Q: Let’s talk about the Cincinnati Bengals. Where have they gotten better this offseason, and where have they gotten worse?
A: On paper this is the best Bengals team in the history of their franchise. They are absolutely loaded with talent. They got a lot better at wideout. They obviously have the franchise quarterback. They got a lot better at tight end. They have solid corners. They have great defensive line depth and linebackers. This team, their offensive line is a little above average, doesn’t really have any weaknesses. I think their biggest weakness might be their average offensive line, and I wouldn’t even say that’s a weakness. They just don’t have a lot of depth there. I think they got better at running back, wideout, tight end, corner, linebacker. This team is loaded with talent. They were fourth in the NFL in total defense last year. They’ve added a ton of players to their offense. They have no excuses this year. This is the year they really have to come out firing because with all the weapons they have on offense — getting that tight end Jermaine Gresham from Oklahoma, getting Antonio Bryant to go along with Ochocinco, getting Jordan Shipley, who I thought was as productive and solid as any receiver coming out, and that’s including Dez Bryant. Jordan Shipley from Texas is an outstanding wide receiver. He’s a bigger Wes Welker. Then you’ve got Bernard Scott, who is a clone of Jamaal Charles. Bernard Scott’s one of the most dominant players you’ll ever see. He came out of a smaller school but, man, was he electrifying. He scored like 32 touchdowns his senior year and was a breakaway threat. They’ve got every piece you need. Now it’s a matter of lining up and winning games. If that team gels, and if they get a healthy Keith Rivers and a healthy Roy Williams at safety, they’re as good as any team on paper in the NFL right now.
Q: For a guy who was drafted so high — I think he was #8 or #10 overall — Keith Rivers has been kind of a disappointment. Had his jaw broken by Hines Ward. Hasn’t seen the field that much. Where do you see him being this year, and is he the biggest question mark on that Bengals D?
A: He’s a Pro Bowl talent. I will say he’s the highest rated player I graded that year in my area. He’s an absolute Pro Bowl linebacker. Explosive, fast, four-down player in every game. He came into the NFL and had some injuries, and in the NFL it takes a few years to get comfortable. His injuries have not helped. If he’s on the field he’s going to be making an impact. He’s got too much talent, too much explosion, too much big-play ability. He’s got a nose for the ball. He’s an all-out competitor who just needs to stay healthy, and that’s the stuff you can’t measure. That’s his only problem. If he’s healthy he’s outstanding.
Q: What do you see as their biggest weakness on defense?
A: I would say maybe depth at safety. Chris Crocker is OK, but Roy Williams really needs to be healthy. They’re really good on their front seven. Their D-line and linebackers, they can afford injuries and they won’t miss a beat. They’ve got Maualuga and he’ll come into his own. Keith Rivers. Dhani Jones is highly productive and smart. I think right now it’s the safety position, it’s a little short. They have two solid young corners. So much of their defense hinges on Roy Williams being healthy.
Q: What’s their biggest weakness on offense?
A: They’re loaded at every position but offensive line. They’re guards are average. Their center is OK. They have a good solid RT with Andre Smith, that high pick last year out of Alabama. He’s a natural right tackle. A powerful run blocker. But their inside three, their guards and center, are a little bit average.
Q: What’s your prediction for the Cincinnati Bengals this season?
A: They have a chance to win 12 games. They really do. Their biggest competition will be the Baltimore Ravens, who I think have one of the top two defenses in the league. So I think it’ll come down to the Bengals and the Ravens. I think Pittsburgh is going to fall off a bit. Cleveland will be competitive, but it’s a tough division and the Browns will not compete for the division.