AFC North Offseason Review: Cincinnati Bengals

Part two of this 3-part series is the Bengals.  This was done by Bengal Stripes’ Adam Kiefaber.  Sorry about all the bold print in the first part, I keep trying to fix it, but WordPress has been acting up a bit lately.  Everything should be fixed sometime soon.

Key losses in free agency and retirement, if applicable -

OT Stacy Andrews (signed w/ PHI)
WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (signed w/ SEA)
OT Levi Jones (cut)
C Eric Ghiaciuc (signed w/ KC) 
DT Orien Harris (traded to STL)
WR Glenn Holt (signed w/ MIN)
S Dexter Jackson (cut)
Key free agent signings:
WR Laveranues Coles
S Roy Williams
DT Tank Johnson
RB Brian Leonard (trade w/ STL)
QB J.T. O’Sullivan
FB Jeremi Johnson
Re-signed:
RB Cedric Benson
K Shayne Graham
S Chris Crocker
OLB Rashad Jeanty
OLB Brandon Johnson
OLB Darryl Blackstock
TE/FB Daniel Coat
RB DeDe Dorsey 
Key draft selections:
OT Andre Smith (No. 6 overall) – Alabama
LB Rey Maualuga (No. 38 overall) – USC
DE Michael Johnson (No. 70 overall) – Georgia Tech
TE Chase Coffman (No. 98 overall) – Missouri
C Jonathan Luigs (No. 106 overall) – Arkansas
P Kevin Huber (No. 142 overall) – Cincinnati
Who was the best free agent signing and how will he help the team in 2009?
The best free-agent signing in 2009 has to be Laveranues Coles. The top reason that he is the best signing is because the team had lost its third-down go-to receiver in T.J. Houshmandzadeh in free agency. While fans in the Nati were bummed to see one of their favorites sign elsewhere, the signing of Coles is believed to be an upgrade over Housh in some keg lines of Bengals fans. Coles may open up the vertical passing attack and still be able to catch those clutch short over-the-middle passes that Housh was so great at. That being said, the upgrades on defense through free agency could provide the Bengals with a big boost. While Coles should be the best signing, I wouldn’t be surprised if either DT Tank Johnson or S Roy Williams have great seasons.
Who was the biggest free agent loss and what will the team lose in his absence?
The biggest name lost has to be Houshmandzadeh and I wasn’t referring to how many letters that are in his name. However, the Bengals could lose the most from its tackle spots. The team let Stacy Andrews walk and made Levi Jones take a hike, leaving the Bengals without its two OT starters from a year ago. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of Andrews, who in my mind, was just a project that never became that superstar that everyone was hoping for, however the Eagles decided to pay him like one. Then there is Jones, who has been awful for the last couple of seasons. Cincinnati is projected to start ’09 first-rounder Andre Smith at right tackle and Andrew Whitworth (started at left guard in ’08) at left tackle. Both players could struggle against speed rushers, but I am certain that they cannot be worse than what Andrews and Jones did in ’08 or can they?
What is your reaction to the team’s 2009 NFL draft? Has it changed since April, for better or worse?
Before the draft began most Bengals fans didn’t like their chances to compete in the AFC North in 2009. However, after the draft, those expectations changed. The Bengals second-round pick Rey Maualuga really had fans excited. The additions of Michael Johnson, Chase Coffman, Jonathan Luigs and Kevin Huber had fans shaking their heads and saying to each other, “could this draft have gone any better!?!” Surely, the hype may not produce a winner right away, but even from an outsider’s perspective, the Bengals improved themselves immensely in the draft.
Was the team’s biggest needs addressed in free agency and the draft?
The biggest need appeared to be offensive tackle and running back. The Bengals must have known that they were going to get a starter at OT in the draft, because they were set on acquiring a starting running back. Cincinnati seemed to focused on former New York Giant Derrick Ward, but eventually made the right decision to re-sign Cedric Benson. Both Smith and Benson need to have good seasons for the Bengals to have a chance of competing in 2009.
What story lines will you be following closely when camp opens in July?
An easier question will be which ones won’t I be following. There is always the Curious Case of Ochocinco, the attitude of Andre Smith, the role that Rey Maualuga will play, if Tank Johnson or Chris Henry shoot anybody, if Roy Williams is as close to being as good as he was in Dallas, how Coles will turn out and there is so much more. The obvious storyline that everyone better watch for is the offensive line. Only one starter from 2008 is back at his spot in right guard Bobbie Williams. The rest of the line better play well or Carson Palmer might not make it through the season.

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