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OTHER ITA SITES:
2007 NFL Team Previews: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals followed an 11-win 2005 season with a disappointing 8-8 record last season. Cincy had nine players arrested in a nine-month period through January. With the defense improving and the same explosive offense, the Bengals should be a contender once again in the AFC North.
Carson Palmer threw for over 4,000 yards last season. Now he's more than a full season removed from major surgery on his left knee, so the sky is the limit in '07. Palmer is intelligent, accurate and has a cannon for an arm.
Running back Rudi Johnson is the workhorse in this offense. Johnson did some flexibility training in the off-season and also dieted to improve his speed and quickness. He's a punishing runner, but lacks that homerun speed. We'll see how his off-season work helps in that area.
Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are one of the best starting receiver duos in the league. Johnson is the flashy, speedy deep threat, while �Housh� is the sure-handed, precision route runner. Chris Henry, normally the team's number three receiver, has been suspended for the first half of the season. Tab Perry and Antonio Chatman will have to fill the void. Tight end Reggie Kelly gives Palmer some solid protection and is a better receiver than most people think.
The interior of the offensive line took a hit with the departure of left guard Eric Steinbach and the retirement of center Rich Braham. But Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson and left tackle Levi Jones return. Bobbie Williams is also back at right guard. Andrew Whitworth will need to step up at left guard. Eric Ghiaciuc, Ben Wilkerson and Alex Stepanovich will compete for the starting job at center.
Robert Geathers is the third-down pass-rush specialist. Geathers recorded 10.5 sacks last season. Bryan Robinson is the run-stopping left end who usually comes out in third down passing situations. Justin Smith comes in on the nickel defense and plays both end positions to make room for Geathers.
Michael Myers and John Thornton man the middle of the line. Myers is a strong run-stuffer, but isn't much of a pass-rushing threat. Thornton is quick, but wears down more often than not.
Ed Hartwell steps in as the leader of the linebacking corps. Hartwell, a punishing hitter and great run-stopper, will start on the outside. He could move to the middle if he struggles. Ahmad Brooks will benefit from Hartwell's experience. Brooks will start in the middle. He made as many mistakes as he did big plays last season. Expect improvement from Brooks this season. Rashad Jeanty will be the strong-side starter.
The secondary must improve. This unit tied for 31st in passing yards allowed last season. Expect first-round draft pick Leon Hall, who'll initially be the nickel back, to take the starting left corner job away from Deltha O'Neal by the midway point of the season. Johnathan Joseph enters his second pro season as the starting right corner. Joseph turned a lot of heads last season and will continue to improve.
Ballhawking free safety Madieu Williams returns, as does strong safety Dexter Jackson. This'll be their second season together, so improved play should result from improved communication. Jackson may get pushed by fourth-round draft pick Marvin White. White is known to be a hard hitter who punishes receivers coming across the middle.
The coverage units are solid, but more consistency is needed. Tab Perry and Antonio Chatman are expected to win the kickoff and punt return jobs. Shayne Graham has been a solid kicker and has shown improvement on kickoffs. Punter Kyle Larson was fifth in the league in net average (38.6) and eighth in gross average (44.5).
The Bengals will follow up a disappointing '06 season with a return to the top of the AFC North. Palmer is back to 100% and the offense is explosive enough to make up for any shortcomings the team may have defensively. I see an 11-5 finish, putting them back on top as AFC North champions.
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Travel Part B