Friday, June 10, 2005

Bengals: Projected Starters

For the record, this has absolutely nothing to do with anything released by the Cincinnati Bengals - it's just early in mini-camp and I feel like spraying my collective audience with my Bengal-boner. Not sure if I've came out and said it yet, but we finish no less than 10-6 this season and make our first playoff appearance since 1990. Anyway:

QB - Carson Palmer, 6'5 - 230; USC (D1 '03)
* Pretty obvious statement here, really started to shine at the end of the '04 season against some the NFL's elite defenses. Put up a 96.9 passer rating in the final 6 games and around 240 yards in the air, 3 of those games coming against New England, Baltimore & Pittsburgh. Should flourish with a year of experience under his belt - and holy shit, what an arm.
RB - Rudi Johnson, 5'10 - 220; Auburn (D4 '01)
* Completed his first season as the Bengals #1 back with the departure of Corey Dillon, setting team records in carries (361) and rushing yards (1,454). Never have I been more excited with the program then I was when we re-signed him to a multi-year deal. Chris Perry should spot him admirably and become a good 3rd down back, but he is from that state up north (forgive me for not saying the name) so the jury's still out on him.
FB - Jeremi Johnson, 5'11 - 265; Western Kentucky (D4b '03)
* A nimble big-guy out of the backfield, Jeremi is becoming one of the league's best blocking fullbacks. Injury and weight problems stunted his progress in his second year, but now under a steady diet he will be ready for training camp and should see more short yardage carries and receptions out of the backfield. His agility for a man of his size is incredible, as was evident in his tip-toe sideline walk last year for a TD.
WR - Chad Johnson, 6'1 - 192; Oregon State (D2 '01)
* What can you say about one of the NFL's top WR's? Voted to his 2nd straight Pro Bowl, Johnson led the AFC for the 2nd consecutive season in receiving yards (1,274). Spent the off season working on his ability to run with the football after the catch, and must improve his drops to become a top 3 WR - all of which is very possible in his 4th season. Greatness is on the horizon!
WR - T.J. Houshmandzadeh, 6'1 - 197; Oregon State (D7 '01)
* Will hold off Peter Warrick for the #2 WR slot, however PDub will see plenty of time receiving in the slot. Houshmandzadeh had a breakout season in '04, hauling in 73 receptions for 978 yards filling in for an injured Warrick. Will go over the middle, is an excellent possession receiver and makes some of the best catches in the secondary on the team - and that's saying a lot with Chad Johnson on the other side of him.
TE - Reggie Kelley, 6'4 - 255; Mississippi State (UFA, Atl '03)
* Honestly, TE is a position that Cincinnati doesn't utilize quite the way other teams do. Kelley caught 15 passes for 85 yards and does not possess the big-game ability that Matt Schobel and Tony Stewart do. However, Kelley is our top blocking TE, and with J. Johnson's blocking ability and our plethora of receiving threats, Kelley thrives on 1st and 2nd down in helping our massive OL clear a path for Rudi to run through.
LT - Levi Jones, 6'5 - 310; Arizona State (D1 '02)
* I still remember the boo's on draft day and Kiper's reaction to us selecting him...but no one's booing now. Jones is arguably the toughest player on the team, starting in 44 consecutive games - including one of them being 6 days after arthroscopic knee surgery during the Bengals playoff push. Pro-Bowl caliber LT.
LG - Eric Steinbach, 6'6 - 297; Iowa (D2 '03)
* I love this guy, and not because he drinks Miller Lite and signed my Bengals hat at Hooter's this past season. One of the most athletically gifted big man the Bengals have had in recent years, Steinbach is as tough and mean as they come. Be sure to pay attention when Rudi runs to the right side with Williams & Anderson...and Steinbach laying someone out coming from the left side.
C - Rich Braham, 6'4 - 305; West Virginia (W, Ari '94)
* In the Bengals offense, the C is counted on to call out blocking schemes and pick up blitz protection, and having someone with the experience of Braham is a godsend. We drafted a talented C in the 4th round in Eric Ghiaciuc, and signed undrafted free agent Ben Wilkerson to compete for the job. Braham will win it outright, and will make a great tutor and lead an excellent example for the rookies to follow and play to in the future.
RG - Bobbie Williams, 6'4 - 330; Arkansas (UFA, Phi '04)
* One of the strongest RG's in the game, Williams began to flourish in the Nov. 28th game vs. Cleveland. Now in his second season as a Bengal, should continue to be an integral part of the road-grading right side alongside Anderson. Williams is best in run blocking, but impressed the coaching staff late in the season with his adaptation to our pass protection and getting his arms extended to maintain blocks. Was a large part in only giving up 12 sacks in the last 9 games.
RT - Willie Anderson, 6'5 - 340; Auburn (D1 '96)
* Best RT in the game in my book, but then again I see him play every week and I'm a biased homer. 2-time Pro-Bowler along with C. Johnson, has just begun getting his overdue respect by being voted to the AP All-Pro first team. Devastating blocker with unmatched technique, he is the catalyst to the Bengals running game and will provide many more years of the same.

