On January 5th, following Mike Brown’s undisputed heavyweight failure of a press conference, if you had told me that I would be keenly interested in the 2011 preseason opener on August 12th, I would have flicked you in the forehead and called you an idiot.
But somehow, someway, it has happened. In spite of the lockout, in spite of the Carson Palmer fiasco, even in spite of Mike Brown himself, football is here and I am ready!
In anticipation of tonight’s game, here are the things I will be watching to learn about the Bengals tonight:
QB: 1) Will Andy show poise as he runs the offense? He is in an unenviable position as a rookie being asked to start with two weeks of NFL practice with coaches. Mistakes are coming, so they are not my focus. Will he maintain control and his focus, or get rattled? How will he rebound from those inevitable mistakes? 2) Will Gradkowski makes us question who should start on September 11? Probably not, unless he plays fantastic.
WR: Of course we are all anxious to see A.J. Green. But I am curious to see who makes a strong case to get the spots behind Green, Simpson, Shipley and Caldwell. Cosby, Whalen, and now Standeford (Boiler Up!) and others I don’t really see having a chance will need to make the most of limited opportunities.
RB: 1) Will Cedric look strong? Will he hold on to the football? If he gets loose with the ball, the tenuous season will easily go bouncing away with it. 2) Who among Peerman, Finley and Williams will push for the 4th spot? Each brings a different dimension with their game. On paper, I prefer Peerman as the hard runner of the group, since it doesn’t seem to make sense to have 3 scat backs and no hammer if Cedric gets hurt. With Marvin’s praise of Finley, could he do well enough to bounce Scott?
TE: Will Chase Coffman finally cement a place on this team? Did he even play his rookie year? Last year he was behind Gresham and Kelly. And just when he seemed positioned to be the solid #2 TE this year, the Bengals went and got Bo Scaife. If he can’t prove he belongs, it may be time to let him go.
OL: Oh boy, do we have questions here. 1) Will Andre Smith earn the spot as starter? I like Anthony Collins, and I think he should start until Smith can earn it. 2) Will Nate Livings let Dalton get killed? No one outside of PBS really understands how he merits being a starter. If I’m an opposing DC, I’d be merciless with Livings as the weak link on the line, which he demonstrably is. 3) Will Big Bobbie return to form? He had a rough go of it last year. Lining up opposite Suh will be quite the test. 4) Will Boling, Hudson and others show that this unit has depth? Since Mike Brown prefers the toys on offense to linemen, depth here has been a somewhat forgotten concept. At least since 2005.
CB: 1) Will Clements be an acceptable replacement for Joseph? We all know he is a downgrade, but how big of one? 2) How much depth is there behind the starters? If injuries ravage the secondary again, will we end up watching teams torch the Bengals repeatedly?
S: Can these guys stay healthy? If they maintain form, we will see at least two safeties ride the cart off the field tonight. Seeing everyone in this group leave under their own power and in good enough condition to participate in the next practice would be a step in the right direction. Then we can start worrying about depth.
LB: How good/bad will Rey-Rey look in moving back to the middle? No knock on Dhani, but an upgrade is needed. No one schemed for Dhani the way they scheme for Ray Lewis. It would be nice to see Maualuga command attention.
DL: Can this group pick up where they left off last year? We all got excited at seeing the defense finally create pressure, after years of watching them limit opposing QBs to 18.4 seconds to stand in the pocket looking for someone to get open. If they can continue to force their will on opponents, that will be an immense gift to Dalton and the offense.
K: Is Mike Nugent back to form? I hope they give him at least one long kick to see how he looks.
LS: If I say the name “Brad St. Louis,” will I make your eyes melt from rage? I wouldn’t want to do that. Melted eye is so hard to clean up. But I still haven’t forgiven that guy.
PR/KR: Will someone ever lock up these jobs? They don’t have to rival Devin Hester. Not making fair catches inside the 10 would be a nice start.
Coverage: Will the new rules cause problems? Probably. The idiot cream will quickly rise to the top here. In an abbreviated season, it will be helpful to have the idiots point themselves out as early as possible.