AFC North preview: Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals
2012: 10-6, Lost in 1st rd of playoffs to Houston

Head coach: Marvin Lewis
Offensive coordinator: Jay Gruden
Defensive coordinator: Mike Zimmer

For the second straight year, the Cincinnati Bengals had their hopes of a playoff run ended by the Houston Texans and despite their recent success during the regular season, the Bengals will be looking to take the next step towards the AFC championship in 2013.

Entering his 11th year at the helm, head coach Marvin Lewis has helped to build a solid team that features one of the league’s top defensive units, along with a talented group of young players that includes a very capable starting quarterback, as well as one of the NFL’s best all-around receivers.

Currently featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” fans are getting an up-close look into the inner workings of a franchise that has the personnel to develop into a formidable opponent, hungry to prove themselves among the perennial powers of the NFL.


Andy Dalton enters his third year as the Bengals starting quarterback with some serious weapons at his disposal.

Besides the obvious chemistry that’s developed between himself and wide receiver A.J. Green, Dalton enters the 2013 regular-season with a second pass-catching tight end in Tyler Eifert, as well as a rookie running back in Giovanni Bernard, who’s loaded with potential and could be a nice complement to incumbent running back Benjarvus Green-Ellis before eventually overtaking him as the starter.

In 2012, Dalton threw for 3, 669 yards with 27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, while continuing to build his reputation as a productive starting quarterback who is capable of leading his team to the playoffs.

Currently listed as the backup, former fifth-round draft pick Josh Johnson was acquired during the offseason and is entering his fifth year as a pro.

Another new addition to the Bengals, quarterback John Skelton was brought in to add depth to the position, and saw action in seven games (2 TD-9 INT) with Arizona in 2012. While Skelton could compete for the backup job, he’s listed as the third-string quarterback for now.

Also in camp, former Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson has spent the past two years on the Bengals practice squad and barring any injuries, is a long shot to make the final roster.

At running back, starter Benjarvus Green-Ellis rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2012 and despite his productive effort last year, the sixth-year back expects to be challenged by rookie Giovanni Bernard, the first running back taken in the 2013 draft.

Cincinnati has high hopes for the former Tar Heel which more than likely include his eventual progression into the starting job. Until then, Bernard will continue to chip away at Green-Ellis’ playing time and hopefully offer the Bengals a second option at running back.

Fourth-year back Cedric Peerman, who played in 14 games last season, is listed as the third-string back on Cincinnati’s depth chart, but isn’t expected to compete with Bernard for the backup job.

Starting at wide receiver, A.J. Green hauled in 97 receptions for 1, 350 yards and 11 touchdowns in his second-year as a pro, and enters the 2013 regular-season as one of the NFL’s most dangerous deep threats and productive pass-catchers.

Second-year wideout Marvin Jones totaled 18 receptions and one touchdown in 2012 and is expected to be Green’s primary backup.

Dave Sanzenbacher enters his fourth year in the NFL having played in just five games last season with Chicago and will compete for playing time in his second stint as a Bengal.

Opposite Green as the second starting wide receiver, Mohamed Sanu had 16 receptions for 154 yards and four touchdowns in 2012, before suffering a season-ending injury during practice in late November.

Fifth-year wideout Brandon Tate totaled 13 receptions for 211 yards and a touchdown in 16 games last season, and is hoping to play a larger role as Sanu’s primary backup. With seven receptions for 53 yards in just nine games last season, third-year receiver Ryan Whalen will be the third option

Andrew Hawkins was effective as the slot receiver in 2012, catching 51 passes for 533 yards and 4 touchdowns in 14 games. Another one of the Bengal’s third-year offensive weapons, Hawkins has carved out a role for himself on this team and after spending time in the CFL and on the practice squad, seems to have finally found a good fit.

Jermaine Gresham had a solid year in 2012, catching 64 passes for 737 yards and five touchdowns for the Bengals, while giving starting quarterback Andy Dalton a dependable mid-range target.

With NFL teams such as the Patriots utilizing two tight ends in their offense with a great deal of success, the first-round selection of Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert makes a lot of sense.

Winner of the 2012 John Mackey Award which is given to the nation’s top tight end, Eifert has the potential to be an elite receiver while also possessing the necessary skills to become a competent blocker as a pro. Ideally, the combination of Gresham and Eifert will add another dimension to this already dangerous offense.

Expected to start at fullback, second-year pro Orson Charles will be given the opportunity to prove himself worthy this year after a 2012 season in which he saw limited action in 16 games.

