NFL Preseason 2012: Stock Up, Stock Down for Cincinnati Bengals Positional Units
Two weeks and two wins later, the 2012 Cincinnati Bengals are starting to take shape.
While some have made bold opening statements, others are ringing the alarm bells.
With only two games left before the start of the regular season, it's time to take a look at which units' stocks are on the rise, and which are falling fast.
Andy Dalton may still be having some difficulties with accuracy, but he certainly answered the questions surrounding his arm strength on Thursday night.
Dalton's 50-yard TD strike at the end of the second quarter was reassuring after a competent but rusty Week 1 performance.
The offseason has given Dalton time to gain some body mass, enhance chemistry with A.J. Green and build some self-confidence.
It showed Thursday night.
Dalton said, according to cincinnati.com, “My arm feels great, and you can tell everybody that it’s not even close to what I’ve got if I need it.”
Backup Bruce Gradkowski once again put in a characteristically workman-like performance. Bruce is capable, not flashy—the consummate professional.
The highlight came on a drive that saw Gradkowski pick up 31 yards with his own legs and connect with rookie Mo Sanu on a 12-yard TD grab that won't hurt the young receivers quest for playing time.
No team wants to think about its QB going down hurt. However, the Bengals will be pleased to know that if Dalton misses significant time, Gradkowski will give everything he's got.
A.J. Green burst back onto the scene on Thursday night. The Pro Bowl receiver hauled in a perfectly thrown ball from Andy Dalton to give the duo its first TD of the 2012 league year.
The concern for the Bengals going forward will be coverage. Green saw double coverage coming fast and heavy on Thursday night, and it looks like that will be the norm from here on out.
The burden now falls on the plethora of receivers vying for starting jobs.
Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden seems to like Mo Sanu as a compliment to Andrew Hawkins in the slot (via the team's official blog):
[Hawkins] gets gassed sometimes. He’s up and down on the kickoffs, he’s on punt return and we need another one and a different body type. That’s Sanu—he’s a great fit.
Armon Binns and Brandon Tate continue to duke it out for the No. 2 WR gig. The Bengals have been insistent that each will play a role, but that could prove damaging to the offense.
The lack of a clear-cut No. 2 for Andy Dalton to develop a shorthand with could mean an increase in miscues and missed catches, especially with Green in double coverage.
Marvin Jones has impressed thus far, but numbers could keep him from having a significant role.
The Bengals may have a credible threat opposite Green by opening day, but right now, they're still waiting for someone to step up.
Jermaine Gresham went down early with a knee injury on Thursday, but the consensus seems to suggest that he will be OK.
The talented TE has struggled to live up to early expectations, and sitting out against the Green Bay Packers in Week 3 will do little to alter that.
Gresham is expected to be the No. 2 receiver on the team, and it's likely that he will be back and ready to go when the season starts.
However, with a disappointing preseason hampered by injury, it could be some time before Gresham really excels in this offense.
Colin Cochart and Orson Charles are willing and capable blockers, but with the former likely to hit the waiver wire and the latter being a rookie, Donald Lee will remain the team's No. 2 tight end.
Lee has proved a sure-handed and dependable addition to the Bengals tight-end corps and provides a nice contrast to Gresham.
He may not have the speed or playmaking ability of No. 84, but the Bengals don't need or expect that from him.
However, Gresham is yet to get on the same page as Andy Dalton, and his injury will only prolong that.
The Bengals running backs didn't have an easy time on Thursday night in Atlanta, but the unit is stronger than you might think.
With BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott sidelined with injury, the supporting cast has seen an increase in field time.
Both Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman fumbled the football on Thursday, but it won't concern Marvin Lewis too much.
Leonard is a role-player and will continue to play a factor in the screen game, particularly on third downs. He won't be looked to in the manner he was on Thursday during the regular season.
Peerman is likely to just scrape onto the roster and won't be asked to do too much, barring injuries.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis put on a promising display in Week 1, making something of nothing on more than one occasion. His sure hands and red-zone prowess will allow the Bengals to give the running game significant time in 2012.
Bernard Scott brings quick feet and agility to the fore. His hand injury is keeping him out right now, but he will continue to be the "change of pace" back in this offense.
Chris Pressley has his name firmly stamped on the fullback job and will continue to prove a valuable asset in making holes for the backs to run through.
When Travelle Wharton went down in Week 1, Bengaldom held its breath.
One week later, and everyone is breathing a little easier.
Second-year guard Clint Boling added to his solid effort in Week 1 with a stout performance against the Falcons.
Boling was already pushing for playing time before Wharton was injured, and now we're seeing why.
It could be argued that, in Atlanta, Boling and rookie right guard Kevin Zeitler put on more convincing displays than both Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth.
The tackles struggled against Atlanta's onslaught, and it led to Andy Dalton's having to throw on the run.
Kyle Cook is by no means a game-changer at center, but he's serviceable. The only concern is depth, given that the No. 2 center is now the No. 1 guard.
