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2013 Team Report: Cincinnati Bengals
QuarterbacksStarter: Andy Dalton
Backup(s): Jason Campbell, A.J. McCarron [R] Starting QB: The offseason has been eventful for Andy Dalton. Following a third straight first-game playoff exit (this time at home against the sixth seed), Dalton has received a lot of criticism and questions as to whether he’s “the guy” who can lead this very talented roster to the promised land. Dalton’s contract was also an offseason topic. He’s in a “walk” year and is looking for his contract to be extended. However, his asking price appears to be making his team reluctant. This year is a huge impact year for Dalton, a player who had a fantastic statistical regular season – throwing for 4,296 yards and 33 touchdowns. Along with the postseason, another hurdle to climb is a new offensive regime. Former Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden left the team for the head coaching job in Washington. Dalton is very likely to throw a lot less in new Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson’s system. Jackson is a run-first, physical-minded offensive coach. Dalton’s attempts and production should be down, but his team may be better for it. Backup QB: Jason Campbell has officially reached “journeyman” status. Cincinnati is his fifth NFL team and his fourth in as many seasons. Even in his four-year stint in Washington to begin his career, Campbell had multiple offensive coordinators. He’s a smart veteran who is solid but isn’t going to be a long-term starter in the NFL ever again. Much of the buzz going into the draft was whether or not Cincinnati would draft a quarterback to push Andy Dalton. While it remains to be see if A.J. McCarron is capable of being that player, he is a proven winner at the highest level of college football. He doesn’t appear to be a player who can win games by himself, but with Cincinnati’s supporting cast, he could see success if ever pressed into duty.
Running BacksStarter: Giovani Bernard
Backup(s): Jeremy Hill [R], BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead
Fullback(s): Orson Charles Starting RB: Giovani Bernard is looking to build on a rookie year in which he showed great explosion and a penchant for big plays. Head Coach Marvin Lewis expects Bernard to “leap” in a similar fashion to Ray Rice as the Baltimore running back did from his first year to his second. Rice went from 107 carries and 454 yards to 254 carries and 1,339 yards from Year One to Year Two. Bernard had 170 carries for 695 yards last season. New Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson’s offensive philosophy should only help Bernard, as Jackson is a run-first coach all the way. Bernard could push 300 total touches this season as a workhorse runner. Backup RBs: Cincinnati selected Jeremy Hill with the 55th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He has a chance to take over the short-yardage and spell-Giovani-Bernard roles in what should be a very run-heavy offense. If Hill has a good preseason, BenJarvus Green-Ellis could be a candidate to be cut in a salary-saving move by Cincinnati. Green-Ellis would be redundant if Hill shows that he can handle the role he’s expected to. Cedric Peerman is a veteran presence who mainly helps on special teams. Even if Green-Ellis were released, Peerman wouldn’t push for offensive touches without an injury. Rex Burkhead played one game as a rookie last season. With the drafting of Hill, Burkhead has a lot to show if he’s going to make this roster. Fullback: Orson Charles was a tight end in college and was originally drafted to play that position for Cincinnati. His lack of progress combined with the team drafting Tyler Eifert in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft led Cincinnati to move Charles to a blocking role. He didn’t see the field often in 2013 as the team rarely used a fullback. Under new Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson’s run-first system, Charles may see the field more this season, but he won’t contribute in terms of yardage and touchdowns.
Wide ReceiversStarters: A.J. Green, Marvin Jones
Backups: Mohamed Sanu, Dane Sanzenbacher, Brandon Tate, Ryan Whalen, James Wright [R] Starting WRs: A.J. Green has been every bit the impact player Cincinnati hoped he would be through his first three seasons. He’s averaging 1,278 yards per season and has increased in yardage each season, peaking with 1,426 yards (along with 11 touchdowns) last season. His last two seasons have combined for 195 catches, 1,350 yards, and 22 touchdowns. Green is as elite as it gets. On the other side, Marvin Jones showed flashes last season, highlighted by a four touchdown game in Week 8. He should be the full-time second receiver this season after spending last year platooning with Mohamed Sanu despite out-performing Sanu. Backup WRs: Mohamed Sanu has been inconsistent throughout his young career. However, he provides great versatility after playing quarterback and running back in college at Rutgers. Sanu is a nice red zone threat as well with his 6’2” height and leaping ability. He’s likely to be the third receiver full-time behing Marvin Jones. Dane Sanzenbacher and Ryan Whalen provide possession receiver skills only and aren’t likely to see the field much in a run-heavy offense. Brandon Tate is mainly a special teams player who provides more value on returns than anything else. James Wright was drafted in the seventh round out of LSU, where he fell behind fellow draftees Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Wright has a very uphill climb to even make the final roster.
