Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Bengal Way of Business

March is a peculiar month.  It teases us with the potential of warmth and sunshine, but often frustrates and disappointments us instead.   We shake our fists at wintery mixes that wash-out ambitious golf outing and cook-outs.  We scrape our windshields for what seems like the thousandth morning in a row and murmur under our breath.  We want better, but rarely get it in March.
The Bengals offseason does the same to people.  They read the fancy names and dream the day away about how it would look to have so-and-so in Stripes.   Yet, they watch other teams browse the expensive free-agent store, holding something up and checking its price tag, or trying something on in the changing rooms, while Mike Brown and his team linger just outside, pacing and checking their watch a lot.  They wander across to the discount store and buy a few disposable things out of boredom.  Fans gripe to one another using phrases like cheap and backward, and despair about a stagnant franchise sets in to the smartest of us.  This disappointment shows up almost every season, just like a chilly March.
Signing Marshall Newhouse and R.J. Stanford didn't seem to get anybody jazzed up about the Bengals.  Pundits will call them "losers" because of their inactivity, while teams who are constantly rebuilding, like Tampa Bay, will again be praised for their shopping spree.  Unless Newhouse wins a spot, there will be no new starters that played for other teams last year.  The 2014 campaign could be characterized as in-house, because nearly every change this year is an internal promotion, and that doesn't sit well with the always forward-thinking fanbase.  It's part of football life.
What did make a ripple on the news wire, though, perhaps because there was nothing else to talk about, was a Marvin Lewis extension that may have been the least surprising thing to happen to any team this winter.  Then, despite given even more security to his job, folks began to speculate that he is on the hot seat if he fails to win a playoff game again.  Only in Cincinnati do we make the leap from contract extension to a new coach only nine months from now.  I believe that Mike Brown, in his mind, has made Lewis a lifer, and that the two men see the business eye-to-eye.  If there were a separation between the two, it seems Lewis would make that call before Brown did.  MB values loyalty to himself and the organization above all else and has proven time and again to prefer to employ men he has worked with in the past.  He also has shown that he certainly would rather see the contracts he write carried out to their finish rather than undergo a hasty split beforehand.  How this translates to a hot seat is hard to discern.
But when September rolls around, most observers aren't picking the Buccaneers to finish over the Bengals, even though the Bucs nabbed two former Bengal starters on the market with Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins.   In fact, even without a full draft yet-an area the Bengals have excelled in the last handful of years-Cincinnati remains a top-five AFC team.  They don't need anything, except enough cash to keep such a solid existing roster in place for the future.  It isn't sexy, but it's what good teams do.
As far as Marvin's statements about how it would be wise for Andy Dalton to sign a reasonable contract, it's par for course.  Were there layers of public relations in his statements?  Of course there were.  Was he wrong in his points?  Absolutely not.
Marvin talked about (in so many words) how it is important to field a quality overall team and not put too many eggs into the quarterback basket.   Taking a look around the league, one can see that unless your quarterback is elite, he should be paid a modest amount of money in order to strengthen other positions.  Seattle is the ideal example of why this works for teams, the Ravens and Steelers prove the opposite point.
Jason Campbell is one of the better backups in the league and is a reasonable option should Dalton go down.  He also may be used as a bargaining chip in the Dalton negotiations.   If Cincinnati is unable to land a promising mid-round signal caller in this draft, and Dalton balks at the Bengals contract offer to him, the team will at least not be left in total shambles.  Campbell is hardly the face-of-a-franchise kind of player, but as far as the bottom of the barrel goes, he could be a lot worse.
I think Marvin Lewis' statements also echo the sentiment that he plans on being here longer than Dalton does.   He wants to win now, obviously, but the pairing of Lewis and Brown has always had an eye on the future-arguably too much so at times.  This is not the sort of Carpe Diem type of ownership you might find in Washington, Dallas, or even Denver; it doesn't go "all in" for a season.  One could say they tried that in 2010 when it blew up in the team's face.  The Bengals run their ship like a small business, low overhead if they can help it, and just enough credibility to be invited to important trade shows.  They sometimes make noise and become noticed by their competitors, but are largely forgotten when it's time to dole out annual awards.
So while you may feel frustrated and disheartened by what's happened this off-season, you should not be surprised.  You were told it would be this way, but you hoped it would turn out otherwise.  Not so, my friend.  Whether you want to look at it as a sturdy franchise maintaining its impressive core of personnel, or as a small-market team taking the predictable road of frugality is up to you, but know this: it is the Bengal way, like it or not.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

