The Bengals have completed 12 straight seasons without winning more than eight games, compiling a horrendous 55-137 overall record. While they may run that streak to 13 this year, the tradition and expectations of losing may vanish with the acquisition of new head coach Marvin Lewis. In his first few months with the club, Lewis has already transformed the atmosphere in Cincinnati. From the revamped weight room and the players’ positive attitudes to the overhauled personnel – change is in the air.
“Marvin expects a lot out of you, but he's a coach,” running back Corey Dillon told the Cincinnati Post. “If your coach is soft, your team is soft. If your coach is disciplined, up-tempo and positive, that's how your team is. Marvin calmed the storm a little bit around here. I'm just upset it wasn't like this six years ago.”
Lewis may have “calmed the storm”, but he left a whirlwind of player moves in his wake. At quarterback, journeyman Gus Frerotte and former first-round pick Akili Smith have been replaced by journeyman Shane Matthews and first overall pick Carson Palmer. Matthews will be the primary backup to Jon Kitna and the primary tutor for Palmer, the much-heralded future of the franchise.
Also on draft day, the Bengals picked up wide receiver Kelley Washington in the third round. He possesses all the physical skills the NFL craves, but a past neck injury caused his stock to fall. In the fourth round, Cincinnati grabbed fullback Jeremi Johnson, who will compete with converted linebacker Chris Edmonds to replace Pro Bowler Lorenzo Neal and backup Nick Luchey.
The Bengals also hope to upgrade the passing game via the tight end position, where they brought in former Falcon Reggie Kelly to contend with incumbent Matt Schobel.
On the other side of the ball, Cincinnati lost linebacker and leading tackler Takeo Spikes to Buffalo. However, the defensive-minded and well-liked Lewis was able to entice a number of players to help the cause. Linebacker Kevin Hardy, cornerback Tory James, tackle John Thorton, and end Carl Powell are all expected to start this season.
Position Battles: Dillon is set at running back, Kitna will be the starting quarterback, and Chad Johnson holds down the top receiver position. After that, the battles are small but do hold some fantasy interest.
Wide receiver Peter Warrick expects to start alongside Johnson, but Washington, Ron Dugans, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh could all push him for playing time. In fact, the melee for the third receiver spot should be hotly contested and will likely continue throughout the season.
Fantasy leagues with team quarterbacks will need to play attention to the backup situation. While we believe that Matthews will be the number two guy in when the season opens, the Bengals may turn to Palmer if (gasp) Kitna can’t get the job done as the year progresses.
Lastly, the aforementioned Kelly-Schobel duel has us about as thrilled as the potential Carnie Wilson spread in Playboy. We can think of plenty of tight ends we’d rather see.
Keep an Eye On: We can’t discuss the Bengals without touching on Dillon, the cornerstone of the team’s offense. As exhibited by the quote above, Dillon is very enthusiastic about the regime change, and he is primed for a huge year. How pumped up is Corey?
“I am a savage,” Dillon expounded. “I'm a Boss Entertainer and if you guys don't know the definition of a Boss Entertainer, then watch me on September 7 or whenever it starts up on Sundays. Catch me every Sunday. That's the definition of a Boss Entertainer.”
The three-time Pro Bowl back registered five extra pounds on the scale during mini-camp, and teammates are awed by Dillon’s muscular build. One player even mentioned that Corey resembled The Hulk. However, it’s Dillon’s softer side (namely his hands) that may lead to a Banner year. Corey tallied 43 receptions and 298 receiving yards in 2002, both career highs. Lewis wants to continue that rising trend this season, and he’s already impressed with his stud back.
“He did not drop a pass this spring, which is something he and I talked about for him to continue to concentrate more on,” Lewis said. “He has great ability but really needs to focus as much as he can in that way. Get it done all the time because we're counting on him to do it and we don't want to wait for those opportunities and plays. I think he's done an excellent job with that.”
Every fantasy player knows that Dillon can get it done on the ground. If he’s catching a ton of passes this preseason, Corey becomes much more lethal and will move up the fantasy rankings in yardage-heavy leagues. We will definitely be watching.
The burgeoning hookup between Kitna and Johnson is also something to observe during training camp. After a partial campaign of dominance last season, Johnson is expecting more this year. Much more.
“I'm sure we're going to do well on offense this year with Kit being here,” Johnson explained to the Post while discussing Kitna’s future with the team. “After Kit and I have this wonderful 1,800-yard season, Kit will get an extension and it will go on from there…”
Johnson proved in 2002 that he’s not afraid to be brash with his predictions, and we have little problem with him setting lofty yardage marks for himself. That being said, fantasy owners would rather see him improve on his five touchdowns than his 1,166 yards. However, the bottom line is that Johnson and Kitna should be fun to watch this season.
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I think the Bungles might actually surprise some people. Corey Dillon finally has some incentive to play hard. He's been miserable the past few years complaining and wanting to get traded. Much different attitude this year. He's going to be a solid #2 back in fantasy...
Thank you Patriots for the 2 Super Bowl Championships!!!
Now if we could only do something about those Red Sox...
I'm not a Bengals fan. Not in the least. However, I've always rooted for Dillon. I was able to trade for him last year, and while he didn't lead me to the promise land, I'm excited about the fact that he's available as a keeper for me this year (alongside S. Alexander) and that there is a lot of buzz about Dillon having a great year. There have been prophecies of him exploding for huge seasons other years, but things seem different this year. With Johnson and Washington stretching the defenses out, Dillon just might have that explosive year. Let's hope!