Tight EndsStarters: Jermaine Gresham
Backups: Tyler Eifert Jermaine Gresham should remain the starter at tight end for at least the early part of the year. The tight end corps should have different duties this season than last year, though, as Hue Jackson’s offensive scheme prioritizes the run. If passes are going to be caught by someone other than A.J. Green (particularly in the red zone), Tyler Eifert has the skill set that would lend itself well to those duties. He had a quiet season last year with just 39 catches and two touchdowns, but a second-year leap should be expected. He is unlikely to push for more than 800 yards, though, in this offense.
Place KickerMike Nugent: The Bengals re-signed all three of their specialists in March. Clark Harris is back at long snapper and Kevin Huber as punter/holder. At kicker, the team had two choices for signing - either Mike Nugent coming off of IR or his injury replacement, Josh Brown. They opted for Nugent, who made 19 of 23 (82.6%) field goals last year before missing the final four games with a calf injury. The Bengals have steadily improved in kicker scoring opportunities the past five years, from 31st, 21st, 18th, 11th, up to 9th last year.
Kick and Punt ReturnersKick Returners: Brandon Tate, Adam Jones After setting NCAA records for total return yardage, receiver Brandon Tate has carved out a role for himself as a solid returner in the NFL. He should continue a fifth straight season as the team's primary kick returner. Adam Jones was a standout returner earlier in his career and will be another option if the team needs, though Tate handled every kickoff for the team in 2013. Punt Returners: Brandon Tate, Adam Jones Cincinnati split the punt return duties for the last two years between receiver Brandon Tate and cornerback Adam Jones. Though Jones was the better punt returner in 2012, Tate had the edge in 2013 and saw a larger share of the returns as a result. Expect the mix to continue with the team favoring whoever has the hot hand, with Tate being the best bet again.
Offensive LineProjected Starters: LT Andrew Whitworth, LR Travelle Wharton, C Trevor Robinson, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Andre Smith
Key Backups: T Anthony Collins, T Dennis Roland, G Clint Boling, G Mike Pollack, C Kyle Cook The Cincinnati Bengals offensive line was beset with injuries last season, with several key players on the injured reserve list by playoff time. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth was one of those players injured by the end of the year, but he also made his first Pro Bowl in 2012. Whitworth is a top notch left tackle, who also boasts a touchdown catch in 2010 on his resume. Left guard Travelle Wharton was injured in preseason last year and could be a significant addition to this unit now that he is fully healthy. In Wharton's absence, Clint Boling filled in capably. Boling received additional money through the league's performance based bonus system, which is awarded to players who outperformed their contracts. Center Trevor Robinson parlayed an undrafted free agency signing into a starting position, and seems unlikely to relinquish this role. Robinson is a fiery player and could be a player to watch for grade increase as the season progresses. Still, Kyle Cook lurks and will try to win his starting role back this preseason. Former first round selections Kevin Zeitler and Andre Smith do solid jobs at right guard and right tackle respectively. It took a while but eventually the team re-signed Smith, preserving the cohesion score of this unit. Anthony Collins is one of the rare cases where the swing tackle is actually starter quality, and the team could actually trade him to a tackle-needy team at some point. Mike Pollak is an interesting depth signing and could backup Zeitler at right guard. Dennis Roland and fifth round rookie Tanner Hawkinson provide depth options at tackle. Few (if any) teams in the league have as robust options on the bench as the Bengals. Overall, this unit could be rise in the rankings to be listed among the league's elite, should the center position settle down and they remain healthy.
