4 CINCINNATI BENGALS

September 04, 2011

More than mottoes will be needed to instill some credibility

The Bengals' locker room is festooned with football mottoes. DO YOUR JOB! reads a sign by the door leading to the practice field. FIND A WAY, implores the message on television monitors hovering above the room. "Success doesn't discriminate," says cornerback Nate Clements, getting into the spirit after a recent practice. Maybe the Bengals should change their name to the Believers.

Despite the imposing obstacles—the ostensible retirement of quarterback Carson Palmer (after his trade request was refused by owner Mike Brown), the departures of veteran wideouts Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, and the expected elevation of rookie Andy Dalton to the starting quarterback job—the Bengals aren't reading much significance into last season's 4--12 record. They're more apt to point to their AFC North title of 2009 as a better indicator of what they can do.

"Two years ago this team swept the division," says Clements, who signed as a free agent after stops in Buffalo and San Francisco. "We have what it takes. It's been proven, and guys realize that. With winning comes confidence. That's the key, to start fast and win games. That breeds confidence within the group. This is a young, talented team."

Says center Kyle Cook, "This is a new year and we've got to move on. We still have a good locker room and good players. We still have the guys like [guard] Bobbie Williams and [tackle] Andrew Whitworth and [running back] Ced [Benson]."

All the positive thinking in the world won't amount to much if Cincinnati doesn't figure out a way to score. The offense ranked 22nd in the league in points last year, with 20.1 per game, prompting coach Marvin Lewis to fire longtime coordinator Bob Bratkowski. His replacement, Jay Gruden, is a disciple of the West Coast offense, but for his schemes to work it's essential that the 28-year-old Benson rediscover the battering form he had in 2009, his best pro season, when he gained nearly 100 yards per game. Last year that mark dropped to below 70, and his per-carry average fell from 4.2 to 3.5. "It opens up the play action and bootlegs," Gruden says of the run game. "Without it, our playbook diminishes considerably." And the pressure on Dalton increases.

One of the major questions facing Gruden will be how much manpower to devote to protecting Dalton, which will affect how many options the young QB will have downfield. "Especially with the exotic blitzes you see on second-and-long and third down, when you max protect you hardly get anybody out [on routes]," says Gruden. "But if [the defense] plays Cover Two man or drops eight [defenders], you've also got problems. We have to have a good combination of both."

The 35th pick in the draft out of TCU, Dalton took a beating in the preseason opener, absorbing a late shot from Lions tackle Ndamukong Suh for which Suh was fined $20,000. In practices Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has been disguising coverages to give Dalton a better idea of what he will face in the regular season. "Let's see worst-case scenarios for him and prepare and show him what it's going to be like," says Gruden, who was a Bucs assistant under his brother, Jon, and coached in the UFL the last two years. "It's not going to be easy any week, any game that we play. He's going to see some things, take his licks, get up and come back at 'em."

Dalton is savvy enough to understand that there are advantages both to playing right away and to sitting behind an established veteran. "You see what Sam Bradford did last year, came in and played really well as a rookie," Dalton says. "But then you see the whole Aaron Rodgers situation, where he sat back for a while. I prepared myself like a starter. If they want me to be the starter, I'll be ready to go. Obviously the speed [of the game] is different, but football is football. It's just going out and playing and getting used to the little adjustments that they do in the NFL that they don't do in college."

That Dalton must overcome doubters is nothing new. He recalled his experience at Katy (Texas) High. "I wasn't sure I was going to play college ball," Dalton says. "I felt I had the ability, but I didn't play much my junior year." In his senior season he starred for Katy and committed to TCU, where he became a three-year starter and led the Horned Frogs to an undefeated season and the No. 2 ranking in 2010.

Now with the Bengals, he carries their hopes on his right arm. "This team is hungry," Dalton says. "All of us working together can do good things." Sounds like another locker room sign.

