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2014 Team Report: Cincinnati Bengals

Quarterbacks

Starter: 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 Backs

Starter: 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 hes 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 hes 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 Receivers

Starters: 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 was slated to be the full-time second receiver this season after spending last year platooning with Mohamed Sanu despite out-performing Sanu. However, a broken foot in training camp has his status in doubt. Jones will miss a few weeks, but it could be as much as half the season. Hakeem Nicks had a screw inserted in his fifth metatarsal in spring of 2012 and was given a 12-week timetable to return. Jones could either be put on PUP (out for first six weeks) or IR Designated to Return (out for first eight weeks).

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. Sanu was going to be relegated to third receiver duties, but Marvin Jones' broken foot will get him more snaps. Dane Sanzenbacher should be the team's primary slot receiver this season, but how much action will he really see as a slot receiver on a run-heavy offense with two competent tight ends and a dominant number one? Ryan Whalen provides 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 Ends

Starters: 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. Marvin Jones' broken foot could open the door for Eifert to become the de factor second receiver in this offense -- particularly in the red zone. He had a quiet season last year with just 39 catches and two touchdowns, but a second-year leap should be expected, particularly with the enhanced early-season opportunity.

Place Kicker

Mike Nugent: Kicker Mike Nugent was busy last year not on field goals (18 of 22), but with extra points (52 of 53). Camp leg Quinn Sharp will keep him from being too busy this summer. Clark Harris is back at long snapper. Kevin Huber is on track to return as punter/holder. If however he has a setback on his recovery from his broken jaw, the team added T.J. Conley in April. After steadily improving in kicker scoring opportunities for five straight years, the Bengals dropped from 9th to 25th last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Adam Jones, Mario Alford [R], Brandon Tate

The Bengals used both Brandon Tate and Adam Jones heavily in the return game in 2014, though Jones yielded the better results. The selection of receiver Mario Alford in the seventh round of the NFL Draft may add another player into the mix. Alford's running the 40 in 4.25 seconds at his Pro Day is a testament to the speed he possesses. The trio should give the Bengals a solid return group, though anyone counting on individual returners for their fantasy league may have difficulty knowing which to play on any given week.

Punt Returners: Adam Jones, Brandon Tate, Mario Alford [R]

Cincinnati split the punt return duties for the last three years between receiver Brandon Tate and cornerback Adam Jones. Jones had a slight edge in 2014, averaging 11.9 yards per return to Tate's 9.7. The addition of speedster Mario Alford may add another player into the mix this season, though Alford has been more of a kick returner, so likely slots behind Tate on punts.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Clint Boling, C Trevor Robinson, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Andre Smith
Key Backups: T Marshall Newhouse, G/C Mike Pollak, T Tanner Hawkinson, C Russell Bodine [R], G/C T.J. Johnson

The Bengals offensive line lost two players from last season, starting center Kyle Cook and swing tackle Anthony Collins. But these losses shouldn't affect their performance. Why? The short answer is that Collins wasn't a starter and Cook was putrid. In this center starved league, Cook is still a free agent after the draft, and that fact tells the story of his value. Trevor Robinson played well for Cook in 2012 but fought through a pectoral injury in 2013 and the team gave the job back to Cook. Currently healthy, Robinson is a better player than Cook and this should be a slight upgrade. The contest for the center position will be competitive, as veteran Mike Pollak, second year man T.J. Johnson and fourth round rookie Russell Bodine will also be in the mix. The team especially is high on Bodine, who put up a beastly fourty-two reps of bench press at the combine. The team traded up for Bodine in the draft and he reportedly has the endorsement of renowned offensive line coach Paul Alexander. Bodine will likely backup at first, but it's not unthinkable that he starts for the Bengals over Robinson. This is one training camp battle to watch. As for the rest of the line, Andrew Whitworth continues to do a very good job at left tackle, but has struggled with injuries recently. If the veteran can stay healthy, he and Clint Boling make a formidable duo on that left side. Boling is returning from an ACL tear but should be good to go for the opener.The right side of Kevin Zeitler and Andre Smith continues to be good but not great. In terms of depth, Marshall Newhouse will be the swing tackle, and the team hopes he doesn't have to actually play. Tanner Hawkinson received limited snaps as a rookie but still could be a potential challenger to that swing tackle position in the near future. The team is reportedly high on this player and letting Collins walk is an endorsement of sorts. Overall this line is among the better units in the league and should remain in the top tier if they remain healthy.

Team Defense

The one word you'd read over and over in this report is deep. This defense has as much depth in all three units as any in the league. The Bengals will count on a stout (and deep) defensive line to once again lead the way for their defense. Geno Atkins returning at full strength would be a huge step in that direction. Carlos Dunlap should continue to get pressure from the outside as should whoever they line up opposite him as long as Atkins draws double teams. The Bengals are just as deep at linebacker, if not quite as talented. Burfict has been everything the Bengals could hope for and more but there are plenty of questions about who will play the other two spots. If Leon Hall is healthy the secondary should be really good with the addition of Darqueze Dennard. Dennard has been praised heavily by the coaches early in camp.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Carlos Dunlap, DE Wallace Gilberry, DE Robert Geathers, 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.

Linebackers

Starters: 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 Backs

Starters: 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: 2015-05-03 20:21:26