Team DefenseThe Bengals defense has often been a head-scratcher in that head coach Marvin Lewis was so strong on defense but that strength never translated fully in the stat sheet. That is changing, and the change is coming from a stellar defensive line. This group crashes the pocket and really attacks opposing quarterbacks. They have solid talent at linebacker and in the secondary. If former Steeler James Harrison still has something left, his winning experience should allow the Cincinnati defense to improve even more. They are a very good every-week fantasy option.
Defensive LineStarters: DE Michael Johnson, DE Carlos Dunlap, DT Geno Atkins, DT Domata Peko DE Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry, DE Robert Geathers, DT Geno Atkins, DT Domata Peko
Backups: DE/DT Margus Hunt, DE Will Clarke, DE Sam Montgomery, DT Devon Still, DT Brandon Thompson Starting DL: The Bengals front four has been the strength of their defense in recent seasons. This group is stout versus the run and accounted for 31 of the team's 43 sacks in 2013. At a glance the loss of Michael Johnson to free agency would seem like a huge blow for this unit. Consider however, that Johnson recorded 35 tackles but only 4 of those sacks. The reality is that this group has a great deal of quality depth as well as some young talent with big potential. They will once again set the stage for defensive success in Cincinnati. The official word out of Cincinnati is that Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers will compete for the starting job opposite Carlos Dunlap. Gilberry produced 19 solo tackles and 7.5 sacks as the Bengals third end in 2013. He is the strong favorite to come away with the title of starter. Statistically, Geathers has never been very productive. If some of the team's young options pan out, he may not even make the final roster. As a starter, Gilberry could be in for a big season. After a huge 2012 where he finished with 39 solo stops and 13 sacks, tackle Geno Atkins was on pace for similar sack production in 2013. A knee injury cut his 2013 season short after just eight games. Atkins has been present for the team's offseason activities but there remains some question about his being 100% for the start of camp. Brandon Thompson may see an expanded role throughout camp and into September. Atkins however, is expected to eventually make a full recovery. Domata Peko rounds out the starting lineup. He is not a statistical standout, but at 6'3" and 322 pounds, Peko is the anchor of the Bengals run defense as well as an emotional leader for the unit and a fan favorite. Backup DL: There is a great deal of potential behind the starting front four in Cincinnati. 2013 second round pick Margus Hunt was considered a raw talent when drafted. He saw little action as a rookie but could be ready for a significant role this year. The versatile Hunt has worked at both tackle and end during his football career and has the physical skill set to eventually become an impact player. The Bengals used a third round selection on West Virginia defensive lineman Will Clarke. Clarke was a three year starter, playing both tackle and end for the Mountaineers during his time there. He is expected to work mostly at end as a pro. Clarke needs to improve against the run and add some pass rush moves, but is a quick twitch athlete with good size and speed. He too has the potential to develop into an NFL starter. The wild card at end for the Bengals is free agent addition Sam Montgomery. Montgomery was the third round pick of the Texans last season, but failed to make the transition to outside linebacker. His scouting grade was actually much higher than round three but off field questions caused him to slide. This gives the Bengals yet another athlete with the potential to develop into a quality contributor. Devon Still and Brandon Thompson provide the depth at the tackle positions. Thompson stepped into the starting role in the middle of last season when Atkins was lost. He was a step down as a pass rusher, but Thompson filled in admirably. He should have a considerable role as the third man in the inside rotation.