DLE - Justin Smith, 6'4 - 270; Missouri (D1 '01)
* Currently has the most sacks since joining the team in 2001 with 28, is moving to the left side this year to help bolster the run defense. At the left side he's expected to see less-talented tackles as what he sees from the right, so should post better numbers as well. Very quick first step, will score many sacks on account of his ability to get around lineman after driving them far into the backfield.
DRE - Robert Geathers, 6'3 - 271; Georgia (D4b '04)
* Duane Clemons will probably start to be honest, but you can't go cookie-cutter in every prediction you make. Possessed uncanny big-play potential in his rookie season of '04, should get more of a chance to upstage incumbent RE Duane Clemons this spring. An excellent blend of size and speed, Geathers should be a fixture opposite of Justin Smith for quite a few years in Cincinnati.
DLT - Bryan Robinson, 6'4 - 296; Fresno State (UFA, Mia '05)
* Our lone free agent signing of '05, Robinson comes to bolster a run defense ranked 26th in the league last season. He marks the opportunity for Thornton to move to the right side to become more of a pass rusher, as his run-stopping ability is often a case for offensive lineman to double team to provide holes for their backs to run through. Should provide ample opportunities for our LB's to make tackles near the line of scrimmage by not allowing G's to fire off and devour them from the snap.
DRT - John Thornton, 6'2 - 297; West Virginia (UFA, Ten '03)
* A model pro and extremely talented DT, Thornton received a godsend this past off season in the signing of a prototypical run-stopping DT in Robinson. Provides stability and leadership in a re-built Bengals defense, Thornton rarely misses a tackle his way and should put up an outstanding season on the right side of the line. I expect more than his '04 marks of 3 sacks and 2 passes defensed.
MLB - Odell Thurman, 6'0 - 233; Georgia (D2 '05)
* Already labeled the "Chad Johnson of the defense", Thurman brings attitude to the middle and will thrive in a defense closely resembling the one he excelled in at Georgia. Odell provides what Nate Webster gave the Bengals in '04 with a bigger upside, and should stave off last year's leading tackler Landon Johnson to start his first game on opening day. Originally thought of as a first round pick, he dropped because of apparent off-field problems that were later proven non-existent - making his second round selection one of the biggest steals in the '05 draft.
SLB - David Pollack, 6'2 - 265; Georgia (D1 '05)
* A college defensive end, is being asked to make the transition to LB. Kevin Hardy was released to make way for this rookie to join the starting ranks, and is said to be making strides similar to Marvin Lewis's last transitional player Peter Boulware...and we all know how that turned out (and if you didn't you clicked the link and found out). With the size, speed and smarts to play as a strong-side NFL linebacker, Pollack should help form the backbone to the defense of the future for the Bengals.
WLB - Brian Simmons, 6'3 - 244; North Carolina (D1b '98)
* One of our elders on the defense, this 30-year old was drafted alongside Takeo Spikes back in the day and has had just as much of an impact on our defense in the past as anyone. Simmons is a speedy LB who can cover sideline to sideline and is a sure-tackler (77 solos in '04), and will step in to mentor our young LB'ing crew as they propel themselves to NFL-elite status.
LCB - Keiwan Ratliff, 5'11 - 190; Florida (D2a, '04)
* Another reach, as most would have Deltha O'Neal here. Ratliff is a ballhawk - a big play waiting to happen. He delivers excellent hits for his size (as such spent time at S as well), has incredible speed in breaking to the ball and can stay as close to a WR as any other CB on the roster. With a year of experience under his belt, I feel his consistency and upside will get him into the starting lineup by the season's beginning.
RCB - Tory James, 6'2 - 192; LSU (UFA, Oak '03)
* Tory has been everything Marvin cracked him up to be when he signed him. A Super Bowl veteran brought here to provide leadership, James has excelled in becoming our #1 CB to the extent of actually playing in the Pro Bowl last season after never surpassing 3rd on the depth chart in Oakland. His play has signified a true change of tactics for the Bengals' secondary, as defending passes is now just an afterthought from the Artrell Hawkins era.
FS - Madieu Williams, 6'1 - 193; Maryland (D2b, '04)
* This guy's going to be great. Started at 3 different positions in the '04 season including an opening day start for a beat-up Deltha O'Neal - despite getting torched throughout the game, he never lost his cool and finished the season as one of the most promising defensive rookies here in a long time. Has cornerback like coverage ability and hits like a Mack truck, his potential upside in this defense has only had its surface scratched.
SS - Kim Herring, 6'0 - 212; Penn State (FA '04)
* I'd like to say we had Thomas Davis here, but hey - can't argue with our draft. Herring was a bit out of place at times last year with our ever revolving array of defensive looks, but this year with Williams slated in the FS role Herring has prepared himself to play the strong position in the off season. Up 10 pounds from the year before, Herring will add much needed run support and be able to provide FS like coverage in pass coverages.


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