Training camps have opened around the NFL, offering fans and media alike their first real look at how squads are shaking out ahead of the 2010 season. So far, reports from the Cincinnati Bengals camp in Georgetown have been mixed, though on the whole things seem far more positive than negative. But how are things looking for teams the Bengals will face come September?
In week 1, on September 12, the Bengals travel to New England to face the Patriots who, as SI's Don Banks notes, aren't the juggernaut of yore.
I showed up in camp Saturday morning just in time to catch receiver David Patten's retirement news conference, which was apparently so quickly convened that Patten said he hadn't even had a chance to inform his family of his decision yet. As strange as that sounds, the bigger picture was that yet another member of New England's three Super Bowl teams has left the organization, joining the likes of Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, Willie McGinest, Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel in recent years.
Though Patten, 37, was a longshot to make the final roster, his departure only adds to the list for New England. The team released 2008 third-round pick LB Shawn Crable last Wednesday, only to have 10-year veteran LB Derrick Burgess not show up while reportedly contemplating retirement. And Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins is involved in a bitter contract dispute that may lead to him sitting out until week 10.
The following Sunday, the Bengals host the Baltimore Ravens in their 2010 home opener. Banks also visited Baltimore, where the Ravens are dealing with problems in the secondary.
So much for a stress-free ride on the Super Bowl Express in Baltimore. As I sat and chatted with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome in his office at the Best Western Hotel after lunch on Friday, he was only taking a short break from the phone calls that just keep pouring in in the wake of the news that starting Baltimore cornerback Domonique Foxworth has been lost for the season with a torn ACL. The injury was suffered Thursday in a non-contact situation, when the sixth-year veteran merely changed directions while running. "I'm getting called by every agent who has a cornerback who has played in the league in the last five years,'' Newsome said, a slightly bemused look on his face. "I just had one general manager in the league call and say 'There's always a virus at one position. Always.'"
Banks thinks that the Ravens will move to shore up the position soon, but that ultimately the success of the Ravens' secondary in 2010 will be determined on how soon, and how much, Fabian Washington, Lardarius Webb and Ed Reed can battle back from injuries. Until then, Baltimore may have to rely on its admittedly well-stocked offense to outscore opponents.
Banks also adds this nugget, which may be of interest to Cincinnati fans:
Don't go counting out incumbent Billy Cundiff in the two-man Ravens kicking battle. Baltimore signed ex-Bengal Shayne Graham in June, but it's a legit competition and Graham is going to have to earn the job. He won't win it on reputation alone. Speaking of which, I saw Graham shank one field goal attempt Friday that almost picked off Newsome at the water dispenser. It was a bit too reminiscent of the two critical field goals that Graham missed in the Bengals' home-field, first-round playoff loss to the Jets.
The Bengals close out September with a trip to Carolina on Sunday the 26th. The Sporting News' Vinny Iyer says the Panthers look like a .500 team but have the potential to do better. The Panthers have mixed news on the injury front: LT Jordan Gross, who broke his leg last November, is back on the field, while WR Steve Smith is on track to start the season. However, RT Jeff Otah is still sidelined after having knee surgery.
But the biggest change comes at quarterback. Undrafted QB Matt Moore, who led the team to a 4-1 finish in 2009, is firmly planted in the starting role, even though the Panthers selected Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen in the second round last April.
Overall, the Panthers are a suddenly-young team with just five players aged 30 or older. However, their talented secondary promises to be the first real test of the Bengals' revamped passing game.