5 Questions Cincinnati Bengals Must Answer During Training Camp
5 Questions The Cincinnati Bengals Must Answer During Training Camp
The Cincinnati Bengals come into the 2013 season with championship aspirations. Not only AFC North championship aspirations, but Super Bowl ones as well. And those expectations have only been raised this offseason by a strong draft.
Those rookies, along with a core group of young players, have made the Bengals a team on the rise for the past two years. When they drafted A.J. Green and Andy Dalton in 2011, they put the league on notice that they were ready to kick down the door to the club of elite NFL teams.
They've lived up to those expectations the last two years, making the playoffs both times. But all that success has done is raise the expectations heading into 2013, and a first-round exit won't be good enough this time. If the Bengals don't get their first playoff win since 1990, their season won't be considered a success.
To live up to the hype this year, the team doubled down on the offensive firepower by selecting tight end Tyler Eifert from the University of Notre Dame in the first round of the draft and prolific running back Giovani Bernard from the University of North Carolina in the second round.
Those weapons will give the Bengals a dangerous offense to go with a good, young defense that ranked eighth in scoring defense last year. That defense, led by the breakout rookie season from linebacker Vontaze Burfict, features one of the best defensive lines in the league and a solid secondary.
The future is bright for the first time in a long time for the Bengals, and if they can find answers to these five questions this summer, the future might just be now.
5. Can Vontaze Burfict Be Better In 2013?
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict came into his rookie season last year with little to no expectations. The once highly-ranked prospect from Arizona State plummeted down draft boards after an up-and-down college career and red flags about his character off the field. Rather than being the first round pick he was thought to be coming out of high school, he ended up fighting for his NFL life in Cincinnati as an undrafted free agent.
But instead of being just another name on the long list of talented young players to never put it together on an NFL level, Burfict exploded on the professional scene by leading the Bengals in tackles last year.
If Burfict can build on his rookie success and avoid the up-and-down career he had in college, he could fulfill his extraordinary potential and be a cornerstone of an already-good Bengals defense.
4. Should Marvin Lewis Still Be The Head Coach?
Every offseason, it seems like there are rumors that Marvin Lewis is going to be replaced as the head coach in Cincinnati. Despite his relative success in leading his team to back to back playoff appearances the last two years, it’s the lack of success in those playoff games that again led to rumors that there would be another head coach prowling the sidelines this coming year.
But Lewis will be back for his 11th season as the head man for the Bengals, making him the second-longest tenured head coach in the league.
Lewis has had some success in Cincinnati, but the question now is whether or not he can take the team to the next level, and that remains to be seen.
3. Can The Other Receivers Step Up Around A.J. Green?
A.J. Green has lived up to his hype since being the fourth overall pick out in the 2011 draft out of the University of Georgia. He's one of the best receivers in the league, but the other receivers on the team are going to need to step up their games and take some pressure off him for the Bengals offense to go to the next level.
Cincinnati has young weapons around Green to do just that. Mohamed Sanu showed glimpses last year as a rookie and Andrew Hawkins had a breakout year in the slot. But it might be the other weapons on offense that can do the most to draw defender's attention from him.
The Bengals used their first two picks in this years draft to take receiving tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard. Both players excel in the passing game, and both could do a lot to spread the field and create room for Green to operate.
It may just end up being the tight ends and running backs who fill the role of complimentary receivers for the Bengals in 2013.
2. Is Giovani Bernard A Feature Back?
The Bengals built their current offensive success on the back, or rather the legs, of Cedric Benson. Before Andy Dalton and A.J. Green were giving Cincinnati fans dreams of high-flying touchdown passes, the Bengals were a ground-and-pound run-first offense.
But the league has changed, and teams need wide open passing attacks to go deep in the playoffs. That also means they need good all-around running backs, not just straight ahead pounding types. They need backs who can pass protect, catch the ball out of the backfield and earn yards on draws and off tackle runs.
Giovani Bernard can be that back. A fast, nimble ball carrier out of the University of North Carolina, Bernard ran for 2,594 yards and 25 touchdowns during his two years in Chapel Hill. UNC runs a pro style offense, and Bernard's talents should translate well to the NFL.
Rookie running backs can be frustrating though. They tend to struggle to learn complicated NFL offenses, and can find it hard to get on the field at times. Bernard will most likely end up sharing carries with the constantly underrated BenJarvus Green-Ellis this year, but the future is bright for the young back.
1. Can Andy Dalton Be A Franchise Quarterback?
Franchise quarterbacks win championships, and the Bengals have their eyes set firmly on a Super Bowl appearance this year. If they're going to realize those aspirations, it's going to be on the back of a breakout year from third-year quarterback Andy Dalton.
The time is now for Dalton to step up his game, if he has it in him. The first two years can be learning experiences for young quarterbacks, but if Dalton has the talents to be a championship-winning, franchise-type quarterback, we'll see it this year.
More of a distributor than a driving force in the Cincinnati offense his first two years, Dalton has to do more as a leader of the team in 2013.
The Bengals did everything they could this offseason to put the talent around him that he needs to be a franchise quarterback, and the time is now for Dalton to take that next step.