Where is the pass rush?The Bengals ranked 12th in total defense and finished the 2008 season strong, holding their last three opponents to 19 total points, but they generated just 17 sacks all year. They desperately need to improve their pass rush -- especially if the offense returns to form and can force opponents to play catch-up. Rookie Michael Johnson is penciled in as a third-down pass rusher and needs to deliver. The effort that Domato Peko gives at defensive tackle is what the Bengals want from their linemen, but his one-half sack total of 2008 isn't good enough inside. Considering that DB Chinedum Ndukwe tied for the team lead in sacks with three and top DT John Thornton (three sacks) is no longer on the team, Cincinnati has a ways to go.
Can a rebuilt offensive line bring back the potent offense?Gone from the Bengals are last season's starting center (Eric Ghiaciuc), left tackle (Levi Jones) and right tackle (Stacey Andrews). In are a rookie at right tackle (Andre Smith), a center with very limited experience (Kyle Cook) and a utility lineman at left tackle (Andrew Whitworth). Offensive line coach Paul Alexander quickly must get this group up and running. Cincinnati is high on Cook, who has a reputation as a scrapper. He will be tested in a division with outstanding nose tackles who are all bigger than Cook. If he struggles during camp, what will happen when he faces Pittsburgh's Casey Hampton, Cleveland's Shaun Rogers and Baltimore's Haloti Ngata?
Is Cedric Benson ready for a breakout season?Benson has never had a 1,000-yard season, but he ran for 747 yards in just 12 games last season, and 355 of those came in the last three games. Benson could be ready for a 1,200-yard campaign with the threat of Carson Palmer under center loosening up defenses. In fact, Palmer says Benson is poised for a bigger run than former Bengals RB Rudi Johnson's 2004-06 stretch, during which he averaged 1,407 rushing yards per season. Benson is faster than Johnson and, according to Bengals coaches, is an underrated receiver, meaning 30 catches is a realistic goal. And when Benson had 20-plus carries in 2008, Cincinnati was 4-0-1.
Man in the middle
Rey Maualuga fell in the draft, and the Bengals took him in the second round. He spent the spring learning the strongside linebacker position, but he has been a middle linebacker his whole life, so it might not take long for him to start competing with Dhani Jones at his natural spot.
WR Chad OchocincoPeople in Cincinnati have grown tired of Ochocinco's antics, which were tolerated as long as he produced, but his numbers slipped last season. He'll feel pressure from Chris Henry, Laveranues Coles and even Jerome Simpson. This could be Ochocinco's last season in a Bengals uniform.
OT Andre SmithThe Bengals are counting on Smith, their first-round draft pick, to be signed on time and plugged into the right tackle spot. Smith is a mauler in the run game, but he needs all the work he can get in pass protection. Carson Palmer has been injured twice in the past two seasons and needs Smith to protect him.
WR Laveranues ColesThe Bengals lost T.J. Houshmandzadeh in free agency, but the addition of Coles will help fill the void at wide receiver. Coles will take Houshmandzadeh's old flanker spot, so it wouldn't be a shock to see him lead the team in receptions.