Bengals search for answers on offense as camp opens

The Cincinnati Bengals open training camp on July 26 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Here’s a closer look at the Bengals' camp:

Top storyline: The Bengals didn’t exactly win over the support of their fans when they re-signed coach Marvin Lewis in January for a 16th season. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, and Lewis is 0-7, with their last playoff appearance coming in 2015. It’s an important year for the team and front office to prove they made the right decision in bringing back Lewis. In what looks like an effort to win back fans, the team recently introduced the "Jungle Pass," which will allow fans to attend eight home games for only $200. It’s definitely a tricky time for the franchise, and getting the fans back on board, and into seats, means winning early and often. That all starts with the offense, which was ranked last in the league last year. The Bengals promoted interim offensive coordinator Bill Lazor to the position full time this year, and they’ll need big seasons from quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert to turn things around.

QB depth chart: The Bengals have maintained that Dalton is their guy for the future, and that was made clear when AJ McCarron signed with the Buffalo Bills during free agency. The Bengals signed Matt Barkley to contend for the backup spot, while seventh-round pick Logan Woodside is a practice-squad contender unless he has a fantastic camp and unseats Barkley for the No. 2 position. Don’t count out Jeff Driskel for the No. 2 spot, either, as the Bengals liked him enough to keep him on the roster as a third quarterback for the past two seasons. The Bengals ideally would like to keep only two quarterbacks this year.

Bubble watch: The Bengals already had one longtime starter on the bubble depart when they didn’t pick up Adam Jones' team option. There aren’t many other logical candidates except potentially defensive end Michael Johnson. Johnson is a valued member of the team and held in high regard by the coaching staff; however, he had a significant drop in defensive snaps last season. Johnson was moved inside as a defensive tackle on third down last season, and if he’s on the team this year, that could be his role. But snaps could be hard to come by with the likes of Carl Lawson, Jordan Willis and newly drafted Sam Hubbard around. Another name is Cedric Ogbuehi, who already lost his job when the Bengals traded for Cordy Glenn. However, it’s more likely that Ogbuehi will stay on as a backup considering $1.1 million of his base salary is guaranteed this season, the final year of his rookie contract.

This rookie could start: The obvious answer is center Billy Price, who was drafted in the first round with the intention of replacing Russell Bodine, who left in free agency. Price is progressing well after tearing his pectoral muscle at the NFL combine and recently said via Twitter that he was "fully cleared for football activities."

However, a sneaky starter could be safety Jessie Bates III. Although the Bengals already have starters George Iloka and Shawn Williams, don’t be surprised if Bates gets playing time early and often, even if it’s just as a third safety when the Bengals are in nickel or dime packages. The Bengals have a new defensive coordinator in Teryl Austin, and he could throw in a few surprises.

Can Eifert last the season?: Eifert’s status once again is uncertain after he sat out the Bengals’ minicamp with an unknown injury. That leaves his availability for training camp up in the air. Eifert has participated in only 10 games in the past two seasons due to back and ankle injuries. The Bengals’ offense hasn’t been the same since 2015, when Eifert played in 13 games and caught 13 touchdown passes. The team is going to need Eifert if it wants to get back to the playoffs, but at this rate, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be able to stay healthy for an entire season.

Austin’s new defense: There’s a link between many of the defensive players taken by the Bengals in the 2018 NFL draft. They have the possibility to be ball hawks.

“All the men we drafted are unique,” Austin said after the draft. “When you look at it, one of the things that you see from all of them, I would say, is that they’re all competitive. They all have the ability to impact the game turnover-wise and do some things that way.”

Bates had six interceptions and two forced fumbles during his final two seasons at Wake Forest, and fifth-round cornerback Darius Phillips had five career pick-sixes. Austin has made a point to emphasize creating turnovers during OTAs after the Bengals ranked 31st last season with only 14 takeaways.