In just a few days, Cincinnati Bengals training camp will begin, ending a long off-season that brought plentiful change. Of course, most of the roster is set ahead of camp and the coaching staff’s job truly begins. After back-to-back free-agent spending sprees and high draft slots, it’s time for the organization to prove its vision. Further, the tock is clearly clicking on Joe Burrow’s rookie contract. In 2021, they need to show the ability to build a winner around the young passer. Training camp will be a major step towards showcasing that vision and that ability within this organization.
Key Questions Needing Answers During Cincinnati Bengals Training Camp
Seemingly since the 2015 season, it’s been more questions than answers entering Cincinnati Bengals training camp. After a five-season playoff drought and major roster churn, the team is full of fresh faces and open depth chart positions. Clearly, franchise centerpieces like Joe Burrow, Jessie Bates III, Tyler Boyd, and Sam Hubbard are locked into roles. Further, budding stars like Tee Higgins, Joe Mixon, DJ Reader, and Logan Wilson are looking to build on impressive resumes.
However, training camp is a time for the depth pieces to prove their worth. Perhaps more than any other sport, football requires teams to be more than the sum of their parts. With the clear need for this roster to turn a corner in 2021, the players lower on the depth chart need to produce this season. Perhaps the biggest question of them all is; do the Bengals have the right depth pieces or will that be another struggle? Seemingly, it depends on how a few key position battles pan out over the next six-to-eight weeks. In general, 2021 will be a put-up-or-shut-up season for Zac Taylor and his coaching staff. Even with Joe Burrow’s endorsement, the hot seat remains. However, how they answer their key questions in training camp could change their situation.
Who Will Be the Backup Tackle With Hakeem Adeniji Out for the Season?
Without a doubt, the Bengals offensive line wasn’t good enough in 2020. This off-season, they made some key upgrades and also made a bet on health for other core members. With that said, the combo of Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff doesn’t exactly have fans cheering in troves. Williams, Cincinnati’s 2019 first-round pick, has played well when healthy but has only 10 appearances in his first two seasons. In Reiff, a nine-year veteran and 32-year-old tackle, they’ll hope health won’t be an issue.
Hakeem Adeniji likely being out for the season is actually a solid blow.
Having a backup OL that can play any position would have been nice, plus he played decent last season. A missed year of development as well. #Bengals
— Blake Jewell (@BlakeJewellNFL) June 15, 2021
With both bringing some potential health concerns, the need for a solid back-up tackle is crucial. That’s an effort that took a big hit in minicamp when second-year tackle Hakeem Adeniji suffered a season-ending injury. Now, the Bengals have iffy developmental backups in Fred Johnson and rookie D’Ante Smith. Can either of those two shine during training camp and prove to be a good option off the bench? Only time will tell.
Are There Any Obstacles in Joe Burrow’s Week 1 Return?
Seemingly, it’s “All Systems Joe” in Cincinnati as training camp approaches. While the team might not have their franchise fixture on the field in the pre-season, Burrow is very likely to return for Week 1. However, it’s not unreasonable for Bengals fans to wonder if they should be expecting any setbacks. Since February, however, Burrow preaches that he’s ahead of schedule. Further, he took ample snaps with an empty backfield during spring minicamp. During those snaps, he even displayed a gain in velocity, which was noted by his receiving group.
Presumably, he should be lining up under center in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings. Regardless, knee injuries can be complicated. Given the team’s clear need to keep him on the field, it’s worth wondering about the obstacles. This could become a moot point early in training camp. Obviously, a healthy Joe Burrow would be a major factor in any Bengals optimism. Until he takes his first in-game snap, his health will remain at least a minor question.
Can the Bengals Find the Team’s Punt Returner of the Future?
On a lighter note than others, the Cincinnati Bengals training camp process should yield a future punt returner. With Alex Erickson’s departure, a void in the specialist’s role became clear. Potentially, the role could go directly to Trent Taylor, a free agent addition who claimed the role with the San Francisco 49ers. However, there are a few names battling for this role.
This spring, UDFA Pooka Williams gained some traction in the position battle and is allegedly mixing in some routes at wide-out. Another UDFA, Riley Lees from Northwestern, is also making a strong run at the position. Additionally, corner Darius Phillips has made a few splash plays as a punt returner in previous seasons and could wind up as the nominee. Also, watch for a darkhorse candidate in rookie running back Chris Evans to make an impression in this area. Right now, this might be one of the most wide-open spots on the Cincinnati Bengals roster.
Did the Cincinnati Bengals Add Enough Pieces To Generate a Strong Pass Rush?
Without a doubt, the Bengals need to get bigger numbers out of their pass rush. They finished dead-last with only 17 sacks last season. Now, they replaced Carl Lawson with Trey Hendrickson in free agency, a 5.5 sacks for 13.5 sacks exchange. However, sack totals are often misleading in the greater results of pass production. They also added edge-rushing rookies Joseph Ossai, Cameron Sample, and Wyatt Hubert in the third, fourth, and seventh rounds. Plus, they’re hoping for a significant return-to-form from Hubbard and Reader after injury-plagued 2020 seasons. Further, there’s a handful of returning Bengals like Mike Daniels, Renell Wren, and Josh Tupou that could play expanded roles this season.
Potentially, the addition of Marion Hobby could reveal to be one of the most important parts of the answer. The veteran defensive line coach was a major part of coaching the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars defense that compiled 55 sacks. To most fans, the “Sacksonville” label is still pretty familiar. If he can find ways to engineer a better pass rush this season, watch out for that group. Seemingly, the parts are there, it’s a matter of using them to their highest level of potential.
In the grand scheme of things, Cincinnati Bengals training camp looks quite important and interesting ahead of 2021. Importantly, everything should and likely will center around building the best team around Joe Burrow. Star quarterbacks in today’s game expect to win early and often; a 4-11-1 season and a major injury to Burrow was a bad start. Now, with a tone-setting training camp, the narrative could quickly flip in the right direction.
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