NFL Nation: J.T. O\'Sullivan

48 NFC West starters since Manning debut

September, 8, 2011
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Cool note from ESPN Stats & Information: First-year San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is the last quarterback other than Peyton Manning to start a regular-season game for the Indianapolis Colts.

That will change when Kerry Collins replaces an injured Manning in the Colts' lineup for Week 1.

The first preseason game I covered as an NFL beat reporter featured Manning making his first start against the Seattle Seahawks in the Kingdome. His very first pass found Marvin Harrison for a 49-yard touchdown. Preseason games are generally without much meaning, but could there have been a more fitting beginning for Manning?

For a fuller appreciation of Manning's durability and consistency in starting 227 consecutive games, I went through Pro Football Reference counting how many quarterbacks had started for current NFC West teams since Manning made his regular-season debut. There have been 48. That figure includes 14 for the St. Louis Rams, 13 for the 49ers, 11 for the Arizona Cardinals and 10 for the Seahawks.

A few notes on the 48 players to start for current NFC West teams since 1998:
  • There have been two Brocks (Berlin, Huard), two Charlies (Frye, Whitehurst), two named Chris (Chandler, Weinke), two Jeffs (Plummer, Martin), three Johns (Friesz, Navarre, Skelton), one Jon (Kitna), two Matts (Hasselbeck, Leinart), two Shauns (Hill, King), three Steves (Young, Bono, Stenstrom) and two Trents (Dilfer, Green).
  • Two, Young and Warren Moon, have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame since Manning's streak began.
  • Dilfer and Warner started for more than one current NFC West team since Manning's streak began. Warner started 57 games for Arizona and 50 for St. Louis. Dilfer started 12 for Seattle and six for San Francisco.
  • Hasselbeck has the most total starts for current NFC West teams with 131, followed by Marc Bulger (95 for St. Louis), Jake Plummer (73 for the Cardinals) and Jeff Garcia (71 for the 49ers).
  • Smith -- Alex, not Troy -- owns the most starts among current NFC West players with 50, all for San Francisco.
  • Eight of the 48 were one-and-done as starters: Berlin, Scott Covington, Ty Detmer, Glenn Foley, Friesz, Frye, Navarre and Weinke. Nineteen have made at least 10 starts.

The NFC West will have two starters new to the division in Week 1: Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb.

The chart shows start totals by team for the 48. The NFC West changed membership with realignment in 2002. I'm going back to 1998 for the four teams currently in the division.

Whitehurst's first start in perspective

November, 7, 2010
11/07/10
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SEATTLE -- Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information passes along this note from Elias Sports Bureau:

The Seattle Seahawks' 28-year-old Charlie Whitehurst is scheduled to become the fifth quarterback since 2000 to make his first regular-season start at such a late age.

Whitehurst, 28 years and 93 days old, will start for Seattle against the New York Giants in Week 9. He joins a list featuring J.T. O'Sullivan (29 years, 13 days in 2008), Quinn Gray (28 years, 160 days in 2007), Todd Bouman (29 years, 130 days in 2001) and Chris Weinke (29 years, 40 days in 2001).

Most good quarterbacks find their way into starting lineups before reaching this age. Whitehurst wasn't going to get a chance playing behind Philip Rivers in San Diego, so perhaps he's an exception. But neither did the Chargers value him enough to make him their No. 2 quarterback, and the rest of the league wasn't willing to acquire him as a potential starter until Seattle traded for him this season.

Weinke (20), O'Sullivan (eight), Bouman (seven) and Gray (four) have combined for 39 career regular-season starts.

Final Word: NFC West

October, 29, 2010
10/29/10
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

Too early to sit down Hall. Kurt Warner generously said he saw a little of himself in new Arizona Cardinals quarterback Max Hall. That was before Hall played in a game. Hall hasn't led a touchdown drive in any of his 25 possessions. Warner, meanwhile, tossed 21 touchdown passes with only three interceptions in his first eight NFL starts. Even so, the Cardinals are right to stick with Hall in Week 8 amid negative reviews. Once the Cardinals made the decision to give Hall a chance, they needed to give him more than two games. Hall does own a 1-1 starting record. There's a decent chance that record will hit 2-1 after facing Tampa Bay. Plenty of time remains to bench Hall if he doesn't improve. It could happen Sunday if Hall falters.

