Jun 16, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) speaks with wide receiver A.J. Green (18) during minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory mini camp marks the unofficial start of the NFL season. Yes, the draft was a nice hors d’oeuvres, but mini camp is the first time we can really say, the boys are back in town. The warm summer air, the fresh paint at Paul Brown Stadium, the clicking of the cleats across concrete all mean one thing, football is back in the jungle.
It is easy to get excited this time of year, and it is easy to read way too far into storylines, but as camp went on a few things started becoming more and more clear. First off, the Cincinnati Bengals‘ defense is back, and in a big way. Not just bringing back Michael Johnson and Pat Sims, but veteran Geno Atkins appears to be returning to his All-Pro form. Also, former first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick was seen taking first team reps and holding his own at the corner position.
It’s not just the defense that seems to be shining, but the return of weapons to the offense. Fourth-year player Marvin Jones, who missed all last season with a foot injury, and Bengals 2013 first-round pick Tyler Eifert made the most of their mini camp. Eifert appeared to be a very large part of the Bengals’ offense going into 2014 before his season was cut very short with a dislocated elbow in Week One versus Baltimore.
Also intriguing, is the play of 2014 fifth-round quarterback A.J. McCarron. McCarron was noticeably good, catching the eyes of teammates and coaches. In fact, Albert Breer reported that one Bengals coach thinks McCarron has what it takes to be a starter in this league. This is intriguing because the Bengals and starting quarterback Andy Dalton came to a “pay as you go” contract decision last season that basically cuts Dalton from the Bengals with nothing owed at the end of 2015.
If McCarron really is playing this well in mini camp, he might have what it takes to either push Dalton into greater success or push him right off the team. This story may not take flight, but it will certainly keep things interesting as the season continues.
Lastly, the praise the Bengals have received during mini camp is not what most people are used to. The Bengals brought in former stand out wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh as a coaching intern and he was more than impressed with how well the Bengals’ offense looks and how many weapons they have. Housh told Bengals.com “they can be better than ’05, they have better players”. Most would agree with this statement, and if these players can stay healthy, then this really might come to fruition.