Pre-draft team report: Cincinnati Bengals

If Jordan Palmer has any chance of winning the Cincinnati Bengals starting quarterback spot for the upcoming season, the first steps will be taken on April 25.
   
That is when Palmer will gather most of the Bengals’ wide receivers, tight ends and running backs in Southern California for a week of workouts. It marks the first extensive workout activities for the team’s skill position players since the lockout began.
   
With Carson Palmer threatening to retire and head coach Marvin Lewis saying the team is moving on, Jordan Palmer is unofficially No. 1 on the depth chart.
   
“I’m only focused on football whereas past offseasons I’ve had other things going on,” Jordan Palmer said. “This is a great opportunity and that’s exciting.”
   
Even if the Bengals take a quarterback in the first two rounds, it figures to be an open competition. The team is also expected to look for a veteran either via free agency or trade.
   
After being third string on the depth chart in 2008 and ’09, Jordan Palmer won the backup spot last year but saw action in only one game — mopup duty in the Week 10 loss to Buffalo where he completed all three passes for 18 yards. In his first three years, Palmer has been in four regular-season games and is 10 of 15 for 59 yards with two interceptions.
   
Going into the workouts Palmer feels like he’s in the best shape of his four-year NFL career. He started throwing gradually in late February and has been picking up the pace the last four weeks.
   
Among those working out with Palmer so far have been Ken O’Brien, who was Carson Palmer’s quarterbacks coach at Southern Cal, and Rob Johnson along with his former high school coach, Bob Johnson.
   
“I’ve been working a lot on my release in terms of quickening it and being on balance with my footwork,” Palmer said. “I feel like throwing on the run is an advantage and the best young quarterbacks are the ones who use their athleticism.”
   
While Palmer did not want to run down who all will be attending, two not expected to be there are Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. Owens is an unrestricted free agent who won’t be back and Ochocinco has not attended an offseason workout since 2007.
   
With Ochocinco slated to make $6 million this upcoming season, many expect him not to be back as well.
   
Depending on when the labor situation is resolved, Palmer is not intending to return to Cincinnati until late June but did note that he would be back immediately if players are allowed to report back to their team’s facilities.
   
Nice fits: Wide receiver A.J. Green, quarterback Christian Ponder, running back Ryan Williams.
   
For an offense that has finished 20th or lower in the league three straight seasons, the Bengals are expected to address that side of the ball with two picks in the top 35.
   
The only lingering question is which of those picks will be used on a quarterback.
   
If Cam Newton drops to four, the Bengals would take him. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and head coach Marvin Lewis were at his Pro Day along with private workouts and a trip to Cincinnati. If as expected Newton is not there, then Blaine Gabbert would be a stretch, especially if A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Patrick Peterson are on the board.
   
While the Bengals do have lots of needs on offense, Peterson could be a tempting pick especially if Johnathan Joseph departs via free agency. The only way he remains is if the league functions by last year’s work rules since he would be a restricted free agent and the team has placed its highest tender on him.
   
A more likely scenario for a quarterback exists either late in the first round or early in the second. Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton, who are both considered to be the best fit for a West Coast scheme, should be available around there along with Ryan Mallett. If the Bengals had to trade up into late in the first round to get a quarterback, it would be a surprise. They have traded up only twice in team history and haven’t done so since 1995.

TEAM NEEDS
   
Quarterback: With Carson Palmer stating that he is done playing in Cincinnati, the Bengals have to address the position early. Jordan Palmer and Dan LeFevour are on the roster but they have thrown a combined 15 passes in regular-season games and are not the long-term answer. Whoever they draft, it won’t be a situation like 2003 where Carson Palmer got to sit for a year and learn the offense. He will be expected to play immediately.
 
Wide receiver: Cincinnati needs to draft a young playmaker who can stretch the field because Chad Ochocinco, Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell are all entering the final year of their contracts. With Ochocinco’s production declining the past three years and scheduled to make $6 million this year, the odds of him being on the opening-day roster are slim. The Bengals haven’t drafted a receiver in the first round since 2000 but they have squandered nearly $25 million in free agency the last two years in trying to find someone to line up opposite Ochocinco.
   
Safety: The Bengals could go into the season with Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson as the starters (Roy Williams is an unrestricted free agent), but could get caught short for the third straight year due to injuries. They could find a safety or two in the middle rounds but Lewis has already said that the quality in this year’s class is not good.
   
Offensive line: Guard is an immediate need with Bobbie Williams entering the final year of his contract and Nate Livings inconsistent. Depending on if Andre Smith can come back from his third foot surgery since being drafted two years ago, there could also be a need at right tackle. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander has done a solid job developing linemen, but those have been mostly undrafted players.

NOTES, QUOTES
   
–After having the hardest schedule in the league at the end of last season, the Bengals go into the upcoming season tied for the fifth easiest. It also features them opening with two straight road games and finishing with two straight home games for the first time in a season.
   
The Bengals open at Cleveland on Sept. 11, which marks the eighth time in the team’s 44-year history that they have started the season with the Browns. It is the first time though since 2005.
   
–Since the season ended and the lockout began, wide receiver Jerome Simpson has stayed in the area and is working out with defensive players until the lockout ends.
   
In the final three games last year, Simpson had 20 receptions for 277 yards and three touchdowns, including 12 catches in the finale at Baltimore.
   
A talk with head coach Marvin Lewis following the Week 14 loss at Pittsburgh helped serve as a springboard to Simpson’s late-season run.
   
“Marvin knew some kind of changes had to be made late in the season and see what us young guys can do,” Simpson said. “The talk kind of eased his mind because he knew that I was still hungry and wanted to win our club some games. We couldn’t do it in the last game, I had a couple of mistakes and fumbles but I think we could have pulled that game out. I have to learn from my mistakes.
   
“(Over the last three games) I got to show the world what I could do. I feel like I could have been doing that from the beginning but there’s a reason why everything transpired like it did. I just took it in stride. It spring-boarded me to the offseason to keep working hard and just keep that faith that I can do anything that I want as long as I keep working.”
   
–Defensive tackle Domata Peko, who has helped set up workouts among defensive players still living in Greater Cincinnati, hopes that most of the team will be back in town by early May and that they might be able to conduct workouts then.
   
Whenever work does resume, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth is hoping that everyone has prepared.
   
“You work and train hard and every time something happens (lockout related) it affects your mental focus on getting prepared,” he said. “You hope everyone is focused on training and getting ready so that when we do get together as a team we’ll be ready physically. We have to be accountable to each other.”
   
–Of the five quarterbacks the Bengals have drafted in the first round  — Greg Cook, Carson Palmer, Jack Thompson, David Klingler and Akili Smith — their record in 154 starts is 58-95-1.
   
By comparison, the franchise has drafted only one quarterback in the second round and he went 62-61 — Boomer Esiason.
   
QUOTE OF NOTE: “Honestly my best policy over the whole process is to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. A lot of guys are getting caught up making these statements. I’d rather listen to both sides and gather my own conclusions.” — Defensive tackle Tank Johnson on his thoughts of the lockout.