TGIF: Stop Me Before I Hope Again

Bengaldom is in a state of shock this morning, the prevailing question being, when did Mike Brown fire himself and hire a real general manager?

Or some variation thereof.

When the team moved quickly at the start of free agency to secure its own free agents — and, when they couldn’t, to bring in equivalent talent, as in the case of Laveranues Coles — fans took note but remained largely unimpressed. No improvement. They’re just running in place. The Tank Johnson signing did get some grudging props, but it was a much-praised draft that finally started to crack fans’ practiced cynicism. And then came this week, with its signing of Roy Williams and the trade for Brian Leonard. Williams potentially gives the Bengals a long-needed enforcer over the middle, while Leonard, a former second-round pick, was had in exchange for a waiver wire pickup who wasn’t going to make the final roster, and could be a steal if his shoulders hold up.

Rumor has the Bengals also sniffing around former Cardinal CB Rod Hood, who would be the icing on this unexpected cake and a welcome, durable addition to a secondary that’s been dogged by injuries over the past two years. But even without Hood, fans are calling this the best offseason ever.

I’m forced to agree.

So far.

It’s still about four months to opening day, and long, depressing experience has taught me that the offseason can go from awesome to awful between now and then. What might dash fans’ newfound hopes?

1. Injuries. I’m not talking about just the injuries that will inevitably occur in spring camps, training camp and the preseason, but also all the injuries from which we are counting on players bouncing back. Johnathan Joseph, Antwan Odom, Keith Rivers and Ben Utecht were all expected to be breakout players for the team last year, only to have their seasons snarled by injury. Chad Ochocinco partially tore his labrum in preseason 2008, and reportedly has not had surgery to repair it as the team wished. And, of course, there’s Carson Palmer, who likewise chose to skip surgery and allow his injured elbow to heal naturally. Starters Robert Geathers and Andrew Whitworth also ended the year on the sidelines, and high draft picks Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell saw very limited action in part due to continual dings.

Many of the newcomers this offseason are coming off injuries as well, including Williams, Leonard, Chase Coffman and Morgan Trent, who fractured his foot at the rookie minicamp.

If even a handful of these players suffer setbacks, then those, combined with the routine injuries of any training camp and preseason, could quickly deflate the alleged best offseason ever.

2. Holdout. A prolonged holdout by first-round selection Andre Smith must be avoided, especially if the Bengals envision him as the starting left tackle. Smith needs to get into camp on time and get the maximum amount of work with the rest of the offensive line. Dickering around until just before the season starts and then expecting him to step in with a practice or two under his belt and protect Palmer is an invitation to yet another season-ending injury to our franchise QB. The front office has been unusually savvy so far this offseason, so my fears of a holdout (which I once thought all but certain) have receded. But with QB Mark Sanchez going just ahead of Smith, it isn’t hard to see a fight erupting over just what Smith’s “slot” should be based on. And there’s always the front office’s habit of getting into hair-splitting arguments over triggers for incentives and escalators.

3. Sideshow Bob. Yes, Bob Bratkowski is still the offensive coordinator of the NFL’s most predictable attack. After last season, the Master of the Three & Out Offense (a.k.a. run-run-pass-punt) promised to recharge the playbook. He and head coach Marvin Lewis scoured the pros, colleges, Pop Warner and the produce aisle at Kroger for new ideas. Supposedly.

Put me in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” category. The playbook has been petrified for a couple years now, and we’ve heard promises of jazzing it up before that have come to naught. In Brat’s defense, the personnel situation hasn’t always helped. Last year, for example, they were reportedly planning on using two-TE sets more extensively — but then Utecht got hurt and that idea went by the wayside. Still, isn’t it part of the offensive coordinator’s job description to come up with creative solutions in situations like that? Maybe if Brat was feeling some heat, it might make a difference, but WDR is probably right that he’s not.

In the end, the snafu that concerns me most is No. 1, injuries. Since an amazingly healthy 2005, the Bengals have been wracked by injury, starting with Carson getting Kimo’d in the playoffs in early 2006, followed by the career-ending injuries to Richie Braham and David Pollack, and the may-as-well-have-been-a-career-ending-injury to Chris Perry in the fall. By last year, they led the league in games lost by starters to injury. The law of averages says Cincinnati is due for a break. Let’s hope that break doesn’t involve any body parts.

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