With yesterday’s news that Mike Brown will continue to require Bengals games to sell out in order to avoid blackouts, as well as the serious leg injury suffered by 17th overall pick Dre Kirkpatrick, it may seem easy for the pessimism that has been rooted in Bengals fans for so long to begin to rear its ugly head once more. But alas, one rainy day can’t cover up the beautiful sunshiny days that have been a common occurrence in Cincinnati over the past year.
When the year 2011 began, the Bengals had just finished a 4-12 season, with most of teams’ best players at the end of their prime. Carson Palmer made his trade-or-retire threats. Franchise wide receiver Chad Ochocinco(now Johnson, again) was also on the way out, leaving the Bengals with a roster in disarray in the midst of a lockout. And it looked as though Mike Brown would bring coach Marvin Lewis back, but still would have no real control over who the Bengals drafted or signed in free agency. Perhaps worst of all, it appeared Bob Bratkowski and his “play-to-not-lose” offense would return. But little did we know, the Bengals were making changes that would put the franchise back into the playoffs.
It all began with the firing of Bratkowski, and the hiring of Jay Gruden. The younger brother of John Gruden was able to come in and instill life in what had become a rather stale offensive system. His West-Coast style provided excitement and the full use of under-used playmakers such as TE Jermaine Gresham and WR Jerome Simpson.
Then came the drafting of A.J. Green. The All-American receiver out of Georgia drew comparisons to NFL greats such as Calvin Johnson, and after a rookie year which saw Green make the Pro-Bowl, he may very well find himself amongst the NFL’s elite receivers next year.
Next, Andy Dalton. With franchise QB Carson Palmer retiring and the NFL lockout occurring, the Bengals had to find their QB in the draft. Because the Bengals didn’t take a 1st-round QB, most believed anything else would be a stop-gap until they could draft a QB like Andrew Luck, RG III, or…gasp…Ryan Tannehill. 2nd-round QB’s don’t have a successful history in the NFL, but the Bengals saw something in Dalton, and snatched him up in the 2nd-round. While most believed Dalton could be a decent QB, very few people believed the red-haired gunslinger could be a franchise QB. He became just that that year when he broke several NFL rookie passing records, was named the 1st alternate to the Pro Bowl, and led his team to the playoffs.
Finally, the Bengals locked up most of their key players, including LT Andrew Whitworth, C Kyle Cook, and 2009 AP All-Pro CB Leon Hall, who expects to be ready for training camp after his achilles injury. The team also doesn’t have Palmer’s $50 million contract which handicapped the team from being serious free agency spenders. They were able to sign quality free agents, including BenJarvus Green Ellis, Terrence Newman, and Travelle Wharton, as well as resigning Reggie Nelson. With most of the other key Bengals players having multiple years left on their contracts (Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, AJ Green, Andy Dalton), the team has a solid foundation they continued to build on in the 2012 NFL Draft, where they had arguably the best draft in the Mike Brown era, bringing in high-character talent at every position of need including Kevin Zeitler, Mohamed Sanu, and Devon Still.
Yes Bengals fans, the dark days are behind us for the time being. This team is young, talented, hungry to win, and of great character, a group of traits that has never been more prevalent with a Bengals team. This is a team we can be proud to root for. Now training camp is only a few days away. Football is finally here again. Here’s to a great 2012 season.
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