Alright, the Cincinnati Bengals have gotten a bad rap lately and deservedly so. After making the playoffs in 2005, nothing seems to have gone right. Marvin Lewis's record, after improving the Bengals record every year since he had been hired, started slipping right back down culminating in last year's 4-11-1 debacle.
But the general feeling in this year's camp is that things are going to be different. There are words that people are hearing like "contenders," "offense is back" and even the word "playoffs" can be heard circulating through and around the team. Depending on whose Kool-aid you're drinking, you either believe it or you don't.
To the people disillusioned over the past couple of years by the Bengal's brief rise and fall back to the laughing stock of Cincinnati, this is just more hype that will end in more disappointment. So why invest the time and energy in getting excited when it will ultimately end in disappointment, right?
Well, it seems I'm drinking the other Kool-aid. I just get that feeling that this is the team that's going to surprise everyone. I read the articles and blogs both good and bad. And I've read the comments of people who seem to comment on articles just to Bengal-bash. (If they hate them so much why do they expend so much energy on complaining about them?)
And being one of those people who is eternally optimistic about the Bengals, I just get a different feeling this year. There are things going on that I think change the typical outlook and the following is a list I've compiled to help encourage the average discouraged Bengal fan to look forward to this season and maybe even get excited about it:
1. Carson Palmer is back and healthy! After missing most of the season last year with a throwing arm injury, Palmer let it heal without getting the dreaded surgery. He says he's back at a 100 percent and those seeing him throw at camp agree that he's got just as much zip and depth as he had during his Pro Bowl seasons.
2. The most important thing next to Palmer being back is that he actually has a full arsenal of receivers who are ready and hungry. The competition at the spot is apparently heating up and bringing out the best if the whole group. Chad Ochocinco appears to backing up his rededication to the team through hard work and showing up in shape and ready to play.
Yes, his mouth is still going, but it seems to reflect the more positive and fun Chad that we first started to love (or hate). He's got a lot to make up for and he seems primed for the task. The acquisition of Laveranues Coles to help replace TJ Houshmandzadeh seems a great move.
They have many similarities in style of play and although he may not get the receptions that TJ did, he's still a formidable threat that may help draw double teams off Chad. Chris Henry is also shining in camp and appears to have shed his bad boy persona.
With his renewed focus look for Henry to really open up the passing game and give us a good look at why he was brought back. He also has a lot to prove to the fans and the organization that he's worth that 3rd/4th(?) chance. Other receivers who seem to be fighting hard for a spot are Andre Caldwell, Maurice Purify and Jerome Simpson.
3. The Running Backs are looking good! Kenny Watson is officially cut, but Cedric Benson is continuing to prove that he is capable of handling the majority of RB's duties, while a long list of other running backs are showing that we will be able to mix things up with different run packages.
Brian Leonard is showing that he is a powerful runner who also can catch the ball. James Johnson and DeDe Dorsey continue to impress with their quickness and elusiveness. Rookie Bernard Scott has a lot of people talking and even comparing him to Titan's 2008 stand-out Chris Johnson.
With a productive running game look for the passing game to improve that much more.
4. The Bengals got defense! Before Mike Zimmer was hired as the defensive coordinator, the Bengals finished dead last in defense. Since then, only one year removed, they finished 12th. And that was with glaring problems such as pass rushing and sacks, and tackling. They still finished 12th.
With a year under their belt, newly drafted defensive specialists in Rey Maulauga and Mike Johnson, pick-ups in Tank Johnson and Roy Williams, Keith Rivers returning back healthy and with a chip on his shoulder—we just might see the Bengal's play the kind of smashmouth football that will help them to compete in the tough AFC North division. Seriously.
5. Nobody but a few nobodies like me and maybe a few others are seeing it coming. Maybe HardKnocks is going to shine a little light on the team—but everyone is still thinking "The Bungles". Cake-walk! And also, they're not in the spotlight this year other than the HBO HardKnocks special.
There are no nationally televised games—no Sunday night, no Monday night, no nothing. I think the lack of attention by the media will create the right conditions for a team looking to shovel their way back into our hearts. Less limelight means more team focus.
Okay, a few downsides, but certainly less than last year at this point:
Reggie Kelly (TE) was lost with a season ending injury in a blown achilles tendon. Just days later, Ben Utecht (TE) also received a concussion and is awaiting tests to see if he will be able to play after after having a history of concussions. This leaves us with Daniel Coats (who also twisted his ankle), rookie Chase Coffman and a pick-up in Matt Sherry. Kelly will be missed.
Andre Smith's lack of signing could have an impact on the questionable O-line. I feel pretty good about the line, but it's so new, young and lacks the depth that you would like to see. Protecting Carson is top priority so the O-line will be the pivotal point to the Bengals turn-around.
But even with that, the attitudes seem to be way beyond where we were at this time last year. I have reason to look up. Until that first game, here's to staying healthy and staying focused. Who-Dey.