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‘Tis the optimistic time of year for Bengals fans

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Some seasonal writers (cough, me) spent the offseason in hibernation. The fog of sleep is finally wearing off, but there’s some catching up to do.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Minicamp Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The middle of summer is always an exciting time of year within the beauty of our Queen City; Cincinnati sports (more Bengals than Reds) is typically loaded with optimism, which has even bled into Mike Brown’s annual letter to season ticket holders.

“My passion is to bring Cincinnati a much-deserved NFL championship,” Brown recently wrote, “and you have my pledge that our organization is hard at work with this goal in mind.”

Cool.

With training camp approaching, plans are being made, vacation days scheduled, sick days crafted, in an effort to reintroduce ourselves to Mike Brown’s pledge. Hibernating seasonal writers are waking up, hoarding fans are dusting their foam-fingers, jerseys are being washed, and printers are working overtime. No, that’s Carl Lawson, not Rey Maualuga. That’s Chris Smith, not Domata Peko. Meet Landon Lechler. Kevin who? That’s Josh Tupou. Is there a “Bengals roster 101” class somewhere? What do you mean Willie Anderson retired?!

While resting comfortably on metal bleachers under an unobstructed sun this Friday, you’re finally escaping life’s harsh realities to feed your fanatical mind. You come to believe that Andy Dalton is the most accurate quarterback in NFL history. That Geno Atkins, mirroring his quiet persona as a slightly indistinguishable player within a crowd, is an annual NFL defensive player of the year contender. That A.J. Green is ridiculously indestructible (and fantastically nimble), and best of all, you can schedule some quality time with your children; namely at dinner to explain why you shouldn’t repeat the words Pacman Jones says, during seven-on-seven drills.

Camp is enjoyable at first, but quickly falls into a stale routine if you’re a frequent visitor. Coaches teach technique far from curious onlookers trying to peek a listen. And that’s when players aren’t standing around, waiting for their turn. This is an obviously important aspect of practice for players, but doesn’t often translate into excitement for fans. Gone are high-impact exercises like the Oklahoma drill; fortunately, for virgin camp-goers, there are toned down versions of those exciting drills, but Oklahoma was specifically a hallmark of camp. Every so often, they hold quick seven-on-seven sessions where routes are run, passes are thrown, and footballs are caught. And keep your phone in your pocket in between seven-on-seven drills (the only real excitement during these practices). It’ll overheat. Often.

Yet, overall interest eventually boils down to five simplicities:

  1. Don’t get hurt
  2. Please don’t get hurt (are you HEARING us, Tyler Eifert?)
  3. Nice catch
  4. The surprising rookie that’s performing above expectations (aka, the Jack Kumerow show)
  5. How players who are returning from injury look.

There is specific optimism heading into camp this week.

The Cincinnati Enquirer writes that “all indications” are that Tyler Eifert will “participate fully” during training camp and optimism is significant, even if we disregard the dangerous disposition of projecting Tyler Eifert’s health.

William Jackson III, who suffered a season-ending pectoral tear during training camp last year, will also be ready. Jackson, who needs to generate as many practice snaps as possible, is a strong candidate to replace veteran cornerback Adam Jones, who will serve a one-game suspension, essentially for being an asshole.

Seriously.

In a letter to Jones, the NFL wrote that “extensive video documentation of the tone, tenor and nature of your interactions with law enforcement at the site of your arrest, during transportation to the jail, and during the booking process” was considered in handing down his suspension...

“As you acknowledged, your post-arrest words and actions reflected poorly on you and your family, the Cincinnati Bengals football club, and the NFL. While it is our understanding that appropriate apologies have been publicly extended, they do not completely negate your behavior and admission of culpability for the underlying conduct.”

Asshole.

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Since “nine lives” accurately represents Jones’ remarkable ability to survive in a league driven by character (what’s the online code for sarcasm again?), the Bengals will embrace his return with a full complement of cornerbacks against the quarterback-rich Houston Texans on Thursday, September 14. Jones, who is entering the second year of a three-year contract extension and is scheduled to earn $6.4 million in 2017, needs a rebound season after showing noticeable depreciation last year.

And while Jackson is a candidate to start against the Ravens on September 10, one accidentally inquires if Darqueze Dennard will make any sort of statement to reverse his denigrating status as a first-round bust. Opens Chrome. Goes to Bengals.com. Clicks on Roster. Yep, he’s still there. Cincinnati picked up his fifth-year option in April and he’s scheduled to earn $8.5 million in 2018.

Jackson, the redshirt sophomore, or ridiculously described as a second-year player in the NFL, is ready for training camp.

“I'm great," Jackson told the Houston Chronicle over the weekend. "I'm ready to get going. It was tough (last year). I'm competitive and like to play on the field. It was tough, but I embraced it. We're better now and I'm looking forward to the season."

Whether Jackson is a long-term anchor at cornerback remains to be seen, especially with hesitant Bengals fans viewing the health of Cincinnati’s secondary with justified apprehension. It took several seasons for Dre Kirkpatrick to find his place; or one game against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football several years ago. Dennard is entering his fourth season with virtually no impact in the NFL, and Jackson is expected to record his first NFL snap 500 days after being drafted into the NFL. Let’s wait and see before any crowns are given.

Much will be discussed in the coming weeks. How will the Bengals utilize their three-headed monster at running back, when they’ve historically struggled to utilize a two-back system? Will Giovani Bernard even be ready after suffering an ACL injury (note: it sounds like it!)? Hell, even if he’s healthy, should we mostly write him off as a ball-carrier, and expect him to become more of a receiver? Will John Ross participate early in camp with a surgically repaired shoulder? Is Josh Malone as good as they say?

So many questions.

I guess that’s why they have camp.