Despite best efforts, drama remains at Bengals' training camp

2007 season recap

Week 1 zenith: The Bengals looked like they could contend for the AFC North title in the season opener, where they knocked-off division foe (and defending AFC North champion) Baltimore, 27-20. But injuries at key positions (including nearly every linebacker on the depth chart) stifled any progress and the team limped to a 7-9 finish.

Key camp questions

Are off-field distractions still an issue for the Bengals?
At this time last year, character questions plagued the Bengals' preseason preparation. In 2008, management took a much harder line, waiving troubled LB Odell Thurman (a month after being reinstated by the league) and WR Chris Henry (after his fifth arrest in three years). But another distraction, in the form of WR Chad Johnson, has pestered the Bengals since January. Johnson threatened to sit out the season if he wasn't traded, refused to show up for OTAs, sparred with teammates through the media and finally announced he will be at camp as scheduled (and then wondered what all the fuss was about).

Who will emerge as team's breakout back?
The Bengals' offense ranked in the top 10 last season, almost exclusively due to Carson Palmer's arm. An injured hamstring forced starting RB Rudi Johnson to miss eight games, and Cincinnati's running game averaged just 97.2 yards per game. Coach Marvin Lewis said he wants to establish a much more potent ground game in 2008, but the team did not draft any running backs, so it will rely on Kenny Watson, DeDe Dorsey and Chris Perry (who missed all of 2007 due to injury) to complement a healthy Johnson.

Will the overhauled defense be the spark the team needs?
Overhaul is an understatement. The team needed to do something to revitalize the league's 27th-ranked defense. Cincinnati let go of its defensive coordinator and lost key starters to free agency. Then the team hired Mike Zimmer as coordinator and went shopping -- picking up DE Antwan Odom, and linebackers (and former teammates) Darryl Blackstock and Brandon Johnson. First-round draft pick Keith Rivers will also make an immediate difference at linebacker. The defense needs to find an identity quickly, as Cincinnati plays two division foes and the Super Bowl champions in the first four weeks of the season.

Key position battle

No. 3 WR: rookies vs. vets: The Bengals are blessed with two Pro Bowl wideouts in T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson. But with presumed No. 3 Chris Henry gone, the Bengals could have a couple of rookies pushing for more favorable spots on the depth chart. Second-rounder Jerome Simpson and fourth-rounder Andre Caldwell will test veterans Glenn Holt, who caught just 16 balls last year, and Antonio Chatman, who has only played in 16 games in the last two seasons combined.

Rookie spotlight

LB Keith Rivers: The Bengals can be sure that Rivers' career in orange and black will not be plagued with character issues. The All-American linebacker from USC is smart, versatile and will fill an immediate need at the position.

Player on the spot

WR Chad Johnson: Can the five-time Pro-Bowler keep his mouth closed and be a team player for the good of the Bengals? Ocho-cinco has an opportunity to be a team leader instead of a team distraction by enjoying the scenery in Cincinnati and mentoring the rookie wideouts.

Fantasy focus

RB Rudi Johnson: Johnson went from fantasy stud to dud last season, as he failed to meet the expectations that came with his first-round price tag. The veteran runner is back to 100 percent and still atop the Bengals' depth chart, but he's a risk-reward player in fantasy drafts.

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