Let's keep the awards rolling! We are now onto our third award and it's to nominate the Bengals players who we feel improved the most from 2011 to 2012. Obviously, this takes rookies out of the running for this award, but otherwise most every other Bengals player is fair game. Take a look at the nominees that the Cincy Jungle staff has come up with and make your vote. The award will be announced soon.
Andrew Miller: Geno Atkins - Geno quietly became one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. Atkins had 21 tackles and 7.5 sacks in 2011. He finished the 2012 season with 12.5 sacks and 39 tackles. He went from an injury replacement in last year's Pro Bowl to an indisputable Pro Bowl selection this year. Atkins is one of the most dominant players on the Bengals defense, and even though he catapulted the Bengals defense while remaining in relative obscurity to the national media, I'm sure any offensive lineman would tell you he's a nightmare to line up against. Opposing quarterbacks and lineman both know the name "Geno Atkins" very well, and his immense improvement has made Atkins a staple on the Bengals defense from here on out.
Mojokong: Michael Johnson - I remember seeing a picture in the offseason of MJ and was amazed at the size of his arms. I though it was just fancy muscles on an average player, but his 2012 season proved me wrong. I used to think he was only marginally successful thanks to Carlos Dunlap on the other end, I no longer feel that way. His 11.5 sacks matched his career total of the three seasons before and they were earned sacks, not give. He remained mostly healthy all year, added to the fearsome front line of the Bengals pass rush and beasted his way through his contract season. He will become a very wealthy man this spring and I hope he stays in stripes.
UpStateMike: I would suggest Clint Boling would be a good candidate too. He was a non factor for last year, but this year he improved on every level. Boling went from riding the pine to being a top guard in the NFL in one year.
Dave Wellman/BeerRun: Clint Boling. A fourth-round pick out of Georgia in 2011, Boling was thrown into the fire at the start of the season after RG Bobbie Williams was suspended for four games. Clint tried hard, but was clearly overmatched, with his name often being mentioned in conjunction with the phrase "tossed around like a rag doll." When highly touted (at least by the Bengals) free agent Travelle Wharton went down in the 2012 preseason and the team announced that Boling would man the spot, fan reaction was less than positive. But Boling proved everyone wrong and the result of an offseason of hard work showed in a solid second-year performance in which he started all 16 games and did not receive a negative grade from the guys at PFF until week 14.
Jason Garrison: Andre Smith: Smith went from a decent right tackle in 2011 to the team's best overall offensive lineman in 2012. He was not only a solid run blocker but he was good in pass protection to and has now set himself up as one of the team's top free agents to re-sign. Smith has made some big leaps since being drafted in the first round four years ago. Just when it seemed that we were going to label him as a bust, he turned things around. He and right guard Kevin Zeitler are the future of the Bengals offensive line.
Anthony Cosenza: I'm going with Andrew Hawkins. He roughly doubled his production in receptions (23 in 2011 to 51 in 2012), yards (263 in 2011 to 533 in 2012), and first downs (12 in 2011 to 24 in 2012). He also had four touchdown receptions in 2012, whereas he had zero in 2011 and had nearly the same stats when rushing the football. He became a more integral part of the offense and I expect some other big contributions and increased consistency in 2013.
Cast your vote and see who wins The CJ Award for Most Improved Bengals Player of 2012!