Every year about this time, football writers are forced to speculate and write about possibilities that are not very likely to come true.  Free agency in the NFL is a crapshoot and is only a bit more accurate than forecasting earthquakes.  Sure, we can look at salary-cap numbers and highlight what we consider team needs.  We can but two and two together and dress it up to look like a near certainty, but the truth is, only the button-pushers in the front offices across the league knows what will transpire.
The old adage concerning the Bengals in free agency is: don't hold your breath.  Some call Mike Brown a cowardly miser, while others describe him as fiscally responsible (I have written both in the past), but either way you slice it, the man does not break the bank.  He prefers second-tier free agents that merely compliment the core of player he has collected through the draft.
Like every, there are some intriguing names on the market.  Almost as soon as Hue Jackson took over the offensive coordinator position, running back Darren McFadden was linked to potentially land in Cincinnati.  Since then, however, anonymous player agents have attempted to squash that possibility, pointing out that McFadden could get more carries and more money elsewhere.  If it is a big payday he seeks, he will likely skip over the Bengals as a possibility and settle with a lesser team that can give him what he wants.  The idea of a true everydown running back, though, is becoming a rarity in today's pro game and he is likely to share a good portion of the load no matter where he lands.
If he were tempted by Jackson calling plays and the idea were to hearken him back to the days when he posted career numbers, coupled with the fact that Cincinnati is expected to field another strong roster, he may forfeit some cash for a chance to win in the playoffs-a feat that has proven to be elusive for both the Bengals and McFadden.   At the end of the day, the chances are slim for Run-DMC to wind up in stripes, but I feel he would be remiss to immediately discount that the possibility could still be a nice fit.
Elsewhere, other names leap off the page and ignite a forest fire of football fantasy.  Linebacker Brandon Spikes can do everything Rey Maualuga can do, but probably do it better.  Two players from last year return from injury inSean Porter and Emmanuel Lemur,  and the team enjoyed nice years from both Vontaze Burfict and James Harrison, but the linebacker ranks still feel rather thin and putting Maualuga in the back seat in favor of Spikes, I see as an upgrade and could provide a stiff dose of depth for the position.
Another exciting, yet remote possible pick up is that of Henry Melton.  Many may think there is no reason to add another defensive tackle when the team already has four players with starts under their belts, including one of the best in the game.  This is exactly the reason Mike Brown is not likely to entertain this scenario, but that does not preclude me from dreaming.  Melton is a step behind Geno Atkins but they are similar players in style.  Both are tenacious pass-rushers from the middle of the line and both bring a sense of energy and hustle on seemingly every play.  Like Atkins, Melton also missed most of the season a year ago with a knee injury.  This likely lowered his value on the market, but not enough to call him a second-tier free agent.  His price tag should be too high for Cincinnati, but having more sack potential on the line-especially from the defensive tackle position-could be a niche quality that helps this defense maintain its high-rank in the immediate future.
