Cincinnati Bengals 2014 Season Preview and Predictions

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Jul 26, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) runs drills during training camp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Key Off-Season Changes

True to their form, the Bengals returned the majority of their roster from last year.  But this doesn’t mean they haven’t undergone some changes.  Here’s a quick look at the off-season’s losses and additions:

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The Bengals also selected another promising draft class in 2014.  It should give the team added depth and options going forward as the team continues to ascend and work its way into the company of the NFL’s elite franchises.  Here’s a look at this year’s draft class:

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The most significant change during the off-season was within the coaching ranks.  The Bengals lost their long-time defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer along with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.  Zimmer was responsible for building the Bengals’ smothering defense.  He did so with help from new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther; Guenther was an assistant during the entirety of Zimmer’s tenure.  He was the linebackers coach last year and has played a major role in developing much of this defense’s players.  This made Guenther’s transition to the helm much smoother as did his decision to keep this defense from looking much different than it did last year.  One difference will be Guenther’s focus on blitzing more often.  Hopefully with this effort he and the defense will find themselves forcing more turnovers, hence creating more opportunities for the Bengals potentially potent offense to put points on the board.

Jay Gruden’s exit brought some cheers from fans who believe his system simply didn’t match the offensive roster.  Gruden is a pass-first type of coach and so is his approach to the game.  His choice to run this system with Andy Dalton as the leader made little sense.  Dalton’s success both in the NFL and in college centered around the “less is more” approach to the passing game.  He thrived while at TCU, where the team featured a run-centric offense, and has enjoyed more success when the Bengals used a balanced approach the offensive game planning.  Hue Jackson’s presence should bring a sigh of relief from both Dalton and fans alike.  The former Raiders head coach has a proven track record of success within the running game as his Oakland teams finished near the top of the NFL in overall rushing performance.  The Bengals already possessed a solid backfield, but with the addition of bruiser Jeremy Hill, this backfield is poised to be one of the NFL’s most effective with Jackson at the helm.

The Bengals’ player losses was headlined by defensive end Michael Johnson.  Johnson was a leader within the defense and his loss has caused concern amongst fans.  But the Bengals prepared themselves for his departure in 2013 when drafting Margus Hunt.  He’s an athletic freak, but was very raw coming out of college.  He spent a year learning football and the NFL in 2013.  This year, coach Marvin Lewis is “excited” about the prospects of Hunt going forward.  Hopefully this preseason has alleviated fans’ concerns regarding Hunt.  According to Profootball Focus, Hunt has performed extremely well during the preseason finishing near the top of the 4-3 defensive ends list.  Although Hunt is built like a 3-4 defensive end, 6’8″ 290 pounds, he has the speed (4.6 second 40 yard dash), strength (38 bench reps at the combine), and mobility to perform well as both a 4-3 end and defensive tackle; the Bengals will use him in both roles.  The team also possesses stellar reserve Wallace Gilberry, who has produced 14 sacks in his two years with the Bengals, and Will Clark, this year’s third round pick who, like Hunt, is a project player that possesses great size (6’6″ 271 pounds) and athleticism.

The Bengals also lost reserve swing tackle Anthony Collins, who like Johnson departed for Tampa Bay.  Collins played a key role last year filling in for both Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith when they suffered injuries.  Many fans wanted to Bengals to retain Collins as the offensive line thrived when he started at tackle and Whitworth moved to guard.  But the Bengals chose to save their money in an effort to retain other key players, instead choosing to sign veteran swing tackle Marshall Newhouse.  Newhouse, a former Packer, is a fifth year veteran who started 31 of a possible 48 games for the Packers over the past three years.  He played several of his college years with Dalton while at TCU, so Newhouse has both the experience and rapport with Dalton to adequately fill Collins’ role.

The Bengals also acquired veteran safety Danieal Manning to fill the role of the departed Chris Crocker.  The Bengals brought in a new secondary coach, Vance Joseph, from Houston and Manning played under Joseph during the past few seasons.  He will help fill the slot role on defense while also mentoring the young secondary, assisting them in their transition to Joseph’s coaching. But beyond some of these veteran additions the Bengals had an excellent draft class.

In addition to running back Jeremy Hill, the team will be looking forward to a major contribution from both cornerback Darqueze Dennard and center Russell Bodine.  Dennard has displayed real potential prompting Marvin Lewis to give him some significant praise.

Dennard will add to the depth in the secondary, which has suffered many injuries in past years.  He may also allow veteran cornerback Adam Jones to reestablish himself as the team’s primary punt returner; an added benefit to Dennard’s presence.

Russell Bodine was so impressive to the Bengals that they chose to trade up in the draft to secure his selection; only the third time the Bengals have done this in their history.  Bodine struggled snapping the ball early in the off-season, but has been pretty solid to conclude the preseason.  He’s possesses great strength, 42 bench reps at the combine, so the Bengals hope he’ll be able to deal with powerful opposing tackles such as Ravens’ interior disruptor, Haloti Ngata.  Bodine will have his first shot at arguably the NFL’s best interior linemen when the Bengals begin the 2014 season in Baltimore.  Be sure to keep a close eye on these rookies going forward (along with the aforementioned Jeremy Hill) as they may provide the answers to the Bengals’ hazy future in the secondary (as their veterans age) and the Bengals’ past problems at the center position.