Jul 31, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) looks to pass during training camp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
After a week or so of camp, some things appear to be more in focus, as the Cincinnati Bengals start into their preparation for their preseason opener. As the Bengals ready themselves for the New York football Giants, and fans across Who Dey nation gear up for what looks to be a promising year, it is important to grade certain players so far into camp. This basically boils down into two categories, who is having a decent camp and who needs to improve.
First name off of this list is A.J. Green. It is expected that a top 5 talent at wide receiver have a solid camp, and Green is not disappointing. He seems to faster, stronger, more agile, and more aggressive than ever before. Since he was out a few games, people tend to forget that Green averaged over 15 yards per catch last season. Green told Bengals.com writer Geoff Hobson, “I’m itching to get back this season,” he said. “I feel like the football world forgot about me. That’s the way I approached it the whole offseason.” So far it has shown, and Green looks to dominate this season.
Another offensive player having a great camp is Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert. This is a good thing, since the Bengals went all in with Eifert after former tight end Jermaine Gresham signed a one year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. Eifert has been almost un-coverable during camp so far. He has been Dalton’s favorite go to target and Eifert has not disappointed. After family day at Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday, quarterback Andy Dalton had this to say about his tight end, “It’s nice having him out there. He’s a smart player who has a great feel for the game. We’ve been able to hook up for some big plays.” Eifert, who went down in the first quarter of last season’s home opener looks to rebound with a breakout year in 2015.
Who’s not hot on the offense? Well, the lackluster quarterback play so far in camp could be here, but the most disconcerting piece has been the lack of pass protection. Yes, the Bengals defensive line is collectively having a great training camp, but the offensive line seems to be letting a lot of defenders in the backfield. This is eyebrow raising, considering the whole point behind signing free agent Clint Boling was to ensure this line was the same group from a year ago. That continuity is what forced the Bengals to lay out the big bucks for such a young, prolific guard. The eye test though, shows this group has room for improvement, as black practice jerseys (defense) are all over the offensive backfield.
With that said, the Bengals defensive line, collectively, is having a great camp. The star shinning in this group is without a doubt Geno Atkins. To quote Bengals color commentator Dave Lapham early in camp when talking about Atkins, “He’s baaaaaccckk.” Atkins was just another guy out there last season per defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, and he looks to rebound this season. Well, so far, Atkins is making the Bengals offensive line look silly. He’s getting push off of his restructured ACL, and seems to be having his way moving 300lb men around. Even with recently acquired defensive end Michael Johnson going down with what appears to be a sprained MCL, the Bengals rookies are stepping up. Marcus Hardison, a 6’3” 295lb rookie from Arizona State seems to be filling in nicely in Johnson’s absence. If this rate of dominance continues, Bengals fans should expect the usual 40+ sacks this season from the d-line.
Another defender who seems to be having a great camp so far is former first round pick Dre Kirkpatrick. This is a guy who needs to have a solid season to show Bengals fans why he was a first round talent. Kirkpatrick was slow to get to the field his first two years in the league, and last season had his biggest game yet as a pro, as he picked off Peyton Manning twice on Monday Night Football, and ran one back to the house for a touchdown. With former teammate Terrence Newman now with the Minnesota Vikings, it is imperative that 4th year player Kirkpatrick steps up. So far, he has done just that, as he is physically aggressive, swatting passes away, and has even had an interception. The former special teams gunner, might find himself as the number one corner in the Bengals rotation.
Lastly, a defender that seems to be having not the best camp so far is last year’s first round draft pick Darqueze Dennard. Dennard, who started camp hungry and poised to see the field early and often, seems to be getting burned by players like Brandon Tate and even Greg Little. There are high expectations for Dennard, who nicknamed his secondary at Michigan State, the no fly zone. There is no reason to believe that he won’t get it together and see the field this season, but so far, Dennard is showing the signs of a sophomore slump. With Kirkpatrick excelling, Adam Jones playing well, and veteran Leon Hall still in the fold, Dennard might see more time on special teams this season than on defense.