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Disappointing End to a Great Season

On Saturday, in front of a sellout home crowd watching only the second playoff game in Cincinnati since 1990, saw the Cincinnati Bengals fall to the New York Jets by a score of 24-14. A game in which the Bengals were able to run the ball very effectively against the NFL’s number one rushing defense, the passing game was not able to take off as Carson Palmer, for the eighth time this season, failed to throw for 200 yards in a game. Cedric Benson was able to give the home crowd something to cheer about as he rushed for 169 yards on 21 carries including a 47 yard touchdown run.

After a fluke loss, the Bengals were able to get their heads on straight and have a dominant beginning and middle part of the season. But when the Bengals visited Oakland at 7-2, the Bengals started a 3-3 stretch that saw them go from a potential home field advantage winner to a fourth seed who was blown out in their final regular season game.

If you’re like me, and all you wanted for Christmas was the playoffs in Cincinnati, then you got your wish. But obviously our secondary wishes of making sure the Bengals went deep into the playoffs weren’t heard as the Jets once again, for the second week in a row, trounced the Bengals. Now that the season is over, it is time to look forward to the NFL Draft, training camp and the pre-season.

It’s no secret that the Bengals need to address some key issues and positions come the off season. The biggest need is for help on offense at the receiver position. Jerome Simpson will most likely be gone this off season due to his inability to get on the field in his second season as a second round draft pick. Next year, the position looks to hold Chad Ochocinco, Laveranues Coles, Andre Caldwell, and Quan Cosby. Look for 2009 draftee Freddie Brown and Carson Palmer approved Maurice Purify to also vie for a roster spot. Again, this is assuming Jerome Simpson is gone, or can’t get on the field again. Most likely, the Bengals will draft one or maybe even two wide receivers in April’s draft. Early indications show the Bengals wanting a burner with height, which is what they had in Chris Henry.

As I’ve been saying for a while, and the way it looks on some of the mock drafts I’ve seen, Mardy Gilyard from the University of Cincinnati will definitely be there for the Bengals taking in the second round. This fills the void for speed at the position, but the need for height could be addressed in the later rounds of the draft. According to Walterfootball.com, the Bengals are projected to take a 6’3” wide receiver from LSU in Brandon LaFell. Looking at what he’s done overall, over 900 yards receiving last year and over 700 receiving yards this year and running a 4.54 40, he could be a great replacement for Chris Henry.

Also, there are questions at tight end and have been for the past few years. Last year the Bengals spent a third round pick on Chase Coffman from Missouri and he couldn’t get on the field this year. Why? Main reason being because he can’t block and the Bengals want a tight end that can block more than a receiving tight end like Brent Celek from Philadelphia or Jason Witten from Dallas. Why do you think the team has stayed with Reggie Kelly and allowed him to start at least 11 games from 2003 to 2008? Simply put, Reggie Kelly can block. The Bengals use the tight end at times, but have always utilized their third or fourth option receivers and backs more. To put it in perspective, in 2006, when Kelly started all 16 games, he caught 21 passes for 254 yards and one touchdown.

Back ups J.P. Foschi and Daniel Coats are good options that play hard and never give up. But they’re inability to catch the ball and make plays when their numbers are called needs to be addressed. I would look for the Bengals to try and draft a tight end maybe in the early to middle rounds of the draft like last year. According to CBSSports.com, the Bengals in the first round will take Jermaine Gresham from Oklahoma. I don’t mind the pick, as this would give the Bengals a marquee name at tight end that is big enough to block ends at 261 lbs. and tall enough (6’6”) to run down the field and catch a ball in the back of the end zone.

On the offensive line front, I don’t believe many changes are needed, as the line is young (besides right guard Bobbie Williams) and showed promise during the year. I would look for Andrew Whitworth to continue to anchor the line along with Andre Smith at tackle. Evan Mathis and Nate Livings also made good contributions at guard. I believe it is crucial to get Anthony Collins in somewhere after he showed lots of promise and poise standing in there as a rookie last year.

Defensively, the Bengals will need to add a cornerback as a better option to nickel back over Morgan Trent. Most games throughout the year, the tandem of Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall shut down the number one and two receivers while Morgan Trent and a consortium of linebackers and defensive backs struggled with tight ends and third and fourth receivers.

Adding a safety may also help, as Roy Williams is not only getting older, but he got hurt, again. When he’s healthy, he’s a force. But when he’s hurt, he doesn’t offer this club much. When it comes to linebackers, I’d like to see the Bengals draft a middle linebacker. I like Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga on the outside, as Rivers gives the team a coverage linebacker and Maualuga is your run-stopping backer. I like Dhani Jones and his leadership and experience to the team, but he’s getting old and I think he’ll need to be replaced soon. The Bengals wouldn’t need to draft a linebacker if Rashad Jeanty or Brandon Johnson moved to the middle, but I’m not sure if that would happen. I like Abdul Hodge, but just like Ahmad Brooks and Landon Johnson, back up linebackers are a dime a dozen now a days.

The defensive line is a little more complicated. You’re obviously set with Domata Peko in the middle, but the Bengals can either line up Tank Johnson or Pat Sims there. I like both of them, and I’d go with Sims over Johnson because at a young age, he’ll be able to get better quicker if he’s starting. The ends, Robert Geathers and Antwan Odom were set at the beginning of the season and you’d expect them to be the starters come September. Only problem is Johnathan Fanene and Michael Johnson did very well in Odom’s place and could compete for that starting spot.

This is the spot the Bengals want to be in. The Bengals want to have lots of young talent to compete against each other for the starting positions. Not only does it give Head Coach Marvin Lewis some peace knowing that if one guy goes down, another can step up and play just as good.

Injuries to watch for when workouts arrive and training camp starts will be Odom’s Achilles, Maualuga’s ankle, Jeanty’s leg and Sims’ forearm/wrist.  The Bengals will need both Maualuga and Jeanty to heal up quick, as the defense is definitely different without them.  Odom has been oft-injured in his career and I believe he needs a full season with the Bengals without serious injury to prove that the eight sacks he recorded before the injury wasn't a fluke.  Sims is young and will need to bounce back quickly, as he'll be pushing the older Tank Johnson while competing for that starting tackle position next to Peko.

The Bengals have only made the playoffs in back to back seasons once in their franchise history. That was in 1981 and 1982. I’d look for the Bengals to come back next year not only focused on running the ball, but putting the ball in the air and having a balanced attack reminiscent of the 2005 AFC North Champion Bengals. The defense will be a year older with a lot more experience under their belt and that can only help at this point, as there is talent all over the defensive side of the ball.

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