In 32 days, a bulk of NFL teams report for training camp, which means it's time to preview the most exciting part of the summer. Over the next month, Around The NFL's Conor Orr will break down all 32 teams and give us something to look for in late July.
Camp report date: Rookies: July 26; Veterans: July 28
Camp location: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
Offseason in a nutshell: The Bengals' offseason was really defined by loss. The team saw gifted offensive coordinator Hue Jackson move up a rung on the NFL coaching ladder, taking the head job with the Cleveland Browns. They saw Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu depart for a combined 10 years and $72.5 million, which reflected their ability as potentially team-leading receivers, but also the laughable market for quality wideouts this offseason. They lost former No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith, who started 14 games at right tackle in 2015 and they lost star linebacker Vontaze Burfict for three games due to suspension. We still do not know the extent of star tight end Tyler Eifert's injury, though conventional wisdom sees him missing at least one game thanks to offseason ankle surgery -- a difficult hill to climb at the beginning of a season without much work in training camp. What remains, thanks to head coach Marvin Lewis, is consistency. Lewis has been the head coach of the Bengals since 2003, and the man he tapped to replace Jackson, Ken Zampese, has been Lewis' loyal quarterbacks coach since then. As we've seen in Green Bay, Pittsburgh, New York, Carolina, New England and elsewhere, stability is the bedrock of so many championship teams. Cincinnati has that going for them.
Player to watch in camp: Wide receiver Brandon LaFell. The 29-year-old was a bit of an underwhelming replacement for Sanu and Jones, and it wouldn't be surprising to see fans quickly clamoring for more of second-round pick Tyler Boyd out of Pittsburgh. However, the Cincinnati Enquirer noted that LaFell had more targets during spring ball than any Bengals pass catcher outside of A.J. Green thanks in part to Eifert's surgery. LaFell struggled with drops during his final season as a Patriot and early on during organized team activities but does have a 74-catch, 953-yard season under his belt. Theoretically, he should field some single coverage early in the season, especially once Eifert returns and LaFell has proven that he can do damage man-up against certain corners. We will see if Cincinnati's coaching staff can help correct some of his catch process deficiencies and turn him into a huge value signing.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS:
Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer go way back -- even beyond their days on the Bengals' coaching staff together. The two are good friends and have seen many players cross pollinate between Minnesota and Cincinnati since Zimmer took over the head coaching job there in 2014. Joint practices are losing a bit of their en vogue status, but these should be a good time.
The scheme is not expected to change significantly at all, but then again, everything could change with Jackson out of the picture. Every NFL team has essentially the same set of plays at their disposal, yet certain playcallers tend to end up in the playoffs more often than others. The reason? Timing, feel and guts. Jackson had all of those qualities, which helped elevate players like Sanu and Jones in the first place. Luckily, Zampese has a fantastic run game at his disposal, which is invaluable for someone taking the reins in this kind of situation.
3. Which rookies will make camp interesting?
A name to watch right away: Third-round pick Nick Vigil out of Utah State. Vigil drew some lofty praise from defensive coordinator Paul Guenther during mandatory minicamp and could be in the mix to start at linebacker despite the team adding veteran Karlos Dansby this offseason. Also of note, Guenther said that first-round pick William Jackson will play early on, which means something has to give in the secondary. Adam Jones was just locked in on a long-term extension, with Dre Kirkpatrick the assumed starter on the other side and Darqueze Dennard in the slot. Could Jackson beat out Kirkpatrick or Dennard? It would likely have to be the former, as Jackson was a solid press cover corner in college who excelled on the outside. He has future franchise corner potential and the team knows it.
Way too early season prediction: This has the makings of a 10-6 season with Pittsburgh being their only major concern in the division. A lot can go wrong in a year's time, but Andy Dalton's stable of running backs is good enough to overcome the loss of two role-playing wide receivers to free agency.