It's a different time and mindset surrounding Cincinnati Bengals football these days. Coaches and management finally aren't shying away from the phrase "Super Bowl" and three straight premature postseason exits seem to be frustrating everyone wearing orange and black. To say that expectations are high within the walls of Paul Brown Stadium for 2014 would be an understatement.
NFL Network reporter and website correspondent, Albert Breer, recently went by to see the Bengals gear up for the season and saw the lofty goals up close and personal. New coordinators Hue Jackson and Paul Guenther made it known that they want their units to be the best in the NFL this year and everybody is feeling the urgency. And, what better way to become the best than to learn from the best? Guenther had an early message for his group this Training Camp:
"Look, they (the Seattle Seahawks) played three or four different defenses in those 23 plays -- the whole time," Guenther said on Tuesday. "They ran to the ball, they were violent, they were fast. And Denver had a hard time. It was 22-0 after 23 plays. The first play was a safety. They intercepted the ball and ran it back for a touchdown. My point to the players: It isn't all about the call, and who's calling it. It's about you guys executing and how you guys play together."
"My expectation, like I told the defense, is to be the No. 1 defense in the NFL and go to the Super Bowl," Guenther said. "That's our expectation. Otherwise, what are we doing here? We have to get better. We have to be more efficient. We have to be better with our technique to get to those things. We have the players to do it. We just gotta go do it."
Guenther then repeats it: "No. 1 defense and go to the Super Bowl. That's it. First day." The reaction from his players? "They agreed."
Based on the depth of the unit and their finishing at No. 3 overall last year, Guenther's hope/expectation for his unit could very well be in reach. All-Pro defensive tackle, Geno Atkins, returned to practice recently--sooner than most expected because of his knee rehabilitation--and other pieces like cornerback Leon Hall and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur are back to bolster the group.
If you know anything about Jackson, it's his competitive nature. Not to be outdone by his counterpart Guenther, Jackson wants his group to be the cream of the NFL crop as well, telling Breer "(We want) To be the best there is. I mean, we're not trying to be a number, we just want to be the winningest offense in football. And whatever it takes to be that, that's what we're gonna do."
In order to achieve Jackson's wish, quarterback Andy Dalton will need to take the next step and perform better at critical moments. Recent reports have Dalton looking sharper than ever this camp, but with a daunting schedule, he will need to translate the quality plays in practice to when the lights shine the brightest.
If you don't think head coach Marvin Lewis knows the stakes with Dalton, then you would be mistaken.
"I feel Andy is the quarterback that can lead this team into the playoffs, through the playoffs, and win the ultimate game. When he does that, everyone will shut up. And that's what every quarterback has to do. Unfortunately. That's where they're held. They're held in such high regard, he's being compared to some guys who, as far as skill set and so forth, didn't have to do what he had to do, come in and play like he had to play, and play without an offseason, and all the things that occurred with him. But he's handled it very well. All he's done is continued to play better and better, and all he has to do is keep doing that."
Indeed, coach. The 2014 season will show everyone the difference between mere words and letting the play back them up.