[+] EnlargeChris Clemons
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonChris Clemons returned to Oakland, where he had his best season as a pass-rusher in 2007.
Oakland homecomings. The Seahawks' game at Oakland could mean a little more to three of Seattle's most significant players. Running back Marshawn Lynch, acquired from Buffalo, grew up in Oakland and sports an "OAKLAND" tattoo across his chest. Mike Williams, the Seahawks' leading receiver, started one of the six games he played for the Raiders in 2007. Defensive end Chris Clemons set a career season high with eight sacks for the Raiders, also in 2007. Clemons already has 5.5 sacks in six games since the Seahawks acquired him from Philadelphia. That puts Clemons on pace for 14.5 sacks. Oakland has allowed seven in its past two home games (and only four in its past two road games).

Troy Smith, come on down. Nine quarterbacks have started games for the San Francisco 49ers since the team last posted a winning record in 2002. Troy Smith becomes the 10th when the 49ers face the Denver Broncos in London. The others, ranked by most starts: Alex Smith, Shaun Hill, Tim Rattay, Jeff Garcia, Ken Dorsey, J.T. O'Sullivan, Trent Dilfer, Chris Weinke and Cody Pickett. Four threw more touchdowns than interceptions during that time: Hill (23-11), Rattay (22-18), Garcia (18-13) and Weinke (1-0). None owns a higher rating in those games than Hill (87.3). Carr is the only 49ers quarterback since 2003 to attempt passes for the team without starting a game, according to Pro Football Reference.

Saluting Isaac Bruce. The Rams are honoring one of their all-time greats, Isaac Bruce, during a ceremony before the game. Unfortunately for rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, Bruce might be good enough in retirement to help the Rams against Carolina in Week 8. Bradford badly missed injured receiver Mark Clayton when the Rams needed to make a play in the second half against Tampa Bay. Danario Alexander provided a short-term spark, but his knee is bothering him and he might not play Sunday. Danny Amendola has turned into a solid option from the slot, but Bradford needs more targets. With Bruce in the building and Steve Smith returning to the Panthers' lineup last week, top-flight receivers will be everywhere in the Edward Jones Dome except where the Rams need one most: in a St. Louis uniform.

Must-win for the Rams. Sure, it's only Week 8, but after squandering opportunities in close defeats to beatable opponents (Arizona, Oakland and Tampa Bay), the Rams are just about finished with the easier portion of their schedule. Losing at home to the 1-5 Panthers could send this team plummeting following its bye week. The Rams play four of five games on the road following their Week 9 bye. The lone home game falls against Atlanta, arguably the best team in the NFC.

Chargers' Antonio Gates is active

October, 24, 2010
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San Diego tight end Antonio Gates is active and expected to start against New England. He missed the entire week of practice with a toe injury he suffered at St. Louis.

The Chargers will need Gates, even if he’s not at full strength.

San Diego starting receivers Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee are inactive with hamstring injuries. Buster Davis and Patrick Crayton will start for the Chargers.

Naanee is listed as the third quarterback and he could only quarterback if starter Philip Rivers and backup Billy Volek were injured. The team cut No. 3 quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan to make room for kicker Kris Brown.

He will kick for a game or two while kicker Nate Kaeding is out with a groin injury.

In other AFC West related news and notes:

The Kansas City Chiefs promoted receiver Verran Tucker from the practice squad. He is a rookie free agent. To make room for Tucker, Kansas City cut undrafted rookie Jeremy Horne. He was a preseason star, who didn’t make an impact in the regular season. Horne could end up on the Chiefs’ practice squad.

The San Francisco Chronicle has an interesting look at the slow start by No. 8 overall pick Rolando McClain. It’s early, but McClain has not made many big plays.

Apparently, former Kansas City czar Carl Peterson does not have a future with the Dolphins. That marriage has been speculated about since Peterson was shown the door by the Chiefs nearly two years ago.

Inactives: Ganther, Mathews will not play

September, 26, 2010
9/26/10
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SEATTLE -- The Seattle Seahawks have used multiple combinations at running back and fullback this season.

