Cincinnati Bengals: A Work in Progress but Moving in the Right Direction

Zachary Kondratenko@@ZakKondratenkoContributor IIISeptember 28, 2011

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25:  Quarterback Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals passes against the the San Fracisco 49ers at Paul Brown Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The seemingly endless player misconduct. The incompetent ownership. The struggles on the field. Chances are when you hear the words “Cincinnati Bengals,” you don’t exactly think of a successful or proud organization.

And you’re right. For most of their history—especially in the last 15 years or so—the Bengals have been a complete and utter joke.

Along with the Detroit Lions, the Bengals have been the laughing stock of the modern NFL. Despite being one of the original AFL teams, the Bengals have never won a Super Bowl.  And with an all-time regular season record of 285-373, the Bengals have an obvious history of losing.

But the historical struggles are just a footnote compared to the struggles the Bengals have endured over the last 10 years.

After routinely being the worst team in the league, the Bengals drafted golden boy Carson Palmer and it seemed like the franchise had some hope.

Palmer found early success—within two years of being drafted, he established himself as one of the league's best passers and led the Bengals to a division championship in 2005. But in the Bengals' first playoff game since 1991, Palmer tore his ACL in the first quarter and the Bengals were eliminated by division rivals Pittsburgh.

Palmer actually recovered from the injury fairly well, but he was never the same dominant player he was pre-injury.

The team seemed to lose chemistry as well and after countless arrests, the Bengals were right back at the bottom of the standings and the butt of many jokes.

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 1: Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer argues with head linesman Kent Payne #79 during an NFL preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts at Paul Brown Stadium on September 1, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Col
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

In 2009, the Bengals once again won the division behind the running of Cedric Benson and the tough defense led by new coordinator Mike Zimmer. But the Bengals got blown out by the Jets in the Wild Card, and those struggles carried over to 2010 when they finished in last place with a 4-12 record.

On top of that, Carson Palmer demanded a trade or threatened to retire and the Bengals traded WR Chad Ochocinco.

A pretty terrible position to be in, right? Not so fast.

Despite recent failures and just a 1-2 record against three pretty week teams to start the season, the prospects for the Bengals' future actually look pretty good.

The defense has gotten back to the elite level we saw in 2009, despite the loss of star CB Johnathan Joseph. They have a very young and talented defensive line and the linebackers actually look pretty good, despite being completely different players from last year.

The secondary isn't perfect but guys like Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall have played at a pretty high level this year. 

Offense is the main problem for the Bengals right now, but there are a lot of talented young players at key positions who have shown they can become special. The future at offensive line will be on the shoulders of LT Andrew Whitworth and RT Andre Smith.

Whitworth is one of the best pass protectors in the NFL and now that Smith has finally gotten in shape, he is a very good run blocker.

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 18:  Wide receiver A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs after making a catch against Cornerback Cassius Vaughn #41 of the Denver Broncos during the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 18, 2011
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Cedric Benson is not the running back of the future for this team, but unless the Bengals somehow make the playoffs this year they'll be in very good position to draft one of the top rushers in the 2012 class.

A.J. Green is going to be a stud, a fact which is pretty evident. If Jerome Simpson gets over his off-the-field problems, he can be a very good No. 2 receiver, and if Jordan Shipley can recover from a torn ACL, he may be a great No. 3. If not, Andre Caldwell is there.

TE Jermaine Gresham is slowly climbing up in the league-wide tight end rankings and there's no reason why he can't be in the top five in two years or so.

We have all year to look at Andy Dalton. He's still a rookie but in his first two games he looked very good. I believe in him. He won't ever be a Pro Bowler, but the Jets win with Sanchez, the Chiefs have won with Cassell, and the Ravens continually win with Flacco.

Who says the Bengals can't win with Dalton?

This season, Bengals fans shouldn't look at the win-loss column. Look at their player development, because what the Lions are doing this year is not out of question for the Bengals in upcoming seasons.

For more follow me on Twitter @ZakKondratenko


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