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2006 Team Report: Cincinnati Bengals

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Quarterbacks

Starter: Carson Palmer
Backup(s): Anthony Wright, Doug Johnson, Erik Meyer

Starting QB: When healthy, Carson Palmer is one of the top quarterbacks in the league. He has a strong arm, is extremely accurate with a passes and has already developed into a tremendous leader for the Bengals. Last season the numbers he put up were truly remarkable. He completed 67.8% of his passes, tossed 32 touchdowns against only 12 interceptions and had 3,836 passing yards which really helped cement himself as an elite quarterback. The obvious question this year is how soon he'll be able to play this year after suffering a serious knee injury in the playoffs last season. The answer came in the August 28 preseason game against the Packers, which Palmer started and looked very good. He should be ready to start in the regular season opener.

Backup QB: Jon Kitna has moved on to the Detroit Lions leaving former Ravens quarterback Anthony Wright, journeyman Doug Johnson and unproven Erik Meyer as the only options for the team to utilize. Wright is almost certainly going to start if Palmer can't go but his career completion percentage of 55.1% to go along with his 20 touchdown passes against 25 interceptions is hardly the stuff of legends. He has enough skill to keep the boat steered in the right direction but won�t be able to carry the team on his shoulders as Palmer did. Johnson has only thrown 12 passes in the last two years and hasn�t had any real work since starting some games for the Falcons in 2003. Reggie McNeal has incredible athleticism but is very raw and as a rookie will almost certainly not see the field as a quarterback.

Running Backs

Starter: Rudi Johnson
Backup(s): Chris Perry, Kenny Watson
Fullback(s): Jeremi Johnson

Starting RB: Rudi Johnson has cemented himself as a legitimate NFL running back and a fantasy starter over the past two seasons. He finished as the 7th best fantasy running back in 2005 and the 8th best in 2004. He has rushed for 2,912 yards and scored 24 touchdowns over that stretch. The 5th year pro who played his collegiate ball at Auburn has great size (5 ft. 10 and 225 lbs), decent quickness and the durability necessary to carry the ball 20 times per game throughout the season. Last year he rushed for at least 80 yards in eleven of the games, had four 100-yard efforts and scored at least one touchdown in eight games. The only weakness Johnson has is in the receiving game as his hands and route running are not great and he has caught only 38 passes over the last two seasons. With the talent the Bengals have at offensive line, there is no reason to expect a dip in his production this season.

Backup RBs: Chris Perry has an excellent combination of size, speed and quickness and caught 51 passes in only fourteen games last season with 2 receiving touchdowns scored. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to clean out a knee towards the end of April, and has not yet been able to practice during training camp. There is a chance that he will not be ready to play in the regular season opener. When he is healthy, you can expect Perry to resume his role of 3rd down / change-of-pace back that he played so well for the team a year ago. At 220 pounds, he is more than capable of stepping into the role of starter if something happens to Rudi. Kenny Watson will only see playing time if injury occurs but has done some things well in the past.

Fullback: Jeremi Johnson is an excellent lead-blocking for Rudi Johnson but he is seldom used as a runner or receiver. He lacks the hands and speed to take on a bigger role in the offense but does exactly what the team requires of him which is open holes for the running game.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh
Backups: Chris Henry, Kelley Washington, Antonio Chatman, Tab Perry, Reggie McNeal [r]

Starting WRs: The Bengals are blessed with two gifted receivers including one of the best in the entire NFL in Chad Johnson who has worked very hard at improving himself over the years. Johnson has had four straight seasons with 1,000+ receiving yards and has scored 28 touchdowns over the past three seasons. He has finished as a top-three receiver in each of the last three years and has the confidence to dominate on the football field each week. He had eight games with 90+ receiving yards and scored a touchdown in eight games as well. With three straight 90+ receptions seasons, you can expect more of the same out of Johnson in 2006. T.J. Houshmandzadeh has quietly developed into one of the more productive # 2 receivers in the league. He has yet to reach the 1,000 yard mark but has caught 151 passes over the past two seasons and caught 11 touchdowns. He is a great underneath option in the passing game and a wonderful complement to Johnson.

Backup WRs: Chris Henry had some great moments as a rookie last season and finished with 6 touchdown receptions. Henry however has had some legal problems including a guilty-plea to marijuana possession in March and is being investigated due to an alleged crime of a sexual nature in Kenton County. If he can keep himself out of trouble, he has the talent to be a very good NFL receiver but it all depends on which path he decides to take over the next year or two. Kelley Washington has become nothing more than a role player for the team but did show occasional flashes of brilliance during his first two years in the league before falling off the map last season. Finally Antonio Chatman was brought in to provide depth and will likely fill a special teams role for the club.

