The Bengals are back! Well, almost.
At 5-2, the Bengals are definitely in the playoff mix. Unfortunately, if they make it, Marvin Lewis will probably be handed his third consecutive loss.
Sure, this season's been exciting, but they're not quite ready for all of that yet. With these six changes, however, the Bengals should be in the next few years.
The offensive line has been great this year.
Andy Dalton has only been sacked 11 times thus far, and they're giving him plenty of time to make his reads. However, a team contending for the Super Bowl needs to be better. Sure, Andy Dalton can move, but he's no Michael Vick.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center Kyle Cook were both re-signed this season to play through 2014. Right tackle Andre Smith is finally playing to his first-round potential, and right guard Bobbie Williams isn't called the "Boss" for no reason.
That leaves one spot to improve—left guard.
Right now, Nate Livings is listed as the starter, but that's not based on performance, and backups Clint Boling and Mike McGlynn aren't really better options.
With two first-round picks this season, the Bengals would be wise to go after a solid guard to fill this hole and solidify what will become a great offensive line.
While Leon Hall remains one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the NFL, the absence of Jonathon Joseph has shown. Nate Clements has played well as his replacement, but he'll be 32 in December and is only signed for two years.
I personally think Adam "Pacman" Jones will get back to form and possibly serve as Clements' replacement. But I don't want him, regardless of his play, if he can't stay out of trouble.
Dre Kirkpatrick looks like he will be a great NFL cornerback, and if he falls to the Bengals, they shouldn't hesitate to draft him.
At 6'3", he is a physical back and won't be beat on jump balls. He has great quickness to the ball, and if he gets his hands on it, he's a threat to take it all the way.
Bengals fans have waited a long time to see Jerome Simpson on the field. The second-round pick from 2008 finally has the starting job we always expected him to, but I'm hardly impressed.
Simpson is 6'2", quick and can make some tremendous catches. Unfortunately, he tends to drop just as many. I do believe he can get better, but I'd rather not wait around any longer for him to do so.
The next available option would be Andre Caldwell. Personally, I think Caldwell can handle the job, but he also has problems with drops. He doesn't drop it as often as Simpson, but they always seem to come at the worst times.
If Simpson and Caldwell don't step it up, there are a few other options the Bengals have.
New Orleans Saints receivers Robert Meachem and Marques Colston will be free agents after this season. It's unlikely they'd let go of Colston, Brees' favorite target, but they'll have to open the checkbooks for the seventh-round stud.
Doing so, it is likely they'll let Meachem test free agency.
Meachem has great speed and rarely drops the ball. It's unlikely he'll be very expensive, as he is only a second target, but if things fall into place, he'd be a valuable addition to the team.
The Bengals could also look to the draft. Receivers like Notre Dame's Michael Floyd and Texas A&M's Jeff Fuller will likely fall to the second round, where the Bengals could pick them up.
Remember, this is only if Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell don't produce. Let's hope they do.
I'm probably biased on this one, but we need to improve from Cedric Benson. He is a good back, but I want something better. His constant complaining and lack of production need to go. You're a power back, Ced—take the ball and run. Stop dancing around and maybe you'll be OK.
Behind Benson, we have Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard. Scott made his third NFL start this past weekend at the Seattle Seahawks and played well. He rushed 22 times for 76 yards against Seattle's top-ranked rush defense and had four carries of nine yards or more.
The problem was, he also had seven carries that went for either no gain or negative yardage. He has great speed and agility and can break some big runs, but he's not someone we can depend on in short-yardage situations.
Leonard has rarely seen the ball, other than short passes and screens, but he will fight for every yard. There is obviously a reason he's the third-string running back. He's probably not the best option, but he has made some great plays this year on third down.
If the Bengals are lucky enough to have Trent Richardson fall to them in this year's draft, there are no excuses for passing him up. Scott and Leonard are great backups, but we still need someone who can power it through the trenches.
Mike Zimmer is probably the most underrated assistant coach in the NFL.
Hopefully, other teams didn't hear that, because it will now be very difficult to hold on to him as the defensive coordinator.
Arguably the biggest reason for the success this season has been the play of the defense. Losing Zimmer could very well ruin our hopes for the future.
Right now, Zimmer is signed through 2013, but the Bengals would be wise to lock him up as long as they can before the rest of the world realizes his greatness.
Yes it's disappointing, but let's try not to get ahead of ourselves. If we hold on to the players we have and can stay away from injuries, then these few additions should turn us into a real threat in the years to come.