NFL camp openings: Cincinnati Bengals' bad boys fight for jobs

By The Sports Xchange  |  July 27, 2017 at 8:43 PM
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CINCINNATI -- Even as the Cincinnati Bengals gathered their full roster for training camp here Thursday (July 27), offseason troubles loomed despite efforts to move past them.

Talented, but oft-troubled cornerback Adam Jones, is suspended for the first week of the season for violating the league's personal conduct policy when he reportedly spat in the face of a jailhouse nurse in January and his penalty was limited to two days served.

For Jones, 33, this was his seventh arrest and third off-field incident since joining the Bengals. And, regardless of his dynamic achievements on the field in the past, his timing may be bad. Second-year corner William Jackson III sat out last season with an injury, but is ready and eager to get a chance to start. Jones is giving him that chance.

At the other corner, Dre Kirkpatrick recovered from a hand fracture during the offseason and is expected to be 100 percent.

Meanwhile, former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon was rated with first-round talent, but fell to the Bengals in the second round because he was unable to outrun a domestic abuse incident in college. Regardless, Mixon shed 10 pounds since the Indianapolis Scouting Combine (which he prohibited from attending) and appears ready to challenge for a starting job immediately.

Incumbent running back Jeremy Hill had two subpar seasons, but insists he's motivated to return to his 2014 form when he rushed for more than 1,100 yards as a rookie.

Lack of a consistent running game was partly responsible for quarterback Andy Dalton being sacked 41 times last season, And, with a revamped offensive line needing help, too, finding someone to step up in the backfield is a priority for Cincinnati during training camp.

THE FACTS:

TRAINING CAMP: Paul Brown Stadium; Cincinnati, OH

COACH: Marvin Lewis

15th season as Bengals/NFL head coach

118-110-3 overall; 0-7 postseason

THE BREAKDOWN

2016 finish: 3rd AFC North (6-9-1)

STATISTICS

TOTAL OFFENSE: 356.9 (13th)

RUSHING: 110.6 (13th)

PASSING: 246.4 (15th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 350.8 (17th)

RUSHING: 113.3 (21st)

PASSING: 237.5 (11th)

2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

All times Eastern

Aug. 11, TAMPA BAY (Fri), 7:30

Aug. 19, KANSAS CITY (Sat), 7:00

Aug. 27, at Washington, 4:30

Aug. 31, at Indianapolis (Thu), 7:00

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Andy Dalton. Backups - AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel.

Dalton had his best season despite a suspect line, inconsistent running game, and injuries to key veteran players. He passed for 4,206 yards and 18 TDs with just eight interceptions despite being sacked 41 times. Dalton also completed 64.7 percent of his passes to reach the 4,000-yard mark for the second time in his career. McCarron was the focus of trade rumors during the offseason but for now remains a Bengal.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Jeremy Hill. Backups - Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman, Tra Carson, Stanley Williams.

Mixon was a controversial draft choice, but he has a legitimate shot to assume the starting role. Hill is coming off a couple subpar seasons and Bernard missed the final six games with an ACL tear. The Bengals need more production from the running game to take pressure off Dalton and a revamped offensive line.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Tyler Eifert. Backups - C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Kroft, Ryan Hewitt, Mason Schreck.

Eifert underwent back surgery during the offseason and worked on the side during the spring. But, he's expected to be ready for training camp. Kroft was impressive during spring workouts and is expected to compete for the backup role that mostly belonged to Uzomah last season. An ankle injury suffered in the Pro Bowl resulted in surgery and caused Eifert to miss the first four weeks. The back injury then delayed his return until the seventh game. Eifert had 29 catches for 394 yards and five touchdowns before the back issues resurfaced.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd. Backups - John Ross, Cody Core, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Jake Kumerow, Alonzo Russell, Chris Brown.

This group is deep and versatile with the addition of speedy rookie Ross and the tall, physical Malone. Green missed the final six games with a hamstring injury and fell 36 yards shy of reaching 1,000 yards for the sixth straight season, something only Randy Moss has done. But, the five-time Pro Bowler proved himself to be healthy during the spring. LaFell says he's more comfortable going into his second season with the team.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Cedric Ogbuehi, RT Jake Fisher, C Russell Bodine, RG Andre Smith, LG Clint Boling. Backups - LT Landon Lechler, LG Trey Hopkins, C T.J, Johnson, RG Christian Westerman, LG Dustin Stanton, LG Cameron Lee, RG Alex Redmond, LG Kent Perkins.

This group is among the biggest questions heading into the 2017 season, especially after veteran left tackle Andre Whitworth left as a free agent after 12 seasons and leaving a significant leadership void in the locker room. Another veteran, guard Kevin Zeitler, also is gone. Smith was brought back to play guard. Ogbuehi struggled most of last season, even briefly moving to left tackle where he said he was more comfortable. But, the results were the same. His weaknesses in pass protection were partly responsible for Dalton being sacked 41 times last season.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LDE Carlos Dunlap, DT Geno Atkins, RDE Michael Johnson, LDT Pat Sims. Backups - DT Andrew Billings, DT DeShawn Williams, DE Jordan Willis, DT Marcus Hardison, DE Will Clarke, DE Wallace Gilberry, DT Brandon Thompson, DT Ryan Glasgow, DT David Dean, DE Chris Smith.

Domata Peko left in free agency. Billings missed his entire rookie season due to injury, but appears to be full go for training camp. Dunlap had eight sacks and Atkins had nine, but the Bengals' pass rush wasn't as ferocious as in recent years. Willis was drafted in the third round out of Kansas State and is widely considered a steal for the Bengals.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - MLB Vincent Rey, SLB Marquis Flowers, WLB Vontaze Burfict. Backups - MLB Kevin Minter, SLB Carl Lawson, SLB P.J. Dawson, WLB Nick Vigil, SLB Bryson Albright, SLB Jordan Evans.

Veterans Rey Maualuga and Karlos Dansby left via free agency. Minter was signed to provide some experience and could assume Maualuga's role in the middle. Vigil had a solid offseason. Burfict finished second on the team in tackles despite missing the first three games of the season due to suspension. He was in better shape this summer and the Bengals look for big things if he can avoid the extracurriculars.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Dre Kirkpatrick, RCB Adam Jones, SS Shawn Williams, FS George Iloka. Backups - RCB Josh Shaw, RCB KeiVarae Russell, RCB Darqueze Dennard, SS Clayton Fejedelem, FS Derron Smith, CB William Jackson, RCB Brandon Wilson, LCB Tony McRae, LCB Bene Benwikere.

Kirkpatrick drew praise from the coaching staff for his improvement this season, but Jackson, the team's top draft choice a year ago, is expected to recover after being injured late in training camp and will push for a starting role next year. Jones is among the team captains and emotional leaders, but his arrest just days after the conclusion of the regular season puts his future in doubt. Jones faced multiple charges for his conduct at a local hotel.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Randy Bullock, P Kevin Huber, PR Adam Jones, KOR Alex Erickson, LS Clark Harris, K Jake Elliott, K Jon Brown.

The journeyman Bullock was signed when veteran Mike Nugent was released after missing six extra points. Head coach Marvin Lewis was pleased with Bullock's production, but said there will be competition at kicker in training camp. Elliott was drafted out of the University of Memphis and was impressive during OTAs. Erickson led the NFL with 810 kickoff return yards including one 84-yarder.

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