4 Cincinnati Bengals Who Could Take a Step Back in 2012

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVJune 1, 2012

4 Cincinnati Bengals Who Could Take a Step Back in 2012

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    There are a number of reasons why a player could take a step back in his production from one season to the next. A simple slump is often to blame, but so are shifts in personnel and coaching staffs that result in last year's stud being this year's disappointment.

    For the Cincinnati Bengals, all of these reasons could contribute to four players having a less-successful 2012 season than they did last year. In the following slides, I detail who these players are and why this fate could potentially befall them.

QB Andy Dalton

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    It's not just the threat of having a sophomore slump that could result in Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton having a down 2012—it's also the number of changes around him on the offense that could also contribute to it.

    Last year, he had two veteran receivers (not to mention a veteran tight end) helping him make the transition to professional starting quarterback.

    This year, those veterans (Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson) are gone, replaced by second-year players Armon Binns and Ryan Whalen and rookies Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. They join another sophomore player, A.J. Green, to make up one of the youngest receiving corps in the league.

    The most veteran receiver beside tight end Jermaine Gresham is slot receiver Jordan Shipley, who missed most of 2011 with a torn ACL.

    It's as though Dalton will be starting from scratch, and as such, he may have less success than he did last year. Growing pains are normal, however, and once the Bengals passing offense gets on the same page, should be a major threat for many seasons to come.

TE Jermaine Gresham

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    Jermaine Gresham may suffer from a down year simply because Andy Dalton has more proverbial mouths to feed this year. Aside from the four or five wide receivers set to see attention from Dalton, Gresham will be joined by another tight end this year, rookie Orson Charles, who should also cut into his targets.

    Dalton threw to Gresham 92 times last season. He caught 56 of those passes, for 596 yards and six scores. With more receiving options and another tight end, Gresham could have 350 to 450 yards in 2012 and far fewer targets.

    Gresham has proved effective for the Bengals, but if Charles and the other receivers also prove to be reliable options for Dalton, then by necessity, he could end up being less involved this season.

LB Rey Maualuga

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    Rey Maualuga took over the Bengals' middle linebacker duties last year after Dhani Jones departed for (presumed) retirement from the game. It was certainly a learning experience for Maualuga, who generally has spent his career as an outside backer.

    Maualuga is still learning. Though he had 88 tackles last season, one interception and two forced fumbles, he's not very adept at pass defense and was taken out of the rotation in obvious passing situations.

    Should undrafted rookie Vontaze Burfict put up a strong performance at training camp, Maualuga could lose even more snaps. Burfict is considered beastly in passing situations and if he proves to be a talented tackler on running downs, he could cut into Maualuga's playing time.

    There's also the fact that Maualuga could see a multiple-game suspension this year relating to an assault charge he picked up in February. Though the case was resolved in mediation, the allegations could result in a violation of the league's personal conduct policy. Clearly, any time away from the field will eat into his production this year.

WR A.J. Green

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    Should Andy Dalton struggle in his second season, then clearly the productivity of his top receiving target, A.J. Green, will suffer as a result. But even if Dalton doesn't have a down year, Green's numbers could still drop some.

    It would be a situation similar to the one I described earlier for Jermaine Gresham. With more receivers angling for Dalton's passes, Green could see fewer targets.

    The new crop of receivers vying for the Nos. 2 and 3 spots on the roster are far more dynamic than the two veterans they are replacing, and thus, Dalton may not have to rely as heavily on Green to make plays.

    There's also the fact that opposing defenses now have a full offseason to study Green and find ways to shut him down. Clearly, Green will be drawing quite the fair share of double coverage this year, and if it's effective, he simply may not be able to pull down passes—Dalton may not be able to throw to him as much.

    In his rookie season, Green pulled down 65 passes for 1,057 yards and seven scores. If he has over 1,000 receiving yards again this year, he may have to do so while getting fewer targets. That could be a struggle.