Cincinnati Bengals training camp is just days away and on Friday, fans will be able to watch as the team hits the field for its first open-to-the-public practice of 2017. This training camp will be a very different one for the Bengals than we’ve seen for the last handful of years. The team watched veteran leaders, Andrew Whitworth and Domata Peko, walk in free agency. There is also a ton of competition at plenty of positions, and a youth movement underway. Needless to say there will be plenty of intrigue when the Bengals open camp on July 28th.
Here are 10 reasons, in no particular order, to be excited for training camp and what’s to come this season.
1.) Competition at running back
This is easily one of the top sellers for training camp. Most of that is because of rookie running back, Joe Mixon. Mixon was a huge name during the draft partially because of the incident involving him striking a woman. Still, the Bengals are convinced he deserves a second chance, and he could have the talent to take away plenty of Jeremy Hill’s snaps this season.
Hill has been lackluster after exploding onto the scene in his rookie season, and many fans have been hoping for an upgrade at the position. Mixon could be that guy, and it starts with him looking good during camp. The earlier he starts to receive significant snaps this season, the harder he should make it on the coaches to keep him off the field.
Giovani Bernard may be limited for most of camp while recovering from his ACL injury last season, so keeping up on his recovery progress will probably be the most exciting thing about him during camp.
2.) First look at injured defenders
Last season we witnessed two rookie defenders lose their seasons prematurely as William Jackson III and Andrew Billings suffered training camp injuries. Both were billed as early contributors for their rookie year, so losing them before the season was pretty disappointing. Now, we get our first look at them on the field since returning from their injuries and the hope is at least Billings will be a major contributor—and potentially a starter—in 2017.
Jackson will have a chance to work his way up the depth chart (more on that below) and Billings has a chance to take Peko’s spot as the starting nose tackle. Billings will be facing some heavy competition though as players like Pat Sims, Ryan Glasgow and Marcus Hardison look to stick on the roster.
It’ll be nice to finally see these highly praised picks in action.
3.) Rookie pass rushers competing for snaps
Speaking of young defenders, the Bengals added a pair of pass rushers during the draft in Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis. Last season the Bengals struggled to get to opposing quarterbacks. The team only had 33 sacks and most came from Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap.
The Bengals are going to try and play Lawson as a linebacker, but most of his time should be spent going after the quarterback, so it really doesn’t matter where the team lines him up. Willis should be taking passing situation snaps away from Michael Johnson this season. This would be huge because Johnson struggled in his second season back with the Bengals rushing the passer. He finished the season with 3.5 sacks and considering he played most of the available snaps at the position, that is pretty bad. He could really show off early in camp and carve out a nice role early in his rookie season.
4.) Seeing A.J. Green again
I mean, do I even need to explain how exciting this is? We were all deprived of Green’s greatness after the Week 11 game against the Bills, during which he injured his hamstring. He didn’t play again for the rest of the season and now he is back and fully recovered. It will be exciting just to watch Green go up for those high point catches over defensive backs.
The Bengals offense will be getting a huge boost by getting Green back. It gets lost in all the offseason offensive additions, but Green coming back will easily be the biggest and most exciting thing early this season.
5.) Ken Zampese’s second season as OC
Zampese’s first season wasn’t as smooth as many hoped. It was also scarred by injuries. The Bengals were without Tyler Eifert early in the season, and their redzone offense suffered because of it. The Bengals offense finished 13th in yards per game, but they finished 24th in points. When the Bengals finally found themselves at full strength they still had to deal with Cedric Ogbuehi struggling at right tackle. Then the team lost Green and Bernard, and the rest of the season struggled to fill the void.
Zampese’s offense should easily improve with all of his weapons back, and he has a few new rookie weapons who are capable of creating big plays. Not to mention, Andy Dalton used the end of last season to learn how to spread the ball around to players not named Green. And, he’ll look to continue doing that this year.
Bengals offensive coordinators have had a history of taking a jump in their second season going back to Jay Gruden. Hopefully that trend continues for the Bengals’ sake. If it does, we could see quite a few fireworks.
6.) Seeing how the the cornerback situation shakes out
The news that Adam Jones will be suspended for the first game of the season just broke a few days ago, which increases the intrigue for this positional battle quite a bit.
The Bengals have quite a few former first round picks competing for snaps. Darqueze Dennard still hasn’t developed enough for the Bengals to trust him as a starter, but he did get some run toward the end of last season. Jackson is returning after spending his rookie season on Injured Reserve. Josh Shaw has shown flashes of being pretty good in the slot, which adds a pretty interesting wrinkle to this whole competition.
It is easy to say the Bengals should start Jackson on the outside and have Dennard play in the slot while Jones is out, but Dennard is better suited to play the perimeter where he can get physical with receivers. Plus, Dennard isn’t the most agile defensive back, so him having the advantage of the receiver only being able to go down field or inside is helpful. So watching these two battle for the right to play opposite Dre Kirkpatrick in Week 1 will be pretty compelling.
7.) First look at John Ross in action
The Bengals spent the ninth pick on the fastest player in the draft. Ross broke Chris Johnson’s forty time record during the combine, and for a team that needed to get faster, Ross is just what the doctor ordered.
Ross wasn’t able to participate in OTAs because Washington works under the quarters system, which means he didn’t graduate until after OTAs were underway. Plus Ross was still recovering from a shoulder injury, which he underwent in March.
We should finally get to see Ross in action pretty soon, though it may not be immediately during training camp as it’s unclear if he’s fully recovered from his surgery, yet. He is expected to be very shortly, if he isn’t already.
8.) How Dalton handles more leadership
During the past few seasons, Dalton has taken on more of a leadership role, but with Whitworth around it was never truly only his team to run. Now, Dalton is one of the longest tenured offensive players on the Bengals’ roster, and this is officially his team.
Dalton will provide the example for the entire offense to follow, and if he learned anything from the leaders before him, the team should run smoothly under his leadership. He already was a team leader and captain, but that has been taken up a notch in 2017.
9.) Will Kevin Minter improve the linebacker corps?
The Bengals went out and signed Minter this offseason to a one-year deal after he couldn’t find a long-term deal he liked. Last season, Minter played extremely well in coverage, but teams weren’t convinced it was solely because of him. Minter had the luxury of playing behind the best pass rush in the NFL last season in Arizona.
The Bengals are hoping he is able to prove he is great in coverage, and that he wasn’t a product of the system. Minter will be able to prove if that’s true or not starting in training camp.
10.) The offensive line’s progress
The biggest issue from last season didn’t get any better this offseason. In fact it got worse after the team lost Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler in free agency. Now the Bengals are relying on Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher to bookend their offensive line. They also enlisted former-Bengals right tackle Andre Smith to compete for the starting right guard position. Russell Bodine, everyone’s favorite center, is also returning as is left guard Clint Boling.
On paper the offensive line looks like a giant mess, but hopefully these players can gel and improve during training camp.