The NFL draft, free agency, spring practices, mandatory sessions and training camp collectively culminate into a singular ambition -- winning the Super Bowl.
What's the point of work if all this effort is in vain, leading to a comprehensive failure of the mission statement? There are obvious omissions, from teams rebuilding or the annual flunkies unable to break the chains of inadequacy. These stories are journeys toward a greater, lucrative picture, with each succeeding step more critical than the last.
In addition to unveiling $20 million worth of stadium upgrades at Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals continue their championship journey on Friday when they open their preseason against the New York Giants. Typically these games offer little movement in the overall schemes of projected starters; they instead highlight bubble players, who will receive significant playing time to advance their cause. If they're unable to make impressions on Friday, their opportunities dwindle as starters receive more playing time and additional repetitions occur with roster cuts incrementally approaching at breakneck speed. Here's the most important fact about Friday: What you witness on Friday won't be a preview of the Bengals’ regular season. Coaches are applying scaled down versions of their playbooks, looking for individual performances as summer auditions continue. The result will be as meaningless as watering your lawn during a flooding rain storm; ask a casual Bengals fan what Cincinnati's preseason record was during any of the last four years.
Wins? Big deal. Losses. Who cares?
Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will not expose their most fiendish plays during meaningless exhibitions, rather they’ll secure their golden designs within an impenetrable safe for games with more importance. In addition to his head coaching duties, Marvin Lewis will end Friday's game with a prayer offered to the football gods, either cursing or thanking them, in regards to injuries.
Cincinnati's starters, if everyone even suits up, might take part in a series or two; they could play the entire first quarter if the coaches are angry enough. AJ McCarron, as the primary backup, would traditionally carry the bulk of the first half snaps, but an injury has him doubtful. Josh Johnson might play three quarters on Friday. In fact, most of Cincinnati's efforts will primarily be placed on the shoulders of backups, as coaches continue their critique and analysis with players in game situations, all in a quest to develop the perfect 53-man roster.
If you're looking to advance the Dre Kirkpatrick versus Darqueze Dennard storyline, your time is probably better spent comparing the performances of Chris Lewis-Harris, Brandon Ghee and Josh Shaw, all of whom have had decent camps; though Dennard, who needs playing time, could see significant amounts of playing time in the first half.
Players like Jeremy Hill and A.J. Green, proven skill players, might play a series but overall concern for elite franchise players will always be injury. Why risk it? Keep Hill's legs fresh for a December stretch run, where he led the NFL in yards rushing during the final nine weeks last season, and reduce unnecessary risk for Green, who is finally healthy after missing several games on freak plays, which led to a toe injury and a concussion. Even wide receiver Marvin Jones should sit on Friday, especially with questions about his durability refusing to dissipate.
It doesn't matter if the Bengals win or lose; they might feel the result of Friday's performances before bed, but for starters and primary contributors, these games will collectively merge with other meaningless preseason games. As fans, preseason results are even more meaningless; starters won't be around very long and the plays they're executing will be so bland, it'll be like eating flavorless tofu. Most of us at Cincy Jungle are obviously interested; we're obsessive fans with a heroine level addiction (aka, lost causes).
Our general interest will encompass depth players who are fighting for a spot on the roster. How will Jake Kumerow do? Is he destined for the practice squad because of veterans like Brandon Tate, Greg Little and Denarius Moore? What is Tate's special teams contribution? Will Little heed Marvin Lewis' warning that this could be his last stop in the NFL if he doesn't produce? Keep your focus on second-tiered storylines and you'll receive significant attention to your observations. If you're interested in how Andy Dalton looks after another offseason with quarterback God Tom House, don't bother. He'll make a few slants, a square-in, and then a vertical nine-route. In fact, Friday might be the worst preseason game during which to judge quarterbacks, largely because our interest is firmly planted on McCarron to see what he can do in game situation; he missed all of the preseason last year with a shoulder injury.
Either way, Friday marks one significant achievement -- the start of the preseason for the Bengals and another step toward Cincinnati's glorious championship.