The Cincinnati Bengals are less than one month away from the start of training camp in Georgetown, KY. The defending AFC North champions had a tremendous offseason, taking advantage of free agency and the draft as they look for their first back-to-back winning seasons in 28 years.
Last year, the Bengals saw running back Cedric Benson (1,251 yards and six touchdowns) and corner back Leon Hall (six interceptions) have breakout seasons in 2009, helping Cincinnati claim their first division title since the 2005 season. There are a number of candidates - both on offense and defense - who have shown potential for being labeled as a "breakout star" for the upcoming season.
To get ready for the 2010 season, here are 10 players to keep an eye on as potential breakout players for the Bengals.
There were high expectations for Jerome Simpson when the Bengals selected him with the 46th pick in the 2008 draft. With one career reception for two yards, many wonder if 2010 will be the season Simpson finally lives up to the hype. Numerous scouts how compliments him for how impressive he's looked throughout the offseason, leaving many to believe this could finally be the year Simpson lives up to the previous hype.
No rookie has been more impressive this offseason than Jordan Shipley. He's amazed scouts with his work ethic and appears to be the effective slot wideout the Bengals have been looking for since the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh to Seattle.
In his rookie season, Bernard Scott rushed for 321 yards and was a key factor to the ground game when Cedric Benson missed two games due to a hip injury. With a year of experience under his belt, Scott has high potential not only as an effective No. 2 running back, but on special teams as well. Not to mention he could be relied on heavily at the beginning of the season depending on the outcome of Benson's latest incident.
Last year, Andre Smith's contract holdout lasted until Aug. 30. On Sept. 1, he fractured his foot that kept him out until the 11th game of the season. After a rookie season that can only be described as disappointing, Smith better hope he has a breakout year in 2010 - especially after fighting so hard to earn $21 million guaranteed.
During his time as Missouri, Chase Coffman set a NCAA record for a tight end with 247 receptions for 2,659 yards and 30 touchdowns before the Bengals selected him in the third round of last year's draft. Unfortunately, he struggled with the transition from college to playing at a professional level during training camp and was inactive 12 games before Cincinnati placed him on injured reserve. Despite using their first-round pick on Jermaine Gresham in April, the Bengals hope one of most talented tight ends from the 2009 class can play an effective role in the passing game.
Considering he was arguably one of the top corner backs in the NFL following the 2007 season, it seems a bit odd to put Adam Jones on this list. But then again, he's clearly not the same player from a few years ago and has a lot to prove considering the Bengals may be his final shot in the NFL. There was a reason Cincinnati decided to take a risk on Jones, and hopefully the gamble pays off this season.
Before a DUI incident last December that kept him from participating in the SEC Championship, Carlos Dunlap was projected to be a top-10 pick in this year's draft after finishing with a combined 70 tackles and 18 sacks during his final two years at Florida. If he can stay focused on football and stay out of trouble, Dunlap has the chance to contribute as an effective pass rusher on defense - an area Cincinnati needs to improve on.
After the contributions made during his rookie season in 2009, Bengals fans are excited to see what Morgan Trent can bring to the table this year. The former sixth-round pick played all 16 games last season, finishing with a combined 28 tackles and four passes defensed. Trent is arguably the front-runner for the starting job at nickel corner with rookie Brandon Ghee, David Jones, and Keiwan Ratliff.
After an impressive rookie season, Keith Rivers avoided the sophomore slump by recording a combined 72 tackles, one sack, two passes defensed, and one interception in 2009. He's been a key part to the success of the Bengals' defense looks to do so again in 2010 after taking on a new technique to improve his game during the offseason. Rivers has been working with MMA fighters with the intention of transferring some of the techniques used in the ring on to the football field - which could give him an extra edge.
Michael Johnson finished with three sacks during his rookie season last year, and is being seen by many as one of the top candidates for a breakout season with the Bengals - including Cincinnati.com's Chick Ludwig. At 6'7" and 260 pounds, Cincinnati plans on using Johnson's pass-rushing skills not only at defensive end, but as an outside linebacker too.