Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:
One thing I'm certain of: The Bengals are a much better team than the one that surprisingly made the playoffs last season. Whether this translates into more wins is uncertain. The Bengals haven't put together back-to-back winning seasons since 1981-82. But you have to be impressed with what the Bengals accomplished this offseason. Few teams had a better draft and free-agency period.
Cincinnati has more dependability and a bigger red zone punch with running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Bengals addressed the guard position, which was their weakest spot, by drafting Kevin Zeitler in the first round and signing Panthers free agent Travelle Wharton. Cincinnati added defensive depth by signing five former first-round picks in free agency: Adam Jones, Terence Newman, Jason Allen, Derrick Harvey and Jamaal Anderson. The big question is whether the Bengals have done enough to close the gap between them and the Ravens and Steelers.
One thing that might happen: Leon Hall suits up for camp and Dre Kirkpatrick sits for most of it. This isn't how most envisioned the Bengals' cornerback situation. Kirkpatrick was the one who was supposed to step up in the starting lineup if Hall hadn't recovered from an Achilles injury. The roles are apparently reversed. Kirkpatrick, the 17th overall pick of the 2012 draft, reportedly injured his leg and could miss most of training camp.
The Bengals remain hopeful that Hall will be able to take the field Friday, the first practice of training camp. Hall, who was held out of spring workouts, has yet to be cleared to play. If Hall and Kirkpatrick are both sidelined, Cincinnati will lean heavily on Jones, Newman, Allen and Brandon Ghee.
One thing we won't see: A major veteran free-agent addition to the wide receiver group. The Bengals took some heat for not addressing the loss of two of their top three wide receivers when Jerome Simpson (Vikings) and Andre Caldwell (Broncos) left in free agency. Cincinnati didn't sign a wide receiver in free agency and didn't draft one in the first two rounds. Head coach Marvin Lewis came away very impressed with his wide receivers this spring, which is a good indication that the Bengals won't be making any moves for someone like Braylon Edwards, barring injury or a meltdown by this group.
Heading into camp, Brandon Tate, Mohamed Sanu and Armon Binns are battling to start opposite A.J. Green. Tate is the early favorite after an impressive spring. He didn't catch a pass last season, when he signed a week before the season opener, but he has picked up the Bengals' offense in his first full offseason with the team. The Bengals are equally as high on Sanu, a third-round pick who has drawn comparisons to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Quarterback Andy Dalton said his receivers are "going to surprise a lot of people."