The Eagles will head to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals in their second preseason game of the year. To help us get a better understanding of what we can expect out of the Bengals, I was able to interview Josh Kirkendall over at CincyJungle.com. I’d like to thank Josh for taking the time out to answer some questions for me! Now, let’s get down to it:
BirdsFan.com: I’m sure you knew this was coming, so let’s just get it out of the way right off the bat. What are your feelings on Batman and Robin (T.O and OchoCinco for those who may be confused)? Will it work? Do you see them being successful together?
CincyJungle.com: Many of us believe it will. Owens, from what we’ve heard, is more mature now than he was with Philadelphia. But from my understanding, he’s usually on his best behavior during his first year; it’s the second year when things start blowing up.
He came to Cincinnati because he believed that we’re going to the Super Bowl. And Ochocinco is perfectly fine with having a secondary role, because he believes that the addition of Owens makes this a better squad and Chad, contrary to popular belief because he doesn’t act it at times, is a team-first type of player.
If the team goes below expectations and loses out of the gate, then I’m sure the stuff we’ve heard about Owens will surface. But for now, everyone is happy.
BF: How would you rate the Bengals 2010 draft? Which rookies look good in camp? Who will make the team, and who will see significant playing time this season?
CJ: This is one of the team’s best draft classes in some time that could contribute immediately. Tight End Jermaine Gresham is as advertised. He catches difficult passes in traffic and often times, the Bengals lined him up in the slot against Denver last week. His blocking still needs work, especially against quick outside linebackers on outside runs. Second round pick Carlos Dunlap played his first preseason game last week and knocked the quarterback down a couple of times. In the seventh round, the Bengals drafted Iowa State offensive lineman Reggie Stephens who could be a very strong center if Kyle Cook goes down to injury; strong enough, at least, to waive the incumbent backup center Jonathan Luigs on Tuesday.
But the best of this draft class, at least this early, has been defensive tackle Geno Atkins and wide receiver Jordan Shipley. Shipley is often compared to guys like Wes Welker because of his size as a slot receiver. However, most Bengals fans are claiming him to be the next T.J. Houshmandzadeh; a great possession receiver in the slot that takes advantage underneath, finding holes in the zone. And Atkins is proving to be a high-motor interior pass rusher, which will help with our limited pass rush.
BF: Cedric Benson was a very pleasant surprise in 2009. How has he looked so far this year and should we expect more of the same out of him in 2010?
CJ: So far, so good. He hasn’t been featured much in the preseason with the team limiting the wear on him. Last year, he missed three games to injury and still carried the football over 300 times. We wouldn’t be surprised if the Bengals elect to use the pass more this year than last while using getting the football in Bernard Scott’s hands as much as possible, to limit the wear on Benson.
However, that’s not to say he won’t be critical. The Bengals still figure on using Benson as the core of their offense.
BF: What’s the deal with Andre Smith? Is he ever going to come around or are you stamping him as a bust?
CJ: It’s probably still early to call him a bust, but even those that preach patience are leaning that way. After a prolonged holdout last year that hurt his chances to start when the regular season kicked off, two days after signing his contract, Smith suffered a fracture in his foot during a non-contact drill. He eventually played late in the season and showed signs of being the guy we expected him to be when he was drafted. However, during the offseason, he had a procedure done in February that was designed to strengthen his foot and to prevent future breaks. The procedure was only expected to keep him out ten weeks, returning by minicamp in May. He was medically cleared on Tuesday and finally practiced. He should be expected to play the regular season opener.
BF: In 2009, what would you say was the Bengals biggest offensive weakness and what have they done to improve that area? Defensively?
CJ: The team’s passing game was a wreck, especially towards the end of the season. Including the playoff loss to the Jets, Palmer failed to reach 150 yards passing in four of his past five games. The loss of Chris Henry was big, because aside from Chad Ochocinco, the Bengals had no threat in the passing game. During the offseason, they signed Antonio Bryant and Terrell Owens while drafting Jordan Shipley, Dezmon Briscoe and tight end Jermaine Gresham.
On defense, the pass rush was middle-of-the-road. However, their best pass rusher last year Antwan Odom, who recorded seven sacks during the season’s first two games, tore an Achilles early in the season. He’s back. The team also moved defensive end Michael Johnson as an outside linebacker to give the Bengals an additional, and great, pass rush from the outside. They drafted Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who’s expected to give the team an interior pass rush. A lot of it is unproven so far, but we’re expecting big things from this core defense.
BF: From an outsider’s perspective, what are your thoughts on the Donovan McNabb trade and how do you think Kevin Kolb will perform in 2010?
CJ: I’m by no means an authoritative voice about the Eagles, but it seems like the McNabb trade works out for everyone. McNabb continues his career as a starting quarterback and the Eagles can finally promote Kolb, who seemed more than capable doing the job last year with his two 300-yard games.
BF: Which Bengals player would you say had a sub-par season last year that you expect to bounce back in 2010?
CJ: Carson Palmer. After throwing for nearly 4,000 yards in three straight seasons between 2005 and 2007, with an injury plagued season in 2008, Palmer was forced to be more of a game manager than one of the game’s elite quarterbacks, as many once titled him as. This was merely by circumstance with the lack of receivers around him and the offensive line’s overall strength as being massive maulers that are best as run blockers. He wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t great. We’re expecting more than one 300-yard passing game this year.
BF: The Bengals finished on top of the division in 2009. Where do you see them finishing this year and who posses the biggest threat to them?
CJ: In the division, I’d say Baltimore. Their passing game has improved with added help at receiver and tight end and Joe Flacco continuing to develop. Their defense is suffering with age, but also with injuries in the secondary. It might seem as if I’m a homer if I believed that the Bengals finished in first place in the division. However, the Bengals are returning mostly all of their starters with much improved depth across the board. And I’m a homer.
Our biggest road block, however, is definitely the schedule. Along with four total games against the Steelers and Ravens, we play the Colts, Saints, Chargers, Patriots, Jets and Falcons.
BF: Give me a score prediction.
CJ: I’m kind of a coward with such things, only because it’s the preseason so who knows how these things end up with our backups, third stringers and bubble players having the biggest contribution. The only thing I hope for is continued improvement across the board and no major injuries from either side.