If healthy, former New York Jet fullback John Connor could also compete for the starting role, however, the fourth-year pro has played in only five-games during the last two seasons combined due to injury, and may be running out of chances to play in the NFL.

Cincinnati’s offensive line remains intact from 2012 and is expected to be led by starting right tackle Andre Smith, who was given a new three-year contract earlier in the year after the failing to draw significant interest as a free agent.

After playing in every game for the Bengals since 2009, Dennis Roland will be Smith’s primary backup at right tackle. Starting opposite Smith at left tackle, Andrew Whitworth is an extremely talented lineman who is often overlooked and will provide further stability to the unit through his veteran leadership.

In reserve, tackle Anthony Collins played in just five games in 2012, but brings both depth and experience to the position.

Starting at right guard, Kevin Zeitler is coming off of a solid performance as a rookie in 2012 and looks to be headed towards a promising NFL career.

Former Kansas Jayhawks guard Tanner Hawkinson is projected as the likely backup at right guard, and will have to fight for playing time during his rookie season behind Zeitler.

At left guard, third-year pro Clint Boling started all 16 games for Cincinnati in 2012 and has become a valuable blocker in the Bengals rushing attack. Newly-acquired Mike Pollak played in only one game for the Carolina Panthers in 2012, but is expected to be Cincinnati’s second option at left guard this season.

After using several different players at center last season while attempting to find their starter, the Bengals will need someone to step up and assume the role in 2013.

For now anyway, that player looks to be Kyle Cook, who is currently listed as Cincinnati’s starting center. At the beginning of training camp, it was widely believed that Trevor Robinson was the favorite to secure the job after starting seven games in the middle as a rookie last season. Robinson will begin the year as the second option at center, and could be challenged by rookie TJ Johnson, who played his college football at the University of South Carolina.


Based upon the 4-3 defense, former second-round draft pick Carlos Dunlap is the projected starter at left defensive end. After registering 40 combined tackles, six sacks, and four forced fumbles in 2012, Dunlap is expected to play a larger role this season.

Former starter Robert Geathers will compete for playing time behind Dunlap in his 10th NFL season. Opposite Dunlap, fifth-year Michael Johnson totaled 11 1/2 sacks in 2012 and will start at right defensive end. With 6 1/2 sacks last season, Wallace Gilberry is entering his sixth year as a pro and is the expected backup behind Johnson.

On the inside, starting right defensive tackle Geno Atkins led the Bengals with 12 1/2 sacks in 2012 and enters his fourth season in the NFL as one of the premier players at his position.

In a reserve role, second-year Devon Still played in just eight games as a rookie and should benefit from playing under Atkins as the backup.

Starting at left defensive tackle, Domata Peko finished 2012 with 53 combined tackles and two sacks, and is entering his eighth year in the NFL. Second-year pro Brandon Thompson played in just three games last season and will likely begin 2013 as the second option behind Peko.

Likely Cincinnati’s most significant acquisition during the offseason outside of the draft, veteran linebacker James Harrison brings some added toughness and leadership to the unit as the starting strong side linebacker. Second-year linebacker Emmanuel Lamur is expected to be the primary backup after seeing action in nine games as a rookie last season.

Starting at weak side linebacker, Vontaze Burfict had a solid rookie campaign, registering 127 combined tackles and one sack in 16 games last season.

Sean Porter, a 2013 fourth-round draft pick out of Texas A&M, is currently listed as the primary backup behind Burfict.

At middle linebacker, fifth-year pro Rey Maualuga is coming off a sub-bar performance in 2012 in which he registered only one sack. Expected to be the “weak link” of the linebacking corps this season, Maualuga will be challenged by  Vincent Rey, who saw action in just six games last season, a number that could easily increase in 2013.

Starting at right corner, Leon Hall ended 2012 with 38 combined tackles to go along with two interceptions in 14 games, and is expected to get the job over seven-year cornerback Adam “Pac-Man” Jones, who tallied 40 combined tackles last season and is expected to play a supporting role in 2013.

Entering his 11th year, veteran corner Terrence Newman is expected to start opposite Hall at left corner and registered 75 combined tackles and two interceptions last season, his first with Cincinnati.

Brandon Ghee will compete for playing time after missing the entire 2012 regular season with a wrist injury.

Reggie Nelson totaled 85 combined tackles and finished the year tied for the team lead with three interceptions in just 14 games last season.

Expected to start at strong safety, former fifth-round draft pick George Lloka played in just five games last season and enters his second year in the NFL with a huge opportunity. Also competing for time at safety is rookie Shawn Williams, fourth-year pro Taylor Mays, and former special teams standout Jeromy Miles.

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