Tonight our Bengals play their final tune-up for the regular season against the new-look, Luck-ed up Colts.
There won’t be much to see from the starters, so there won’t be much opportunity to see the guys who will take the majority of the snaps against Baltimore in the big Monday Night opener. That’s too bad, because frankly I’m getting a little uneasy about things about now.
Anxious. Queasy. Sweaty, even. Kind of like how Barack Obama gets when Biden starts freelancing at a podium.
Don’t get me wrong—I still like this team and our chances in 2012. We look young, hungry, and talented. Best of all, the youngsters seem to be exceptionally focused on winning (you know—the point of the whole thing)—certainly more than previous iterations.
The roster is pretty solid for the most part on paper, but paper seems the only place we can see it. Injuries have plagued this team throughout camp, and while some players are being held out for precautionary reasons, others are just not yet ready to go—and haven’t been for weeks. Add to that a couple of specific and significant injuries, and I start to worry like a mom on prom night.
What’s the big hairy deal you ask? Here’s a look:
- Offensive Line Depth: Let’s start with the obvious one. First Travelle Wharton goes down with a season-ending knee problem. There goes a prize free agent guard with 8 years of experience. Now comes word that center Kyle Cook’s foot is looking like an 8-to-12 week problem. Clint Boling replaces Wharton and he’s been getting some verbal high fives from the coaches, but he’s still just a second year guy coming off an ugly handful of starts last season. As for Cook, finding Jeff Faine still on the street was a real blessing, but he comes with a lot of tread on his tires and a pretty long injury history of his own. Behind them are Otis Hudson, Trevor Robinson, and some converted tackles. Plus we are starting a rookie at one spot as it is. And while I have full faith and confidence in Mr. Zeitler, he is, after all, a rookie.
- The Running Game: I remember the 1980’s Bengals, when Bruce Coslet directed an offense that routinely led the league in rushing. If the team’s average per carry fell under 4 yards per, I got concerned. Now I’m begging for more than 3. Of course, this is nothing new, as our rushing attack has been mediocre at best for a few years now, but I have yet to see anything encouraging so far. The top two backs, BJGE and Bernard Scott have barely played a snap, and Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman haven’t exactly overwhelmed me. Our best running plays are when Andy Dalton takes off for his life, or when they run WR sweeps and misdirection plays. The offensive line problems certainly are a contributing factor here, but this team needs to be able to run the ball in November.
- Secondary Woes: Leon Hall is coming off Achilles Heel surgery. Adam Jones and Jason Allen have been walking wounded for weeks. Dre Kirkpatrick is nursing a nagging knee issue called Osgood Schlatter Syndrome. That leaves just the old guys, Nate Clements and Terrence Newman, as the healthiest of the much-ballyhooed group of first round cornerbacks. At safety, Reggie Nelson returns and is looking good, but while Jeromy Miles has been solid, Robert Sands has been IR’ed. At least new starter Taylor Mays is an enforcer. He’s been great at knocking out his teammates.
- WR2: After 3 full preseason games, it doesn’t look like we know who’s going to take coverages away from AJ Green. Armon Binns, Brandon Tate, and Marvin Jones all seem capable, but no one has separated themselves. In truth, there’s no guarantee the team has improved on the spot vacated by Jerome “Doh!” Simpson.
- And then there’s Andy’s atrocious 5-for-17 performance last week.
Of course, I could be overreacting. The front seven looks tough-as-nails again, even with Carlos Dunlap and Robert Geathers hurting. Mike Nugent has looked like money at the kicker spot, and we still have AJ Green who is a threat to score on every play.
That said, I’m probably overreacting. I’m sure it’ll work itself out fine.