Tight Ends

Starters: Reggie Kelly
Backups: Tony Stewart, Darnell Sanders

The tight end position is rarely utilized in the passing game for the Bengals. Reggie Kelly is a very good run blocker but has marginal receiving skills as his 43 receptions over the past three years illustrate. He does what the team asks of him which is open holes for the running game to exploit. Tony Stewart is likely the # 2 guy but has had even less impact as a receiver on this roster with only 35 receptions and 1 touchdowns over the past three seasons. Don�t expect much in the way of fantasy production from this group.

Place Kicker

Shayne Graham : Graham is one of only three kickers to have back-to-back top five scoring seasons in this decade (Vanderjagt and Elam are the others). He was 3rd last year, and 5th in 2004. Graham is one of only two kickers to connect on over 85% of his FGs each of the last three years (Stover is the other). Once the regular season starts, he needs just four more successful field goals to reach 100 for his career. That qualifies him for the all-time NFL accuracy standings, where hell rank second behind only Mike Vanderjagt. Graham has never missed a PAT in his five year NFL career. The Bengals have provided Graham with increased scoring opportunities every year since he joined the team in 2003.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Tab Perry; Kenny Watson; Deltha O'Neal; T.J. Houshmandzadeh; Johnathan Joseph; Chris Perry; Reggie McNeal

WR Tab Perry handled almost every kickoff return last year (64 out of 67), and averaged 24.4 yards. His 1562 total yards ranked 3rd in the league. The various backups have various experience returning kickoffs. RB Kenny Watson (13 returns, 18.5 avg. in 2004) missed last year with a torn bicep. Although CB Deltha O�Neal only has one return per year since becoming a Bengal, he has prior experience from his years with Denver. WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh returned kickoffs in both 2002 and 2004. First round draft pick CB Johnathan Joseph infrequently returned punts and kickoffs for South Carolina. RB Chris Perry handled some kickoffs in college. Six round draft pick WR Reggie McNeal played quarterback at Texas A&M, but will be tried out on kickoff and punt returns. Perry remains the top kickoff returner, however the backup KR role is up for grabs. RB Kenny Watson appears to be the most likely candidate. Several rookies have also been regularly practicing on kickoff returns: WR Bennie Brazell, WR Reggie McNeal, and RB DeDe Dorsey.

Punt Returners: Antonio Chatman; Keiwan Ratliff; Deltha O'Neal; T.J. Houshmandzadeh; Tab Perry; Johnathan Joseph; Reggie McNeal

CB Keiwan Ratliff handled all 28 punt return for the Bengals last year, averaging 5.6 yards (a big drop-off from his 12.2 avg. the prior year). It�s very likely that he�ll loose the starting role to FA acquisition WR Antonio Chatman, who returned almost every punt for the Packers the last three years (45 returns, 8.5 avg., 1TD in 2005). Again, the potential backups have experience from several years ago. T.J. Houshmandzadeh led the Bengals in punt returns in 2002, and Deltha O'Neal led the Broncos in 2003. The team is trying out KR Tab Perry to see how he fares on punt returns. Starting punt returner Antonio Chatman has missed practices and the scrimmage with a groin injury. In his absence, CB Keiwan Ratliff, WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR Bennie Brazelland CB Deltha ONeal have handled punts. WR/KR Tab Perry has also joined in on punts during practice. The Bengals also plan to take a look at WR Reggie McNeal before the preseason is over.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: RT Willie Anderson, RG Bobbie Williams, C Rick Braham, LG Eric Steinbach, LT Levi Jones
Key Backups: G Scott Kooistra, T Stacy Andrews, T Andrew Whitworth (rookie)

Last season, the Bengals offensive line made the transition from a good unit to an exceptional one and is probably the top unit in the NFL today. It all starts at the top where coach Paul Alexander returns for his 12th season as OL coach. Willie Anderson is a force at right tackle. He rarely makes an error, is a force in the running attack and never takes a play off. At the other tackle position, Levi Jones has become a tremendous player as well and has a great mix of athleticism, size and technique. The two combined are probably the best tackle tandem in the NFL. In gluttony of riches, the Bengals are also blessed with one of the finest young guards in the NFL today in Eric Steinbach. He has great technique and his quickness helps him out in space. He isn�t a large lineman at less than 300 pounds but he is able to use leverage and technique nicely to get the job done. Bobby Williams is the other guard and he also has developed into a very good starting lineman. He always had great size and a mean demeanor but his questionable technique often hurt him on game day. He made giant strides in the technical part of the game last year and his game flourished as a result. Rick Braham will be 36 years old this year and he may not have much time yet as a starter. However he played very well last year and his experience is valuable to this group. Add in young, talented 2nd year tackle Stacy Andrews as well as rookie tackle Andrew Whitworth from LSU this unit will be special once again in 2006.