They'll have one fewer option at fullback after naming starter Quinton Ganther inactive Sunday. Ganther has a knee injury. Michael Robinson played fullback some against the Denver Broncos in Week 2.

Also inactive for Seattle against San Diego: Nate Ness, Leroy Hill, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Chester Pitts, Russell Okung, Anthony McCoy and E.J. Wilson. Pitts could become available on the offensive line in Week 4. He has not played since undergoing microfracture knee surgery last season.

Inactive for San Diego: Ryan Mathews, Larry English, Stephen Cooper, Cam Thomas, Adam Terry, Vaughn Martin and Jyles Tucker. J.T. O'Sullivan is the third quarterback. Matthews had not been expected to play after suffering an ankle injury against Jacksonville in Week 2.

Power Rankings revisited: Week 2

September, 20, 2010
9/20/10
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Five of the 10 highest-ranked teams in ESPN.com's most recent NFL Power Rankings lost in Week 2.

The San Francisco 49ers can make it six if they can upset the top-ranked New Orleans Saints on Monday night. Either way, the Power Rankings for Week 3 should feature changes near the top when it comes out Tuesday.

The chart shows how ESPN.com's four voters -- me, John Clayton, Paul Kuharsky and James Walker -- ranked teams last week. Red lettering reveals which teams lost in Week 2. Again, these are not new rankings. Those come out Tuesday.

The Chicago Bears' victory at Dallas came as a surprise to me, but this isn't the first time Mike Martz has breathed life into an offense early in a season. It happened in San Francisco, with J.T. O'Sullivan putting up good numbers for a while. O'Sullivan and the 49ers could not sustain their performance, however, and opposing defenses ultimately made San Francisco pay for favoring downfield passes without adequate pass protection.

The Bears have a better chance to sustain their offensive gains because Jay Cutler is more talented than O'Sullivan and, at least for a day, Martz seemed willing to settle for some shorter passes.

The reckoning: Seven games featured lower-ranked teams beating higher-ranked teams:
  • (28) Tampa Bay 20, (26) Carolina 7. The Bucs are 2-0 and the schedule was on their side.
  • (25) Denver 31, (21) Seattle 14. A couple bad throws by Matt Hasselbeck turned this game.
  • (22) Chicago 27, (8) Dallas 20. Martz has the Bears starting quickly, but will the early success last?
  • (17) Cincinnati 15, (3) Baltimore 10. I'm with Ray Lewis on the ticky-tack penalties protecting quarterbacks.
  • (15) Miami 14, (6) Minnesota 10. Brett Favre looks like a guy regretting his decision to return.
  • (10) Pittsburgh 19, (9) Tennessee 11. Giving Ben Roethlisberger a head start on October.
  • (11) New York Jets 28, (4) New England 14. Give the Jets credit for backing up Rex Ryan's bravado.
Still to play: "Monday Night Football" featuring the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints.

My early favorite for the No. 1 spot: New Orleans. Let's see if the Saints get past the 49ers. If not, would you go with Green Bay or Indianapolis?
SAN DIEGO -- The Chargers just announced their inactive players for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville.

Inside linebacker Stephen Cooper is out with a knee injury. He will be replaced by Brandon Siler.

Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman is active after being out three-plus weeks with an Achilles injury. However, second-year player Larry English is starting. Merriman has had limited practice time since ending his holdout in mid-August. He was injured shortly after his holdout ended.

Here are the complete inactive lists for both teams:

San Diego
Jacksonville

Chargers add third quarterback

September, 6, 2010
9/06/10
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The San Diego Chargers decided they felt more comfortable with three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, so they agreed to terms with veteran J.T. O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan was cut by Cincinnati during the weekend. He will play behind starter Philip Rivers and backup Billy Volek, who was held out of practice Monday.

O’Sullivan replaces Charlie Whitehurst as San Diego’s No. 3 quarterback. Whitehurst was traded to Seattle in the offseason. The team cut rookie Jonathan Crompton and he was put on the practice squad.

The Chargers chose O’Sullivan over Crompton because of experience. O’Sullivan, 31, has been in the league since 2002 and he has thrown 145 career passes. This is O’Sullivan’s ninth NFL team.

AFC North preseason recap

September, 3, 2010
9/03/10
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The preseason is finally over. All four AFC North teams were in action Thursday night for their exhibition finales.

