When I started covering the Bengals at Cincy Jungle, I was cheery and optimistic about the team. I mean, why wouldn’t I be? I began in 2014 in the midst of the Bengals going to the playoffs for five years in a row.
There might not have been playoff wins but there was a lot to be excited about on an annual basis early on during the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green era.
Then during the course of the last two years, I slowly started to become less optimistic in my writing. I’d say it was more cautious optimism. I’d be hopeful and it would show but I wasn’t as confident in the team and it was becoming evident.
This offseason, my writing has probably been the least optimistic that it’s been since starting to write about Bengals football. And it’s not because I think the Bengals are going to be bad this year. I’ve just started to have less public trust in the team.
Do I think the Bengals could be good this year? Absolutely. Am I ready to say they’ll win 10 games? No, I am not. But in my questioning of whether the Bengals would win 10 games this season and whether the team is good enough to have a winning record, I heard from many of you who had extreme optimism in the team. There’s no time like the last week in June to believe your team is going to win the Super Bowl. And I mean that for every team. Bills fans, Browns fans, Colts fans, they probably all believe they can win the Super Bowl this year.
Ok, maybe not Browns fans just yet. Though, I bet you could find some really hopeful fans — and players — in Cleveland.
This all got me thinking about ditching logic and coming up with reasons why the Bengals could be not only a winning team in 2018 but a top team in the NFL.
As a franchise, the Bengals hate change. The team has been owned by the same family since its founding 51 years ago. Marvin Lewis has been the head coach for 15, going on 16 years. Andy Dalton has been the starting quarterback since 2011, despite sometimes lacking results. Many of the assistant coaches, front office personnel and team employees have been around for decades, too. But this offseason, the Bengals actually parted ways with a number of coaches — some by choice and some not by choice — and this could be an amazing thing for the club.
“No question. Change can be good,” Ken Anderson recently said, discussing the changes expected in Cincinnati this year. “He’s (Dalton) got a couple of new linemen that are going to help him and he’s got weapons at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield. We’ve got to get (wide receiver) John Ross healthy. It’s going to be fun for him.”
With an offensive coordinator who’s finally changing the playbook (Bill Lazor) and a new defensive coordinator with an impressive track record (Teryl Austin), plus a handful of new assistants (Frank Pollack, Daronte Jones, Matt Raich, Bob Bicknell), there’s reason to believe change is really coming for the Bengals and that could make a world of a difference.
“Everybody is responding to the coaches, getting ready to work, everybody is getting tired of the ‘can’t do this and can’t do that,’ I feel like everyone is buying into the new system and it’s really motivating guys,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick told Cincy Jungle.
2. Playing the young guys
Last year we saw Marvin Lewis actually play his young players. Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis both saw considerable playing time, William Jackson got to see the field. Even Josh Malone played 25 percent of the team’s offensive snaps and on defense Ryan Glasgow played 35.95 percent of the snaps. Bengals fans are reluctant to believe Lewis played and will continue to play rookies, but the proof is there. The young guys played in 2017 and I believe it’s because Lewis realizes he needs to win and do whatever it takes to win.
There’s more urgency coming from the head coach than in past years.
There’s no more time for guys to sit on the bench and learn. They need to get onto the field and learn. I think the proof from last year in this regard is one of the things to be most excited about this season, especially since the Bengals have had 22 draft picks in the last two years combined. Lewis is changing his ways at least in this one small regard and there’s reason to be hopeful about the young guys getting playing time this season. Lewis already said Sam Hubbard will be part of the rotation on defense immediately and that alone is something to be excited about.
3. Having a competent center
This point goes along with the first and second. For starters, the Bengals made a change at center by letting Russell Bodine walk away in free agency — whether they wanted him to or not — and then selected Billy Price in the first round of the draft. Second, playing Price as a rookie will continue the trend of letting the young guys get onto the field immediately. And the plan is for Price to start at center in Week 1. It will be so refreshing for the Bengals to have a capable starting center and someone in the middle of the offensive line who isn’t getting pushed over onto his ass on a regular basis. The problem here is that we need to wait and see how Price does at the NFL level. But back to my optimistic train of thought, Price will be significantly better than Bodine ever was.
4. Dear Tyler Eifert and John Ross, BE HEALTHY!
Minicamp didn’t offer much reason to be hopeful about Tyler Eifert’s health in 2018. First, he was limited as part of the alleged plan to bring him slowly into the mix and ensure he’d stay healthy. Then, he wasn’t practicing much at all and Lewis sounded incredibly pessimistic in speaking on Eifert’s health saying he didn’t know whether the star tight end would be cleared for training camp. Eifert missed nearly all of last season while recovering from multiple injuries and getting a few surgeries to fix those injuries. The expectation was he’d be fully ready to go by the spring. He even claimed he was fully-cleared to play prior to free agency, which was clearly not true. (See, here I go starting to get negative because how could you not when it comes to Eifert’s health...)
But with all that said, it’s June and I’m hopeful that Eifert will be healthy when the clock strikes 1:00 p.m. ET on September 9. If he is, the Bengals’ offense will receive a much-needed boost and a playmaker who can’t be stopped.
Similarly, the Bengals didn’t have first round pick John Ross for the majority of last year for a variety of reasons. He’s now been shining in spring workouts and offering a lot of hope for his future with the Bengals.
“I’ve been very impressed with John Ross. I told him when he was in rehab, ‘man I just need you to get focussed and you need to come back with a sense of urgency and you’re going to make a difference on this team,’” Kirkpatrick said. “He’s the standout guy right now.”
If Ross is able to make an impact on offense, it should greatly help the team, and more specifically Dalton and Green. Dalton so he has another capable receiver and Green so that double and triple teams are taken away from him as defenses learn they need to take Ross seriously, too.
Health is always a major key to success in the NFL, and the Bengals could use some luck in that department, especially with this offensive duo. If they are healthy, there’s every reason to believe the offense will be far better in 2018 than it was in 2017.
So, if you’re ready to buy into offseason optimism and you believe these four things are the difference between last year’s 7-9 season and a potential 10-6 or 11-5 or even 12-4 season, you can probably convince yourself to truly believe THIS is the Bengals’ year.
And as for me, I’m going to attempt to bounce back to my optimistic ways from 2014 and believe in this team’s ability to succeed. Because honestly, there’s no fun in being mad at Lewis and not believing in the Bengals. In June, you might as well have all the hope in the world because that’s what the NFL offseason is all about. And hopefully (fingers crossed!!), the Bengals will reward my optimism with wins.