Cincinnati Bengals  

 

Cincinnati Bengals suddenly resemble a model franchise

Tony Tribble/Associated Press
A.J. Green made the Pro Bowl after topping 1,000 receiving yards in his rookie season for the Cincinnati Bengals.


 

One of the most interesting developments of the offseason is that there were no interesting developments with the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason -- at least in terms of the usual Bungalisms associated with a team that had long been viewed as a laughingstock.

While the Bengals did take a hit with an injury to first-round draft pick Dre Kirkpatrick -- a fractured knee will likely sideline the talented cornerback for six weeks -- that was the team's first real negative event of the offseason. Based on what the Bengals typically go through, this won't ring a very big alarm bell. They had already protected themselves at the position by adding veteran cornerback Terence Newman, while Leon Hall, who is expected to return to full health after missing the second half of last season with a torn Achilles tendon, can also help.

The Bengals' world rarely revolves on an aligned axis. As they enter training camp, they can only hope this relative normalcy results in a second consecutive winning season, which would mark their first such stretch since 1981-1982 (with the latter being a strike-shortened campaign).

That was also the last stretch that included back-to-back playoff appearances by the Bengals, whose 21-season playoff-win drought is the NFL's longest. The result of such futility is that their forlorn fan base is waiting for something to crush its hopes.

Cincinnati's failure to enjoy sustained success doesn't always seem to be the fault of the Bengals, who finished 9-7 before losing to the Houston Texans in the wild-card round of the playoffs last season. They do, after all, play in a division that includes two perennial powers in the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.

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Then again, their shortcomings tend to be related more to self-inflicted wounds than anything else. This offseason, however, the police blotter and injury docket have not been riddled with Bengals. Two notable incidents stand out: Kirkpatrick's aforementioned injury and Rey Maualuga's misdemeanor assault charge from February, stemming from an incident in which he allegedly punched someone in a bar.

Compared to what this franchise has been through, these setbacks aren't huge areas of concern. In fact, the feeling around the NFL regarding Cincinnati surrounds the maturation of quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green, as well as the overall talent base, which has been fortified with promising youngsters acquired via the past few drafts.

Coordinator Mike Zimmer's defense ranked among the top 10 in most key categories last season and boasts an emerging stud in tackle Geno Atkins.

The offensive line is once again anchored by Andrew Whitworth, and Cincinnati is stocked at the skill positions. The addition of smart, grinding running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis should ease the transition from Cedric Benson.

An essential step in the development of this promising new nucleus was detachment from the old one: quarterback Carson Palmer, receivers Chad Johnson (née Ochocinco), Terrell Owens, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Jerome Simpson, and Benson. The drama has subsided with the departures of these players, and all parties (just about) seem better off.

One thing remains to be seen: Will the cycle repeat itself in a year or two, or will the Bengals maintain their positive vibe?

Owner Mike Brown's ways always seem to draw questions -- former cornerback Johnathan Joseph recently ridiculed the team for its rationing of Gatorade -- but he's also actually drawn praise for acing his past two drafts, trading Palmer to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for high-value draft picks and staying away from players of questionable character.

The trap door seems to always be under Cincinnati's feet, so it's too early for anything more than the standard preseason optimism shared by all 32 teams. But still, there are signs that the franchise is actually behaving like one that wants to win. And that is a positive in itself.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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