What to watch: Bengals vs. Saints

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The Cincinnati Bengals will open their preseason Friday in an exhibition game against the New Orleans Saints.

Here are some things to look for:

  • Friday marks the anticipated return of Bengals starting quarterback Carson Palmer, who hasn't played in a game situation in approximately 10 months following a season-ending elbow injury. Palmer has looked good in training camp but there is nothing like real competition. Palmer also needs to prove that he can take a hit again.

  • Can Cincinnati's offensive line improve? This is a unit in transition and without its top pick in Andre Smith. It's arguably the weakest area on the team yet the most important. Pass protection has been horrible for Cincinnati in recent seasons. The running game improved late in the year but needs to carry over that momentum into this year.

  • Similar to the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals also struggled with their pass rush and needs to be more aggressive defensively. Cincinnati has a young and energetic defense which still has room to grow, and this is a major area it can work on in the preseason.

  • Will the rookies live up to high expectations? Players such as Michael Johnson and Chase Coffman both entered the league will lofty credentials and will make their NFL debuts tonight. Linebacker Rey Maualuga might sit out tonight's game.