Here are some notes from each game:

Pittsburgh Steelers 19, Carolina Panthers 3

The Good
  • Rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Jonathan Dwyer both made strong cases in their final chance to impress before Saturday's cuts. Dwyer, a sixth-round pick, led the Steelers in rushing for the second straight week with 86 yards on 20 carries. Sanders, a third-round pick, led Pittsburgh in receiving with 66 yards and a touchdown. Both players were up and down in training camp but came on strong late in the preseason to likely earn roster spots.
The Bad
  • The huge negative was the left knee sprain to quarterback Byron Leftwich, who was expected to be Pittsburgh's Week 1 starter. Leftwich was hit low in the first half and didn’t return. Now his status is in question for the regular-season opener, where quarterbacks Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch may have to step in against the Atlanta Falcons.
Cleveland Browns 13, Chicago Bears 10

The Good
  • We mentioned quarterback Colt McCoy's perfect 13-for-13 passing earlier in the AFC North blog. So let's shift the focus to Cleveland running back James Davis, who likely claimed a roster spot. The backup was on the bubble but led the Browns in rushing with 66 yards against Chicago. Davis also caught five passes for 53 yards and showed good elusiveness to break tackles. Davis was the talk of the preseason last year when he led the Browns in rushing. But he's been quiet this exhibition season until Thursday.
The Bad
  • Browns rookie running back Montario Hardesty's much-anticipated debut ended poorly as he suffered another knee injury. Hardesty missed all of training camp and three preseason games with a right knee injury. After seven carries, he hurt his left knee and was on crutches after the game. Hardesty came to Cleveland with a reputation of being injury-prone in college.
Baltimore Ravens 21, St. Louis Rams 27

The Good
  • Baltimore rookie WR David Reed showed flashes. Reed recorded 138 yards on four kickoff returns. The fifth-round pick also caught three receptions for 65 yards. Reed is on the bubble but helped his case to be one of the final receivers to make the team.
The Bad
  • We also mentioned Ravens quarterback Troy Smith earlier. But let's discuss the most unnecessary move we've seen in the AFC North this preseason, which was Dannell Ellerbe stopping at the goal line to taunt the Rams before scoring a defensive touchdown. Where to start with this one? First, the Ravens were losing. Second, it was the preseason. Third, Ellerbe is fighting for playing time and made a good defensive play look unprofessional. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh cleary wasn't happy with Ellerbe's antics.
Cincinnati Bengals 30, Indianapolis Colts 28

The Good
  • The Bengals finally got great quarterback play from backups Jordan Palmer and J.T. O'Sullivan. Both players have been inconsistent this preseason but had their best efforts against Indianapolis. O'Sullivan was 9-for-12 for 102 yards, and Palmer was 10-for-14 for 114 and two touchdowns. This should bring a little bit of calm in relation to Carson Palmer's replacements heading into the regular season.
The Bad
  • Cincinnati had another double-digit penalty game with 11 infractions. Sure, a lot of backups played Thursday, but there were some on the field who will contribute in the regular season. Cincinnati doesn't seem concerned about its penchant for penalties. But we will see if it disappears or carries over when the games count.