PROJECTED LINEUP

WITH 2010 STATS

OFFENSE

2010 Rank: 20

QB ANDY DALTON (R)

ATT 316

COMP 209

PCT 66.1

YARDS 2,857

YD/ATT 9.0

TD 27

INT 6

RATING 166.5

RB CEDRIC BENSON

ATT 321

YARDS 1,111

REC 28

TTD 8

FB CHRIS PRESSLEY

ATT 1

YARDS 0

REC 1

TTD 0

WR A.J. GREEN (R)

REC 57

YARDS 848

AVG 14.9

TTD 9

WR JEROME SIMPSON

REC 20

YARDS 277

AVG 13.9

TTD 3

TE JERMAINE GRESHAM

REC 52

YARDS 471

AVG 9.1

TTD 4

LT ANDREW WHITWORTH

G 16

SACKS 2½

HOLD 3

FALSE 2

LG NATE LIVINGS

G 16

SACKS 1½

HOLD 0

FALSE 2

C KYLE COOK

G 16

SACKS 3

HOLD 3

FALSE 1

RG BOBBIE WILLIAMS

G 16

SACKS 3½

HOLD 1

FALSE 5

RT ANDRE SMITH

G 7

SACKS 2

HOLD 1

FALSE 3

RB BERNARD SCOTT

ATT 61

YARDS 299

REC 11

TTD 1

WR JORDAN SHIPLEY

REC 52

YARDS 600

AVG 11.5

TTD 3

DEFENSE

2010 Rank: 15

DE ROBERT GEATHERS

TACKLES 33

SACKS 1

INT 0

DT DOMATA PEKO

TACKLES 42

SACKS ½

INT 0

DT GENO ATKINS

TACKLES 16

SACKS 3

INT 0

DE MICHAEL JOHNSON

TACKLES 35

SACKS 2½

INT 0

LB THOMAS HOWARD

TACKLES 9

SACKS 0

INT 0

LB REY MAUALUGA

TACKLES 75

SACKS 1

INT 2

LB MANNY LAWSON

TACKLES 59

SACKS 2½

INT 1

CB NATE CLEMENTS

TACKLES 82

SACKS 1

INT 3

SS CHRIS CROCKER

TACKLES 43

SACKS 2

INT 0

FS REGGIE NELSON

TACKLES 54

SACKS 0

INT 2

CB LEON HALL

TACKLES 44

SACKS 0

INT 4

DB MORGAN TRENT

TACKLES 26

SACKS 0

INT 1

SPECIALISTS

K MIKE NUGENT

FG 15

FGA 19

XP 17

PTS 62

P KEVIN HUBER

PUNTS 71

GROSS 42.1

NET 38.2

BOLD: Projected starter

Italics: New acquisition

(R) Rookie: College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

SACKS: Sacks allowed

HOLD: Holding penalties

FALSE: False starts

2011 SCHEDULE

2010 RECORD: 4--12

September

11 at Cleveland

18 at Denver

25 San Francisco

October

2 Buffalo

9 at Jacksonville

16 Indianapolis

23 BYE

30 at Seattle

November

6 at Tennessee

13 Pittsburgh

20 at Baltimore

27 Cleveland

December

4 at Pittsburgh

11 Houston

18 at St. Louis

24 Arizona (Sat)

January

1 Baltimore

COACH: MARVIN LEWIS

AGE: 52

NINTH SEASON WITH THE BENGALS (60-67-1)

This year Lewis will surpass Paul Brown (1968 to '75) and Sam Wyche (1984 to '91) as the longest-serving coach in Bengals history. If he wants to see a 10th season, though, he'll have to improve upon a dreadful 2010 with a rookie quarterback and a defense that, despite Lewis's reputation on that side of the ball, dropped from fourth in '09 to 15th.

SPOTLIGHT

A.J. GREEN, Wide receiver

The fourth pick in April's draft is already making the plays in practice that validate his lofty selection. "He's the real deal," says offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. "So far he's everything as advertised." The 6'4", 207-pound receiver from Georgia was one of the most dynamic players in college football, and though he looks like a player whose skills will easily transfer to the NFL, the Bengals are emphasizing the fundamentals: release from the line of scrimmage, route-running—the small details that set up the big-play opportunities.

Gruden expects veteran cornerbacks to mix up their tactics against Green, who'll have to be prepared to combat them. "He's been able to use his raw talent to get open his whole career," Gruden says. "Now he's going to have to make sure his depth and his routes are consistent, to set up people and to find holes. That's going to take some time, but as far as raw ability goes, he's a special character."

Green will undoubtedly be compared with Falcons rookie Julio Jones, the former Alabama receiver who was drafted sixth. They've been linked since high school, when they were considered two of the best recruits in the country. But Green is focused only on his own performance: "I know I have to earn it, but I'm planning on having a great rookie year."

PHOTOJOHN SOMMERS II/REUTERS (LEWIS) PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER (BENSON)GROUND CONTROL Cincy will need Benson, whose productivity slipped in '10, to churn out yards in the new offense and take pressure off the quarterback. PHOTODAVID BERGMAN (GREEN)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)