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News » 2008 team previews: Cincinnati Bengals

2008 team previews: Cincinnati Bengals

2008 team previews: Cincinnati Bengals
About the only negative confronting the Bengals when they reported to Georgetown College in Kentucky for training camp July 27 was that rookie first-round linebacker Keith Rivers was unsigned. And he wouldn't sign until 10 days later.

2008 NFL season previews

The new season is almost ready for kickoff ... get the scoop on every division.


  • Patriots: Another run for perfection
  • Bills: The no-name challenger
  • Jets: There's a new QB in town
  • Dolphins: Rebuilding in Tuna's image


  • Cowboys: Super Bowl or bust
  • Giants: D-line strength to weakness
  • Eagles: Not just Westbrook anymore
  • Redskins: New coach, yet again

But then they started practicing, and a team that's especially thin started losing key players: defensive end Antwan Odom, signed as a free agent in the offseason to bolster the NFL's worst pass rush in 2007, sprained his foot in the very first practice. Before the week was out, starting wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and tailback Rudi Johnson would be out with hamstring injuries. Chad Johnson, the other starting receiver, would make a quick comeback from ankle surgery in June 18 only to sustain a partial tear of the labrum in his left shoulder in the second preseason game, Aug. 16.

Rivers would sign and get back up to speed quickly, emerging as the starter at Will linebacker. But more receivers would go down: Marcus Maxwell, competing for the third receiver spot, was lost for the season with a thigh injury. And rookie third-round receiver Andre Caldwell is still out with an undisclosed foot injury.

Then came the defining moment of the preseason: quarterback Carson Palmer, sacked for the fourth time in two games, left the third game against New Orleans with a bloody nose and cut lip, an injury later reported as a broken nose.

For a middle-of-the-pack team, the Bengals make a lot of noise. It was reported that they were shopping Rudi Johnson in search for a receiver, which Johnson said he thinks is true. And the Bengals were the center of NFL news when they re-signed wide receiver Chris Henry, whom they had released April 3 following his fifth arrest in their employ. Henry, though suspended for the first four games of 2008, signed a two-year contract Aug. 19.

Meanwhile, there are positive signs: Houshmandzadeh and Rudi Johnson were back at practice for the last week of the preseason and expected to play in the last exhibition game. Odom and Chad Johnson were expected back at practice for the start of the week to prepare for the Ravens. Tailback Chris Perry, the first-round pick in 2004 who hadn't played since November 2006, is healthy and has handled a heavy workload in the preseason. His performance has made Rudi Johnson expendable, if indeed the Bengals are shopping him for a receiver.

The defense remains a work in progress under first-year coordinator Mike Zimmer. The Bengals appear to be continuing strides made toward the end of 2007 against the run, but Zimmer's press- and single-coverage system on the outside has not taken hold as quickly as he'd like.

With a doubt, though, the biggest disappointment of camp and the preseason has been the lackluster performance of a healthy offensive line. With franchise player Stacy Andrews at right tackle, and three-time All-Pro Willie Anderson healthy and working as a backup, the line still has been porous in pass protection and inconsistent in run blocking. There have been mitigating problems: Perry and tight end Ben Utecht didn't pick up their blocks against New Orleans blitzes and pressure packages. Even Palmer has missed a couple of hot reads in the preseason.

Looking out into the 2008 season, the Bengals need to have a better performance from the offensive line to run the ball consistently and protect Palmer -- as it did in 2007 when he was sacked just 17 times -- in order to win. The offense needs to possess the ball more and reduce pressure on the young, maturing defense.

And as they've done in seasons past under Lewis, the Bengals need to continue to win the turnover battle as much as possible. In five seasons with Lewis as coach, the Bengals are 29-4 with a plus-differential, 9-9 when it is even but just 4-25 when the differential is a minus. The Bengals, despite heading into Year 6 of the Lewis program, remain a team with a very slim margin of error.

COACHING: Marvin Lewis, 6th year, 6th with Bengals (42-38 regular season, 42-39 overall).

REMEMBERING: 2007 record: 7-9 (3rd in AFC North); missed playoffs for 16th time in 17 years.