Observations from Bengals at Bills

August, 28, 2010
8/28/10
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Trent EdwardsAP Photo/ David DupreyTrent Edwards has the starting quarterback job locked up after another solid preseason performance.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Thoughts from the press box at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Buffalo Bills beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday night 35-20:
  • If there was any doubt before -- or if Bills fans were in denial and still clinging to hope Brian Brohm would win the gig -- Trent Edwards is Buffalo's quarterback.
  • On the first possession, Buffalo had minus-12 yards aside from a pass interference penalty. The Bengals sacked Edwards the only time he tried to pass. But Edwards rebounded on the second drive, methodically taking the Bills down the field. He completed all five of his passes for 48 yards and connected with Roscoe Parrish for a 12-yard touchdown.
  • Edwards' stat line: 13-of-17 for 153 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. He had a 122.9 quarterback rating.
  • C.J. Spiller had another brilliant game. He ran 12 times for 52 yards and two touchdowns and two receptions for 33 yards in a half of work. He had a 20-yard run and a 26-yard reception.
  • As mentioned in my notes column following the Bills' victory over the Indianapolis Colts last week, Spiller is going to have a lot of negative-yardage runs because of his style and the Bills' offensive line. He had runs of minus-7 and minus-11 yards. But he's a threat to break away every single time.
  • The Bills showed off a little Wildcat. Spiller took a direct snap and ran 6 yards for a first down. In case you were wondering, Edwards remained on the field, split wide right. In the fourth quarter, rookie running back Joique Bell also took a direct snap and ran for 4 yards.
  • Parrish is one of those players fans always want to see more of, but size always seemed to be an impediment to increased involvement. Think Leon Washington with the New York Jets. Maybe new Bills head coach Chan Gailey has been able to figure something out. Parrish caught all four balls thrown to him for 56 yards and a touchdown.
  • Maybe the Bills were showcasing Ryan Fitzpatrick for a potential trade (hello, Arizona?). Otherwise, Brohm can't like the fact he quarterbacked only two series late in the fourth quarter. Brohm threw one pass, an incompletion.
  • Buffalo's secondary didn't have the same success against Carson Palmer that it did against Peyton Manning. Palmer completed all but two of his 11 passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns for a 142.2 rating.
  • Second-year outside linebacker Aaron Maybin, the 11th overall draft choice last year, may have gotten some traction. He didn't start even though Reggie Torbor was out with an undisclosed injury. Chris Ellis started instead. But Maybin did force J.T. O'Sullivan into an intentional grounding call with some heavy pressure in the third quarter and sacked Jordan Palmer twice in the fourth quarter.
  • James Hardy, a second-round draft pick in 2008, didn't make much of an impression in his bid to stay on the roster. He had one catch for 30 yards (great pass from Fitzpatrick) and a drop. That was all.
  • Undrafted rookie receiver David Nelson had another strong game: two receptions for 34 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown.
  • Third-year cornerback Reggie Corner looked like he might be on the roster bubble in a deep defensive backfield. He helped himself in the fourth quarter by intercepting Jordan Palmer and dashing 20 yards for a touchdown.
  • Reserve cornerback Ellis Lankster, meanwhile, had another rough night. Quan Crosby beat him for a 44 yard pass play one series after Corner's touchdown. Lankster broke up a pass on fourth-and-goal from the 6, but he got away with pulling on Dezmon Briscoe's collar. Lankster was called for illegal hands to the face to wipe out an Arthur Moats 9-yard sack.
  • The Bills strength in recent years has been their special-teams play. Special teams coordinator Bobby April bolted for Philadelphia, and the transition to Bruce DeHaven has not been smooth. Their kickoff coverage unit has been awful. The Bengals averaged 32.7 yards per return and rarely started a drive insider their own 30-yard line.

What we learned about the Bengals

August, 8, 2010
8/08/10
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CANTON, Ohio -- The Cincinnati Bengals made their 2010 debut Sunday night, losing 16-7 in a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Here are seven things we learned about the reigning AFC North champions:

1. Pass protection could be an issue

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Kirby Lee/US PresswireThe offensive line struggled to protect Carson Palmer last week in training camp and again against the Cowboys.
Analysis: I found it alarming last week in training camp that so many defenders were getting in quarterback Carson Palmer’s face and clogging the passing lanes. Dallas defenders did the same, and on Sunday they were allowed to hit the quarterback. In just two offensive series, Palmer took a few hits, including one sack, that stalled the passing game. Palmer completed 2 of 5 passes for 18 yards as Cincinnati’s offensive line had trouble with Dallas’ pressure.

2. WR Terrell Owens is growing into the offense

Analysis: Both of Palmer's completed passes were to Owens. Playing together for the first time, they looked fairly in sync. Owens' two receptions for 18 yards included a timing route that resulted in a first down. Palmer and Owens also hooked up on a slant route, but the play was called back because of a penalty. Cincinnati made it a point to get Owens opportunities. He was targeted four times in the first quarter. "We're a work in progress," Owens said. "We're getting there. It felt just like practice."

