With the Colts facing the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night in the fourth preseason game, Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson talked with Cincy Jungle's Scott Bantel about the Bengals, Thursday's game, and their 2015 outlook. The questions are in bold and then Scott's responses follow.
1. What are the biggest strengths and what are the biggest weaknesses for the Bengals in 2015?
The biggest strength is the running game. Jeremy Hill had a breakout season in 2014 and over the last nine weeks of the 2014 season, no running back had more yards rushing yards than Hill. And, with Giovani Bernard on the roster - a back that would start on probably 16 other teams - Hill should be able to stay fresh all year long.
To me, the biggest weakness on this team is the linebacker position. Vontaze Burfict is still recovering from micro-fracture knee surgery and will likely start the season on the PUP list. Rey Maualuga is a solid run stopping linebacker, but is a liability in coverage. After those two, you are looking at a lot of young and talented players, but players that have yet to prove themselves in the NFL. While the linebacking corps has good potential, it has a lot of question marks as well.
2. Not to bring up bad memories, but the Bengals haven't won a playoff game in a while despite the fact that they have made the postseason consistently over the last four years. Do you think that this year is the year that the Bengals can finally get a postseason win, and if they don't will there be changes happening?
Thanks for rubbing salt in the wounds! Personally, I believe they will win a playoff game this year, though I don't have a ton of confidence when I say that - after all, Marvin Lewis is a cool 0-6 in the playoffs, tying Jim Mora's infamous record for playoff coaching ineptitude. If they don't win a playoff game, I don't see huge changes. I think changes would be warranted, but I don't see it happening. This management group is extremely loyal and patient with their coaches - to a fault - and they are very comfortable with Lewis.
3. Bengals first round pick Cedric Ogbuehi has been injured, but what about the other rookies? Are there any rookies that might have significant roles with the team in 2015?
Ogbuehi will start on the PUP list and because they have two of the top tackles in the league - and drafted another tackle, Jake Fisher, in the second round - it is possible Ogbuehi may not be activated at all in 2015 as he recovers from the ACL surgery that ended his college career. I don't see any rookies playing a significant role in 2015 (barring injuries), but I do think some of the rookies will be important role players. Jake Fisher, their second round pick will likely be their backup left tackle, right tackle, left guard and right guard. Linebacker P.J. Dawson (TCU) may see some time as a result of Vontaze Burfict likely starting the season on the PUP list. Their seventh round pick, wide receiver Mario Alford (West Virginia), may end up as the kick and/or punt returner. The guy that may play the most is third round pick Tyler Kroft, tight end from Rutgers. Kroft is more of a blocking tight end and will find himself playing a bunch in two tight end sets with Tyler Eifert.
4. Are there any notable cuts for the Bengals that might be coming that we should be aware of?
I don't think so. That being said, I think a name everyone knows - Devon Still - will most likely be cut. Many do not realize, but Still was a highly regarded second round pick in 2012 and was a Consensus All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. Unfortunately, he never developed his first two seasons and everyone knows his story last season. He came into camp in the best shape of his life and has played well this preseason, but the Bengals defensive line is crowded and I think he is the odd man out.
5. What is your prediction for the Bengals in 2015? What do you think their record will be, and will that be enough to win the AFC North?
Most have the Bengals picked third in the AFC North and I just don't see it. This is a team that finished 2nd in 2014 - one game behind the Steelers - lost no key players in the offseason, and most importantly, get their number two receiver back in Marvin Jones, get their top receiving tight end back (Tyler Eifert), get a healthy Geno Atkins and should get Vontaze Burfict back as well - those are four really good players that either missed all of 2014 or were not 100% healthy (Atkins). On the other hand, the Steelers and Ravens each lost major contributors. With that being the case, I believe the Bengals win the North and I think 11-5 will be the record.
Thanks again to Scott Bantel for taking the time to answer these questions, and be sure to check out Cincy Jungle for complete coverage of the game from the Bengals' side of things.