There are a lot of hard-hitting veteran safeties that I like in this market as well.  While George Iloka performed serviceably well in 2013, and Shawn Williams had minor but clear contributions when on the field, a tougher, more grizzled safety could give this defense an even harder edge.   While bigger names will be floated out there, my pick of the litter would be the bone-crushing James Ihedigbo.  With the Ravens, he at times played out of position and was beaten in space, but his tackling ability and fearlessness make him attractive.  It's been a long time since the Bengals have had a true enforcer in its secondary and unlike Jairus Byrd or even T.J. Ward, Ihedigbo should come at a reasonable cost.
Lastly, on the wish list is another veteran corner to add adequate depth to an increasingly important position. Alterraun Verner seems tops on the list but his cap number will be significant.  Dominique Rodgers-Cromartierevived his career nicely in Denver last year, but it's hard to imagine the Broncos letting him walk.  The other Bronco corner, however, future hall-of-famer Champ Bailey, should not be written off as a pipe dream.
Bailey has lost a step; there's little doubt about that.  He's long in the tooth and only managed to play in three regular-season games a year ago.  He's intimated that he would be willing to try out playing safety which only strengthens his chances of sniffing around at Cincinnati, because if it's one thing the Bengals value more than anything else in a player, it's versatility.  Marvin Lewis was in Washington when the Skins drafted Bailey in the first round, so there's some familiarity there.  Also, the team has gone after veteran corners a number of times in the past-most recently bringing in Terence Newman and Nate Clements.  The previous scheme of Mike Zimmer didn't require speed burner corner backs, but rather preferred the steady hand of sound tacklers and mechanic tacticians at the position.  While former first-rounder Dre Kirpatrick should someday be given more responsibility, having a plethora of decent corners makes perfect sense considering how important they have become in today's passing league and how easily they seem to get injured.
Other players I like but either come in too pricey or simply don't make much sense in the Bengals' scheme include guard Jon Asamoah, cornerback Charles Tillman, and defensive end Lamaar Houston.  I am a fan of all three of these players but can't come up with a scenario to justify their purchase.
If the team works out or schedules a visit for any of the names listed here, I would be happy.  The team is in the enviable position of not needing to sign any outsiders and continue to build and develop from within, but a bit of a veteran increase can't be too bad of a thing.  In recent years, Cincinnati has proven to be guided by sound decisions, both in fiscal and in football terms.  The front office has earned my trust and whatever they decide to do, they will not incur my wrath or disapproval.  These decisions are likely not to reflect what I have written here, but a guy can dream, can't he?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Bengals Still Among the Best

