Andy Dalton proved he has improved his arm strength, but when it comes to other major offseason questions about the Bengals, there still remain a lot of questions going into training camp.
Offensively, there still isn’t a clear consensus on who the No. 2 receiver is going to be. Brandon Tate, who hardly saw any snaps at receiver last season after being claimed on waivers following the last round of roster cuts, was one of the most improved players of the offseason but Armon Binns and Mohamed Sanu also showed improvement.
Binns was on the practice squad for most of last season but was making so many gains that some members of the coaching staff wanted to see him in a game while the team was making a playoff push. Sanu, who was selected in the third round in this year’s draft, also figures to factor into the competition.
To show how much of a roller coaster training camp can be, Tate figures to go into the beginning of camp as a starter on the depth chart, but he could end up not being on the roster by the time the preseason ends. Tate was the kick and punt returner last year, but faces competition from cornerback Adam Jones and rookie wide receiver Marvin Jones.
Head coach Marvin Lewis has also been pleased with running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and offensive guard Travelle Wharton, who were signed during the offseason as free agents.
Green-Ellis, who didn’t show a lot of versatility in New England due to the scheme, showed during OTAs that he is adept at catching the ball out of the backfield.
On defense, the secondary is still unsettled. Cornerback Leon Hall, who tore his Achilles in a Week 10 loss to Pittsburgh, has made enough progress that he could be ready for the start of training camp. With Hall and Nate Clements expected to be the starters and the Bengals expected to keep only five corners, a veteran is bound to get released. Terence Newman reaffirmed defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s confidence that he has not lost a step while Jason Allen is still adjusting to the scheme. Jones though missed most of OTAs due to a hamstring injury.
The bigger concern might be safety. After Reggie Nelson there is a steep drop. Taylor Mays, who was acquired last season from San Francisco, has the inside track but Zimmer still sees inconsistent play. Fifth-round pick George Iloka remains a possibility. Mays and Jeromy Miles are both in their third season but most of their play has been on special teams.
About the only thing that should be a constant throughout camp is that there are plenty of spots up for grabs, especially at the back end of the roster. If an undrafted free agent is to crack the roster, the best bet is at linebacker where Emmanuel Lamur and Vontaze Burfict have made early impressions.
Said Lewis in assessing his team at the conclusion of the offseason program: “We’re a bigger football team. I believe we’re a faster football team. The depth and development of our young guys has been impressive. That’s what will make it a competitive camp. It will make it competitive for the preseason and playing these games. That’s where guys will win or lose jobs, in playing these preseason games. That’s the exciting thing, is when we get out there against the Jets and open things up in the preseason, we’ll have a lot of guys playing for keeps.”
–When he was suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell five years ago, the last thing Adam “Pacman” Jones or anyone else could have possibly imagined is Jones speaking to rookies on the costs of bad mistakes.
That is exactly though what Jones will be doing when the league holds its rookie symposium June 24-30 outside of Cleveland.
“I’m at a point in my life where I’m not doing the same things that I used to,” Jones said. “Now that I’m grown up you are accountable for certain things. Everything you do reflects on you and the consequences are yours.”
Jones, who is in his third year with the Bengals, has volunteered the last two years to speak, but last year’s symposium was cancelled due to the lockout (the NFLPA ended up holding its own version).
Jones’ speech might take on greater importance considering the June 15 ruling by a Clark County, Nevada, jury which ruled he must pay $11.65 million in compensatory damages for his role in a February 2007 shooting at a Las Vegas strip club shooting. The ruling though will be appealed.
It was that shooting that led to Goodell suspending Jones for the 2007 season and being traded from the Titans to the Cowboys in 2008, where he had a subpar season. After not having a team in 2009, Jones signed a two-year contract with the Bengals in 2010 and re-signed for this upcoming season.
In assessing his early years, Jones was blunt: “I was pathetic. I had no respect for the money that I got. I had respect for football but not the business part. I still thought I was in college and didn’t realize the scrutiny that comes with the NFL.”
Jones’ message will have two points – keep a small inner circle and treat the game as a business.
“I want to tell them what I went through and hopefully not make the same mistakes that I made. Please don’t do what I did,” Jones said. “Keep a group of people with you. There are a lot of guys that come from the same background that I do who run into a whole bunch of money. They don’t respect the money. If they don’t, they will be in the same situation I was.”
For the first time this year, the symposium was split into two parts instead of all the rookies being there at once. The NFC rookies go first followed by the AFC.
Jones will earn $950,000 this season ($700,000 base plus a $250,000 signing bonus), but his spot on the roster is not set in stone. The Bengals added Terence Newman and Jason Allen in free agency and drafted Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round.
In his two years with the Bengals, Jones has played in only 16 of the 33 games, including the playoffs. There was a neck injury that caused him to miss 15 games and hamstring and groin issues that put him out for two games last season. Down the stretch last season Jones struggled and he had his worst game in the playoff loss to Houston as he was beat for one touchdown and did not do well in stopping the run.
While Jones said during OTAs and minicamp he is in the best shape of his career, he did miss time due to a hamstring injury. His only way to secure a spot on the roster might be as a punt or kick returner since both of those spots are open.
Lewis likes what he learned during offseason
–Coach Marvin Lewis will enter the upcoming season third for most regular-season games coached without a playoff win behind Jim Mora (231) and Norm Van Brocklin (173).
Lewis, who is going into his 10th season, has coached in 144 regular-season contests and has a career record of 69-77-1, which includes three postseason losses.
–With minicamp complete and players not reporting to training camp until July 26, Lewis was pleased with how things went in the offseason program.
Said Lewis in summing up the offseason: “We’re a bigger football team. I believe we’re a faster football team. The depth and development of our young guys has been impressive. That’s what will make it a competitive camp. The exciting thing is when we get out there against the Jets and open things up in the preseason, we’ll have a lot of guys playing for keeps.”
Quarterback Andy Dalton also echoed his head coach’s sentiment and noted that players on offense are picking up quicker on things and that the communication is better.
–While there is still a lot of training camp practices and four preseason games to go, Lewis did say this is the best group of undrafted rookies that he has had in his 10 seasons in Cincinnati. In 2009, three undrafted rookies – wide receiver/punt returner Quan Cosby, safety Tom Nelson and linebacker Dan Skuta played key roles.
The two that have been the most impressive early are linebackers Emmanuel Lamur and Vontaze Burfict. Of all the position groups, linebacker might be the easiest for an undrafted guy to make it because of the lack of depth.
–The first two days of Bengals training camp could be a logistical nightmare. Most of the practices during camp will be held on a side field but on July 27-28 the Macy’s Music Festival will be held inside Paul Brown Stadium.
The team has yet to announce how many of the practices will be open to the public or how many will be in the stadium.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
With the waiving of halfback Rodney Stewart with an injury settlement, the roster officially stands at 86. However with linebacker Brandon Joiner serving a prison sentence, it is more like 85.
Lewis said he doubts that the roster will be at the 90-man limit when camp begins. Cornerback Nate Clements (abdominal) missed all of the offseason practices but should be set to go for training camp.
–DT Devon Still (back) missed most of the offseason workouts but should be ready for the start of training camp.
–HB Daniel Herron (foot) missed two weeks of the offseason program but is expected to be ready in time for camp.