Change is sweeping through the Cincinnati Bengals. With 40 new faces on the roster, name tags might be a requirement the first week of training camp.
The makeover was necessitated by consecutive losing seasons and an endless barrage of turmoil. But the change was regulated to the players as the coaching staff remains together.
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has returned for another season and should be playing with a full armament of weapons. After unleashing Carson Palmer on the NFL in 2005-'06, injuries, off the field issues and an ineffective offensive line forced Bratkowski to water down the offense.
Last season was a lost one for Palmer, which ended up being a blessing in disguise. Bratkowski witnessed an offensive line that allowed 51 sacks, a nightmarish number for any coordinator. The inability to protect the quarterback forced Bratkowski into maximum pass protection mood, resulting in a vanilla offense.
The decimated offensive line has been retooled. Rookie Andre Smith has moved into the right tackle slot. The sixth overall pick will not enjoy a learning curve and is expected to start week one.
Andrew Whitworth has moved from the inside and now is responsible for protecting Palmer’s blind side at right tackle. Toss in center Kyle Cook and the Bengals will have two players in Smith and Cook with zero NFL snaps and Whitworth a converted guard playing left tackle.
The change may seem extreme, but Marvin Lewis noted the goal is to put the best five players on the field. Even with minimum success, then the unit will exceed the play of last year.
Bratkowski has a wide receiver quartet capable of retuning the explosion to the Bengals offense. Free agent Laveranues Coles will team with Chad Johnson and Chris Henry as Palmer’s main targets. Second year player Jerome Simpson is capable of providing Bratkowski with numerous options creating a diverse and explosive passing game.
If the offensive line molds into an effective unit, the weapons are certainly there for Bratkowski to open the play book and return some swagger to the Bengals offense.
Defensively, the word is seasoning more than it is change. Now in their second year under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the defense sits ready for a solid season.
Zimmer, who promotes aggressive play, might just have the players for that approach.
Jumpy Gathers will be allowed to move around, searching for a weakness. Look for rookie defensive end Michael Johnson, a 6’7” 260-pound specimen, to become a sack specialist. The linebackers should be the strength of the team led by second year man Keith Rivers, Rookie Ray Maualuga and veteran Dhani Jones.
Zimmer also brought in veteran safety Roy Williams, who played for Zimmer in Dallas. Not known as a skilled coverage guy, Williams will add veteran leadership and running stuffing skills.
The philosophy for both the offensive and defensive units is simple; attack the opponent. It is question that will have an answer very soon.
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