If you’ve watched Marvin Lewis’ latest news conference (Aug 1), you’ll probably notice something different about him. In the first place, it was the first press conference at the start of a season where he hasn’t had to answer silly questions about his “impressions” of any off-field, extra-football activities. The focus is squarely where it belongs – on football. But it’s not just the absences on the 2011 Bengals roster that has Lewis looking like a man who’s rediscovered the joy of coming to work again; it’s also the presences.
I was fortunate enough to have been at camp and watched the practice that led into the presser. While there, I saw a number of individual presences that help explain Lewis’ renewed excitement. None of those presences is greater than that of A.J. Green. When asked about improvements at WR, Lewis was emphatic: “I don’t have to think we’ve improved; I know we’ve improved.” Green, of course, is a major contributor to that improvement. Having spent most of Monday’s practice watching the offensive skill positions go through drills and play, I saw enough of Green to say that the claims of him being the best wide receiver to come into the league in years was not hyperbole. To gain an appreciation of the man’s strength, speed, and acceleration in running precision routes, you really should go to camp. You must see him for yourself to grasp just how good he is. Video doesn’t do him justice.
But Green is not the only WR contributing to the improvement of the Bengals’ receiving corps. Jerome Simpson has been showing why his flash late last season was no fluke. Jordan Shipley has also shown why he should expect to see more passes thrown his way than in 2010, but he may face strong competition from both Andre Caldwell and 6th round draft pick Ryan Whalen. Whalen looks quicker than Shipley and equally sure-handed. Perhaps, to this point (pre-Andrew Hawkins), the biggest surprise in the roster battle at wide receiver is Andy Dalton former TCU teammate Bart Johnson. Johnson has shown excellent route running and pass catching ability. He is the most impressive of the CFA signings at that position.
Speaking of Dalton, he is clearly demonstrating why Jay Gruden was most interested in drafting him above the other options to run his west coast offense. Based on what I saw, Dalton has all the tools; and he certainly has the intangibles to become the undeniable leader on the offensive side of the ball. He’s clearly the guy in charge when he’s in the huddle and at the line. But this is not to suggest that he’s already crested the learning curve; he hasn’t. He’s still learning. Based on just a hand full of practices though, I can see why Marvin Lewis is so confident that Dalton could be the starter against Cleveland when the season starts. On the other hand, there remains a competition at QB, and we haven’t yet had the chance to see either Gradkowski or Jordan Palmer operating within Gruden’s scheme.