Another season, another disappointing ending. On the onset, that appears to be the mantra for the 2012 Cincinnati Bengals‘ football season. A second place finish in the AFC North division sent them to the playoffs, but a second loss in successive seasons to the Houston Texans sent Marvin Lewis‘ side home much earlier than they had initially planned. However, even though that loss still leaves a bad taste in the collective mouth of everyone on the roster, there is still a strong foundation for the Bengals to build upon after consecutive appearances in the playoffs.
Holidays and breaks from the game are always necessary, but franchises typically start to look forward to free agency and the draft immediately after their season comes to a close. For the Bengals, they not only have to look at bringing in free agents, but also developing and integrating the young players already on the roster into new positions for next season.
Here is a breakdown of what the Bengals face over the coming months:
Settle on a Center:
Rookie Trevor Robinson emerged during the season, with some very impressive performances, but fifth year veteran Kyle Cook returned after injury late in the season to play every single snap in the playoffs. Cook wasn’t overly impressive, but he did face tougher opposition on the whole along as well as offering the team a veteran presence between two inexperienced starting guards. Robinson has a lot of potential, but needs to significantly bulk up in the offseason to become a strong starter. The Bengals will likely let a competition decide who enters next season as the starter, but making a commitment to Robinson early would definitely offer them greater potential to solidify the position.
Sort Through the Free Agent Muddle:
The Bengals’ biggest names hitting free agency are Andre Smith, Rey Maualuga, Michael Johnson, Chris Crocker, Nate Clements, Terence Newman and Mike Nugent. Smith will be the main priority, as he emerged into one of the best right tackles in the league this season. Johnson will be the next most important player to re-sign, after what was his very best season at the end of his rookie contract. Maualuga played more snaps than any other defensive player for the Bengals this year, but he was often exposed and the Bengals have a surefire replacement in Vontaze Burfict entering next season. There is a similar situation with Nugent, who was injured during the season, as the team is more likely to re-sign his replacement, Josh Brown. The Bengals could re-sign Newman, Crocker and Clements, but they have plenty of versatility as they carry a deep secondary depth chart.
Find a Second Starting Wide Receiver:
The Bengals will need to track the development of Marvin Jones closely through the offseason, as well as the recovery of Mohamed Sanu. If they don’t feel comfortable entering next season with a combination of those two young receivers covering the second tier of their receiver depth chart, then the possibility remains that Greg Jennings could arrive in free agency or a top level draft pick could be expended on the position.
Assess Left Guard:
Veteran Travelle Wharton was signed during last year’s offseason to be the team’s starting left guard, but he never played a single snap in the regular season due to injury. In his place, Clint Boling impressed as the starter. Boling is a much younger player who excelled enough to have earned the full-time role, but Wharton was signed for a reason and the Bengals could give him an opportunity to win his job back.
Focus on the 2012 Rookie Class:
Kevin Zeitler, Sanu and Jones have all already impressed on offense, but tight end Orson Charles still needs to establish himself fully at this level, while cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, defensive tackles Devon Still, Brandon Thompson and safety George Iloka will all be hopeful of being more involved next season.
Upgrade at Running-Back?:
Jay Gruden has already hinted at adding a running-back this offseason. Despite BenJarvus Green-Ellis statistical achievements this year, he never really impressed on the field. Most of his big runs came when the offensive line allowed him into the secondary and he failed to beat the final defender in space for a touchdown. Surpassed Green-Ellis, Cedric Peerman can’t be trusted in pass protection and Brian Leonard is a limited player. Bernard Scott is an unrestricted free agent, which may lead the team to adding a more talented all-around runner. Reggie Bush or Rashard Mendenhall could be options as big name free agents, while there is a multitude of top college backs who could upgrade the position.