You simply cannot take in the whole view of the AFC without first paying tribute to the conference's overlords, quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.  Every offseason we become increasingly optimistic that age will finally take its ultimate toll on these living legends, only to see them back in the AFC Championship Game yet again come winter.  Pittsburgh and Baltimore always fancy themselves among the heavy-hitters regardless of their record the previous year, and Indianapolis seems to have hardly skipped a beat in terms of continuing to show up for annual postseason appearances.
The Cincinnati Bengals are the party crashers of this haughty group of elitists.  They too show up to the Playoff party each year only to drink too much, get the spins within the first hour or so, and recklessly find their way home.  They are mocked and laughed at and find it nearly impossible to feel included.
Some might say that they aren't growing up.  They still wear the clothes of a boy when they dangle the limbs of a man.  They struggle to imitate adulthood and shrink from major achievements and responsibility.  Something is great about them, but it fails to rise up when it becomes absolutely necessary for it do so.
Yet, it is not an incurable case.  Time, as we all know, is a funny thing.  No matter how long a tradition has enjoyed being in existence, one day it will break.
The Bengals remain among the handful of most-promising contenders to form next year's playoff pool.  They are in jeopardy of losing two potential starters in free-agency, but have serviceable contingency plans in both areas currently on the roster if no other replacement is obtained.  The youthful talent they have stockpiled in the draft continues to bloom and develop.  Key contributors-some tops in the league at their position-return from injury, mended and angry at their setbacks.  If you look below the raincloud of pessimism formed from the latest playoff letdown, you may notice a river valley quietly pumping out another bumper crop of potential.
There are some areas that need fortified.  The corners have aged to the point of worry, there is a weak beam or two along the offensive line, and the quarterback play still doesn't instill confidence for the next game, but the repairs are minor in a grander scheme.  AFC North rivals, Pittsburgh and Baltimore have salary-cap problems and some gray holdovers from the glory days of yesteryear.  Their concerns are far greater than Cincinnati's big picture as the Steelers continue to endure the discomforts of a transitional era and Baltimore tries to assess what went so wrong in 2013 after going so right in 2012.
San Diego, the villains who bumped the Stripes from a game they were supposed to win, feels like a team with future promise, but they could just as easily prove to be a one-dimensional group that heated up at the right time last season.  Philip Rivers played like a poised leader down the stretch and let his experience take over for his limited weaponry and rookie head coach.  Kansas City shocked the league, but endured too many key injuries late in the year to advance deep into January.  With the group they have currently, however, it's hard to think they can match that kind of campaign again in '14.
If the Bengals continue their linear regular-season trend of the last three years, they will win 12 games next year, win their division, and lose in the first round of the playoffs.  Or time could decide that a dip in success is necessary for them next season and send a heavy dose of mediocrity squarely their way.  I, being the tortured optimist, however, think it will go the other way, and time, or karma, or whatever superstitious element of destiny you subscribe to will smile upon Cincinnati and provide them with a well-deserved playoff victory.  We will drink local ales from large steins and waltz merrily in the snowy streets.  The red will be in our cheeks as we grin and kiss one another.  The Bengals will then be our friends and the conjured mental image of Marvin Lewis will be met with sincere satisfaction.
To look down on this prospect is done out of fear.  It hurts to lose when it matters the most, and we shy away from the pain.  Some may think preparing themselves, both mentally and emotionally, by expecting the worse will take some of the edge off, but this is wrong.  The hurt comes either way, but the glory is far sweeter when the believer is finally proven correct when his team wins.  The Bengals will be back because they remain better than most of their opponents.  It's as simple as that.

