|Al Behrman / Associated Press|
|Carson Palmer is back in control of the Bengals offense after missing most of last season with an elbow injury.|
GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- Just because the Bengals closed 2008 with a 4-3-1 finish does not erase their memories of an 0-8 start. They practiced here on Monday morning like a team with plenty to prove. They look like a team that has embraced that mindset.
Their evening session of practice was set to serve as another reminder -- they must blend and use this training camp and preseason games (beginning on Friday night at the New Orleans Saints) to create more answers than questions.
"We've got some guys who have been picked off the scrap heap and some players who were drafted a little lower than they thought they would be," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "It's a team that has a lot to prove."
They certainly looked like a team that is bigger, stronger, faster and deeper. "Well, we'll see," said team owner Mike Brown.
Carson is back: With quarterback Carson Palmer out for 12 games due to an elbow injury, there was a hole in the middle of the Bengals offense a year ago. Palmer, who opted to rest rather than surgically repair a torn elbow ligament, looks healthy, nimble and determined. He is an artistic quarterback to watch -- the height, the arm, the movement, all first-rate. That has always been his identity. He has endured his share of frustration with the Bengals and their issues. The losses, have always seemed bigger than him. But this team needs Palmer to stand tall and be the key difference-maker in every respect. That is off the field, in the locker room, as much as on the field. Palmer understands that. Everyone is watching to see if he stays committed to actually doing it.
High hopes for Michael Johnson: This rookie defensive end from Georgia Tech is flashing signs of brilliance. The Bengals are looking to consistently get that effort. So is Johnson. At 6-foot-7, 260 pounds, he has rare tools. Johnson said: "There is a lot of learning going on for me, a lot of little things. Every day I'm just trying to get better. I'm trying to learn my assignments, not get fooled by different looks. But I want to do more than my assignment; I want to be a playmaker. I want to be the kind of guy you can count on. I want after every game for the coaches to say, 'No. 93 did his job.' The only thing that matters is giving the kind of effort that makes us winners. I can be a piece of that puzzle. I can help make it complete."
Born to run: Palmer is like any talented quarterback -- he becomes a monster when the running game is complementing his big arm. Brown has seen his Bengals produce glory runners including James Brooks, Ickey Woods and Corey Dillon. Can Cedric Benson be that for the Bengals? He was pushed aside by the Chicago Bears last season, landed here and showed more for this club than he did in his entire Bears tenure. The Bengals want even more. They believe Benson can do it.
In fact, Brown said about his group of running backs: "We've got some runners that like to run."
Simple, but eloquent, in that there is a difference in the passion of NFL backs. The ones who love contact, who eek endurance, are easily discernable from the ones who sort of run and fall down. Benson is in the first category. So, too might be rookie back Bernard Scott from Abilene Christian. He is producing a nice camp thus far. Scott came to the Bengals with a series of unlawful incidents behind him but appears to have kept them right there, behind him. Scott said: "I was younger, I was wrong and I made mistakes that would make people question me. I know those questions follow me. I understand people think I am a risk player. I'm trying to change that every day here. I can run it, block, catch it; I'm a versatile player. I believe I belong."
|Al Behrman / Associated Press|
|Undrafted rookie Quan Cosby is hoping to catch on as a punt returner and wide receiver in the preseason.|
Quan Cosby, a 5-foot-9, 196-pound rookie receiver from Texas, was not drafted. He made the Bengals his free agent choice because he saw opportunity to make a splash as a kick returner and slot receiver. Thus far, he has. He will return punts vs. New Orleans in their preseason opener. He said he will fit any mold the Bengals ask. "I think I can be a good asset," Cosby added. Lewis said this player's preseason game performances will be critical. In short, Cosby has to do it against NFL competition and Lewis has to see it. Keep your eyes on Cosby.
Laveranues Coles and Chad Ochocinco are roommates here in training camp.
"I try to encourage him on different ways to handle things," Coles said. "I try to tell him there is a time to say something and that time is not all the time. He's the target in this offense. I am still trying to figure out how I fit in it."
"I look at this year as a challenge," Coles said. "Carson Palmer was the key person who recruited me here. He told me, 'You come, I'll get you the ball. And you know I can make all the throws.' That was it for me. Other teams were talking, but I told my agent, this is it. I'm eager to see how it shakes out."
The Bengals had high praise for cornerback Leon Hall and safety Chris Crocker. Coaches say this secondary should be one of their best in recent seasons. ... University of Florida coach Urban Meyer visited with Bengals coaches in the offseason to discuss principles of the spread offense. The Bengals say they will employ elements of that offense in 2009. ... Linebacker Keith Rivers looks to return to the impressive form he displayed as a rookie before his season was ended by that huge hit from Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward. Watching Rivers work in practice, he can be an imposing player. He looks on his way to his goal.