After playing four of five games on the road, the Detroit Lions will return home to host the Cincinnati Bengals in a week seven tilt.
To get a feel for season preparations from a Bengals perspective, I got together with Jason Marcum of Stripe Hype. Here is our Q&A:
1. How would you assess the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do through the draft and free agency?
The Bengals had another solid offseason after keeping their best free agents in Andre Smith, Wallace Gilberry, Terence Newman, Michael Johnson and Adam Jones. They added several quality players in the draft, and signed former Pittsburgh Steeler and Bengals-nemesis James Harrison, who adds the veteran Super Bowl experience that this team has been lacking. If the Bengals want to learn how to win in the postseason, he can help them do so.
I feel there’s still a lot of uncertainty at the safety position. Reggie Nelson is the only proven safety on the roster, and I’m not confident in Jeromy Miles or George Iloka to play significant snaps if he goes down. And how can you already assume Shawn Williams will be an adequate starter as a rookie third-round pick? If he doesn’t work out, the Bengals will be left with Taylor Mays to start after he couldn’t hold that spot last year.
Other than that, I loved their draft class. Tyler Eifert will come in and either push Jermaine Gresham to consistently play to his abilities, or allow the Bengals to go with Eifert and Charles as their primary tight ends going forward. Eifert also has the ability to become that #2 receiving threat the Bengals desperately need to punish defenses for double-teaming A.J. Green.
The Bengals also now have a nice 3-headed monster at running back in BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Giovani Bernard, and Rex Burkhead. I think his is the perfect threesome for the running back-by-committee approach Jay Gruden has stated he wishes to implement this year.
2. Which Rookie are you most excited to see play in 2013 and why?
As far as this season goes, assuming he can stay healthy for the duration of the year, North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard is the favorite to get the most touches of any offensive player drafted, and with the Bengals having desperately needed a dynamic pass-catching back to compliment the short-yardage game of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Gio figures to get a lot of playing time, and may eventually earn the starting spot.
For the duration of his rookie contract, that has to got to Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert. He probably won’t get a lot of opportunities to put up big numbers this year, but once the 2014-15 NFL season concludes and Jermaine Gresham is a free agent, Eifert could very will find himself the #1 TE in an offense that likes to feature the TE. His ability to split out wide, or even line up in the backfield as an H-back will allow him to become a big-time contributor on a team whose quarterback is more geared toward a short-intermediate passing game, which is what Eifert thrives in.
3. What is the biggest question that still needs to be answered heading into training camp?
They must improve their depth at safety. They’re currently projected to open the 2012 season with Shawn Williams as the starting strong safety, which is a lot to put on a rookie drafted in the third-round. His only competition is Taylor Mays, who has now been benched by two different teams (49ers and Bengals) for not being able to play with more control and discipline in the backend of the defense.
Reggie Nelson is a great free safety, but there’s no proven backup behind him either if he goes down with an injury. The biggest question of all remaining is how much will Andy Dalton improve in 2013? This team is perfectly set up for any “elite” quarterback to lead to the Super Bowl, but Dalton has proven he’s anything but that, yet.
If he makes significant strides this year, the Bengals could be a dark-horse Super Bowl contender. But if he fails to improve from last year, then this team will be nothing more than a “one-and-done” playoff team…again.
4. What are your expectations for the team in 2013?
Make the playoffs for the third-consecutive season, which would be a first in franchise history, while competing for the AFC North division title. They also need to win a playoff game, something they haven’t done in over two decades.
5. Right here, right now, are you marking down the game against the Lions as a win, loss or toss-up?
Loss. It’s a road game against a team that has a lot of favorable matchups against the Bengals. While I Believe Cincinnati is a better team and has more balance on offense and defense, the Lions at home with Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Brandon Pettigrew will force Cincinnati into a shootout, and they haven’t shown me they have the horses on offense to keep up with a game that goes into the high 20s-30s.
For more on the Bengals, check out Stripe Hype.