Al Behrman/Associated Press
Andy Dalton is in a critical year, as the Bengals ponder his future.
Replace Michael Johnson’s Pass Rush Production
When the Bengals allowed defensive end Michael Johnson to depart via free agency, they were betting they could replace his 3.5 sacks and 41 hurries. Although the sack number isn’t impressive, the pressures are more indicative of his actual impact.
So how will the Bengals replace Johnson? Likely by rotating a group of players.
Between Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt and Robert Geathers, the Bengals will be versatile in their rotations, but they must still determine who will get a majority of snaps. According to Cole Harvey of ESPN, Hunt seems to be earning his share of snaps:
Hunt spent much of the spring practices working out at the left defensive end position, but like all of Cincinnati's ends he got moved around during the workouts to other spots. He spent time at the right end spot; other days he received action on the line's interior as a tackle in the team's nickel package.
And Hunt discussed the benefit of relying on rotations:
It makes us more versatile...We don't have guys to have to play that one position [they're normally at]. We have guys who know what they have to do everywhere. That makes it so much easier. So if someone goes down or if someone gets tired or whatnot -- you never know what happens in the games -- we're going to go in and be able to know what's going on.
Having depth along the offensive line is always a great thing, and for the highly talented Bengals roster, that will be a fierce competition.
Move Away From the Law Firm
Second-year running back Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill have been added over the past two drafts to challenge BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and now it’s time to use the uber-talented backs in favor of the veteran.
After running for just 3.4 yards a carry in 2013, there’s not much of an argument as to why Green-Ellis should continue getting carries.
Bernard had a great rookie season, ranking as PFF’s 10th-most elusive back in the league despite getting only 170 touches. His speed and open-field ability creates opportunities for chunk plays, and his receiving skills were good enough for a PFF fifth-best ranking among backs.
Jeremy Hill cannot be forgotten, either. In fact, he’s already getting first-team carries, according to ESPN’s Cole Harvey:
It's clear after the first two open OTAs that they are trying to see whether he'll be ready to be used regularly this fall. So far, Hill has gotten his share of hand-offs with the first-team unit alongside Bernard. The two have been in the backfield at the same time, in addition to trading roles as the lone back in single-back sets that get called.
The "Law Firm" should continue to feel the squeeze throughout training camp, as his skill set and physical abilities just aren’t on par with the Bengals’ young backs.
Determine the Depth Chart at Cornerback
Although it is one of the most talented cornerback depth charts in the league, the Bengals' group is aging quickly
Star cornerback Leon Hall is one of the best at his position, but he is recovering from another Achilles tear and is almost 30 years old. Though head coach Marvin Lewis said on Tuesday that if training camp began today, Hall would be in uniform, per Coley Harvey of ESPN.com, it's hard to ignore the fact that he's suffered significant injuries in recent seasons.
The team also has veteran Terence Newman as a penciled-in starter. The 35-year-old played very well in 2013, with PFF ranking him the league's 19th-best corner (subscription required). Newman continues to show great technique and ball skills despite his advanced age.
Former first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick is really struggling to earn his keep on the roster, as Harvey noted he was beat repeatedly by Brandon Tate, a mere depth player for the offense.
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick struggled to break up passes both deep and short against him. Kirkpatrick also seemed to struggle with figuring out exactly where Tate was going when he made a move. Perhaps it's simply springtime adjustments, but Kirkpatrick certainly will be one to keep an eye on as Cincinnati continues tweaking its deep cornerback group.
It’s possible Kirkpatrick is taking himself out of the equation in Cincinnati at this point. He’s been unable to positively impact the Bengals in his two seasons with the team.
As noted by Harvey, first-round pick Darqueze Dennard is getting on the field, a positive sign for the team as it looks to inject youth and a more physical nature to the position. Adam Jones is another talented cornerback for the team, but his role should be locked in. As PFF’s 28th-ranked cornerback, Jones hasn’t lost a step and continues to be a valuable player. Expect another productive season out of the former reclamation project.