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2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals - 1st

by Shasky Clarke on Aug. 9, 2013

2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals - 1st

 

OFFENSE

 

Quarterback:

Two seasons with Andy Dalton as the starter, two playoff appearances, zero missed starts. It would seem as though the Bengals have enjoyed some stability at the game's most important position. But the truth is, Dalton has been streaky as a signal caller, mixing winning efficiency with missed opportunities, interceptions and a lack of consistent downfield accuracy. Dalton is an experienced, quick worker who has done a good job spreading the ball around efficiently within the short and intermediate areas. He is surrounded by one of the game's best collection of diverse weapons. Entering his third year, while he lacks top physical tools in terms of his height, arm strength and athleticism, he needs to be more consistent as a playmaker. His receivers and tight ends get separation, he enjoys one of the best offensive lines in the league, and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is insistent on having balanced play-calling, fully utilizing the run game. The biggest storyline on the team, Dalton must instill more confidence in his ability to be reliable in big games. Behind him, strong-armed newcomers John Skelton and Josh Johnson compete to be the guy should Dalton's average frame suffer a significant injury.

 

Running Back:

Cincinnati's backfield has experienced a substantial amount of change over the past couple years. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a physical, no-nonsense, efficient downhill back. He may lack much of a ceiling but he is dependable as a short yardage guy and a protector of the ball. The star of the group seems to be rookie Giovani Bernard, a somewhat slight but super quick player with great pass catching ability. Bernard should eventually lead the group in touches and provides big play upside to the running game. The other Bernard, fifth-year Bernard Scott is in trouble. He tore his ACL in 2012 and faces a situation where his skill set is already accounted for. Speedy Cedric Peerman was brought back after a 2012 that saw him average over seven yards per carry in limited action. Finally, rookie Rex Burkhead provides even more punch as an explosive, smooth downhill back even though he lacks great speed. The fullback situation looks to be fluid as Orson Charles figures to play a versatile H-back role with excellent blocking ability, and John Conner returns as a one-dimensional, power lead blocker.

 

Wide Receiver:

The Bengals continue to amass talent next to A.J. Green in the receiver group. It's hard to believe Green is only entering his third year given the sheer amount of production he has provided. As long as he's healthy, the Bengals passing game will enjoy one of the top two or three receivers in the league over the next several years. Smooth, physical Mohamed Sanu and fast, polished Marvin Jones look to compete for a number two role. Brandon Tate also has the speed and ball skills to take the top off defenses. Andrew Hawkins broke out in 2012, catching more than 50 passes and showing off top tier short area quickness and playmaking ability underneath, making one wonder what he would do in Wes Welker's place in New England. Even so, third-year Dane Sanzenbacher shares similar polished short area qualities and will be difficult to let go. All of that would be enough to give even Tom Brady a career year. Yet the Bengals have even more high upside, big play young talent competing behind those guys in 6'4” small school Tyrone Goard, Taveon Rogers and Jheranie Boyd.

 

Tight End:

Cincinnati may house the best tight end duo in the NFL. Jermaine Gresham is a Pro Bowl talent combining super athleticism with a prototypical frame. He has dropped too many balls but he displays the ability to create separation and make big plays down the field. Rookie Tyler Eifert provides more of a big wide receiver skill-set with terrific hands and body control. Playing the two together should help mask the lack of a star number two wideout while creating match up nightmares for opposing defenses.

 

Offensive Line:

This is one of the best and deepest offensive lines in the league. Andrew Whitworth, Clint Boling, Kyle Cook, Kevin Zeitler and Andre Smith return to start the season and provide great power and overall length. The biggest problem areas are at center and right tackle. Former top ten pick Andre Smith, in particular, has improved in the past couple years but remains a liability in pass protection versus speed and quickness.  Nonetheless, the guard position is a valuable and underrated position and the Bengals have a top three duo in Boling and the super talented Zeitler. And at left tackle, Andrew Whitworth is a leader and very consistent wall of a presence.

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Best Offensive Rookie – TE Tyler Eifert

Best Offensive Second-Year Player – G Kevin Zeitler

2014 Draft Offensive Position of Need – Quarterback

2014 Draft Offensive Suggestion – QB Casey Pachall, TCU

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive Tackle: 

The Bengals led the league in sacks in 2012, in large part due to the talent and disruption of their defensive line. It all starts inside with arguably the best defensive player in the sport, fourth-year defensive tackle Geno Atkins. A super athletic, unblockable force with 20 sacks over the past two years, Atkins makes his presence known on virtually every snap and has elevated the production of the guys around him. Next to him, Domata Peko is expected to continue his reign as a long time starting run plugger. Behind them, wide and massive Brandon Thompson could eventually fill Peko's nose tackle role. The guy with the biggest upside is second-year, former Penn State tackle Devon Still, a long and athletic playmaker.

 

Defensive End:

On the edge, the Bengals possess some of the tallest and stoutest athletes at the position. Expected to start are Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. Neither are necessarily elite one-on-one rushers but they are terrific athletes who consistently make life difficult for tackles. Veteran Robert Geathers is a slow but plus run defender. Wallace Gilberry is a versatile sub-package rushing specialist. And rookie Margus Hunt is a raw but uniquely tall, strong and fast athlete.

 

Linebacker:

Cincinnati's linebackers are one of the largest and more interesting and entertaining groups in the NFL. In the middle, Rey Maualuga was brought back to lead the defense with physicality against the run. The Bengals love outside linebackers with good size that can rush the quarterback. On the outside, the team will house a lot of competition behind two of the baddest dudes, veteran James Harrison and 2nd-year man Vontaze Burfict. Harrison shouldn't be asked to do much in space or in coverage and beyond that, he will be an upgrade over departed Manny Lawson as a rusher and nasty run defender. On the other side, Burfict has the chance to continue elevating himself into an elite class of linebackers. He is relentless, violent and a terrific tackler. Providing different skill sets, athletic Emmanuel Lamur got good experience as a rookie in 2012 and rookie Sean Porter is fast and tough. Fourth-year Vincent Rey has all the ability to carve out a role as well.

 

Cornerback:

This is the biggest problem area on the team. Leon Hall is older and has experienced some drop off lately but is still capable of being an impact player. Opposite him is a whole lot of uncertainty in terms of expected performance. Veterans Adam Jones and Terence Newman played a ton in 2012 with mixed results. They are still pretty athletic but will be products of Mike Zimmer's system. The team hopes for major things from second-year Dre' Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick is long and physical but may be somewhat stiff and lack consistent, top playmaking ability. Brandon Ghee is still trying to gain a significant role. Overall, the team may have to stick with a zone-heavy strategy in the secondary as they lack the talent to match up one-on-one much.

 

Safety:

The Bengals are still looking for stability at the safety position. Reggie Nelson, a rangy and aggressive player, has a fairly secure spot, but otherwise, the team faces more uncertainty. Cincinnati has put together a large, very physically imposing group who face some of the same challenges and shortcomings. George Iloka received the edge to start early on, but like Taylor Mays, his frame might be a liability in coverage and the open field. Rookie Shawn Williams has pleasantly surprised many in the organization in training camp with his own physicality and playmaking ability. The highest upside belongs to fourth-year Jeromy Miles, a prototypically sized, great athlete who has been excellent on special teams thus far.

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Best Defensive Rookie – S Shawn Williams

Best Defensive Second-Year Player – OLB Vontaze Burfict

2014 Draft Defensive Position of Need – Cornerback

2014 Draft Defensive Suggestion – CB Antone Exum, Virginia Tech