It has been an eventful offseason for the Cincinnati Bengals, all leading up to hope for better results and a run at the Super Bowl. For the last month, practices have been held to begin the process of preparing the team for the upcoming season. There have been many interesting developments, piquing our interest and beginning to shed light on what we’ll be most interested in come training camp. For now, the players are off on vacation and won’t return to Cincinnati until the final week of July. Until they’re back on the field, here are the top five things we learned (or at least, what the Bengals coaches want us to believe) from OTAs and minicamp.
The Bengals are sticking by their plan of holding an open kicking competition
It would be a bit of a shock for anyone other than fifth round pick Jake Elliott to win the Bengals’ kicking competition this offseason. After all, he was the first kicker the Bengals drafted since Travis Dorsch in 2002. Suffice it to say, he made an impression.
Despite Elliott’s undeniable talent, the Bengals have insisted incumbent Randy Bullock and former soccer player Jonathan Brown have just as much chance as Elliott of winning the kicking job. Recent updates are consistent with the Bengals holding a competition, with special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons still claiming “No one has an edge. It’s all pretty even.”
The offensive line might not be as doomed as you think
Losing both Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler in free agency was a huge blow to the Bengals’ offensive line. At 34-years old, Whitworth’s age was likely a factor in the decision, but he was still playing at a Pro Bowl level as of 2016. Zeitler is just entering the prime of his career and is regarded as one of the best right guards in the NFL.
However, most accounts from the Bengals’ camp suggests Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher are developing at an encouraging pace. Clint Boling and Russell Bodine are still entrenched at their positions, leaving right guard as the only position whose starter is up in the air heading into camp. Andre Smith is expected to start, though a combination of Christian Westerman, Trey Hopkins, T.J. Johnson and Alex Redmond should give him a run for his money. At the very least, the right guard battle should be interesting to watch.
Depth chart at receiver up in the air
Here’s what we know about the Bengals passing game in 2017: Andy Dalton is the starting quarterback, and A.J. Green will set the pace for all the other pass catchers. However, beyond that things look fairly uncertain, despite significant talent. Will star tight end Tyler Eifert be healthy and ready to make an impact for a full season (and hopefully the postseason)? Are C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Kroft ready to take a step forward?
At receiver, guys like Cody Core and Jake Kumerow have received praise from the coaching staff this offseason, but figuring out exactly what that means has been difficult. The Bengals have discussed their desire to roster seven receivers this offseason, but how feasible will that be? With so much young talent clouding the outlook of the 2017 passing game, it is still difficult to get a concrete idea of how the ball will be distributed behind Green.
Will Brandon LaFell maintain the No. 2 receiver role? How will John Ross eat into Tyler Boyd’s playing time? Where does Alex Erickson fit into this all?
We know the Bengals have talent at wide receiver and tight end, but there still are many questions as to how the depth will shape up and how playing time will be divided. What we learned during OTAs and minicamp is that we still need to know a lot more about this group.
Carl Lawson is going to be good
One of the Bengals’ top performers in OTAs was fourth round pick Carl Lawson. With some thinking Lawson would be a Round 1-2 pick, the Bengals seemingly received a great value when he fell to them in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Since arriving in Cincinnati, he has done nothing but inspire confidence both in his words and his actions. He has reportedly been manhandling the offensive linemen he is up against and looks as ready as anyone for the upcoming season.
Joe Mixon looks like the running back of the future
The Bengals selected Mixon with the running back position in turmoil. Given the struggles of Jeremy Hill during the past two seasons, Mixon was seemingly brought in to be his replacement. Additionally, Giovani Bernard is recovering from ACL surgery and may or may not be ready come Week 1.
So far, it seems as though all of the hype surrounding Mixon’s on-field ability was warranted. There is little doubt Mixon would have been a first round selection were it not for his controversial past. However, he is past that now and has shown nothing but reason for excitement on the practice field. So far, there are reports of him looking ‘like a beast’. Not only does he look appear to be another great weapon for Dalton’s arsenal, but he seems to be preparing to be ‘the guy’ in the backfield, long-term.