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The Cincinnati Bengals made huge strides last season as they went to the playoffs for the first time since 2005, an impressive feat given the relative strength of the AFC North. A resolute defense and spectacular debut season from quarterback, Andy Dalton, and wide receiver, A. J. Green, were enough to secure the sixth seed in the AFC, whilst the roster looks to only have improved in the off-season.
Many experts regarded the 2012 Bengal draft as one of the best, if not the best, in the NFL this year, and they were certainly helped by the picks received from the Oakland Raiders for quarterback Carson Palmer. They improved their secondary and offensive line dramatically with the additions of Dre Kirkpatrick and Kevin Zeitler respectively in the first round, while the likes of Devon Still (Defensive Tackle), Mohamed Sanu (Wide Receiver) and Orson Charles (Tight End) are likely to provide quality on the depth chart.
Cincinnati also did well in free agency, replacing the mercurial Cedric Benson with the more reliable running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and they will hope he can provide them as effective a running game as his predecessor did. Former Dallas Cowboy, Terrence Newman, also joined, strengthening a group of corners already featuring the likes of Kirkpatrick and Leon Hall.
Although second-year players, Dalton and Green, should have only improved with a full off-season under their belts, wide receivers Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell and Jordan Shipley have all moved onto new pastures, raising concerns about the depth of the receiving corps in Cincinnati. Veteran Brandon Tate will likely be the number two receiver while fifth round pick, Marvin Jones, has staked his claim for a starting position after impressing in preseason.
The departure of veteran guard, Bobbie Williams, didn’t seem too worrying for Bengals Head Coach, Marvin Lewis, due to the arrival of Travelle Wharton, but a potentially season ending knee injury to the guard will heap even more pressure on rookie, Zeitler and second-year interior linesman, Clint Boling.
Although a repeat performance of last season, which saw the Bengals finish with a 9-7 record and a trip to the playoffs, would likely be seen as a success by both the front office and fans alike, it is not incomprehensible for Cincinnati to be targeting greater things. With an ever-improving defense, the spotlight will fall on the offense. If the offensive line gels quickly, and Dalton and Green continue their development from last season, the Bengals could well move above Pittsburgh, whose troubles have been well documented this off-season, in the hierarchy of the AFC North.
Image Courtesy of Cincinnati Bengals