CINCINNATI -- Welcome back to another installment of the Cincinnati Bengals mailbag.
This weekend, we'll explore a variety of Bengals-related topics raised by readers like you, but the general theme of the mailbags revolves around how good can the Bengals actually be in 2015? Let's delve into that with our first question:
@ColeyHarvey. To the folks at the new Bengals Message Board, thanks for the question. First, I must say, the "if" is a big qualifier. Obviously, every team comes into each new season believing "if" it can stay healthy it has a chance to truly be great. In Cincinnati's case, I really do believe that some measure of greatness can be achieved assuming at least near-complete health this season. Injuries derailed many of the Bengals' hopes in 2014, with receivers A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, tight ends Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham, offensive linemen Andre Smith and Kevin Zeitler, and running back Giovani Bernard missing significant chunks of the season. Had the Bengals been able to get a couple games back where those players weren't injured, they might have won an extra regular-season game, and perhaps they would have had a better shot in the playoff game at Indianapolis. Because of the qualifier "if," it's hard to guess about the unknown. But here's the thing: On paper, the Bengals are poised to be every bit as good as the 2013 team. That year's offense ranked 10th. Last year's was 15th. The Bengals certainly will be more improved this season. For starters, it's Year 2 under offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. They also expect to have weapons in the passing game they didn't have, and they better understand how to rotate running backs Jeremy Hill and Bernard. What the Bengals' offense didn't have in 2013 was a true bell-cow rusher. Hill will be that. Where the 2013 and 2015 offenses will differ is in the way that they play. Two years ago, Cincinnati had a pass-heavy system that put a lot of pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton's shoulders. This season, the Bengals will use Hill and Bernard to pace the offense.
@ColeyHarvey If they can stay relatively healthy, does this years offense have a chance to be better, overall, than the 2013 version?— BengalsMessageBoard (@TheBengalsBoard) June 26, 2015
@ColeyHarvey. Yes, James Wright is a pretty quick receiver. He has gears that most seventh-round picks not named Mario Alford don't have. In their quest to have a much faster and athletic, playmaking receiving corps, the Bengals definitely need him back in the rotation. What happened to Wright? Well, his absence during organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp was a bit of a mystery, but I wasn't given much reason to be concerned about him not being out there regularly. While he was in uniform during the spring practices, he didn't actually run routes and catch passes in team drills. It appeared coaches and trainers were trying to go easy with him to not put him in situations in which he could experience minor contact and re-injure himself. As you alluded to, he had a really strong outing in Week 13 at Tampa Bay. It was late in that game when converting a clutch third down -- all three of his receptions in the game were third-down conversions -- that he hurt his knee after landing awkwardly at the end of an acrobatic catch. He ended up being lost for the season. It will be interesting to see how he's used in training camp, but coaches I spoke to about Wright several weeks ago were encouraged about the boost his return will give their pass-catchers.
@ColeyHarvey hey man what's up with James Wright? I remember he had a great game against Tampa then got injured. That boy is fasttttt— JeBron Lames (@Young_Yolaaaa) June 25, 2015
@ColeyHarvey. As always, appreciate you chiming in with a question, Wanderer. For those who don't know, Wanderer is referring to Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson, who on a podcast earlier this week indicated he felt the Bengals needed more help at receiver. He thought they should turn to free agency, perhaps at the end of training camp, to pick up another veteran. To his point, we really didn't see much this spring out of those vying for the final couple of spots on the roster. Personally, I'm in wait-and-see mode. I want to see what the receivers are all able to do in camp when the pads come out. So I guess for now, no, I don't agree with him. That said, in terms of numbers, you have to figure the Bengals keep six receivers this season. After Green, Jones and Mohamed Sanu, Wright likely fits in the mix, as well as at least one of the three speedy potential kick/punt-returning wide outs (Denarius Moore, Brandon Tate and Mario Alford). If I had to pick one player from that trio, it would be Alford, leaving one open spot. Maybe it does go to a veteran, or maybe the Bengals keep two receivers on the practice squad and keep just five receivers on the 53-man roster, effectively opening a spot elsewhere. Based on the number of injuries that ransacked the unit last season, though, I have a hard time seeing that happening.
@ColeyHarvey Hobson thinks the Bengals need more help at WR. Do you agree with him?— The wanderer (@thewanderer2020) June 26, 2015
@ColeyHarvey. Running out of space here, so we're going to make this quick. As of June 27, this is what I figure the Bengals' opening-weekend base defense will resemble: DE -- Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap; DT -- Domata Peko, Geno Atkins; LB -- Emmanuel Lamur, Rey Maualuga, Vincent Rey; CB -- Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick; S -- George Iloka, Reggie Nelson. Leon Hall would be a nickel-down slot corner (alternating with Darqueze Dennard) and A.J. Hawk might rotate with Rey at "Will" linebacker.
@ColeyHarvey Who's your starting 11 on D for the first defensive snap of the season in Oakland? Let's says it's a base 4-3.— Zins (@Zins30) June 26, 2015