Story and photo by Mark Carpenter –
For those who are already thinking about fall weather and football, the wait is nearly over as the 2016 version of the Cincinnati Bengals will open Training Camp on Friday, July 29. Once again, high hopes and optimism surround the Bengals as they look to make their sixth consecutive playoff appearance and hopefully this season, get over the hump and get that elusive playoff win.
Head Coach Marvin Lewis begins his 14th season at the helm for the Bengals the second longest tenured head coach presently in the NFL. Lewis will be working with a number of new coaches on his staff, most notably a new offensive coordinator in long-time quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese.
Zampese’s side of the ball may face the most question marks as the Bengals head into 2016, especially in the receiving corps, where the team lost Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu to free agency in the off-season and will be waiting for All-Pro tight end Tyler Eifert to recover form an ankle injury. The most wide open position battle in the pre-season will likely be at wide receiver, with free agent signee Brandon LaFell and second-round draft pick Tyler Boyd the most probable replacements for Jones and Sanu.
The team is set at quarterback with the very capable duo of Andy Dalton and A.J. McCarron and at running back with the versatile Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, who will come into the season with something to prove after a disappointing 2015 that ended with the crucial fumble in the playoff loss to Pittsburgh.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther returns with a group that many think is as good as any in the league, led by sack master Carlos Dunlap and a strong secondary of Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, George Iloka, and Shawn Williams. The Bengals will have to deal with the absence of linebacker Vontaze Burfict, suspended for the first three games of the season.
Training Camp is always a special time for fans, as they see how the old veterans look, how the drafted rookies progress, and debate over and over who might be the surprises that make the final 53-man roster and the practice squad. For the coaching staff, it is a time of evaluation and tough decisions.
Training camp this season will hold an extra treat for fans of the orange and black as on Aug. 10 and 11 the Bengals will hold joint practices with the Minnesota Vikings, coached by former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. The two teams will then open the exhibition season on Aug. 12 at Paul Brown Stadium.
When the regular season begins, the Bengals will quickly find out where they stand as the schedule makers did them no favors, sending them on the road for the first two games, at New York on Sept. 11 with all that emotion, and then a following trip to arch-rival Pittsburgh. The home opener will be with the defending Super Bowl Champion Broncos, followed by a Thursday night game with the Dolphins, and road games at two tough venues, Dallas and New England, and the return of Tom Brady.