LinebackersStarters: WLB Vontaze Burfict, SLB/MLB Rey Maualuga, MLB/OLB Vincent Rey
Backups: WLB Sean Porter, SLB Dontay Moch, OLB Emmanuel Lamur, OLB Brandon Joiner, OLB Marquise Flowers Starting LBs: Heading into training camp there is some question as to what the Bengals will look like at linebacker in 2014. What we know for certain is that Vontaze Burfict has emerged as one of the premier weak side linebackers in the league. He has shown no sign of the maturity issues (on or off the field) that caused him to go undrafted in 2012. Burfict finished 2013 with 113 solo tackles, 4 takeaways, 3 sacks and a touchdown. He is a playmaking every down linebacker who excels in both coverage and run support. After Burfict is where the questions begin. Rey Maualuga did a solid job as the team's starting middle backer last year, but when he missed a few games with injury, Vincent Rey was nothing short of spectacular. When Maualuga returned, he was relegated to a two down role with Rey continuing to see action in all the sub packages. The club signed Rey to a new two year deal and expectations are that they plan to get him on the field full time. The question is, how will they do it? There is some speculation that Rey will be the starting strong side backer then remain on the field with Burfict in sub packages. The other option that has been rumored is Maualuga shifting outside with Rey taking over as an every down middle backer. The later would seem to make more sense but until we get into the preseason, it will be anyone's guess. Regardless of how they lineup, the Bengals are strong at linebacker. Backup LBs: The Bengals have plenty of youth behind their starters at linebacker, but they are a bit short on veteran experience. In fact, Dontay Moch is the only backup linebacker that has been in the league for more than a year. Entering his fourth season as a pro Moch has 20 career solo tackles. Sean Porter was the team's fourth round pick last year but was lost to injury before the season. He has a high football IQ and the skill set to possibly become an NFL starter at some point. Emmanuel Lamur showed flashes as an undrafted rookie in 2012. Unfortunately he too missed all of 2013 with an injury. In the sixth round of this year's draft the Bengals added Arizona outside linebacker Marquise Flowers who is yet another project. He will compete with second year players Brandon Joiner, K.J. Schaffer and a handful of undrafted rookie free agents who are trying to earn a roster spot through special teams play. The bottom line is that depth at linebacker could be an issue for the Bengals.
Defensive BacksStarters: CB Leon Hall, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Darqueze Dennard, FS Reggie Nelson, SS George Iloka, SS/FS Danieal Manning
Backups: CB Terence Newman, CB Adam Jones, SS Taylor Mays, S Shawn Williams Starting DBs: The Bengals starting secondary is unclear and will remain that way until at least the preseason. Leon Hall is among the leagues premier corners when healthy. He is expected to be ready for camp after tearing his Achilles last season but is not a sure thing to be 100%. Terence Newman started in 2013 and performed well, but he will be 36 in September. Cincinnati has been grooming 2012 first round pick Dre Kirkpatrick for a starting job. Injuries have slowed his development but Kirkpatrick played well in a significant role after Hall was injured last season. To muddy the water even further the team used their number one pick this year on Michigan State corner Darqueze Dennard. Dennard was the top corner on some draft boards and a top three on nearly all of them. He will be given the opportunity to win a starting job right out of the gate. Cincinnati has not expended as many resources on the safety positions but they have addressed the need to a lesser extent. Veteran Reggie Nelson has settled in as the starter at free safety. He is not the most physical of players and is no threat to make the Pro Bowl, but he is a competent NFL starter with some big play ability. 2012 fifth round pick George Iloka started opposite Nelson for most of 2013. He was little more than a serviceable option. The team added Danieal Manning via free agency. Manning has flashed during his career and has plenty of starting experience at both strong and free safety, but he has not been a standout. Manning will challenge for the starting strong safety job and should be an upgrade over Iloka. All in all the Bengals secondary should be able to hold their own. They are talented at corner with both veteran savvy and youth. The safety positions may not be a strength but neither are they a serious weakness. Backup DBs: Cincinnati is very deep at the corner positions with Adam Jones and Terence Newman providing a veteran presence behind the youngsters. Jones has spent most of his four seasons with the Bengals as their nickel corner. He may have competition for that job this year. The team has much less depth at safety. They resigned Taylor Mays this offseason but hope to use him only on special teams. The wildcard here is Shawn Williams. The 2013 third round pick impressed during last year's training camp before fading during the preseason. He was inactive for games early in the season but played well in a limited role starting in week six. He could be in the mix for the starting strong safety job and is possibly the most talented safety on the roster. Last modified: 2014-05-15 15:21:41