Well, the 2016 Bengals are taking shape.
They had a very solid draft back in late April, nabbing a solid corner in the first round (the fifth time they have drafted a corner in the first round since 2006), a much needed WR in the second round, a fast LB in the third (to be fair, though, the Bengals have had terrible luck drafting linebackers, so we will see how this one pans out), a much needed replacement for Domata Peko on the DL in the fourth, and a back up C and G in the fifth round. My favorite pick came in the sixth round, WR Cody Core. The Bengals spent a ton of time scouting the top WRs in this year's class since they lost their second and third WRs in free agency. They must have spent a lot of time scouting Ole Miss' Laquaon Treadwell, whom our former defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, now head coach of the Vikings, drafted one pick before us, because they took his teammate, Core. He is fast and big and has his best football ahead of him. Hopefully.
On the free agent front, Cincy did what they have come to do routinely in the past decade - retain their own. They did lose out on their top FA target - WR Marvin Jones - who chose the same amount of money from Detroit but wanted to go to a club where he would be their #1 WR. But they did bring back several key pieces on a very strong defense: SS George Iloka, CB Adam Jones, and LB Vinny Rey. In addition to those players, they let go the aging AJ Hawk at OLB, and signed Karlos Dansby, a nice upgrade. He will be a key figure on the defense this year.
Just recently the club again began their practice of locking up young players before the season starts (last year they gave AJ Green a huge deal and the year before that they signed Andy Dalton and Vontaze Burfict to big contracts and '13 they signed Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap to huge contracts). This year they locked up starting safety Shawn Williams to a contract extension and just last week RB Gio Bernard signed an extension through 2019.
You can tell they draft well as they have extended three of their first four players drafted back in 2012 (Pro Bowl TE Tyler Eifert who they decided to give the fifth year option to, Gio - who was drafted in the second round - and Shawn Williams, drafted in the third). The only miss in that class was DE Marqus Hunt, drafted in the second round. This is likely his last shot at a roster spot. But when you hit on 3 of your first 4 draft picks, you can afford to take a flyer on a player, which is what they did with Hunt.
Key things Cincy will focus on before pre-season starts -
1. Getting Jeremy Hill back to his rookie year from. Last year, Hill just never seemed to dominate the way he did in the final 8 games of 2014, when he led the league in rushing down the stretch.
2. Finding ways to still inject creativity into the offense while finding consistency. Hue found many ways to inject the offense with creativity and trick plays. Ken Zampese, new offensive coordinator, needs to find a way to replicate that. Moreover, he needs to find some consistency in the red zone. Hue did calls some great plays in the red zone as the Bengals were great there; however, there were several times when he just blew it. The Houston game comes to mind when he had to settle for two field goals instead of touchdowns, which ultimately cost us the game. The constant attempts to get back up OT Jake Fischer a touchdown with tackle eligible plays was confusing. And the goal line call for some kind of screen pass to Gio against the Steelers? The ball is kicked and intercepted and Dalton breaks his thumb trying to make a tackle? There, effectively, goes the season. And, finally, that horrendous two point conversion call against Pittsburgh. You call a lateral to Hill that loses three yards when a two point conversion would have ensured the Steelers couldn't beat you with a late FG even if your RB fumbles after an INT and your two best defenders commit stupid personal fouls???
3. Finding a way to keep Andy playing his best football. After a solid '13 season, Dalton had a below average '14 season. In '15 Dalton led the AFC in passer rating. Zampese has to find a way to keep Dalton at that level.
4. Finding ways to have their young players see the field. The last few years, the Bengals have used their draft picks much like colleges use redshirt seasons for their freshmen. But the Bengals have some talented young players who need to see the field sooner rather than later.
5. And . . . find a way to win a playoff game. Please.