Looking for their first back-to-back winning seasons and consecutive playoff appearances in 20 years, the Bengals enter the 2012 season with the swagger of a Pro Bowl quarterback-receiver tandem that could be the backbone of a winning foundation for years to come (haven’t we heard that before?). There’s also what promises to be an improved offensive line and depth on defense that hasn’t been there before. That wrapped up with the return of both coordinators, Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer, offers optimism of the guarded variety, which is the only kind veteran Bengal watchers should allow themselves.
One reason for that type of optimism is that, for the most part, there are not questions of who will fill out the roster spots as much as which players will be cut. There’s more depth going into camp than in recent years.
Here are the biggest questions:
Cornerback: The team used one of its first-round picks on Alabama cornerback Dre Kilpatrick to be a starter from Day 1. At worst, he’s the third cornerback, depending on the health of Leon Hall and Nate Clements. The team also signed Terrence Newman, Shaun Prater and Jason Allen. It seems unlikely all of them will be with the team when the season starts Sept. 10 in Baltimore.
Safety: Reggie Nelson is the starter at free safety, and Taylor Mays will get the first crack to replace Chris Crocker as the team’s strong safety. Rookie George Iloka could be a factor in the competition.
Running back: The team signed BenJarvis Green-Ellis to be its starter, but Bernard Scott should have an expanded role. Brian Leonard should make the team in the third-down role, but watch out for the competition between Cedric Peerman and Dan “Boom” Herron, the Ohio State product.
Wide receiver: We know A.J. Green will be there, but the question is who lines up opposite him? Brandon Tate and former Bearcat Armon Binns are the incumbents, while rookie Mohamed Sanu has a chance to step in and take that job. Last season Sanu had a Big East record 112 catches, breaking the previous mark of 92 set by Larry Fitzgerald. Jordan Shipley is back in the slot and his return should help on special teams.
Defensive tackle: Pat Sims has looked great at times and disappeared at times. The Bengals drafted Devon Still and Brandon Thompson, which is a sign that they think they can improve over Sims.
Linebacker: Can Rey Maualuga live up to his great talents? He looked better back in the middle last season, but still missed too many tackles. The defense all starts with him.
Thinking Out Loud
Aroldis Chapman recently settled his speeding ticket from Grove City, Ohio, paying a $150 fine and $89 in court costs. While Chapman cleared up that legal hurdle (or stepped over that anthill), on the field he’s been better than ever in the last month. From June 26 to July 22, he appeared in 11 games and struck out 25 of the 36 batters he faced. He hasn’t allowed more than one base runner in any of those appearances, and in all but one he struck out at least two batters. In short, he’s been better than ever. And that’s good news for the Reds. ... Also good news for the Reds is seeing Johnny Cueto bounce back from his blister. After having his post-All-Star Game start pushed back, he’s thrown at least six innings in each of his two starts. ... The streak of 74 games with a home run hit at Great American Ball Park was broken on July 22 in a 2-1 Reds win over the Brewers. That game finished off an eight-win homestand, the team’s highest number of wins in a 10-game homestand since 1975. ... The Bengals have already sold out single-game tickets for their home games against the Steelers and Cowboys. ... Orson Charles is the player to watch during training camp. The tight end out of Georgia is a very good receiver and the combination of Charles and Pro Bowl tight end Jermaine Gresham could mirror what the Patriots did with their pair of tight ends.
Bengals Preseason Details
Bengals practices are open and free starting Friday, June 27 through Sunday, Aug. 19 and are held at Paul Brown Stadium and the team’s practice fields located next to the stadium. Practices at the practice fields require a free ticket for admittance, distributed at 10 a.m. daily at the north ticket office. Practices held at Paul Brown Stadium will not require a ticket. The Bengals will also play four preseason games:
Friday, Aug. 10: New York Jets, 7:30 p.m. (WKRC TV Channel 12, NFL Network)
Thursday, Aug. 16: at Atlanta Falcons, 8 p.m. (Fox)
Thursday, Aug. 23: Green Bay Packers, 7 p.m. (WKRC TV Channel 12)
Thursday, Aug. 30: at Indianapolis Colts,
7 p.m. (WKRC TV Channel 12)