotation of some sort at defensive end, but as it stands today, the likely starters are Robert Geathers and Antwan Odom. Both have ability but need more overall consistency to their game. They will be pushed and backed up by second-round selection Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, who, because of the logjam of talent, the Bengals have made into an end/outside linebacker hybrid in his second season.
More of a pass rush is needed even with the Bengals' great cornerback tandem. Geathers was a liability in this department in 2009. He played the run well but just didn't generate the pressure. He should worry about his job.
Odom was far and away the best of this group last season. He was lights out in the first six games of the season but then tore his Achilles. Predicting how he returns from that injury is hard. He's been nagged by injuries.
Johnson showed flashes of his immense ability in his rookie season but, overall, wasn't consistent at getting after the quarterback or stacking up the run. If someone was to take a giant step forward from this group, my money would be on Johnson, especially as a replacement for Geathers with his hand on the ground in passing situations.
Dunlap possesses great size and has more ability than his draft slot would make you believe, but like Johnson, he carries an underachiever label. Dunlap was terrific at times at the University of Florida, but too often played below his skill set. He should get ample opportunity during his rookie season. The Bengals need someone like Dunlap to really emerge.
Cincinnati did finish the season fourth in total defense and sixth against the pass. Just imagine how good this unit could be with improved play up front, particularly a more threatening pass rush.
And thus, my desk lifted several inches in the air after reading that. Less than ten days my friends.