The Cincinnati Bengals have started their organized team activities to kick off the 2013 season. Aside from certain players who cannot participate due to injury, the team is fully intact at the workouts.
The Bengals need as many players—rookies and veterans alike—to show up and jell as quickly as possible.
The 2012 season did not end on a high note for Cincinnati after the drubbing it received from the Houston Texans in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
During that game—and also a good chunk of the 2012 season—certain players needed to step up and did not. Some of these players chose not to, and others were unable to due to circumstances beyond their control.
Now is the time for these players to step up and become key cogs on a well-oiled Bengals team. The new league year needs to start with excitement and determination, which these players could provide for this team.
Let's take a look at the five players who have the most to prove during the OTAs this year.
Andy Dalton has the most to prove early in the new league year for the Bengals.
Dalton was called out midway through the 2012 season by head coach Marvin Lewis. Lewis was concerned by the lack of leadership that Dalton had displayed up to that point.
While Dalton did improve after those public comments by his coach, he could have done more.
During the playoff game against the Texans, Dalton threw a costly interception late in the game and was seen on the sidelines laughing with then-backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. Dalton should have taken that opportunity to look over the latest still shots from the game or—at the very least—talk to and energize his team.
He did neither of those things, and the Bengals offense remained stagnant.
This season, Dalton needs to be more of a vocal leader, and that starts right now during the OTAs.
If Dalton can establish his control over the offense, it will do wonders for the confidence of this unit, which finished a mere 22nd in the league last season.
It all starts with the quarterback. This particular player has plenty to prove as he enters his third season in the NFL.
Mohamed Sanu makes this list for a different reason than his quarterback.
Sanu broke out last season and scored four touchdowns in a span of three games. Over those games, the Bengals offense seemed to click.
It seemed that Sanu was the catalyst.
Unfortunately, Sanu suffered an ill-timed injury thereafter and missed the remainder of the season.
Now, during OTAs, Sanu must prove two things to his teammates.
First, he must show that he can stay healthy and that his teammates will be able to rely on him to take the field every week.
Second, he needs to pick up where he left off. He has had enough time to recover and needs to show that he has not lost a step due to injury.
These things will not only help Sanu in the coming season, but they will help the rest of the offense as well—especially Dalton.
If Sanu can prove that he can be a reliable asset, his quarterback would regain his confidence in him, and the offense might ignite once again.
Jermaine Gresham ended the 2012 season on a severe down note. He was horrid as an in-line blocker—he was called for multiple false starts and holding penalties—and developed a serious case of the drops. He dropped six passes on 94 targets, which resulted in a team-leading 6.38 percent drop rate.
Gresham has now made a name for himself as an inconsistent player. While he did make the Pro Bowl last season, that is a moot point. So many players decline invitations that average players get the nod instead.
The Bengals view Gresham as inconsistent. They selected Tyler Eifert in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Eifert's selection puts the writing on the wall for Gresham. He needs to step up in every phase of his game or his days with Cincinnati could be numbered.
If he continues to struggle, Eifert and Orson Charles are waiting in the wings to take over the starting tight end position.
Gresham needs a fast start to the 2013 season. He needs to prove to the coaches and his teammates that he can be dependable. His quarterback needs to regain some faith in him quickly.
This veteran tight end might have the most to prove of any Bengal during OTAs.
Is there any surprise that embattled linebacker Rey Maualuga has made this list?
There shouldn't be.
Maualuga was ranked as the worst middle linebacker in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Throughout 2012 (and previous seasons) Maualuga struggled to shed blockers, missed open-field tackles, overpursued ball-carriers and gave up early on plays.
These are bad traits for a middle linebacker.
Now that the Bengals seem intent on keeping Maualuga in the middle for another season, he needs to take the necessary steps to become trustworthy at the position.
A defense is only as strong as its weakest link—Maualuga is that link right now.
This needs to be fixed in a hurry because a defensive system is built around the middle linebacker—just as an offense is built around a quarterback.
During OTAs, Maualuga will need to progress. He needs to shore up his tackling and become more engaging at the point of attack. Like Dalton, Maualuga also needs to become a vocal leader. This will help him to gain the trust of the defense.
This is all possible to achieve, but Maualuga has a long way to go.
Although he did not get much playing time as a rookie in 2012, former third-round selection Brandon Thompson will need to acclimate himself with the defense quickly.
With Sims in the game, the Bengals defense was one of the stingiest against the run in the NFL. With Sims gone, Thompson will have to fill the void on running downs.
Due to the depth and rotation on the defensive line last season, rookies Thompson and Devon Still did not get much of a chance to see action. This season, they should see extended playing time.
One of the biggest factors in the Bengals' sixth-ranked defense last season was the ability to stuff the run when it counted. Sims was more of a factor in those situations than he was given credit for, and this will be a large void to fill for the second-year defensive tackle.
Thompson needs to soak in all that he can during OTAs and prove to his teammates that he can serve as the run-stuffing nose tackle that the Bengals lack on their roster.
If he can make strides during OTAs, the Bengals defensive line should not lose a step heading into the new season.