Will Hawk start? And other Bengals camp storylines

BY foxsports • July 28, 2015


OPEN CAMP: July 30, Cincinnati.

LAST YEAR: Reached playoffs for club-record fourth year in row, and became first NFL team to lose four straight opening-round games. 26-10 loss at Indianapolis left Andy Dalton tied with Warren Moon for most consecutive opening-round losses by quarterback. Coach Marvin Lewis fell to 0-6 in postseason, matching Jim Mora for futility. Cincinnati still hasn't won playoff game since 1990 season, one of worst stretches of postseason futility in NFL history.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DE Michael Johnson; LB A.J. Hawk; QB Josh Johnson.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Terence Newman; QB Jason Campbell; TEs Jermaine Gresham and Alex Smith; S Taylor Mays.

CAMP NEEDS: Figure out if MLB Vontaze Burfict can do much as he recovers from two knee operations, or whether they'll be relying on Hawk to start. Pick someone to replace Newman, who left as free agent for Minnesota. Leon Hall returns as starter at other cornerback spot, with Adam "Pacman" Jones returning backup. First-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick assumes he'll get Newman's starting job, but Darqueze Dennard -- another first-rounder -- will push him during most closely watched competition in camp. Also, AJ McCarron and Josh Johnson will compete for No. 2 job behind Dalton.

EXPECTATIONS: Defense slipped last season, ranking last in sacks, but that should improve with Johnson back and tackle Geno Atkins more than one year beyond reconstructive knee surgery. Bengals' window of opportunity is starting to close, with many of stalwarts in final years of their deals. Anything short of playoff victory would be unacceptable to team that spent lots of money keeping roster intact. Failure to make playoffs or first-round loss would be more evidence of need to overhaul roster, starting with quarterback and perhaps including head coach as well.

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