PREDICTING: 2008 regular season record 8-8 (2nd in AFC North); miss playoffs

Notes and Quotes

  • The Bengals' first-team offense did not score a point in its last 10 preseason possessions through Games 2 and 3. "There's always concern until you go out there and fix it," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who has not played because of a hamstring injury. "So obviously today we get a chance to fix it. Thursday will be the final preseason game. We play (the Colts) every year, the last game they hardly every play anybody." The goal for the Bengals will be "just to get out there and everybody get a little confidence and play well, I think we'll be good."

  • The Bengals were at 75 players before the cut-down deadline on Aug. 26. They need to trim 22 players to meet the 53-man limit Saturday.

  • Bengals president Mike Brown was one of three other team owners to attend a meeting in New York held by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell with the five Rooney brothers with an interest in the future of the Steelers. Goodell met for 2 1/2 hours and described it at as "another step in the process" in resolving the Steelers ownership restructuring. In addition to Brown, Tom Benson of the New Orleans Saints and Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers were invited by Goodell because, ultimately, 24 of 32 NFL owners must approve any change in Steelers ownership.

  • Amid rumors his sprained left shoulder might require surgery Chad Johnson did 20 pushups for media assembled at his Paul Brown Stadium cubicle Monday.

    "Want me to do 20 more, 100?" he asked. Johnson again insisted he would not have surgery and would be ready for the first regular-season game. He was on the field catching passes at practice Monday afternoon but was not wearing his helmet or jersey. He was on the field again Tuesday in the same fashion. The Bengals wrap up their preseason Thursday night at Indianapolis; Johnson said he asked coach Marvin Lewis if he could play -- Lewis said no.

    Johnson, who sprained the shoulder when he fell hard early in the second preseason game against the Lions, said the risk of re-injuring the shoulder was slim. Then he knocked on the wood cubicle. Johnson told reporters that "nothing is wrong with me," but ESPN.com, citing an anonymous source, reported that Johnson has a partial tear of the labrum. Agent Drew Rosenhaus has not returned phone messages.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 16 -- Years Bengals have not made the playoffs in the past 17 seasons.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Last year, we counted on some guys who weren't able to do much in the preseason, and we counted on them for the regular season, and they didn't necessarily come through with flying colors. I think that's important where we are this year as a team, particularly that we do see and have a better feel for that. Because if you enter the season a little beat up and injured, it can take a toll on you as you go down the road." -- Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, on the composition of his roster heading into the last week of the preseason and the first week of practice for the regular season opener.

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    The Bengals have not been spared the injury bug affecting many teams around the league. Already, two players expected to make the team, cornerback Ethan Kilmer and wide receiver Marcus Maxwell, sure-fire contributors on special teams, have been waived injured, cleared waivers and reverted back to the Bengals' injured reserve list. Both players had thigh injuries.

    The Bengals reportedly are shopping eighth-year tailback Rudi Johnson in a trade for a wide receiver.

    PLAYER TO WATCH: FB Daniel Coats -- A rookie free agent tight end in 2007 from Brigham Young, Coats led special teams in snaps played. He was moved to fullback in the offseason and is in a position to supplant Jeremi Johnson as the starter.


    Rd. 1/9, LB Keith Rivers, Southern Cal -- Despite a 10-day contract holdout, Rivers has won the starting job at Will linebacker and could very well lead the team in tackles for the regular season. The Bengals found the right player on which the rebuild their defense.

    Rd. 2/46, WR Jerome Simpson, Coastal Carolina -- Small-school star is determined to prove he belongs and has not missed a snap in training camp or preseason. No lack of effort here to go with natural gifts.

    Rd. 3/77, DT Pat Sims, Auburn -- Out for the time being with a foot injury, in a protective boot. He is needed in the rotation.

    Rd. 3/97, WR Andre Caldwell, Florida -- In a protective boot with a foot injury, is more pro ready than Simpson. His loss could hurt both offense and special teams.

    Rd. 4/112, OT Anthony Collins, Kansas -- Solid value with pick that will develop into starter and start season as backup.

    Rd. 5/145, DT Jason Shirley, Fresno State -- Solid talent, but character questions follow him from college. So far he has kept quiet and worked hard. Might be fourth tackle.

    Rd. 6/177, S Corey Lynch, Appalachian State -- Making progress on defense, looks to be special teams staple for years to come. Makes plays.


    QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Carson Palmer. Backups - Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jeff Rowe, Jordan Palmer.

