Are we better than we were last year?
This is the question of which all coaching staffs around the NFL should be asking themselves this Labor Day weekend. It's an especially critical one for the Cincinnati Bengals, as they are once again looking to get over the playoff hump for the fifth consecutive season. Die-hard fans who use the "we" when talking about "their" team are likely asking themselves a similar question.
The 2015 Bengals roster is littered with familiar names, both as long-tenured members of the team and those of the reunion tour that took place this offseason. Some are pinning their hope to the return of a few injured players and/or those who were still recovering from a 2013 injury. Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones fit into the former category, while Geno Atkins and Leon Hall fall into the latter.
There are four new starters on both sides of the football from the 2014 roster. Jeremy Hill is technically one of those four, with Michael Johnson at defensive end, Dre Kirkpatrick at cornerback, and A.J. Hawk at linebacker as the others. Vincent Rey and Eifert are two others who could be considered, though Efiert was still a primary tight end with Jermaine Gresham last season and Rey is a backup filling in for Vontaze Burfict, who was recently placed on PUP.
One thing the team did attempt to improve was the overall depth behind the starters. They did so by adding valuable rookies in Josh Shaw, Derron Smith, Jake Fisher, Tyler Kroft, Marcus Hardison, C.J. Uzomah, Mario Alford and P.J. Dawson--all of whom are slated for varying degrees of significance as backups. Veterans Pat Sims and Chris Carter, the preseason MVP, are the only two new seasoned additions to depth who weren't on the club last year (Carter only played in three games last year, largely making him a new addition).
Does the reliance on trusted and familiar players show an air of arrogance? Last offseason, the Bengals were painfully dormant during free agency, preferring to rely on their draft class and what they had build over the past few seasons. While it got them through to the postseason once again, the warts showed when the club began to deteriorate from injuries. While they were more active this year, a lot of the roster looks similar to last season.
If you're wondering about the team either making a waiver wire move or shaking up their "final roster", ponder no more. Both Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com and Paul Dehner, Jr. of The Cincinnati Enquirer both stated the club would be sticking with what they have built as their final roster.
Are the little tweaks and new crop of draftees enough to get them to another playoff berth, and more importantly, further than they've gone in the Marvin Lewis era? If Dawson continues to show playmaking prowess at linebacker, will he be trusted for a bigger role over battle-tested veterans, which isn't a standard in the DNA of this coaching staff?
Are the Bengals better than they were last year?