7 Cincinnati Bengals Who Cannot Get Hurt in 2012
The Cincinnati Bengals are approaching a critical season in which the team could take the next step, but that requires the most important players on the roster to be fully healthy.
Last season the Bengals lost cornerback Leon Hall for the season, and the impact of the loss was not huge, but it could be felt.
This season the Bengals cannot afford any of those types of injuries. Their are key players that, if injured, could cripple the Bengals 2012 campaign entirely. Said players are either that talented, or the depth behind them is that that bad.
Here are seven Cincinnati Bengals who cannot get hurt in 2012:
Andy Dalton, Quarterback
David Kohl-US PRESSWIRE
This may be a bit too obvious, but if quarterback Andy Dalton is hurt the Bengals will struggle to win games without him.
Dalton is the undisputed leader of the team, and his absence would have a resounding effect on the locker room. His play on the field to date has been efficient enough to win games and he has the potential to be even better.
This is not to say that backup Bruce Gradkowski is a slouch, because he isn't. In fact, he came in for Dalton last year and the Bengals still defeated the Cleveland Browns. However, he is not on the same level as Dalton at this point and cannot be trusted to win multiple games.
Dalton going down for a significant amount of time would hurt the team, but it would also stunt Dalton's development and his chances of reaching his full potential in the next few years.
Andrew Whitworth, Left Tackle
Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE
One of the most unheralded players on the entire Cincinnati Bengals roster is left tackle Andrew Whitworth. If he sustains a significant injury, he will be dearly missed.
Whitworth is one of the better left tackles in the NFL. He has rare bad games, but for the most part has been a consistent presence for the Bengals since 2006.
The players behind Whitworth, most notably Anthony Collins, are suitable in spot-duty, but asking them to perform to Whitworth's level over the course of many games would be absurd.
Andy Dalton's blind side is protected by Whitworth, and without him the Bengals are going nowhere fast.
A.J. Green, Wide Receiver
Another all too obvious pick, if A.J. Green cannot manage to stay healthy the Cincinnati Bengals aerial attack could be in some serious trouble.
One of the biggest questions about the roster this offseason has been the issue of a No.2 receiver behind Green. All chaos would break loose if Green were injured and a No. 2 receiver has not been truly defined.
The Bengals West Coast offense relies too much on Green's skill set to function adequately without him on the field. There are some talented players on the Bengals' depth chart behind Green, but none have a borderline elite skill set.
Jermaine Gresham, Tight End
Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE
Jermaine Gresham is likely to see more passes thrown his way in 2012, and he is a crucial piece of the offense the Cincinnati Bengals currently run.
Gresham is an adequate blocker in the run game, but is truly valuable to the Bengals in the passing game as he provides a massive target for Andy Dalton in the red zone. He can also line up as a wide receiver, which produces mismatches for opposing defenses.
If Gresham were to be injured, it takes an important factor out of the offense. His backups are adequate but cannot produce in the same manner that Gresham does. He needs to put together a healthy season or the Bengals offense will stumble though 2012.
Geno Atkins, Defensive Tackle
Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE
If the Cincinnati Bengals were to lose the best interior pass-rushing defensive lineman in the NFL for a significant amount of time, things would go south for the team in a hurry.
Geno Atkins racked up 7.5 sacks last season from the defensive tackle position, as well as a countless number of pressures that altered running plays or allowed other defenders to reach the quarterback.
The absence of Atkins thanks to injury would cripple the Bengals defense. A large amount of pressures would be gone, and there is not anyone on the roster who can replace him. Opposing offenses suddenly would not have to double-team anyone on the defensive line.
Without Atkins the Bengals would have a hard time putting pressure on the quarterback. He is the heart of the defense, and without him things would get ugly.
Thomas Howard, Outside Linebacker
Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE
Thomas Howard was the unsung hero of the Cincinnati Bengals elite defensive unit from last year. He quietly racked up 99 tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles.
He is not the biggest name on the defense, but outside of Geno Atkins, was the best player on the unit in 2011. That will not change in 2012 unless Leon Hall is back to his old self. Howard has put up similar numbers throughout the course of his career, so it is a safe bet he will do so again in 2012.
Howard is a key component of what the Bengals do defensively. He gives other players time to rush the quarterback because he is stout in coverage. Howard also excels in shutting down the run. If he were to miss a large amount of time next season, the Bengals do not have anyone on the roster who could fully make up for his absence.
Reggie Nelson, Free Safety
Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
Reggie Nelson may have been inconsistent at times last season, but his production was key to the Cincinnati Bengals defensive unit being successful. Last season he recorded 85 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and four interceptions.
There is a reason the Bengals we so intent on re-signing Nelson this past offseason: He is perfect for what the Bengals do defensively, and the team was not going to find anyone in free agency or the draft that could come close to what he does.
This also means that there is no one on the current roster who could effectively replace Nelson. Nelson's solid all-around game and leadership are something the Bengals have not had at the position in a long time. His absence would allow offenses to run wild on the Bengals.