3. CB Adam Jones is active

Analysis: Cincinnati’s coaching staff also made sure Jones, in his first game action since 2008, got a lot of snaps. Jones looked athletic and aggressive starting in place of injured cornerback Johnathan Joseph (thigh). He had good coverage on the first pass of the game, an incompletion to Dallas receiver Miles Austin. Jones also recorded three tackles and returned kicks.

4. Cincinnati's QB depth is problematic

Palmer
Palmer
O'Sullivan
O'Sullivan
Analysis: If Sunday were any indication, it’s vital for Palmer to stay healthy for all 16 games this season. Backup quarterbacks J.T. O’Sullivan and Jordan Palmer played some awful football Sunday. There were plenty of shaky moments as the pair combined for three interceptions. O’Sullivan finished 4-of-11 for 33 yards and one pick. He had a 7.0 passer rating. Jordan Palmer completed 10 of 20 passes for 102 yards and had a late touchdown, but also had two really bad interceptions.

5. Red-zone defense looks solid

Analysis: The Bengals' first-team defense wasn't perfect, but the red-zone defense had a great goal-line stand against a potent Dallas offense. Cincinnati stopped quarterback Tony Romo on three consecutive throws from the 2 to force a field goal. The coverage was solid on each play.

6. Bengals need to clean up mental errors

Analysis: It’s the first preseason game, so I won't make a big deal out of this just yet. But there were nine Bengals penalties for 60 yards in the first half, when most of the players who will make the team (either as starters or backups) were in the game. But it’s the mental errors that will drive Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis crazy. The penalties included neutral zone infractions and offsides. That stuff must be cleaned up.

7. Bengals suffered injuries

Analysis: Cincinnati suffered injuries to two key contributors. Starting safety Chris Crocker hurt his right ankle in the first quarter on special teams and didn’t return. Backup running back Brian Leonard also was diagnosed with a mid-foot sprain. Both players will be further evaluated this week in Cincinnati.

ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 11

GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- The Cincinnati Bengals are now the hunted, and they believe they have enough talent to prove last year's AFC North division title was no fluke.

It has been 28 years since the Bengals last posted back-to-back winning seasons. But coming off a playoff appearance and new offseason additions, this is the deepest and most talented group Marvin Lewis has coached in eight seasons.

Cincinnati's six-win improvement was one of the biggest jumps in the NFL last season. On paper, this year's team looks even better, although the Bengals have to prove they can handle a brutal first-place schedule.

"Nobody is really sleeping on you. Everybody knows that you can play," Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers said of the upcoming season. "So we have to make sure we come out swinging, because teams are going to come out swinging against us."

Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco said it would be a "shame" if Cincinnati doesn't win the Super Bowl. That's one example of how high expectations are for the Bengals, who have to address several key issues this summer if they want to make a playoff run.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Mark Zerof/US PresswireCarson Palmer is excited about the additional weapons at his disposal this season.
1. Can the Bengals improve their passing game? Cincinnati's passing offense was a disappointment last season, particularly late in the year. The Bengals aggressively attacked the problem by adding new weapons such as first-round draft pick Jermaine Gresham and receivers Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant and Jordan Shipley.

As a result, Cincinnati could have as many as three new receivers in the top four of its rotation to join Ochocinco. And Gresham is projected to start at tight end for the Bengals, surrounding Carson Palmer with enough weapons to make any quarterback happy.

"In the grand scheme of things, we're very explosive," Palmer said.

The chemistry between Palmer and Owens is still a work in progress. The difference between Palmer's comfort level with Owens versus his comfort level with Ochocinco, whom Palmer has worked with for eight years, was noticeable in camp.

The deep ball disappeared from Cincinnati's offense during the second half of last season. But with Owens (Batman?) taking some of the pressure off Ochocinco (Robin?), and added receiver depth, expect more fireworks this year.

"What I want the focal point of this team to be is I want the offense to be our strength again," Ochocinco said this week. "I think the defense has sort of taken over the outlook as the strength of the team. I want our receiving corps and the rest of our offense to be that strength, that backbone of this team."

2. Will the Bengals' defense generate a pass rush? The Bengals were the fourth-best defense in the NFL last season. But one area where they can improve is getting to the quarterback.

Cincinnati had 34 sacks last year, which was middle of the pack at No. 16. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has made it a priority to dial up new and better ways to increase the sack numbers.