Despite the concerns, the Bengals offensive line is stronger and more talented than it has been in quite some time.
With two more games to iron out the creases, there's little doubt that this is going to be a solid unit.
The Benglas have really retooled their defensive line this offseason.
The departures of both Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker were disappointing, especially considering Rucker's career year in 2011.
Devon Still and Brandon Thompson have excelled in the preseason, and both will see significant playing time in 2012.
Pat Sims is being talked about by coaches in a similar manner to recently released Jordan Shipley, and it is likely that he won't make the final roster. It is a blow for the Bengals, as Sims is a solid run-stopper.
Domata Peko remains the face of the Bengals defensive line, while Geno Atkins looks ready to have another monster year. The Bengals also have high expectations for Carlos Dunlap, whom they hope recovers from his knee injury before opening day.
Recent acquisition Jamaal Anderson has had a pretty solid training camp and is a great depth man, having the ability to back up the left and the right defensive-end spots.
The D-line has been bringing pressure consistently through the first two games of the preseason, and the signs are promising.
With Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict sidelined on Thursday, it was Roddrick Muckelroy's opportunity to state his case.
He did so by leading the team in tackles, with five solos and two assists.
Vontaze Burfict figures to make the final roster, but with little playing time on Thursday courtesy of a Taylor Mays-made concussion, he'll struggle to leapfrog Muckelroy.
Rey Maualuga should be good to go by the preseason finale in Indianapolis, if not before, and has shown moments of great improvement.
Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson maintain their roles either side and have favorable depth behind them.
Dan Skuta and Vinny Rey are solid workers and have both contributed nicely in the preseason.
Banned strong-side LB Dontay Moch looks to get the axe despite a promising performance against the Jets.
As with the defensive line, the linebackers have hustled relentlessly in the preseason. Mike Zimmer's men are determined to be part of the No. 1 defense in the league, and they're doing all of the right things.
Reggie Nelson had four solo tackles and three assists on Thursday night, in a performance that reminded us why the Jags drafted him in the first round.
Nelson put on a tackling clinic, wrapping up defenders in textbook fashion.
The only problem was that, by comparison, Taylor Mays appeared to be a real cause for concern.
Mays excelled on special teams in 2011. However, it seems the strong safety plays every snap as though he's charging down a kickoff.
Two weeks into the preseason, and his wayward hits have sidelined both Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict.
Mike Zimmer isn't worried (via the team's official website):
It’s called friendly fire. Sometimes that happens. He’s playing aggressive; he’s not playing cautiously. He played pretty good in the game the other day. He hasn’t been in some real difficult situations lately. He needs to do better blitzing. He’s not as good a blitzer [as] I would like.
Elsewhere special teams ace Jeromy Miles looks to make the team, along with Boise State standout George Iloka.
Both Jason Allen and Nate Clements have been involved in the safety mix this offseason. If players don't live up to expectation, both of these vets are capable of playing the spot.
However, its a concern that the Bengals are already planning for that eventuality.
Reggie Nelson may be firing on all cylinders, but he can't do it on his own. Taylor Mays needs to build consistency, or else the Bengals will look for an upgrade as soon as 2013.
Dre Kirkpatrick returned to practice on Sunday but seems little closer to making it back on the field.
He won't see any snaps against the Packers on Thursday but could see action in the preseason finale.
The concern for Kirkpatrick is the learning curve he is yet to scale. With little time left to adapt to Mike Zimmer's defense before the regular season, and admissions about his lack of backpedaling ability, eyebrows are beginning to raise.
It looks likely that we are not going to see much of Kirkpatrick until 2013, a scenario that has already seen commentators slap a bust label on him.
Aside from Kirkpatrick, the Bengals have more depth than they did in 2011. With Jason Allen and Terence Newman backing up Leon Hall and Nate Clements, memories of the Wild Card loss to Houston have been put to rest.
Adam Jones is also back and practicing after his offseason injury. Less is more with Jones, who struggled when asked to play every snap in 2011. The nickel will be Jones' domain in 2012, and it's a role in which he can excel.
Kirkpatrick may be disappointing some, but the Bengals coaching staff has to like where this unit is now in comparison to back in January.
On Thursday night, Mike Nugent tied his career long with a 54-yard field goal.
“It felt great—a good, solid, straight hit—but the best thing was the whole operation by the unit," Nugent said, via bengals.com. "Perfect snap, great hold, good protection. When it’s like that, all I have to do is kick it.”
It is this level of kicking prowess that is rapidly becoming the norm for the franchise-tagged Nugent.
He went 33-for-38 in 2011 and set a franchise record with 132 points to his name.
Bolstered by a gutsy special-teams unit, the kicking game has thrived in Cincinnati over recent years.
Nugent will want to continue his stellar play with a big year in 2012, as the Bengals will want to lock up the stability he provides with a long-term deal.
Punter Kevin Huber had a career year in 2011 and continues to be a solid-if-not-special player. As with Nugent, Huber has the benefit of stout special-teams play at his disposal.