Team Defense

'05 saw the Bengals become the leagues most dominating big play defense as they led the league in interceptions with 31 and total takeaways with 44. However they still have a lot of work to do. Opponents had little trouble moving the ball on a unit that finished 20th versus the run, 24th against the pass, 27th in total yards and 22nd points allowed. Normally there is some collation between pressuring the QB and interceptions but the Bengals managed only a dismal 29 sacks which was 26th best. To their defense this club was hammered by injuries at the safety position where they had lost both starters by the end of week 3. From that point on the Cincinnati safeties looked like bumpers in a pinball game. Madieu Williams is expected back at FS and they addressed the SS position strongly by signing free agent Dexter Jackson. However they remain thin at the position. The run defense got a "huge" lift with the signing of Sam Adams who is one of the leagues premier run stuffing tackles. Adams will keep blockers of Odell Thurman who should have a monster sophomore campaign. The pass defense was addressed in the first round when Cincinnati landed CB Johnathan Joseph. A player who many scouts had listed as the top corner in the draft. In fact the only deficiency the club failed to strongly address is the ailing pass rush where they added only third round pick Frostee Rucker at DE this off-season. This contributes to the increasing speculation that they are in the preparation stages for a jump to the 3-4 next year. In the short term they have promoted David Pollack to starter at SLB with plans to use him much like LaVar Arrington was used by Lewis in Washington when he racked up 11 sacks in '02.

Defensive Line

Starters: RDE Justin Smith, LDE Bryan Robinson, RDT Sam Adams, LDT John Thornton
Backups: DT Shaun Smith, DT Robert Geathers, DT Domata Peko, DE Jonathan Fanene (IR), DE Frostee Rucker

Starting DL: The front four of the Bengals left something to be desired again in '05. The interior guys were partly to blame for the lacking run defense and the starting ends recorded only 8.5 sacks between them. Sam Adams replaces Bryan Robinson and brings an instant upgrade as Cincy no longer lacks a big bodied space eater on the inside to anchor the run D and protect their linebackers. Adams will demand the attention of multiple blockers on most plays which will also benefit the smaller more athletic John Thornton who can be very effective when he faces single blocking. Heading into last season everyone in Cincinnati expected a big year from the defensive ends, particularly Justin Smith. It never happened as Smith finished very near his career average with 6 sacks. Robert Geathers was nothing short of a disappointment. After posting 3.5 sacks in a very limited role in '04 he could muster just 3 as a starter last season. He'll be replaced at end by Bryan Robinson, who moves outside after starting at tackle in 2005. That said, their lack of pressure on the QB may have served to speed the club's decision about turning to a 3-4. When/if the Bengals decide to use a 3-4, Smith will likely be the odd man out. His size and skills least fit the requirements of an end in that scheme. Smith has already publicly stated that he believes this to be his last season with the Bengals. Both Geathers and Thornton however could be a good fit.

Backup DL: Cincinnati doesn't have any superstars lurking in the wings. Geathers slimmed down in the offseason in the hopes that he could regain some of the promise he showed in pass rush as a rookie in 2004. He'll be used situationally, but could become a factor again by late season. Shaun Smith is a young 320 pound run defender who turned some heads last season. He will see action in short yardage situations and could possibly get the call ahead of Robinson if Adams were injured. Rookie 4th round pick Domata Peko is somewhat of a project. He's another big bodied guy who at 322 pounds could be groomed to play NT if/when the club moves to a 3-4. Peko has been a monster in pre-season action, though, and could see significant time alongside Sam Adams. Jonathan Fanene was the team's 7th round pick in '05. He saw very little action as a rookie and could be bypassed on the depth chart by this year's third round pick Frostee Rucker. Rucker is a bit raw but has some ability to rush the passer. While he is not likely to have a prominent role this year, he will have opportunity to impress. If the club should go 3-4, Fanene could fit at DE while Rucker would likely get a look at OLB opposite David Pollack.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Landon Johnson, MLB Brian Simmons, SLB David Pollack
Backups: MLB Odell Thurman (susp), LB Rashad Jeanty, WLB Caleb Miller, LB Ahmad Brooks, MLB A.J. Nicholson

