The NFL kicks off the very first bit of action for NFL players with Organized Team Activities (OTAs) this week. Although we don't get to see any game action (or any action, actually), the players will be starting their football drills and beginning the process of getting in shape for the 2016 season.
With the Bengals back in Cincinnati, we're looking at some of the biggest questions for the team for the 2016 season.
1) How will the depth at wide receiver be fixed?
The Bengals have already partially addressed this issue with the signing of Brandon LaFell. However, they lost two regular contributors at wide receiver in Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. If LaFell does end up working out, that's still only one hole filled. There's also the potential for James Wright to fill Sanu's vacant role. But, with only five catches in his career so far, that's by no means a guarantee.
There's been plenty of talk about the Bengals looking to the draft to help fill this hole. Josh Doctson has been one of the more talked about names for the Bengals, but the team has also been linked to Laquon Treadwell, Corey Coleman, Will Fuller, Michael Thomas and Kenny Lawler, among others. Whatever the case, you can probably bet the Bengals will take a receiver in the draft at some point and maybe two.
2) How will the team bounce back from the playoff loss?
Most Bengals fans probably don't want to be reminded about this heartbreaking loss. Despite having the win in the palm of their hands, a Jeremy Hill fumble and a pair of personal fouls from Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones ensured that they wouldn't see the divisional round of the playoffs for a 23rd straight year.
"It was boiling all season long with the different things that were happening in the regular-season game with us and them," Tyler Eifert said on Monday via the Dayton Daily News regarding the playoff loss. "So it’s not surprising, especially the way the game ended and just emotions running high and all that stuff."
How do you bounce back from something like that? You just need to move on. Ken Zampese and the Bengals have already expressed their belief that Hill can take it in stride and learn from it. Vontaze Burfict will probably have to, as he will only get a chance to play the Steelers once in 2016, due to his suspension. That's not to say the Bengals shouldn't be motivated to come out of the offseason motivated to teach the Steelers a lesson, but they should come at it from the perspective of making every game in 2016 count, rather than holding onto something that happened the previous season.
3) Will Andy Dalton return to his 2015 form?
Dalton was on track for the best season of his career in 2015. Through the first 12 games of the season, he completed 252 of 381 passes for 3,191 yards, 25 touchdowns, and six interceptions. He was on pace to finish third all time in passing touchdowns through a quarterback's first five seasons as well as break a couple of other records. The only statistical feat that he ended up accomplishing out of that group was joining Peyton Manning as the only two quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 3,000 or more yards through each of their first five seasons. But, he was on pace for much more than that before fracturing his thumb.
How likely is it that he will return to his 2015 form in 2016? There's no reason to think he won't. Losing Jones and Sanu doesn't help, nor does losing offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, but Dalton still has A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard, and a whole host of other high-production receiving options. There's no reason to think that he can't hit those heights again, especially given the promotion of new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. Zampese has been the Bengals' quarterbacks coach for as long as Marvin Lewis has been in Cincinnati (2003), so you can probably guess that his playbook will focus heavily on the passing game, allowing Dalton the opportunity to shine once again.
"Obviously you add pieces in the draft. But for the most part most of the guys have stayed here and played here for a long time," Dalton told Bengals.com. "I think that's just kind of the way we've done things and I think it's great because you build that camaraderie with the guys. You know how guys play, you know how guys respond. I think it overall makes the team better. That's how it's been since I've been here. We still have A.J. We still have Tyler. It's not like we're hurting completely at these positions because we've got so much talent there. That's the biggest thing."
4) How will the incoming free agents adjust to their new system?
The Bengals aren't known for putting much emphasis on bringing in outside free agents in the offseason, but they've brought in a couple this year to shore up some of the more key depth needs on the team. As previously mentioned, LaFell was brought in to help at the wide receiver position. Additionally, Karlos Dansby was brought in to strengthen the linebacker depth.
Both players shouldn't have too much trouble adjusting to the Bengals' scheme. LaFell has usually played in systems where he played a similar role to what Mohamed Sanu played with the Bengals. The two receiver's stats are generally comparable. He also seems pretty confident in his ability to adjust to the team. Karlos Dansby has played in a 4-3 system for his entire NFL career, so he shouldn't have any trouble adjusting to the Bengals' playbook.
What questions are you looking forward to seeing the Bengals address and answer this offseason?