Mojokong-snowed out.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Bengals Future Focus

As the football world briefly naps before the Scouting Combine nudges it awake again, front offices everywhere are still up, quietly looking at big pictures. Not unlike Bilbo, they climb to the very tops of the trees around them and see out among the whole landscape. They look at their team, they look at their division, they look at the league. It's a time of collective introspective and self-assessment.
This line of thinking always leads to the money. The suits stand around a table, nod to each other and drag out the chopping block. Expensive veterans are sized up and the suits imagine a world without them. They pack their bags, and scramble for their replacements.
The salary cap makes this process interesting in the NFL. In baseball, mediocre players hit the lottery every season thanks to the limitless earning potential their sport has created for them. The big dogs just buy everybody all the time. It's super boring. Roger Goodell's syndicate, though, slaps the reigns on his horses and forces teams to strategically spend rather then go on mad shopping sprees. Rookies have limits, positions have limits, salary floors have limits, everything has limits.
Teams with cheap, young, effective quarterbacks are in the best shape. Russell Wilson won a Super Bowl playing for metaphorical peanuts. When you can save cash on the most expensive type of players, essentially exploiting them during their rookie contracts, you can load up elsewhere and build a power-house program, at least temporarily. Seattle, San Francisco, Indianapolis, and yes, Cincinnati.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," you say. "Powerhouse? Cincinnati?"
Yes, I admit the claim is diminished thanks to multiple futile postseason attempts, and the approval rating of the entire franchise has dipped severely since January, but I think a lot of NFL executives would like to be in the position that the Bengals are in this offseason. Their roster is rock solid, they have lots of cap space, and, at least from a regular-season standpoint, they're proven winners.
Thanks to developing young players into Pro-Bowlers and locking up the most promising of the bunch, they've positioned themselves to the point of not even worrying about losing a marquee player like Michael Johnson in free agency this year. They have so much depth and versatility that Anthony Collins returning isn't all that vital. Andrew Hawkins may be the most important free agent to resign this spring and he certainly won't break the bank.
So in a macro sense, the Bengals are doing well, but in a micro one, I think more money and investment will go toward the secondary, particularly at cornerback.
Dre Kirkpatrick showed some promise last year and raised his perceived value when pressed into action. He still showed his youth when trying to cover double moves, but he made plays and showed toughness. After him, however, the position is ripened with age. Adam Jones and Terence Newman are thirty-something corners, a rarity of the species. They served well under Mike Zimmer and wrung out every drop of their remaining potential for him but one has to wonder about their proverbial tanks. Leon Hall, the most decorated of the bunch, is closing in on thirty himself and has not one but two ruptured Achilles in the recent past. There is no middle ground at the position in terms of age and the depth there has become mildly worrisome.
This conversation, though, began with the quarterback. Andy Dalton, despite his playoff letdowns and occasionally shaky play, is playing well below his worth under his current contract. The Bengals can begin negotiations this year to drag him into the long-term picture at a likely reasonable rate, but if they decide to wait until his contract officially runs out and he continues to statistically improve, they might have to pay a lot more for his services. Or they could let him walk either way, but I think they will make a strong attempt to keep him, like it or not.
As for numbers, it's hard to say. Kansas City claims they would like to extend Alex Smith's contract and while many of you may consider Smith to be a better player than Dalton, I think Dalton's agent will look to those numbers if the Chiefs do sign Smith for two more years. Without claiming any expertise in football economics, I would put those numbers in the 9-12 million a year range.
Obviously A.J. Green's approaching turn for the big bucks will force the eye of the franchise to make great accommodations for the young mega-star and that contract might hinder the team's long-term plans in a purely economical sense. It is nice to have elite players, but those players eventually gobble up huge chunks of cap space that can send a team's books off balance. Nonetheless, Green is an exceptional talent that must be retained at nearly all costs.
The fun part about all of this equation is that the Bengals will still have play-money in free agency even after resigning their guys. The bummer about it, though, is that they will let big name after big name pass under nose without even a sniff come March. They keep drafting (or signing undrafted) players and developing them into surefire keepers. What about when Vontaze Burfict and Gio Bernard need to get paid? Will Cincinnati still have the loot? What about Kevin Zeitler and Tyler Eifert? These guys matter, probably more than the flashy veterans that find themselves on the market.
So while the league largely ignores the Bengals as still not-good-enough, they carry on with their organizational philosophy in hopes that things will be better next time. They will continue to pay their own guys first and go for quality depth over splashy new starters. They will stick with their homegrown program and assume their trust in Marvin Lewis for another go around. It may not make for a riveting spring, but it seems to work from September to December.


Mojokong-a sorry substitute for bacon.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Super Bowl Preview: Grime vs. Gleam

