It was a great year to be a Bengal..... in 2009.
2010 already hasn't been good to the Bengals. It started with a loss to the New York Jets back on January 9th. In that game Jets rookie Shonn Greene ran for 135 yards and Mark Sanchez managed the game well enough to help the Jets defeat the Bengals 24-14.
Two missed field goals from "franchise player" Shayne Graham also didn't help the Bengals effort.
But, alas it is not the 2009-2010 season anymore, instead we are heading into a 2010 season that has several things to watch even before we get to the first snap in September.
Who is our kicker?
I know a lot of people will shrug their shoulders and say that may be the least of the Bengals worries. I say you are wrong. Last year the kicking game was not solid. Whether it was Kevin Huber botching a hold, a long snapper hiking it to Kentucky, or a veteran who couldn't find the uprights, the kicking game was a huge problem.
Right now their are two kickers on the roster. Former Ohio state kicker Mike Nugent looks to try and win the job after spending last season trying to find a new home. Nugent had played with the Jets where he set an accuracy record and scored an average of 102 points per season until he injured his leg in 2008. He was fairly accurate in his short stint in Arizona to end last season.
Joining Nugent is Dave Rayner, who last saw action with the Bengals in 2008 when he filled in for Shayne Graham while he was hurt. Prior to that he was okay at best with the Chiefs in 2007. Rayner spent all of last year out of football with an injury settlement from the Redskins.
The smart money is on Nugent. He appears to be the healthier kicker, and has proven to be fairly accurate from his days as a Jet. Rayner may be there just so there is competition in camp. One thing can be said though about both guys, whoever comes out on top is going to be on a short leash after the Graham disaster in the Wild Card game.
Will Carson Palmer bounce back to Pro Bowl form?
Carson Palmer had pretty good stats last year. He played in every game, which may be the most important stat. He threw for over 3000 yards, which is always something to strive for. He had 21 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, which is not a bad ratio. But the stats weren't the 3800-4100 yards passing he had between 2005-2007.
To say he had a bad year would be me being a jerk. He was solid most of the time. He led them to comeback wins over the Steelers, Ravens, and Browns. But something seemed to be missing from him late in the year.
One reason may have been the fact that he really had no one to stretch the field, especially after the death of Chris Henry. Another may have been dropped passes. Lavereaneus Coles, Andre Caldwell, and the tight ends seemed to be the biggest offenders in this category. But overall, he seemed to just settle for the short pass too often. A conservative Palmer is not what we need if we want to take the next step.
What will the Pacman effect be?
Adam "Pacman" Jones could have been a superstar in the NFL at this point in his career. Instead he has served more time under league suspension than time on the field in recent years.
It is no secret that the Bengals have had more trouble with the law than any other team. With nearly 40 arrests since 2000, they top the league in this infamous category. The question here is how he will blend in with a group of players that have had troubled pasts.
The key here is whether he is truly "humble" as defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer says. If so, who knows what he can accomplish in 2010. The Bengals may have gotten a solid nickleback and kick returner, or yet another player that could poison the club house.
Do you remember Andre Smith?
He was yet another top draft pick that held out and was a non factor. Smith, who was the first round pick last year and was expected to be a starter at either left or right tackle to begin the season, but that wasn't the case.
Smith held out for the first several weeks of camp wanting more money, meanwhile sitting around and getting more and more out of football shape. By the time he did take the field, he was so out of shape that he broke his ankle shortly after he showed up to camp.
Smith did see limited action during 2009, mainly filling in for Dennis Roland on the right side. The big question for Mr. Smith is whether he has spent his offseason relaxing with his millions of dollars, or working hard to show up in July and take a starting spot on the line?
What is going on at tight end?
The Bengals spent their first round pick on Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham, who despite being hurt pretty much all of last year, was an All-American talent prior to his injury. He looks to be the big play tight end that has been lacking from Palmer's arsenal for years. But the question is, how much, and when will he play?
Reggie Kelly returns this season after tearing his Achilles in training camp last year. He figures to be the man if he is 100% healthy. He is a great asset to have based on his experience and leadership nonetheless.
Daniel Coats is also on this roster and figures to be on the depth chart when the season begins. Gone is Foschi and Utecht from last year's roster. Foschi had almost as many drops as he had catches, and Utecht missed all of 2009 with a concussion.
Then there is Chase Coffman. He was such a steal in the 3rd round last year. The only problem was that he couldn't block and was slow to learn the playbook. So, what do you do with him? Kelly, Coats, and Gresham will all make the roster, with Kelly being the blocking TE and Gresham probably being more of a receiver, so what do you do with Coffman?
How hard is that schedule? Really?
The Bengals knew they were gonna have a tough schedule in 2010. With games against the AFC East, NFC South, and first place AFC teams, difficult can't even begin to describe it.
So how do they go about making a return trip to the playoffs?
Simple, do what they did last year and win games against the division. If they can go 4-2 within the division, split in the AFC East and NFC South, and beat either Indy or New San Diego that would give them a 9-7 record which at least gives them a chance.
When you are 4 months away from the regular season it is impossible to predict what will happen. Injuries, arrests, and other things can really shake things up before they get started.
But, if there are positives to look at keep in mind the Bengals maintained their offensive line, have Benson coming back, added Bryant and Gresham as weapons in the passing game, and have added to an already stingy defense with the like of Gibril Wilson, Pacman, and some draft pick up front.
If they can address the few issues that I spoke about above, who knows, Dallas could be hearing a lot of who dey chants come February 2011.