I stopped by the Cincinnati Bengals training camp last week in my AFC North tour (you can click here for my Camp Confidential file), but ESPN's John Clayton got an up-close look at the team this week. He provided a detailed report of his visit, and here are some observations that stood out:
Clayton pointed out that quarterback Andy Dalton is a hard worker but still ranks behind Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger in terms of talent, which is certainly a valid assessment. "He has spent a good portion of the offseason trying to improve his footwork and worked with (offensive coordinator Jay) Gruden on downfield throws," Clayton wrote. "Dalton didn't shy away from throwing downfield early last season, but he completed only 15 of 57 passes that sailed at least 21 yards in the air." The Bengals, though, have taken some pressure off Dalton in throwing the ball deep. By using their first two picks on tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard, Dalton now has playmakers who can take short passes and turn them into big gains.
Speaking of Eifert, Clayton came away impressed with the No. 21 overall pick of this year's draft. "Some say he looks a little like Owen Daniels of the Houston Texans. Others say he has some qualities of an early Tony Gonzalez," Clayton wrote. "All I can say is he is one of the most impressive rookies from the 2013 draft." What impressed me the most is the work Eifert has done off the field. He's a smart guy and he's absorbing the offense quickly. The Bengals are lining him up in different spots, and Eifert has had to learn more spots than just tight end. So far, he hasn't been overwhelmed.
The depth of the Bengals' roster surprised Clayton. He noted how the Bengals have quality backups at cornerback (first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick, Brandon Ghee and Adam Jones makes them extremely deep) and offensive line. Cincinnati also improved at tight end and running back in the draft, and its second-team defensive line could be a starting group for a few teams. "All of a sudden, an AFC sleeper is waking up with a chance to be formidable," Clayton wrote.