The Sheriff's eyes watered some from the dust cloud that raised up from the road. He looked out at the riders on the horizon and sighed.
He knew about these whippersnappers: bunch of loud-talkers and dancers.  Some may have even call them clowns. He wiped his eyes with his handkerchief and opened his holster. He would try to reason with them if he could, but these clowns were the most dangerous kind of all and he figured that he wouldn't be able to say much anyway.
The Seahawks are the ultimate party crashers. In the football world, they are anti-establishment, renegade demonstrators, ready to make noise and make change by any means necessary. They are resentful underdogs who play with tenacity.
The Broncos on the other hand, are the self-assured, perhaps smug, elite. If Seattle is a grimy hip-hop show than Denver is an awards banquet held at an upscale hunting lodge. Oh look, there's Champ Bailey drinking champagne with Peyton, classy stuff. They have the kind of self-assurance that is so steadfast one thinks it must be a facade for some deeper-seated issues, but their play this year has been spectacular and has reached new heights for statistical greatness.
Of course, when operating in such swanky circumstances, many will feel obliged to apply the "soft" label upon the Broncos because of how easy they seem to have made the game for themselves. Offensively speaking, this kind of labeling is blind jealousy and has no real grounds, but the Denver defense is certainly not made of unbreakable steel.
If the Seahawks are going to win, they must run the ball well. Marshawn Lynch is the angry silent-type of runner-that in the mold of Corey Dillon-and he has earned his spot among the tops at his position. With a Seattle victory, he may put himself in the drivers seat toward hall-of-fame consideration. Russell Wilson is a fine young player who grows with the game at each new level, but his receiving corps is limited and his safety net remains Lynch. If Percy Harvin plays, there could be some explosive razzle-dazzle moments where he breaks loose on a reverse or something, but Harvin is the most injury-prone dude in the sport today it seems, and if he finishes the game, I would be impressed. Ultimately, they need Lynch to keep their offense on schedule, wear down the Bronco front seven and loosen up the passing game, but Denver has limited their opponents on the ground nicely since being bullied by San Diego in Week 15. Their run defense broke the offensive scheme of both the Patriots and the Chargers when they met again in the playoffs.
The ballyhooed clash of the titans is between the Broncos spaceship-offense versus "The Legion of Boom". The Seahawks secondary is terrifying and awesome. Denver has seen nothing like it this season, or maybe ever. They are rangy players with a blood lust for big hits. I'm sure their plan is to get rough with their opposing receivers and disrupt all that illegal-pick, crossing-route nonsense the Broncos have mastered so well. If they do plan to jam, then they are forced closer to the line of scrimmage, sacrificing the possible deep pass. Whether Peyton can convert on the bomb would then would become the new focus of the Bronco game plan. It won't be easy.
Strangely enough, I think Knowshon Moreno will make the difference. I look for the Broncos to set up the pass for the run and find big chunk yards on the ground the way New Orleans did in the Divisional round against the Seahawks. Once Moreno breaks a couple off and has the Seattle secondary second-guessing, that's when the vast football universe that is Peyton Manning's brain will unfold and crush the Legion.
Afterward, with a steady hand, the Sheriff opens the door to his office, removes his holster and hangs it back up on the gun rack. He locks the door behind him on the way out and heads back home to his land and family. The clowns lay wounded along the main drag, and the Sheriff nods to them as he rides past.
Broncos 26, Seahawks 17
MVP: Knowshon Moreno

Mojokong-the right bookend.

Freestyles of Our Forgotten Ancestors

When rappers freestyle, they use a unique neural network that allows them to improvise verbally in real time. It is unlike other states in that it increases activity in the parts in charge of motivation and action of thought, but decreases the regions in charge of filtering and supervising, so what is left is a person literally flowing thought from their heads.

When reading this, I immediately connected it to football. Perhaps some individuals are more naturally predisposed to facilitate improvised actions than others. Maybe when Ben Roethlisberger makes broken plays look golden it's because his brain is hardwired to perform those moments better than say, Andy Dalton's brain. What if the ability to improvise is genetic and cannot truly be taught?

This also makes me wonder if Big Ben can rap.



Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Offensive Armchair: What Worked and What Didn't

