Receiver, defense are glaring needs for Bengals

As the NFL draft approaches, "SportsCenter" is putting every NFL team with a first-round pick "On the Clock," and Scouts Inc. will break down each team and look at what questions still need answering.

This could be a playoffs-or-else scenario for head coach Marvin Lewis. He initially did a great job of changing the expectations for a perennial loser, but the Bengals' defense consistently has been among worst in the league since this defensive guru took over. To make matters worse, Pro Bowl WR Chad Johnson has made a lot of noise about wanting out, which would make it even tougher for Lewis to right this ship.

The Bengals have talent, but they faced a tremendous number of injuries last year, especially at linebacker. However, they are one of the few franchises in the league with tremendous stability at quarterback (Carson Palmer), which goes a long way toward helping overcome other deficiencies.

Key Additions

The Bengals are notoriously frugal, and while they had interest in quite a few prominent free agents, they didn't ante up to land most of their targets. They did sign DE Antwan Odom, who is an up-and-coming player with a lot of potential, but it remains to be seen how he will perform without the Titans' supporting cast. Adding to the risk, he doesn't have experience playing in a 3-4 scheme, which likely will be Cincinnati's primary defense in 2008.

The Bengals also signed LB Darryl Blackstock and TE Ben Utecht. Blackstock isn't a great player, but he does have some upside. He will compete with LB Rashad Jeanty for the starting spot opposite Robert Geathers in the 3-4 or as the starting Sam linebacker in their traditional front. Utecht should become a key target for Palmer near the goal line and in the middle of the field.

However, the Bengals' best move was franchising OT Stacy Andrews. With the massive shortage of linemen in the NFL right now, the Bengals were wise to hold on to this young, versatile lineman who is dripping with upside.

Key Losses

The offense remains capable of big things and returns mostly intact. But the subpar defense from '07 should struggle even more because the team did not re-sign free agent DE Justin Smith, LB Landon Johnson or S Madieu Williams. While it can be argued that this defense greatly needed to be shaken up, these three will not be easy to replace.

Offensively, C Alex Stepanovich signed in Atlanta and WR Chris Henry was finally cut. Stepanovich has some starting experience and interior versatility, but the Bengals should be able to upgrade through the draft. On the field, Henry's loss will be substantial, but this has to be considered a step in the right direction.

Remaining Questions

Regardless of which scheme the Bengals predominantly run on defense, they still need pass-rushers and run-stuffers up front. They will get help from within, though, because several prominent injured or suspended players should return, including playmaking LB Odell Thurman. There also remains the question about Johnson's status with the team, which could become an even bigger distraction as the season progresses. Wide receiver is now a pressing need, considering Johnson's situation and Henry's release. However, after losing G Eric Steinbach in free agency a year ago, the Bengals receive four compensatory picks and will have a very good opportunity to substantially upgrade their roster in this deep draft.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.