The Cincinnati Bengals finished third in the AFC North last year at 6-9-1. After five seasons in the playoffs (and five straight losses in the Wild Card round), Cincinnati is at a bit of a crossroads. We brought in our Bengals blog, Cincy Jungle, to answer some questions for us before the Bills travel to Cincinnati in Week 5.
Notable free agent additions: RG Andre Smith (switching positions from RT to RG), LB Kevin Minter, CB Bene Benwikere
Notable free agent departures: LT Andrew Whitworth, RG Kevin Zeitler, RB Rex Burkhead, DT Domata Peko, DE Margus Hunt
Trades: Acquired DE Chris Smith from the Jaguars for a 2018 conditional draft pick
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies: WR John Ross, RB Joe Mixon, DE Jordan Willis, OLB Carl Lawson
Biggest offseason addition: Ross and Mixon
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: How will the offensive line do this season? The Bengals will have a very different look to the offensive line in 2017. Two of last year’s starters are gone and three players will be either starting for the first time or switching positions in 2017. The Bengals’ offensive line is expected to be, Cedric Ogbuehi at left tackle, Clint Boling at left guard, Russell Bodine at center, Andre Smith at right guard and Jake Fisher at right tackle. In 2016, Ogbuehi started at right tackle until he was benched and then moved to be a backup left tackle. Boling and Bodine are the only starters staying in place from 2016. Smith is returning after a year spent with the Vikings, largely on injured reserve. He’s moving from right tackle to right guard to help with the transition of Jake Fisher, who started three games in 2016 at right tackle and will now be taking on the starting job from the get-go. There are a lot of questions here as the line was shaky in 2016 and lost its two best players (Whitworth and Zeitler) this offseason. The Bengals need this offensive line to play well; if the line fails, the rest of the team may crumble, too.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: How much will the rookies really play? The Bengals absolutely need the rookies drafted in the first three to four rounds to heavily contribute this year. After a 6-9-1 season, a rebound is needed and since there were few free agency additions, the draft picks must help in turning the team around. The problem is, Marvin Lewis has been highly resistant to playing rookies, especially on defense. He needs to get Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson ready to contribute starting in Week 1 and then actually allow them to see the field. You don’t get better by sitting on the bench, but Marvin Lewis doesn’t seem to realize that.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: Tyler Eifert sat out during OTAs while recovering from December 2016 back surgery. Giovani Bernard is still recovering from November 2016 ACL surgery. 2017 first-round pick John Ross is recovering from March labrum surgery and is expected to be cleared to play by training camp or very shortly after the start of training camp. 2016 draft picks William Jackson III and Andrew Billings missed all of 2016 with injuries but both are fully recovered and ready to contribute in 2017.
See you in Week 5! Thanks, Cincy Jungle.