This is the first in a two part series I’m doing on the current holes in the team and how glaring these holes are. First up for discussion is offense. I give two big positions to address in either the 2012 draft or in free agency, then how big the priority is on a 1-5 scale. 1 is must-fix.
Starting Runningback: Cedric Benson, the team’s first/second down back and goal line back, is a free agent after this year. Bernard Scott, who comes in every third drive, is signed for one more year. The team’s designated third down back, Brian Leonard, is also signed for one more year.
I like Leonard in the role of that designated third down spot. That role plays to his strengths of pass-catching and pass-blocking, including a few runs here and there. Personally, I don’t think Leonard can’t really run it up the middle very well; as he’s shown in when he gets these handoffs, he tends to just cover up the ball and run forward. Not that I don’t like Leonard (one of my favorite players on the team), but he shouldn’t be a starting runningback. He’s perfect at the third down spot.
That leaves the team with a major decision for the starting spot. Do you promote Bernard Scott to the full-down opportunity? Do you re-sign Benson and go with the same formula as in 2011 (god, don’t do that…)? Or do you draft a runningback in at least the first three rounds of the 2012 draft and run a platoon system with Scott? Maybe you purse a big-name free agent like Michael Bush of the Oakland Raiders?
I think the best option is to select an early round runningback in the 2012 draft and have him split time with Scott, who doesn’t seem to have the durability of an every down back. At least, that’s the opinion of the Bengals coaches who have refused to play Scott over Benson for the last two and a half years. I think Scott may finally have matured and developed into a solid NFL runningback in three years with the Bengals, and it’s his time to shine when Benson (probably) leaves in this offseason. But, the NFL is becoming a platoon back society, and we don’t know for sure what Scott will give us when placed in the feature role position. That’s why I think the Bengals should draft a top-4 runningback in this year’s draft and pair him up with Scott. It’s the safest option, and the option that provides the most potential at the RB spot because either Scott or the rookie could emerge as an elite superstar in the NFL.
College RB names to remember: Trent Richardson (but he’s a top 5 pick, there’s a slim chance he falls to us with our 17th pick), Miami’s Lamar Miller, Washington’s Chris Polk, Virginia Tech’s David Wilson.
Priority: 2. Not as big an issue as guard, because a good offensive line can make even Cedric Benson look good. I’d be 100% content with a high-ceiling rookie like Lamar Miller splitting time with Bernard Scott as the team’s feature back this year.
Offensive Guard: Nate Livings has started at the left side of the line for the last 2.5 years, and is a free agent this year. Bobbie Williams had been the team’s solution at Right Guard for the last 8 years, and is a free agent this year. Mike McGlynn, a journeyman lineman who was been with the Eagles the past few years, filled in for Bobbie Williams at RG for several games and also is a free agent. Clint Boling, this year’s 4th round draft pick, started the first 3 games of the season at RG and is the only guard signed through next year (edit: Otis Hudson too, he has his own paragraph below).
If there’s an opposite of the fan-favorite, it would be Nate Livings. Everybody hates Livings, and for good reason. He’s has shown signs of being a serviceable guard at times, but he’s well remembered for his bad plays. That long list includes false starts, holding penalties, sacks allowed, pressures allowed, personal foul penalties, missed blocks in goal line runs, and so on. At this point in time, it’s safe to say he probably doesn’t belong starting in the NFL. And in a Bengals offense that hinges on the success of the offensive line (to protect the rookie Dalton and block for the mediocre Cedric Benson), Livings has been a weak link this year. I believe he must improve dramatically before he starts for the Cincinnati Bengals again.
On the other hand, Bobbie Williams has been fan-favorite over the years for his positive personality, constant smile, and dominating performance on the field. Unfortunately, Williams is very old. He’s the oldest player on the team at 35 years of age, which is three years older than the second-oldest, Nate Clements. His performance was still above average this year though: in a pool of 77 offensive guards (both right and left) that received significant playing time, Williams was ranked 24th (Livings ranked 56th, and McGlynn ranked 51st). We don’t know when Williams will retire, and we don’t know when he will recover from the significant ankle break that he suffered against the Texans in Week 14 and placed him on IR. Whether Williams comes back for another year is a huge question for the Bengals. His run-blocking is still above average, but how much can you get out of the guy in the future, especially coming off of a major injury?
Mike McGlynn has performed slightly below average in his limited starting time with the Bengals. He has started the last 4 games in place of Bobbie Williams, and in my humble opinion, seemed to playing fairly well, despite the penalties. But, the penalties didn’t go away, and the mediocre play didn’t improve. He regressed as time passed and showed that he’s not ready to be starting 16 games a year right now. He’s a bit of a question mark, but his resume doesn’t look wonderful so far. He may be brought back as a backup, which is perfect for his skillset, a versatile veteran who can fill in for a few games if needed.
Clint Boling started the first two games of the year and his performace was pretty average for a 4th round rookie. He was pulled in the 3rd game (perhaps undeservingly) for McGlynn and also received limited time in the 4th game. Boling is another unknown quantity, but the potential in Boling far surpasses that of McGlynn at this point in time. Boling could easily be the long-time starter of the future at either left or right guard, but we really don’t know. My guess is that we will see him starting at either guard spot within a year or two at least. It may be as soon as 2012.
There’s also Otis Hudson, the Bengals 2010 5th rounder, who has made the rounds through the practice squad and been a backup for the last 2 years. I have no idea what we have in Hudson. He’s one of those late-round project guys who bounces around practice squads and inactive rosters. Point is, he’s not ready to start in 2012, and that’s what the Bengals need right now. The Bengals must draft a guard early in the 2012 draft or find a solution in free agency. Both right and left guard spots are extremely up in the air.
College offensive guard names to remember: Stanford’s David Decastro (my dream pick, an elite, bruising guard who smashes kids in the run game), Georgia’s Cordy Glenn (another first-rounder), Iowa State’s Kelechi Osemele.
Priority: 1. You’ve got a second-year QB and no elite option at RB in the backfield. The success of this team’s 2012 offense hinges on the success of the offensive line, in both the running and passing game. Find at least one starter for 2012 that’s not on this team, otherwise 2012 could be a long season.
Honorable Mention: Second Wide Receiver. Jerome Simpson is a free agent this year, along with the diappointing Andre Caldwell. That leaves AJ Green locked in at WR1, Jordan Shipley/Ryan Whalen/Andrew Hawkins locked in at the slot, and a big question mark at WR2. I wouldn’t mind taking Michael Floyd, Justin Blackmon, or maybe even Alshon Jeffery with one of our first three early picks. Give Dalton more weapons!
The defensive holes up will be posted tomorrow.