Starting LBs: When they entered the '05 season with a pair of rookies starting at inebacker, the Bengals knew there would be some bruises along the way. They came out of the season knowing that they had hit a home run with second round pick Odell Thruman. All the kid did as a rookie was lead the club in tackles, record a sack and a half and intercept 5 passes. He may well be the Bengals best pure middle linebacker since Reggie Williams in the eighties. With Sam Adams as his almost personal body guard, Thurman could have been poised for a run at the pro-bowl. Unfortunately, he's been suspended for the first four regular season games. Veteran Brian Simmons will be moved inside, while the versatile Landon Johnson moves into the WLB role. Last year's first round pick was less impressive but did contribute. David Pollack never established himself as an every down player but he did see extensive action. The club will look to maximize Pollack's pass rush prowess and expect him to improve over last season's total of 5 sacks. Here again is the 3-4 speculation. Pollack did well last year for a college defensive end playing SLB in a 4-3, but he would seem an ideal fit at OLB in a 3-4. Brian Simmons provides the veteran leadership for this young group but he can still make plays himself. When Thurman returns to the starting lineup, his presence will allow the coaches to move Simmons around and put him in position to make more big plays. As a result he didn't make as many tackles last season but he did record 4 sacks, 2 picks and 3 forced fumbles. It's unclear where Simmons would fit in a 3-4. He would likely play outside with the current roster but may be best suited to move inside where he and Thurman would make an excellent duo.

Backup LBs: Landon Johnson actually took a lot more snaps at SLB last season than did Pollack. He has only above average pass rush skills but is a very solid player who would start for many clubs. He'll prove his value filling in while Thurman is out. We have all heard the clich�' "you want to get your best 11 players on the field", Johnson is one of those 11. Jeanty has probably won a spot in this crowded group with a stellar camp at SLB. Supplemental pick Ahmad Brooks is already turning heads in camp with his combination of size and speed. He's unlikely to have a big role in 2006, but should become a big part of whatever front the Bengals choose to install next season. The Bengals used a fifth round pick on Florida State MLB A.J. Nicholson who will have an opportunity to win the backup job behind Thurman. He has potential but brings a lot of off field baggage which caused him to fall on draft day. If he can keep his nose clean he could develop into a fine NFL player. He'll be competing for one of the final spots on the roster with versatile third year player Caleb Miller, who has struggled with injury but brings a valuable special teams presence.

Defensive Backs

Starters: RCB Tory James, LCB Deltha O'Neal, FS Madieu Williams, SS Dexter Jackson
Backups: CB Keiwan Ratliff, CB Johnathan Joseph, CB Rashad Bauman, FS Kevin Kaesviharn, SS Anthony Mitchell (IR)

Starting DBs: The Bengals are the only club that can boast having sent both its corners to the Pro Bowl within the last two seasons. Tory James made the trip in '04 when he finished second in the league with 8 interceptions. Not to be outdone, Deltha O'Neal followed in '05 by tying Ty Law for the title with 10. They are both quality cover guys with obvious big play talent and give the Bengals one of the leagues premier tandems. Madieu Williams is coming off a season that ended in September when he was lost to shoulder surgery. The shoulder is expected to be fine but remains cause for concern until he takes some hits. As a rookie in '04 Williams started 13 games and was nothing short of impressive. Though the majority of his playing time came at SS, he made starts at all 4 secondary positions over the course of the season. All the rookie did was to record a pair of sacks, three picks, two fumbles recoveries and lead the club in tackles. Williams will line up at FS in '06 which could put a damper on his tackle numbers but should allow him to make even more big plays. The Bengals were hurting at SS even before Kim Herring was injured last pre-season. Former Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson signed via free agency to fill that gaping hole. The problem is he comes with his own injury concerns after missing 15 games over the past 2 seasons. The Bengals desperately need both safeties to remain healthy this year.

Backup DBs: One position the Bengals can be comfortable with is corner. Few teams are as strong 4 players deep. '04 second round pick Keiwan Ratliff has gained a lot of experience over the past two seasons. He has shown signs of being a very good player but has been a little inconsistent. Most of Ratliff's action has come as the nickel corner where he will find it very difficult to fend off this year's top draft pick Johnathan Joseph. The Bengals see Joseph as the eventual replacement for 33 year old Tory James. He is a bit raw but is a very talented athlete who could become one of the leagues premier corners within the next couple of seasons. As well off as Cincy is at corner, they are hurting just as bad at safety. Kevin Kaesviharn is a former corner who can play FS but is only 196 pounds and is not physical enough. What compounds the concern here is the fact that Madieu Williams is coming off season ending shoulder surgery and Jackson has missed a great deal of action over the past two season with Achilles ('04) and hamstring ('05) injuries. The club will likely keep their eyes open for a veteran addition once the training camp cuts start coming.

Last modified: 2006-09-04 09:41:31



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