    Carson Palmer has been bloodied and battered in preseason. Fitzpatrick has rebounded from iffy spring to look sharp in preseason and earn teammates' confidence. Rowe is like to stick as No. 3, same as last year. Jordan Palmer probably will land on practice squad.

    RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB Rudi Johnson, FB Jeremi Johnson. Backups - RB Chris Perry, RB Kenny Watson, RB DeDe Dorsey, FB Daniel Coats, RB James Johnson.

    The Bengals reportedly have Rudi Johnson on the trading block in search of another wide receiver. Perry has had a strong preseason, and coaches appear to be comfortable starting the season with Perry as at least a co-starter. Perry's addition brings a dimension to the offense it has missed since 2005, when he had 51 receptions. Coats is pushing Jeremi Johnson for the fullback job because of Johnson's weight problems. Watson is steady and dependable and a boon to special teams.

    TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Reggie Kelly. Backups - Ben Utecht, Nate Lawrie, Matt Sherry

    Utecht will be on the field a lot with Kelly in two tight-end sets. The Bengals will undoubtedly throw more this season to their tight ends, including Kelly, than they have in recent memory. Sherry could develop on the practice squad. Kelly remains an invaluable, unselfish player.

    WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chad Johnson. Backups - Glenn Holt, Antonio Chatman, Andre Caldwell, Jerome Simpson.

    Johnson (shoulder) and Houshmandzadeh (hamstring) should be ready for the opener, though another bad fall or direct hit could send Johnson to surgery. Caldwell has ended the preseason with a foot injury. Simpson is working hard to polish his game and prove he wasn't a second-round reach. Still, there is no clear No. 3 receiver, though Chris Henry was re-signed and must first serve a four-game suspension.

    OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Levi Jones, LG Andrew Whitworth, C Eric Ghi=

    aciuc, RG Bobbie Williams, RT Stacy Andrews. Backups - RT Willie Anderson, T/G Scott Kooistra, C Dan Santucci, G Nate Livings, T/G Anthony Collins.

    Andrews, the team's franchise player, is expected to start at right tackle. Anderson is healthy and working as a backup. But through the preseason, this group has under-achieved badly and threatens to undermine all that the offense could accomplish.

    DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - RE Antwan Odom, RT John Thornton, LT Domata Peko, LE Robert Geathers. Backups - T/E Jonathan Fanene, T Michael Myers, T Pat Sims, E Frostee Rucker, T Jason Shirley.

    The Bengals like three of their linemen a lot - given the big contracts paid Odom, Geathers and now Peko. Coaches say the interior of the line is not responsible for the inconsistent run defense. But they signed Odom and bolstered the linebacker corps, keeping Geathers at end, in the hopes of improving the NFL's worst pass rush in 2007. Odom should be back from a camp-long foot injury in time to play in the opener.

    LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Keith Rivers, MLB Dhani Jones, SLB Rashad Jeanty. Backups - Darryl Blackstock, Corey Mays, Jim Maxwell, Brandon Johnson.

    Coaches have settled early on their starters, with Jones emerging as the player to wear the new defensive communicator device. Intelligence matters. Rivers has impressed with his knowledge, speed and attitude. Blackstock could be turned loose as pass-rusher specialists. Mays and Maxwell are anchors on special teams. The experiment to find a spot for Brooks might be over.

    DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - RCB Leon Hall, LCB Johnathan Joseph, SS Dexter Jackson, FS Marvin White. Backups - CB Deltha O'Neal, CB David Jones, SS Chinedum Ndukwe, FS Herana-Daze Jones, FS Kyries Hebert, S Corey Lynch.

    Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's scheme makes cornerbacks play tighter and more physical in coverage. Hall and Joseph are up to the challenge, though they have struggled at times in the preseason. Jones could challenge veteran O'Neal for the third cornerback job. Jackson will start but will have to stave off Ndukwe once the second-year safety returns from a leg injury.

    SPECIAL TEAMS: K Shayne Graham, P Kyle Larson, LS Brad St. Louis, KOR Holt, PR Chatman or O'Neal.

    The Bengals did not get a new return man for special teams coach Darrin Simmons, though rookie receiver Caldwell might get a look on kickoffs. The return of several defensive backups bodes well for coverage units. There shouldn't be the dearth of available bodies this season. Last year, offseason losses were exacerbated by a rash of injuries to backup linebackers.

  • Author:Fox Sports
    Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
    Added: August 29, 2008

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