As my mother used to say – “Stick a fork in ‘em,” because the 2017 version of the Cincinnati Bengals look like they’re done.
It’s time to see what we have, if anything, and get ready for next year. It is time to let the younger guys play, up and down the line.
Let’s begin with the offensive line and, specifically, the offensive tackles. Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher are among the worst starting tackles in the NFL, and Andre Smith is not much better. Unfortunately for the Bengals, there really are not any other options.
Besides those three, the only other offensive linemen on the Bengals’ roster are former UCLA standout guard Alex Redmond, an undrafted free agent, former University of South Carolina center and seventh-round pick T.J. Johnson, who has already started in place of an injured Trey Hopkins at guard, and guard Christian Westerman, a fifth-round selection out of Arizona State.
So what we have at offensive tackle is what we have. It does not get any better, but it can get worse. One place where the Bengals can make a change is at center, where Russell Bodine continues his struggles and is consistently ranked as among the worst centers in the NFL.
Johnson saw some action last year at center and is currently listed as the backup center. Westerman is extremely quick and athletic and would offer Cincinnati a dimension at that position that it has not seen in quite some time.
All things considered, Andy Dalton has done an admirable job at quarterback in the face of terrible line play. But, with the season all but over, why not give A.J. McCarron a chance to prove that he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. It is a scenario that could prove to be beneficial to both McCarron and the Bengals.
If, as Cincinnati believes, McCarron is set to be a restricted free agent next year, then giving him an opportunity to play now will only increase any potential return that the Bengals hope to achieve if and when he leaves. We know that the Browns are interested in McCarron, and a good showing for the rest of this season would probably result in the Bengals placing a first-round tender on him.
And, if McCarron is given a chance to prove his worth, Cincinnati may just decide to keep him. Dalton, after all, is finished with the guaranteed portion of his contract this year, and the Bengals can decide to trade or release him without suffering any salary-cap hit at all.
With the unrest surrounding Kirk Cousins in Washington, and with Jay Gruden, Dalton’s old offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, calling the shots for the Redskins, his trade value could be extremely high – even higher than McCarron’s.
Because of an apparent injury to Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati started Joe Mixon at running back, with Giovani Bernard, as usual, the third-down back. As long as the offensive line continues to struggle, it really does is not going to matter who starts back there. But let’s continue to give the rock to Mixon and ride with him for the rest of the season.
As far as the receiving corps is concerned, there is no way that the Bengals would or should even consider sitting A.J. Green. But they can start Josh Malone or Cody Core in place of Brandon LaFell, and move John Ross into the slot. Let’s see just what kind of an advantage that kind of speed would really give them.
On defense, why not start Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson on the outside and substitute Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap only sparingly, giving these two an opportunity to be well rested and fully healthy going into 2018. The rotation at defensive tackle is about the best we can hope for, with Ryan Glasgow spelling Geno Atkins and Andrew Billings filling in for Pat Sims.
Jordan Evans, as the best cover linebacker the Bengals’ have, should get the start at will linebacker with Vontaze Burfict in the middle and Nick Vigil on the strong side.
It is more than time to put William Jackson, III in at right cornerback in place of Adam Jones, and let Jones concentrate his abilities on punt returns and as a fourth cornerback in obvious passing situations. Dre Kirkpatrick would continue to man the left cornerback slot, with Darqueze Dennard in the slot.
The safety positions of George Iloka and Shawn Williams are safe, with Clayton Fejedelem the first man off the bench. Josh Shaw has been seeing plenty of action at both cornerback and safety.
So, in the end, there are not as many changes to be made as one might imagine. But the ones that could be made should be made, and let’s see how far this team can go under new direction. We could be in for a surprise.