Monday, September 10, 2012

Cincinnati Bengals 2012 Preview

Are you ready for some football? Yes, Cincinnati Bengals fans, it's time to preview the upcoming season. So let's get to it.

1. The Offense.

The Offensive Line. Last year, quarterback Andy Dalton received too much pressure from the middle of the offensive line. To cure this, the Bengals drafted guard Kevin Zeitler in the first round. They also signed free agent guard Travelle Wharton but he was lost for the season due to a knee injury. Center Kyle Cook was also hurt and won't be back until week eight. That means talented second year guard Clint Bolling will start at the left guard. It means that the Bengals will start free agent center Jeff Faine. Am I worried? Yep. But there's still talent there. Zeitler and Faine were first round draft picks.

Less concern are the tackle positions. Andre Smith is beginning to look like the talent at right tackle the Bengals were hoping for when they picked him in the first round of 2009. Andrew Whitworth is the foundation of the line and does an exemplary job of protecting Dalton's blind side.

Receivers and tight ends. Your top receiver is A.J. Green. Fast. Great hands. He's one of the best in the league. But who's Dalton's second guy to go to? The Bengals have two cast offs. Brandon Tate and Armon Binns. Let's hope he's as good as he was when he played for the University of Cincinnati. (Footage from the Louisville game.)

The Bengals are pretty good at tight end. Expect Jermaine Gresham to split the seams and make some big receptions. Look for veteran Donald Lee and rookie Orson Charles to make contributions.

Running back. This could be a problem. The Bengals don't have a home run threat. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is solid and won't fumble. That's about it. Bernard Scott has speed but is untested as a starter. Brian Leonard will make clutch plays as the third down back.

Quarterback. Quarterback Andy Dalton made the Pro Bowl last year as a rookie. He's accurate as passer and has moxy. He'll only get better this year. Bruce Gradkowski is a solid back-up.

Conclusion. There are questions at the line and at running back. But I look for the offense to take a step up. The grade is B.

2. The Defense.

The defensive line. Defensive ends Robert Geathers and Carlos Dunlap are the starters. Dunlap is a stud. Period. Unfortunately, he's hurt for the first game with a knee injury. Michale Johnson is big and tall. Could wreck havoc.

Finally, the Bengals have some good talent at the defensive tackle position. Domata Peko is a solid run stopper. But it's Geno Atkins who will again shine. He'll put pressure on the quarterback. Look for contributions from talented rookies Devon Still and Brandon Thompson.

Linebackers. While Thomas Howard led the team in tackles last year, this group is nothing to write home about. Rey Maualuga needs to bring his game up a level. Manny Lawson needs to make an impact in blitz situations. Don't expect much from the rookie Vontaze Burfict. Though one hopes he will surprise us.

Secondary. Cornerback Leon Hall looks as if he has recovered from last year's Achilles injury. The interesting thing here is that four of the other corners were first round draft picks. They are Jason Allen, Adam Jones, Terence Newman and Nate Clements. Yeah, they're a little long in the tooth but hopefully their expereince will make up for lost steps. Don't look for first round pick Dre Kirkpatrick anytime soon since he was injured during the training camp.

Safety. The Bengals have Reggie Nelson doing yeoman's work at safety. And let's hope that Taylor Mays is in the right places in coverage. His athleticism makes him a force in the center.

Conclusion. The excellent pass rush should help the secondary. But the linebacking corp needs to step it up. The grade is B.

3. Special teams. The Bengals have a clutch kicker in Mike Nugent. Punter Kevin Huber also does an excellent job. The issue for the Bengals are the return specialists. Brandon Tate is okay for kickoffs. But the Bengals need more from the punt returners. Andrew Hawkins and Adam "Pac-Man" Jones look to be the candidates for returning punts. The grade is C+.

4. Management. I can't believe I'm saying this, but owner and de facto GM Mike Brown has made some excellent draft picks for the last three years. Those drafts plus the excellent draft of 2012 will set the Bengals for success for many years to come.

The Coaches. Head coach Marvin Lewis has the respect of the team. He knows how to motivate his men. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is more creative than his predecessor. That's a welcome development. Players want to play for defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. He knows how to get his players to perform at their apex.

5. The Prediction.

Look, I would like to say the Bengals will win the Super Bowl. But I have to be realistic. The schedule is tougher than last year. I predict the Bengals will go 7-9. I just hope I'm as wrong as I was last year. Maybe the Bengals win the Super Bowl. One can dream.

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