The healthy return of starting defensive end Antwan Odom should help. He was the team's top pass-rusher last season until he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. The Bengals also have young, athletic players who could see playing time in passing situations such as linebacker Michael Johnson and rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

Nugent
Rayner
3. Who’s the kicker? Kickers aren't important until you need them. The Bengals know that all too well after their experience with Shayne Graham, who had a knack for missing field goals in key moments.

This summer there is an interesting competition going between journeyman kickers Dave Rayner and Mike Nugent. The two have played for a combined eight teams in their NFL careers.

Nugent is hurt this week, which may have allowed Rayner to take a slight lead. But Rayner has had his ups and downs as well. Earlier this week he made all six of his field-goal attempts, but on Wednesday Rayner was 5-for-8. He missed two 50-yard attempts that were very wide left.

Expect this competition to be settled during the preseason.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

He is not the biggest player or the fastest, but there is something about Shipley that continues to stand out in camp. He has even caught the attention of Ochocinco, who said early that the rookie has potential.

Shipley seems at home in the slot. He has a knack for getting open and has sure hands and good ball security in traffic once the catch is made. The Bengals are very deep at receiver this year, so it's questionable how big a role Shipley could have. But for now he's making the most of his opportunities.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Former first-round pick Matt Jones seems to be falling behind daily in an effort to earn a roster spot. Once a big athlete with freakish speed, Jones clearly has lost a couple of steps after taking a year away from football.

Jones also suffered a foot injury recently, which hasn't helped his case. Ochocinco, Owens, Bryant, Shipley and Andre Caldwell probably will take up five slots at the receiver position. That leaves only one or two more roster spots for Jones and several other receivers to compete for. Do not be surprised if Jones doesn't make the cut.

[+] EnlargeTerrell Owens
Mark Zerof/US PresswireTerrell Owens is still working on establishing chemistry with Carson Palmer.
OBSERVATION DECK
  • Despite signing just before camp, Owens arrived in very good shape. He still has to learn the offense, but Owens has shown some flashes of what he can do. On Wednesday night, Palmer connected deep with Owens, who beat cornerback Leon Hall, streaking down the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown. The play was one of the highlights of camp thus far.
  • Bryant continues to rehab his knee. He participated in the first day of camp but has missed every practice since. The Bengals signed Bryant to a four-year, $28 million contract but he hasn't looked explosive as he continues to heal from offseason knee surgery. The team is hoping he continues to progress.
  • Watch out for second-year running back Bernard Scott. He is my sleeper pick for the Bengals this season. Scott has a chance to contribute both as Cedric Benson's backup as well as a kick returner. With increased opportunities, Scott should have increased production.
  • Adam Jones should help the Bengals in some capacity this year. His technique as a cornerback still needs improvement, but he is competing hard in practice and his physical abilities are still apparent. Jones also looks natural as a kick returner and could be an early favorite to win punt and/or kickoff return duties.
  • Although none of the injuries is major, the Bengals have been banged up this week. Fullback Fui Vakapuna hurt his shoulder and missed practice time. Dunlap suffered a concussion. Linebacker Rey Maualuga injured his hamstring and cornerback Johnathan Joseph also had a thigh injury.
  • The Bengals don't have a lot of depth at fullback, but the position might not be as important as it once was. Cincinnati's offensive personnel dictates the team will run a lot of three-wide receiver and two-tight end sets. In both instances, the fullback will be taken off the field.
  • I have not been impressed with Cincinnati's pass protection early in camp. You cannot see everything, because players cannot touch the quarterback. But the number of defenders getting in the passing lanes has been noticeable. That will be something to keep an eye on in the preseason.
  • I'll exit with a prediction: I have a sneaky feeling the Bengals will keep only two quarterbacks this season. Cincinnati has waves and waves of players at other positions, and cutting the No. 3 quarterback -- most likely Jordan Palmer -- is one way the Bengals can save a roster spot to retain an extra receiver, defensive back or linebacker. Carson Palmer and J.T. O'Sullivan would be the team's quarterbacks, while the Bengals could always add Jordan Palmer or someone else down the road in the event of an emergency.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The Cincinnati Bengals earned their first win of the preseason with a 7-6 victory over the New England Patriots. Although it was just an exhibition, the Bengals showed a little bit of everything, including a surprise place kicker.