When I think of coaches brainstorming about the upcoming season, I always picture a darkened meeting room-either really late or really early in the morning-where bleary-eyed, middle-aged men groan on about how to fix what went wrong the year before.   This may not be the case at all.  Perhaps these meetings are mid-day and chipper affairs where the coaches blather on about their solutions to the others with gusto and verve.
Either way, or more likely somewhere in between, what they logically must do in any case is review last year in order to prioritize exactly what needs fixed for the next.
The volumes of Andy Dalton coverage, opinion and analysis have already grown robust after three rollercoaster seasons, so it will be brief here.  Andy is a mid-level pro at his position and his strengths and limitations have been rigidly defined.  Seemingly, he has already maximized the majority of his potential and his overall career grade is shaping up somewhere in the B- range.  Perhaps a different offensive philosophy that removes some focus from Dalton by relying more on the run could help disguise some of his weaknesses, but a Drew Brees-like development for Andy Dalton now appears to be only fantasy.
The targets around him remain the source of intrigue for this offense.  It's like a finely crafted armchair, meticulously designed for a great quarterback to kick his feet up, win multiple Super Bowls and recline into the Hall-of-Fame, but somehow went to Dalton instead, whose feet don't touch the ground and seems adolescent when he sits in it.
One of the chair's legs is now Giovani Bernard, who is suddenly relied upon to change games with his rabbit-out-the-hat playmaking ability.  He was spectacular in his rookie season, but not dominant.  With all the razzle-dazzle he brings, he is not without cracks.  Perhaps it isn't his fault that he's hard to complete passes to.  The man can't help how short he is, hell, it's part of the reason the Bengals drafted him, but it complicates Andy Dalton's life when he throws to him.  I don't know how to fix this without blaming passing accuracy, but Gio dropped a few too, and his focus to look the ball all the way in to his hands may be lacking just enough to need some attention this spring and summer.
Another leg is, of course, the majestic A.J. Green. There is a shared sense that A.J.-despite putting up terrific number in his first three seasons-has yet to reach his ceiling.  There are times when he takes over games and his ability to make the difficult plays look routine is breathtaking and innate, yet he could still do more.
This line of thinking has a double edge, though.  In order to feed Green more, the others become less involved and some balance is sacrificed.  No one wants a chair that's got one fat leg and three skinny ones.  And like Bernard, Green too could still tighten his game up some.  He is graceful and elegant with terrific body control and fast-twitch muscle fibers, but there are times when his routes look lazy and his hands appear less than automatic.  While he doesn't need to be the brute-like receiver of say, Anquan Boldin or Brandon Marshall, perhaps adding ten pounds of muscle could help when freeing himself at the line of scrimmage, I'm not sure.  I don't think we need to see more A.J. Green catches, but I think we should see more efficiency when he is targeted.
The third leg, at least last year, was shared by the tight ends.  Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham were used evenly and combined for over 80 catches.   With the topic of efficiency in mind, though, Gresham has proven to be a difficult player to rely on.  Without knowing the advanced statistics of what each scored on each play of the season, I can tell you that for yet another year, Gresham was called for too many penalties, dropped too many passes and fumbled too many times.  He is a physical monster who possesses each quality NFL teams desire, except concentration.
Because of this, and because each are first-round picks, Eifert should garner more focus in the passing game and Gresham should be limited to more of a blocking role at this point in his Bengals career.  We saw Eifert's ability to come down with the jump ball during his touchdown catch in Detroit.  He did this consistently at Notre Dame and should be given more of these chances.  He was drafted for his hands, explosiveness, and intelligence-exactly the qualities that are keeping Gresham from being great (though he can be explosive at times).  Eifert should become his own chair leg to this offense in 2014.
The last leg is always the offensive line.  This one was not only reliable, it actually strengthened when its best player moved spots.  The shift from left tackle to left guard for Andrew Whitworth not only showed his versatility and professionalism, but also reinforced my opinion that he is a better guard than tackle.  Whitworth is a top-notch tackle, don't get me wrong, but his ability to be a pulling guard is perfect for his size and foot speed.  The future of Anthony Collins with the Bengals is unclear at the moment-he may out-price the team on the free-agent market-so drafting a left tackle early and keeping Whit at guard feels like a Bengals move, and a sensible one at that.  I still harbor concerns about Kyle Cook's durability and longevity and would like to see the club address the position's future sooner than later, but the unit remains one of the league's best and is coached by one of the team's mainstays in Paul Alexander.
There are of course others that make up the chair, and outside of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, I was pleased and approved of how often they were used.  With Marvin Jones establishing himself as a viable number-two, the receiver pecking order seems to have worked itself out.  I am perhaps in the minority, if not alone, in thinking that Green-Ellis should have been leaned on more down the stretch of last season.   While he provides little in the way of fireworks, his drought-horse approach works in the winter elements and wears down opposing defenses while stabilizing an otherwise volatile offense.
Perhaps Hue Jackson will perform some alterations to the piece that make Andy Dalton more comfortable in it.  Perhaps the soles of Dalton's feet will next year rest squarely on the ground rather than dangle idly as he takes control of his team.  Or perhaps the natural patina, worn from use, must first appear on the chair before it is perfect.   I haven't sat on anything like it, so I would have no idea, but I will keep a close eye on it, standing outside the window.
Mojokong-crafter of literary furniture.