CINCINNTI BENGALS (6-9-1)
OPEN CAMP: July 27, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati.
LAST YEAR: Offensive line struggled and defense sagged significantly in first half of season, setting Bengals on course to snap streak of five straight playoff appearances - all of which ended in first-round losses. WR A.J. Green (hamstring) and RB Giovani Bernard (knee) suffered season-ending injuries at midpoint, depleting offense. RT Cedric Ogbuehi did so poorly he was benched, but is slated to take over for departed Andrew Whitworth at LT this season. QB Andy Dalton had another impressive season despite poor pass protection. First-year coordinator Ken Zampese never got offense into flow. K Mike Nugent struggled and was released, leaving Bengals without proven kicker. Coach Marvin Lewis remains without playoff win during 14-year career in Cincinnati, and failed to get extension on contract that ends after 2017 season. Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones was arrested for altercation at hotel soon after season ended and eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charge.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookie WR John Ross, rookie RB Joe Mixon, OL Andre Smith, rookie K Jake Elliott, LB Kevin Minter, DE Chris Smith.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: LT Whitworth, RG Kevin Zeitler, DT Domata Peko, LB Rey Maualuga.
CAMP NEEDS: Must solidify three areas: offensive line, running back and kicker. Smith returns and moves into Zeitler’s spot at right guard, while both tackles - Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher - lack NFL experience. For first time in seven years, Bengals have genuine kicker competition. Elliott was drafted in fifth round, giving him advantage over journeyman Randy Bullock, who replaced Nugent at end of last season and missed potential winning field goal in Houston. Running game struggled along with line last season, prompting Bengals to take Mixon, who comes with baggage, in second round. He’ll compete with Jeremy Hill for starting job during camp.
EXPECTATIONS: Lack of experience on offensive line could overshadow additions of playmakers Ross and Mixon. Bengals have decided to go with youth on defense as well, leaving several roles up for grabs. Lewis enters pivotal season in career. If Bengals don’t get back to playoffs, organization that hates significant change will have to consider it.
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