Cincinnati Bengals 10 Things To Watch For Against The Buffalo Bills
The ghosts of seasons past return to TO's present as the Bengals visit the Bills in the relatively hospitable confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, New York.
The Bills are a team on the mend, looking to improve and expand their under-experienced roster.
The primary goal for the Bengals is to test out what they have improved on in practice this week against a legitimate opponent and continue climbing towards the reality of the regular season.
10. Hunting Buffalo
In a game which is both a practice and a preview, both the Bengals and Bills will be scouting each other for a down the road meeting during the regular season. How this affects the game planning will be hard to tell, though both teams will come away with a very good idea of what they will be seeing down the road.
9. The Return of Harvard
Carson's former backup (and now slightly missed backup), Ryan Fitzpatrick will suit up after having started eight games last season (appeared in 10). Now, back to his backup roll and without TO to throw to, expect Fitzpatrick to appear in the second quarter to show what the Bengals gave up for Mr. O'Sullivan.
8. Terrell Owens Returns To Face His Demons?
For the third time this pre-season, TO will face a former team. Ironically enough, many are calling Owens' sub-par 2009 with the Bills his transition year from pariah to professional. Last week was the Eagles, though without McNabb on the Eagles any longer, that reunion was somewhat a reunion in name only. The Hall of Fame game brought out the uh-oh reaction, when Terrell began resentfully reminicing over his negative experience as a Cowboy, expect a happy reunion on Saturday night.
7. Pawns and Rookies
The rookie show continues with the two most exciting prospects on the offensive side since Ochocino was drafted in Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap will be pounding the opponents into the turf as they solidify their places on the roster.
Rookie Dezmon Briscoe has been noticeably absent from the production line this pre-season and the lack of hype might be a message that the early excitement has clearly passed.
6. Offensive Progression: First Team
The first team offense is making slow but steady progress. A number of questions remain to be answered such as:
1. Will Andre Smith improve and join the first team at the beginning of the season or later?
2. With Antonio Bryant out of the picture for at least the short term (and possibly forever), who will become the third slot wide receiver? (Shipley or Caldwell would be my guess, with a slight edge to Shipley at this point)
3. Will we see anymore of Matt Jones?
4. Who will be left after the cut down on September 4th?
5. Andre Smith Watch
Smith drew the ire of the coaching staff and media for lack of conditioning starting with last season's appearance on HBO's Hard Knocks. Shortly after signing, Andre broke his foot and went out injured. In addition, by all implications, Smith failed to follow his rehabilitation regimen, coming back not only under-healed but overweight.
Now, with Smith cleared to play and coming off of a week where the rust was clearly all over his play, Andre will look to work his way back into the scheme and prove the nay-sayers wrong.
4. The Missing Link and Third Option: Completing The Receiving Core
The big question is in regards to who the third option will be in the receiving core. Consider that the Bengals have generally only had a formidable passing scheme when three healthy and skilled receivers made up the wide out core. TJ, Henry, and Ocho—while not as flamboyant—certainly showcased a feared set for Palmer to reek havoc on opponent's secondaries. Now, with Shipley, Caldwell, and Bryant in the mix for the third slot (assuming we ever see Bryant again), the Bengals are threatening to improve upon their predecessor group if only Carson can get on the same page with Ocho....
3. Topsy Turvy: TO and Palmer In-Sync, Ocho and Palmer Sink?
While it would seem that TO and Palmer are now officially on the same page which means they are in-sync with each other in terms of skill and timing, Ocho is the odd man out. Palmer has not been able to find Ocho Cinco with any meaning or display of timing that has been the highlight of their eight seasons together. Now, even with another option to keep opponent's secondary busy, it would still seem that Palmer and Ocho have had some sort of mental "falling out" and seem to be on two different pages.
2. Kicking The Curse
A glaring weakness this off-season, the Bengals to date have failed to place an acceptable replacement for Shayne Graham. While the playoffs seemingly proved that Graham was not the right long term option, the Bengals may want to start watching the Ravens kicking competition between Crudup and Graham and take the leftovers just in case.
Nungent has not had enough opportunity to showcase his ability, though this also relates to Nungent being injured. Rayner has been inconsistent at best, in his limited showing.
If durability is an issue at any point, the Bengals will have to consider other options.
1. Bryant From Savior to Sod
Looming over the team this week, especially with an unsubstantiated rumor that Bryant would be released is the man himself. What is Antonio Bryant's injury? How significant is the injury? What progress has Bryant made? Should the team eat Bryant's contract to save the cap space or take a chance by placing Antonio on IR (injured reserve)?
Though Bryant will not be in the game, listen for some clue to this key peice of the off-season puzzle (and pre-season puzzling situation).