It’s officially the dead season of the NFL offseason, and Who Dey Nation is filled with equal amounts of excitement and curiosity. Without further ado, let’s get into some questions we did not answer on this week’s Orange and Black Insider
We received this text message on our OBI line from Dave L. in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada:
Great site and podcast! I look forward to both of your shows every week now :) Sorry—2-part question here: how have the LBs been looking in practice, even though they still haven’t signed Pratt? My 2nd question is what is taking so long to sign Pratt?
Thanks, Dave. It’s awesome to know that you all up north dig what we do. I’ll start with the second question, as that will be a shorter answer.
To be honest, I’m not sure of the delay here, though I wouldn’t be too worried. With the CBA that was signed back in 2011, rookie contract holdouts are a thing of the past. Side note: thankfully this is the case, as rookie holdouts absolutely crippled this team, both in the pre-Marvin Lewis era and even in the early years of it.
Dre’Mont Jones, the pick before Pratt in the third round, signed his contract with the Broncos a week ago, while pick No. 73 after Pratt, David Montgomery, also signed his a handful of days ago. Pratt’s deal will probably be in short order.
As for how the group has looked, that’s up to interpretation. While Pratt was a nice get in the draft and Deshaun Davis seems to be a boost in depth, the team really didn’t make splashy moves to bolster what looks like one of their weaker positions in this upcoming season.
Like many other spots on the roster, Cincinnati is banking on improved health and coaching to remedy issues. After all, the starting triad of Preston Brown, Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil missed a combined 23 games last season—often at overlapping times.
But, Burfict is now in Oakland, while Pratt hasn’t been practicing because of the contract issue. Like many other players have done this offseason, Brown and other stars in the team’s secondary have lauded the new coaching staff because of their approach.
As we talked about on the most recent episode of The Orange and Black Insider, the key to many position groups—especially the linebackers—is in the potential jump from young players. For instance, some forget that the Bengals used another third round pick on the position last year.
The differences between that guy (Malik Jefferson) and Pratt are noticeable. Pratt seems to be a bit more well-rounded and ready to play now, while Jefferson is that classic “low floor/high ceiling” player.
As it stands, plans for Jefferson are murky. He landed on Injured Reserve with a toe injury at the end of last season and still seems to be grinding for rotational snaps.
It’s also a huge season for Brown, who signed a three-year, $21 million contract this offseason. Even though it seemed as if the Bengals were bidding against themselves, Cincinnati clearly values what he’ll bring from a leadership perspective—particularly with Burfict out of the picture.
“I’m looking to take the next step as a leader,” Brown said to Geoff Hobson recently. “If I see something that’s wrong, it’s not just, ‘It’s all right.’ I have to say it. I just can’t let stuff go. You build bigger problems. “It can’t be, ‘If I do the right thing, maybe they’ll see it kind of thing.’ I have to be the vocal leader as well. It’s the perfect time for me.”
This is all a long-winded way to say that reports on the linebackers haven’t been glowing, but it’s been practices in shorts and a helmet so far. Some of the offensive players have noticed an increased level of cohesion from their counterparts this summer, which is great to hear, but the true test will come in a couple of months.
“Complex, but simple” is what some players are saying is the name of the game on offense this year. That may just be the ticket after a season of utter confusion under Teryl Austin.
We also received a very kind voicemail from OBI listener “Robert”, who, aside from paying us nice compliments, was bothered by the lack of love shown to the 2019 Bengals. Robert’s take of the team having amassed quite a bit of talent and wondering why it’s largely being overlooked is a question that most optimistic Bengals fans are asking at the moment.
If you look at the offense, the Bengals have overhauled the line over the past two offseasons, while also employing a trifecta of potent weapons at the skill positions in Joe Mixon, A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd.
Throw in a quarterback who thrives when the talent around him is healthy and more former first round picks looking to prove themselves in John Ross and Tyler Eifert, and you can see why those in the inner Who Dey circle are excited.
If they stay healthy and actually respond to Zac Taylor’s coaching when real football starts, this team could get sneaky.
That two-letter word may as well be inscribed on the team’s crest. Marvin Lewis, a man with recognized faults, did know how to accumulate talent in the draft and rebuild teams from the ashes to make them competitive. “If” Lewis had led the Bengals to any modicum of postseason success, he may have had a statue erected outside of Paul Brown Stadium.
We can also apply these “if’s” to names like Lewis Billups, Bill Walsh, Carson Palmer and many others when it comes to the Bengals. Heck, instead of “It’s about us” as the 2019 team credo, it should be “It’s about the if’s”.
To Robert’s point, as we review the NFL landscape this year, most pundits have the Bengals being at or lower than the 6-10 mark they held last year. Depending on how you slice it, Cincinnati had over 20 players land on Injured Reserve last year, including their star receiver and tight end, starting quarterback, as well as a myriad of other valuable starters and rotational players.
With these guys being back, a beefing up of the offensive line and a coaching overhaul to remove any staleness in the locker room, are we really to believe that this is a team that will fare much worse than a year ago?
Unfortunately with this team and their overall lack of success as a franchise, many talking heads default to the “because it’s the Bengals” mindset. It’s not hard to blame them, I suppose, but this is a league of parity where surprise squads pop up every season.
If you’ll remember, folks weren’t overly-hot on the Bengals last year, either. Then, all of a sudden when the media saw the team up close in camps, they were deemed “sleepers”. They temporarily proved those pundits correct until the predictable factors of Lewis and injuries hit the roster once again.
But now, it appears that the positivity on the team’s 2019 outlook from guys like Green and Mixon have trickled into the national limelight. Adam Rank of NFL.com is slowly becoming a believer, while Peter Schrager has tabbed them as a sleeper team for the second year in a row.
It’s very possible that Zac Taylor reaps the benefits of Lewis’ past hauls, while using his increased charisma and knowledge of the game to take the Bengals to the next level right away.
However, as I’ve been preaching this entire offseason, I think it’s still dangerous for Who Dey Nation to immediately expect the Sean McVay wand to abracadabra things in The Queen City.
Still, for now, it may be better that the team flies under the radar. Many of these players are used to winning—be it from their college days, or from their 2011-2015 run as a franchise.
Still, playing with a focused chip on their shoulder wouldn’t be such a bad thing this year. Let them be overlooked—better to be pleasantly surprised than massive let down, right?
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