CINCINNATI -- On the surface it appears there's been a lot of change with the Cincinnati Bengals over the past few months with long-time veterans like left tackle Andrew Whitworth, linebacker Rey Maualuga, and defensive lineman Domata Peko gone. But, quite a bit of continuity remains. Second-year players who spent much of last season adapting to the Bengals' system and getting on the same page with their teammates now have that year of experience under their belt.
"We've got the core of our guys back, and we've got some new guys who can help us," said quarterback Andy Dalton. "So, it's a new year, another year of experience for everybody. I said last year there was a lot of stuff that was new, obviously with Zamp (offensive coordinator Ken Zampese) taking over at coordinator and with a couple new receivers being out there. We really don't have that this year. Guys understand what we are trying to do."
And, what needs to improve. During a dismal 6-9-1 season, the Bengals struggled to establish a consistent rushing attack and protect Dalton, who was sacked 41 times. They had difficulty converting red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. The Bengals missed the playoffs for the first time in six years.
"This was what this whole offseason has been for, to see what was done well and what we didn't do well," Dalton said. "We need to get better at things we do well and really improve on things we didn't do well. This offseason has been good for us."
This offseason has been about getting returning players healthy and getting a talented rookie corps indoctrinated as quickly as possible. Everything was going well until second-year receiver Cody Core suffered an apparent left leg injury on the next-to-last day of mandatory minicamp. He was carted off the field and watched the final practices with his left leg propped up on a scooter. X-rays were negative and the early indication was that Core will be ready by training camp. Tight end Tyler Eifert, running back Gio Bernard, and first-round draft choice John Ross were limited participants due to injury.
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick recovered from a hand fracture over the offseason is expected to be full-go by training camp. Second-rounder Joe Mixon lost 10 pounds in the weeks following the draft and looked crisp in his work.
After last season's injury-riddled training camp that had several key injuries including season-enders for top draft choices cornerback William Jackson III and defensive lineman Andrew Billings, head coach Marvin Lewis was thankful to get through spring workouts relatively unscathed.
"We have 89 guys, and we had 85 working in action, with the other four working in their own fashion and rehabbing," said Lewis on the first day of mandatory minicamp. "They all are in good position to be ready to go when we begin training camp, so that's what we need to be pleased with."
With Whitworth gone, the focus has turned to Dalton, who passed for more than 4,200 yards and 18 touchdowns last year despite being under constant pressure, to assume more of a leadership role. It's something Dalton insists he's been doing already.
"Going into year seven now, I'm really comfortable with everything we have going here," said Dalton. "Now we have some of the new guys, just making sure everybody is up to speed on everything we're doing. Communication is big. Making sure they know exactly how I want it to be. Guys are willing to learn. Everybody's trying to be the best they can be. That's what this time of the year is for. Got to keep improving. Need to get these to stop thinking too much and play fast. We've gotten better this offseason."