After looking at position battles in Part 1 of our final mailbag series before training camp begins, we open Part 2 with a look at the competition at the most talked about position on any football team: quarterback.
Let's just get down to it:
@ColeyHarvey has there been any competition between Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron yet?
— Jarrett Feldhaus (@JarrettFeldhaus) July 18, 2014
@ColeyHarvey: To answer your question, Jarrett, I'll give a simple "No." Chances are there won't be any competition between Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron at quarterback, at least not this year. The Bengals have stated rather emphatically this offseason that they believe Dalton is their man at the position. Although that hasn't yet translated to a contract extension for him, I'd still listen to their insistence about that if I were you or anyone else. That of course probably annoys some Bengals fans, but the fact of the matter is that the franchise chooses to cling to the good memories their star has given them. They think he can build upon them this year; not McCarron and not fellow backup Jason Campbell.
It is worth noting that the additions of Campbell and McCarron behind Dalton give the Bengals greater assurance about the depth at the position than they have had in some time. It's also worth noting that during minicamp and organized team activities, McCarron was never in a position to challenge Dalton. He was recovering from an arm injury and learning his playbook. Campbell got his share of snaps, but the bulk of the reps went to Dalton. That might change a little in training camp, but don't read too far into it. Dalton probably will be sharing a lot more practice reps with the others, but that's only so the Bengals can keep him as fresh as possible for the regular season. It's much the same reason as to why you'll see other punters and kickers participating in camp as much as, if not more than the actual starters, Kevin Huber and Mike Nugent.
@ColeyHarvey We need more production from our TEs. Why haven't they played very well? Do we need better TE coach? or better designed plays?
— Bill Dan (@billdan9000) July 18, 2014
@ColeyHarvey: I actually think the tight end production has been rather sound of late, Bill. As an example, here's a blog from earlier this offseason about just how good Jermaine Gresham has been in the red zone. That said, did the Bengals' production from their tight ends decrease over the course of last season? Absolutely. After catching a combined 54 passes through the first eight games, the tight ends had only 35 in the second eight. They also had three drops in the second half of the year, as opposed to two in the first. But none of that suggests there's something wrong with the position, the players or the coach, assistant Jonathan Hayes. I'd say the combination of scheme alterations and injuries affected a lot of what the Bengals were able to do with their tight ends down the stretch last season. Remember both Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham missed time in the season finale with injuries. It also didn't help their cause much that other playmakers like receiver Marvin Jones emerged in the second half, taking some of their opportunities.
The Bengals definitely would like greater production from their tight ends and believe they'll get it. Expectations are high for Eifert to emerge here in Year 2, and Gresham could very well be playing for a contract as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. While the Bengals are hoping to get more efficient plays via deep passes to outside receivers and yard-after-catch-generating screens to players out of the backfield, you can be assured they will have plays drawn up for the tight ends. Will you see either of the tight ends put up Jimmy Graham-like numbers? No. But don't worry, they ought to be effective, but primarily in certain situations.
@ColeyHarvey Zeitler ready for a pro bowl year?
— NatiBuck513 (@NatiBuck513) July 18, 2014
@ColeyHarvey: Interesting that you ask about Kevin Zeitler, NatiBuck513. We profiled him in this story from Friday. Zeitler told me last month that he dedicated his offseason to getting in better shape than he was last year. That's not to say he was in awful shape in 2013. He just felt that he was a little heavier than normal, and not as lean as he knows he can be. So, to get back to an old version of himself, he worked on his diet. It seems to have paid off. You know how jarring it is sometimes when you see someone you haven't seen for a while and they look noticeably different -- for better or for worse -- when you do see them again? That's how it was with Zeitler when I saw him at the start of the OTA schedule back in May. Why do I mention all of this? Well, because I do think that he could be in for a solid year as long as the mental matches the physical. If he's able to hone his play like he's honed his body, and if he's able to be a little more vocal and assertive on the line, then he's got a good chance to have that type of season. The question is, will Pro Bowl voters across the country recognize his exploits in Cincinnati? If the Bengals play well enough offensively, they will.
@ColeyHarvey My ? Is, why does ESPN hold PIT and BAL as immediate contenders. They both look like the same teams from last year. Thoughts?
— TRL (@CNATI87) July 18, 2014
@ColeyHarvey: I'm not 100 percent, TRL, but I don't believe ESPN is the only outlet with writers and commentators who see the AFC North having other legitimate contenders. I will say that I have gone on record a couple of times this summer as having said I believe the Steelers are improved and that I just can't see Pittsburgh's coaches, players, ownership and fans standing much more for the types of seasons the franchise has had the last two years. Offensive line injuries and a horrid rushing attack hurt the Steelers the most last season, and they devoted part of the offseason to bolstering that. They also added a solid outside linebacker in Ryan Shazier in the draft. In short, they may not have made themselves drastically better, but the Steelers have the pieces to be a better team this year. That, combined with the Bengals' slightly more challenging 2014 schedule makes me think the division will come down to the Dec. 28 regular-season finale at Pittsburgh. As for the Ravens, they'll be competitive, but the Bengals' real threat for the division crown is in the Steel City.