Hey all- This is my first blog post for the upcoming 2008 season.
After a drama-filled and dynamic offseason, my beloved Bengals kicked off training camp yesterday with their first of many two-a-days. As I'm sure many of you have heard, our prized Free Ageny acquisition (Odom) suffered a mild foot sprain. It seems like the Bengals have this sort of "curse", if you will! Many of our top draft picks in recent years, including Pollack, Irons, and Brooks have been shelved due to injury - now it strikes our Free Agents.
I hope many of you in the metro-Cincinnati/NKY area have a chance to go down to Georgetown for camp. It's quite an experience - I'm cutting out of the 9-5 early on Wednesday to catch a few drills. I'll keep you all posted on what's going on. Feel free to leave some replies to this blog on what your thoughts are about Carson, CP, TJ, Rudi and our new D in 2008. And as always, WHO DEY!
With all 32 teams in the thick of camp, I thought I'd give Georgetown, Kentucky, an in-person visit. Here are a few of my thoughts regarding my 7/30 visit to the evening practice at Georgetown College. Similar to how SI.com writes their "postcards from camp," I'll briefly touch on a few subjects:
Starting Off: Georgetown isn't too far from the center of Bengaldom. A large fan base in Kentucky plus a relatively close proximity to Cinicnnati keeps the facilty buzzing with Bengals fans. I like the close feeling you can get with the players - a high level of interaction is really only possible in training camp. Getting there is a breeze, just watch out for speed traps along I-75. The biggest cash crops in Kentucky are 1.) Tobacco 2.) Homegrown and 3.) Speeding Tickets. Parking isn't too bad, but it's $15 on site. Free to get in, however.
The Stars are Aligned..: Yes, almost everyone was out there. Our Franchise, Carson Palmer, looked to be on point. Seeing him zip his short/intermediate passes, along with the patented bombs he's known for, is quite a treat. He got plenty of reps, too. Carson's command of the Offense looked great pre-snap. He often changed the formation and barked out blocking assignments for an impending blitz. As a 6th year man, his wealth of experience combined with relative youth could produce an MVP-like season. Chad and TJ were out at practice, too, although neither participated (TJ had tightness in his hammy, which is not really of any concern). Although they weren't out running routes, they still garnered plenty of attention. The nice gesture of this session was Chad bringing a little boy onto the field, running around with him, and giving the kid a pair of Chad's Orange/Black Reeboks. The kid came back into the stands shouting "Dad, Dad! Look what I got". Nice PR, Chad- a few more of these will help alleviate the headaches you caused many loyal fans this offseason. By the way, Rudi does look that good. With a healthy line, including Big Willie Anderson, you can expect a 1,200 yard season out of the Bengals' single season record holder.
The Defense Looks Energized: With a number of changes made of the Defensive side of the ball, there is guarded optimism in Cincinnati. The additon of Mike Zimmer immediately upgraded our scheme - he has a solid resume of defensive experience. At practice, they looked quite different from the zombie-like D last year, that gave up too many big plays - after many of which they stood around in confusion. In addition to a new scheme, the additions of rookies Pat Sims and Jason Shirley added depth to a pretty good DT lineup. On a few occasions, I noticed Shirley knife through the #1-O Line and disrupt a running play. That's what you want to see- altering a play by your DT. After many nice Defensive plays, a chorus of cheering can readily be heard throughout Toyota Stadium. This young defense is going to come ready to play, and they have the parts to be a pretty good one. Look for big plays out of 2nd/3rd year CB's Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph, respectively. Both former #1 picks are primed to shine, as long as our front 7 can apply the needed pressure. Hall lead the team in picks last year as a rookie, with 5 ints. The one missing player: rookie Will LB Keith Rivers, who is in the middle of a contract squabble. No clue as to when he'll report, however. Again, it would be nice to have him out there.
Youth vs. Experience: With 9/10 draft picks in the fold, in addition to RFA's, there is a bunch of youth running around the field. Unlike last year's early injury but, the depth charts are solid across the board here. I especially like our talent and versatility across the offensive line, where injuries (even in camp) affected both our running and passing games. Anthony Collins serves as a reliable backup at tacke, and can play both sides. At wideout, we have plenty of talent, albeit young talent. Look for Andre Caldwell and possibly Jerome Simpson to get playing time, especially in passing situations. Although we're young at many places, we still have experienced skill position players. Carson, Chad, TJ and Rudi make up the drivetrain of the Offense; our O Line is very experienced and, for the most part, has been in tact since the 2006 season. That cohesiveness should be the catalyst for a very potent O. On the other side of the ball, we have a solid vertern/youth mix. It was exciting seeing our young secondary at work. Leon Hall and JJ could easily become one of the top corner combos in the league, given proper coaching and an effective front 7. From watching camp, it's tough to tell who will be the starter at Free Safety, but it looks like Ndukwe may get the nod. It's always fun to see how players perform in the preseason - we very will may have to call on some of these youngs guys when injuries occur.
Last Thoughts: If you're going to try to make a practice this camp, go this weekend. The Annual Black/Orange Mock Game should be great. It's always nice to see the guys out there, going 100% (maybe not exactly all-out, but you'll see some hits). Autographs are always great, too. Although you'll have a tough time getting the "Big Three", many guys are very willing to come sign, chat, and joke with you. Bring a roster, too. It's much easier to discern who the new guys are with one. My highlights were seeing actually how big Andrew Whitworth is - about 6'7" - and seeing Chad at camp. During the offseason, I really didn't think he'd be there, although I was certain the Bengals wouldn't grant his trade demands. Although the pieces are in place for a good 2008, I think our schedule is tough. Very tough. I can certainly see a 9-7 season on the horizon, and with good execution (and a little luck), perhaps 10-6. Yes, the Browns will be good, but not great. One of us will probably be competing for a wild card, if not the division title. A 9-7 record may win the AFC North. Look for a darn good team in 2008. And, as always, WHO DEY!
Two pieces of big news coming out of Georgetown this week. First, Keith Rivers, the Bengals 1st Rounder, signed a 6 year, $23M contract (voidable after 5). Although Mr. Rivers had a week-and-a-half long holdout, I don't foresee any problems regarding his missed time. He played WILL at a pro-ready institution, USC. The kid knows how to play OLB from his 4 years there. He's smart, physical, and quick. Also, Rivers kept in touch with teammates during his missed time. Forming group cohesiveness during the preseason in this young group is great. I can only hope it translates into success on the field come Sept. 7th.
The second bit of news involves #85. His participation in pracitce Monday, coupled with an enthusiastic attitude, are very promising for the Offense. Chad Johnson has practiced well so far and should be ready to go for a few series during Monday night's preseason opener at Green Bay. Chad sounds apologetic towards those who he upset during the offseason - something he needs. I'm not 100% back on the Chad bandwagon yet, but he's doing all the right things (so far).
So, with one month to go before the start of the season, I remain hopefully optimistic. I don't think we're with the premiere teams of the AFC right now, but we will know soon where the Bengals stand. Until then, WHO DEY!