The Cincinnati Bengals open training camp on July 31 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Here's a closer look at the Bengals' camp, which wraps up on Aug. 20:
Top storyline: As has been the case the past four preseasons, the Bengals' top storyline this year revolves around their push to finally get over the postseason hump. Sports fans in Cincinnati know all too well that it's been 25 years since either of their professional franchises has advanced in the playoffs. When it comes to football specifically, this area is starved for January victories. While quarterback Andy Dalton hasn't made wholesale fixes to his style of play this offseason, he has focused on becoming a better and more accountable leader. His offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, believes he has accomplished that goal. The rest of us won't truly see evidence of that until the end of the regular season, when Dalton hopes to snap the four-game winless streak that's started his postseason career. With arguably one of the NFL's best rosters, the Bengals made tweaks this offseason in an effort to ensure they'll have another playoff-bound team.
Position battles to watch: As they bring back a near complete starting lineup -- only two of the 22 positions on offense and defense needed addressing during free agency -- the Bengals will have relatively few major training-camp position battles. Keep an eye on how the No. 2 receiver position shakes out. Although A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu ought to see their share of playing time in a regular rotation, practices next month could help determine which of the receivers (Jones or Sanu) gets opportunities behind the four-time Pro Bowler Green. Also watch for what happens at the back end of the receiver rotation with Brandon Tate, Denarius Moore and Mario Alford competing for the speed receiver/kick returner role. This camp also could help determine the final defensive tackle job, for which Devon Still and Pat Sims are front-runners.
Veterans to watch: Barring an unexpected slew of August extensions, this figures to be a contract year for a bevy of Bengals stars who will have much to prove. As a result, be on the lookout for how well several key starters play not only in this camp, but throughout the season. Andrew Whitworth, Adam Jones, Andre Smith, Eric Winston, Leon Hall, Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Emmanuel Lamur, Wallace Gilberry, Vincent Rey, Marvin Jones, Sanu, Green and Tate are among those entering the final years of their current deals. Each of these rotational players knows the importance of the upcoming season.
Rookies to watch: Because of all the key veterans who will be in various starting and second-string rotations, the Bengals' rookies may have a more difficult time sticking out than usual. Offensive tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher may have a difficult time cracking the regular rotation. Tight ends Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah have a better chance due to a lack of depth at their position, but the focus will largely be on veteran Tyler Eifert. Safety Derron Smith doesn't figure to enter the lineup regularly, but he'll be a rookie worth watching as the Bengals work on filling out depth.
Bubble watch: As mentioned above, Tate is one returning Bengal at risk of losing his spot in the team's receiver rotation. As Cincinnati tries to get faster at his position, he will have his hands full trying to stave off Moore and the quick-footed rookie Alford. Tate hasn't been as good in the kick-return game as the Bengals would like in recent years, meaning the door is open for someone else to take his spot. Defensive tackle depth puts Still on the bubble for the second straight camp, despite the feel-good story his daughter overcoming cancer has provided the team. Second-year running back James Wilder Jr., a fan favorite, also is at risk of being cut although he has enhanced his versatility, taking snaps at fullback throughout the spring. With Ryan Hewitt continuing to do an admirable job as an H-back blocker, it remains to be seen whether the Bengals have a spot on their 53-man roster for a fullback.
Backfield breakdown: The backfield will be a place Bengals fans and fantasy owners alike will pay a great deal of attention to this year, particularly early in the season. Although offensive coordinator Jackson has vowed balanced opportunities between Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, one has to think Cincinnati will be riding Hill a little more. He's proved to be more sturdy than Bernard, and he got better as his rookie year continued. The Rex Burkhead dynamic also could make the backfield breakdown interesting, as the Bengals look to get their backup running back some catches out of the slot. Perhaps camp will provide a clue as to how the Bengals will use their running backs.
For daily updates at camp, check out the Cincinnati Bengals' clubhouse page.