July 4th weekend normally marks the beginning of "anticipation season" for the NFL. With the lockout still in place, however, our anticipation for the opening of training camp and the beginning of the season is in limbo pending a resolution. With no player negotiations or formal workouts permitted, the usual pattern of off-season team development has been non-existent. The Cincinnati Bengals face some significant questions once an agreement is in place: Who will be the quarterback? Will Chad Ochocinco remain a Bengal? How will the offense respond to Jay Gruden? Will the Bengals resign Johnathan Joseph. The answers to each of these questions will likely determine the outcome of the Bengals 2011 season, provided there is one.
Will it be a Palmer or Andy Dalton?
Carson Palmer has sold his Cincinnati home. His threat to retire rather than play another down for the Bengals seems more and more like a promise each day. Even brother Jordan has referred to him as "a former teammate." If Palmer has indeed taken his last snap in stripes, then who will succeed him? The only other quarterback with experience on the roster is Jordan Palmer. He's been participating in the impromptu team workouts and taking somewhat of a "team spokesman" role with the press. While it's admirable that the younger Palmer is stepping up leadership-wise, it's hard to imagine this team succeeding with him under center. He's taken very few regular season snaps, none in any meaningful context. And what we've seen from him in limited time is hardly anything to get excited about.
The Bengals spent their second round pick on TCU's Andy Dalton. While Dalton seems like a great fit for Jay Gruden's offense, he's still a rookie, and one that will have very little, if any time to acclimate himself to his team and the NFL, given the lockout. If the labor situation can get worked out to allow for a full training camp, Dalton may have a chance at being the starter. I really can't see him being ready if there's a shortened preseason.
Will Ochocinco remain a Bengal?
Chad is under contract for the 2011 season. Assuming it begins, the Bengals will owe him $6 million dollars to play in Cincinnati this season. The question is does either side find that an attractive option? As we reported here yesterday, Chad and agent Drew Rosenhaus appear to be starting the game of "let's talk ourselves out of Cincinnati" again. Threatening to "whoop the ass" of your head coach isn't a way to endear you. For the Bengals part, they spent their top pick on Georgia's AJ Green. Combine that with the emergence of Jordan Shipley and Jerome Simpson, and the Bengals might not be as willing to put up with Ochocinco's antics as they have been in the past. As of now, there's no way for either the team or Chad to gage his value in the market. Again, the length of training camp and Green's ability to acclimate himself may determine the answer to this question.
How will the offense respond to Jay Gruden's new offense?
This is the time of year with OTAs that we usually begin to see some indication of the level of chemistry between offensive coaches and the players. Absent those normal workouts, it's going to be a crash course for the Bengals' offensive players even if there is a normal preseason. Gruden's offense will likely more closely resemble the "West Coast" style Bengal fans are accustomed to under Bill Walsh, Sam Wyche, and Bruce Coslet, rather than Bob Bratkowski's "down the field" approach. That change also could dictate personnel. With a greater emphasis on shorter routes and RAC yardage and less on "stretching" defenses, Chad's influence is far less needed. A prolonged labor dispute will do no favors for Gruden and the offense, however.
Will Johnathan Joseph re-sign?
With J-Jo, the Bengals have one of the most formidable cornerback tandems in the league with him and Leon Hall. Without him, there's a major question mark on one side of the field. Who would take his place? Morgan Trent? A to-be-signed free agent? Mike Brown has a history of not spending big money on defensive backs. In this case, it would seem that he needs to invest in one of his two franchise corners. Joseph has shown himself more than adequate both in coverage and against the run. Again, the length of the lockout could also affect this situation. Will a compacted signing period allow Joseph the opportunity to exploit his full value in the open market? Or will he be pressured to take less money and play in a system where he's already successful? Are the Bengals willing to face Big Ben, Joe Flacco, and now and improved Cleveland passing game with one established corner?
The coming days and weeks bear watching as not only will the paychecks of Bengals players be profoundly affected by what goes on at the negotiating table. Whether or not the lockout can be ended to allow for a full preseason will be a major factor in the Bengals ability to compete this season.
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