Here are a few notes and observations:

  •  
      David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE
      Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco's extra point Thursday night against the Patriots was the deciding margin.
    And that surprise kicker was star receiver Chad Ochocinco. Kicker Shayne Graham had a sore groin and Ochocinco, who kicked in high school, is Cincinnati's emergency replacement. With no pressure, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis decided to rest Graham and let Ochocinco have some extra fun. His form was surprisingly good and the kick wound up being the decisive point for the Bengals.
  • Consider the backup quarterback race over as free-agent pickup J.T. O'Sullivan put forth his second straight solid effort against the Patriots. O'Sullivan, who started in place of the injured Carson Palmer (ankle), completed 10 of 13 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. For the entire preseason, O'Sullivan is 19 of 24 for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Jordan Palmer threw for 45 yards Thursday and likely will be Cincinnati's No. 3 quarterback.
  • Cincinnati's first-team defense is doing a good job of keeping teams out of the end zone. The Bengals are giving up passing yards -- Tom Brady had 57 of New England's 228 total yards through the air -- but all that amounted to was a pair of field goals. After recording just 17 sacks last season, it's also noticeable that Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is trying to turn up his blitzes. Cincinnati had four sacks total against the Pats.
  • One of those four sacks came from Bengals starting defensive end Robert Geathers. Cincinnati has to be happy to see Geathers applying pressure, because he's coming off microfracture knee surgery and needs the preseason to get his legs under him. A healthy Geathers and fellow defensive end Antwan Odom will be key this year to improving Cincinnati's pass rush.
  • Receiver Chris Henry continues to impress. Henry caught a touchdown pass for the second straight week and leads the Bengals with 11 total receptions for 155 yards in the preseason. Despite his status as a No. 3 receiver, Henry could be a fantasy sleeper in Cincinnati's pass-happy offense.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- After a two-day hiatus, Cincinnati Bengals starting quarterback Carson Palmer rejoined his team for Monday morning's practice.

Palmer felt ill Saturday and missed the Bengals' last two sessions. According to a source, he was dealing with flu-like symptoms over the weekend. Backups J.T. O'Sullivan and Jordan Palmer took over the quarterback duties in Carson Palmer's absence.

We will have more from Bengals camp later this afternoon.

Bengals minicamp notes

June, 19, 2009
6/19/09
5:26
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals wrapped up their second two-a-day practice for their 2009 mandatory minicamp.

Here are some Day 2 observations:

  • Fights are increasing as the weather gets more humid. The temperatures were around the high-80s Friday, but it felt even hotter at times, and when things got chippy players wasted no time pushing, shoving and in some cases punching. In a mismatch, defensive tackle Domata Peko was pounding on rookie offensive lineman Colin Dow before that fight was broken up during team drills. And there was also a good battle involving rookie fullback Fui Vakapuna and fellow rookie Michael Johnson. There were also a couple more shoving matches and a lot of jawing.
  • Friday was a good day for some in the secondary. Backup safety Chinedum Ndukwe got two interceptions, including a pick-six, in team drills. Starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph also got an interception on 7-on-7 drills. Early impressions are this unit has a chance to live up to their billing as one of the strengths of the Bengals.
  • Because quarterback Carson Palmer is on a pitch count, we are getting a lot of opportunities to see Cincinnati's backup quarterbacks in this minicamp, particularly in the evening practices. Backups J.T. O'Sullivan and Jordan Palmer are making good throws here and there but probably not enough to play winning football. It's no secret that Carson Palmer is the most important cog in Cincinnati's 2009 season.
  • Speaking of offense, after watching closely for four practices over two days, receiver Andre Caldwell seems to be fitting in the offense better than Jerome Simpson. Caldwell was taken in the third round in 2008, while Simpson was a second-round pick that year. But Caldwell looks more polished and confident in what he's doing in his second year during this minicamp, while Simpson still looks rough around the edges.
  • Rookie fifth-round punter Kevin Huber has a nice leg and is kicking the ball well during this minicamp. The former Cincinnati Bearcat and left-footed kicker is showing why the Bengals dumped former punter Kyle Larson so quickly once they landed Huber in April's draft.

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