Robert Husseman. 16th May, 2008 - 5:25 pm
Which is the more discouraging number for Bengals' fans: One playoff win in the past 20 years or 10 players arrested in a matter of 16 months?
There is no easy answer, just as there is no easy way out of the mess on the hands of President Mike Brown and Coach Marvin Lewis. But give them some credit for trying hard at this point. Chris Henry is no longer a Bengal. Antwan Odom looks to be a great free-agent pickup. Keith Rivers and Pat Sims might start from Week 1 on, and the Bengals did appear to go deep in April?s draft, nabbing four team captains among their 10 selections. Running backs Chris Perry and Rudi Johnson should be fully healthy for this season. Several young players have come on of late especially in the secondary, where the projected starters are all under the age of 25.
Those pale in comparison to the negatives, which are mounting at an alarming rate. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks was accused of beating a woman after an argument outside his home in northern Kentucky. Backup running back Quincy Wilson was arrested for disorderly conduct during a wedding party. Brown and Lewis drafted defensive tackle Jason Shirley in the fifth round despite him having been kicked off his team after a DUI charge was levied against him. (Somewhere, A.J. Nicholson is grimacing.) The Bengals made matters worse by threatening a Bengals' blog with a lawsuit over use of copyrighted photos, seen as an unnecessary use of force against an often-critical medium.
Oh, and Chad Johnson. Ah yes, the mercurial wide receiver who seems to hold the Bengals? fortunes in his hand?will he play? Will he hold out for the season? Not even Chad seems to know at this point, but for the sake of sanity let?s write him off this year.
What?s left? A team with the talent to compete in the AFC North despite obvious flaws but the ability to self-destruct so magnificently that the dreaded ?Bungles? nickname won?t quite do them justice. Since the Browns, Ravens, and Steelers made noticeable improvements in the offseason, the Bengals have a lot to live up to. And everyone is expecting them to fail.
An offense that ranked seventh in passing yards per game but just 24th in rushing yards per game has lost two of its top three wide receivers while maintaining a porous offensive line and a running corps that could be the worst in the NFL. Rookie wideouts Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell figure to mesh nicely with T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Glenn Holt, Antonio Chatman, and Marcus Maxwell and form a potent, if unrefined, group of receivers for Carson Palmer. Perry, having played in 22 games in four years since the Bengals spent a first-round pick on him in 2004, is likely to split carries with Rudi Johnson. In case of injury (and injuries have ravaged the Bengals' backfield in recent years) Kenny Watson and DeDe Dorsey will have to put fear into the hearts of front sevens everywhere. Kenny Irons, a 2007 second-round pick, will likely miss the entirety of 2008 recovering from his ACL tear, and he may be the team?s best running back. That average of 93 yards per game on the ground could go even lower if everything breaks right?er, wrong.
New defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, meanwhile, is stuck with the challenge of repairing a defense that broke more often than it bent in 2007. The front four?Robert Geathers, Sims, Domata Peko, and Odom?figure to be significantly more disruptive than last year despite the loss of steady but unproductive Justin Smith. The black hole known as linebacker should be improved as Rivers finds his niche and Odell Thurman returns from his two-year suspension; plus, Dhani Jones was a pleasant surprise on the outside for a 97-year-old. The secondary is the most exciting position on this team; Leon Hall, Jonathan Joseph, Chinedum Ndukwe, and Marvin White are young, dynamic players with high upsides and room to grow together?an exciting prospect for a defense that looked simply lost at times last year.
But that black cloud hanging above Paul Brown Stadium is getting bigger and not going anywhere. Chad Johnson?s name is ubiquitous. Four of the 10 arrested Bengals, as well as Brooks, remain on the team. Three of the top five tacklers are gone. The AFC North got much more talented. The new receivers must replace 1,783 yards of production. Marvin Lewis and Paul Brown seem as aloof as ever, and the fan base is growing restless. Oh, and Chad Johnson?
You may want to run for cover.