As the new season approaches, every team is making their final preparations for the opening pre-season games. Now is the time of year when fans start to piece together and try to formulate how final rosters will likely turn out. From provisional depth charts to beat writer’s video snippets we start to find out how the rookies are faring and whether the old heads are still holding on to their jobs. Inside Zone takes a look into the Cincinnati Bengals, who after a down season last year will be looking to rebound and with a roster overhaul training camp has made interesting viewing. Here’s five takeaways:
Speed kills, Mixon and Ross add vigour to a stale Offense
John Ross may have seemed an unlikely pick for many NFL observers, given the Cincinnati Bengals had taken Tyler Boyd in the 2nd round last year and had glaring needs on both the defensive and offensive lines but early buzz from camp was that despite recovering from a shoulder injury, Ross’s speed and movement ability was clear, he might not play a large role straight away but he has shown enough to whet the appetite of Bengals onlookers.
Second round selection Joe Mixon is another offensive piece who made an immediate impression in camp. Despite being listed as third running back on the depth chart Mixon’s ability and gap vision was clear when ripping off a couple of big runs. The Bengals will be keen to keep attention off Mixon during pre-season but don’t be surprised if he supplants Jeremy Hill sooner than later.
Cincy’s biggest concern remains exactly that
The Bengals don’t believe in overpaying and they had no intention of making Kevin Zeitler the highest paid guard in the league and having drafted two young offensive tackles they felt the time was right to move on from veteran Andrew Whitworth. Losing both was a major blow to the offensive line and early signs in training camp were that there remain big adjustments to be made. Cedric Ogbuehi’s troubles seemingly continued and prospective right tackle Jake Fisher faced criticism from Coach Lewis for the amount of time he spent on the floor. Recent days have seen Bengals legends Willie Anderson and Anthony Munoz attend camp to offer guidance but the concern is real. One bright spot has been the development of Trey Hopkins in multiple spots on the line. If Hopkins lands a starting berth it may see the returning Andre Smith go to right tackle and Fisher be tested on the left side, the combination is athletic but untested at the NFL level.
Young Secondary talent is set for breakout year
The one game suspension of Adam Jones could yet prove to be a good thing for the Bengals as they will finally have to trust their young cornerbacks to take over in the opener against the Ravens. The Bengals have spent successive first round picks on Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson and the time has come for the two to show what they are made of. Jackson struggled with injury last year but made the early running to start on the outside with a couple of wow plays in practice. However, Dennard’s consistency has meant the race is still wide open for the starting spot and both will be keen to shine during pre-season. The eventual starter may even be able to cause the Bengals to consider moving on from Jones whose off-field issues seem to have resurfaced.
The pass rush is back but not from the obvious source
The defensive line play of the Bengals last year left a lot to be desired, Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are quality starters but a lack of support from the likes of Michael Johnson, Will Clarke and the outgoing Margus Hunt has meant that the Bengals have failed to threaten opposition quarterbacks with regularity. Jordan Willis was seen by many as a steal in the 3rd round of this year’s draft but it was a round later where Cincy may have found their real pass rushing gem. Carl Lawson showed plenty of promise at Auburn but was originally viewed as a candidate to add depth as a linebacker, early signs suggest his burst off the edge is something the Bengals simply cannot ignore. Even if Lawson doesn’t see much time in base formation expect to see a lot of him on pass rushing downs.
Second year players proving to be a mixed bag
The Cincinnati Bengals saw a lot of snaps walk out of the door at the end of last season and it is vital their young guys start to make the leap, however after numerous injuries there remains a lot of question marks over them. Second year players will be particularly important in the process but early training camp reviews are somewhat mixed. Linebacker Nick Vigil was last year’s training camp darling with coaches raving about his versatility as an enforcer and in coverage but Karlos Dansby blocked his path to the starting lineup. With Dansby’s return to Arizona it appears that Vigil has cemented himself as the strongside linebacker and could surprise those not familiar with the Bengals. Wide receiver Cody Core is another second year player who seems to have built on his early promise in what will be a tough competition for places in the receiving corps. In contrast, others from the 2015 draft class have seemingly underwhelmed, Andrew Billings was favourite to take Domata Peko’s nose tackle spot but finds himself behind veteran Pat Sims on the early depth chart, the hope is Billings can improve through pre-season as he adjusts to losing a lot of his first year to injury. Guard Christian Westerman is another who will need to reverse his fortunes in pre-season with observers claiming his work with the twos and threes as ‘ordinary’.
It’s hard to gauge from training camp where a team stands but it seems the Bengals should be much more dynamic from a much needed injection of youth.
The Bengals face Tampa Bay Buccaneers early on Saturday morning at 00.30am GMT.
For a different taken on the Cincinnati Bengals, read ‘Are The Cincinnati Bengals Doomed To Decline in 2017?‘