As the offseason activity dies down and we roll towards the promise of football again under the summer sun, let us look to the future! Bengals Gab will be looking at each of the individual position groups on the team over the next several days, providing readers with a grade on each and a primer as training camp and the preseason approaches.
Next up, the wide receivers.
Oh, how the times have changed. It seems like just yesterday that the Bengals could boast one of the very best wide receiver corps in the league. Chad Ochocinco and TJ Houshmandzadeh were a powerful starting combination, with Chad’s flash and speed complemented by TJ’s toughness and reliable hands. Backing them up were a bevy of up-and-comers like Chris Henry, Kelly “the squirrel” Washington, and Kevin Walter.
Since those salad days, Chad has demanded a trade, TJ’s flown to the Seahawk coop, Kelly Washington has bounced around the league, Kevin Walter has become a fixture in Houston, and Henry found himself suspended every season until 2009 in which he passed away. Suddenly they looked paper thin.
But this team has always liked its passing game and its wide receivers, and so Mike Brown reloaded gleefully. Unfortunately, 2008 second round pick Jerome Simpson has yet to pan out, and 3rd-rounder Andre Caldwell’s been hot-and-cold in two seasons. Chad came around to lead the group again, but free agent pick up Laveranues Coles, thought to be TJ’s equal proved to be too slow, too old, and too unreliable to truly replace him.
And so it was—a cast of also-rans and yet-to-be’s supporting Chad Ochocinco (who skipped mini-camps). The results should have been expected.
Luckily, Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis attacked this weakness aggressively in the free agent market, entertaining the T.O. and Antonio Bryant, settling on Bryant. They also took fliers on journeyman Chris Davis and former first-round pick Matt Jones.
In the draft, they got Texas’ Jordan Shipley, a top slot receiver, in the third round, and got Kansas’ Dez Briscoe, a lanky “X” receiver, in the sixth.
Chad appears to be in great shape, and Antonio Bryant has come with rave reviews from NFC South colleagues and opponents alike. His rare combination of size, speed and athleticism made him a terror every time he’s had a reliable quarterback. Matt Jones has impressed in mini-camps, vowing to redeem himself and erase the stigma of being a first round bust. Carson Palmer has called him a mismatch for opposing defenses. Jerome Simpson has had his best spring in a make-or-break year, and Andre Caldwell has been working hard to keep his job as slot receiver with both former Texas Longhorns Shipley and Quan Cosby breathing down his neck.
Overall Position Group Grade: B-
On paper, this group’s talent is ahead of the 2009 cast by quite a way. While we cannot say if it is in fact better, until its proven on the field, the odds are in their favor.
Bryant is an upgrade over Coles, and Jones can provide the kind of 3-WR set headaches that Chris Henry once did. Caldwell and Shipley, who’s been compared to Wes Welker, will battle for the slot receiver and 3rd-down threat. Simpson and Briscoe will have to prove their value as a receiver and special-teamer to make the squad.
Mike Sheppard is an experienced and solid receivers coach, although he doesn’t have the swagger or ability to relate to players that Hue Jackson once did.
If these receivers can draw double coverages off of Chad Ochocinco, and find holes in nickel and dime package zones, they will be successful and the Bengals will improve on offense.
When you consider that the team returns the #4 overall defense intact and reloaded, a powerful ground game with Cedric Benson, and a franchise quarterback in Carson Palmer, if the wide receivers can produce even moderately, this team will be able to improve upon its 10 wins from 2009 and return to the playoffs in 2010.
What do you think? Vote on a grade and leave a comment!
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