In preparation for the big Monday night preseason game (kind of an oxymoron, there), I asked Kirkendall of Cincy Jungle five questions about his beloved Pumpkin Cats. Peep the answers below, and thanks to Kirkendall for taking his time:
1. Is Carson Palmer back to full strength and ready to kick ass?
Kirkendall:Last season, Palmer spent all of the offseason and the beginning of training camp rehabbing his shredded knee. The injury was so severe, that some made the case that Palmer should take 2006 off. It was generally expected he'd miss several games and that Anthony Wright would fill in until Palmer was ready. Palmer started every game throwing for a franchise-record 4,053 yards passing winning the Pro Bowl's MVP award. Consider that along with this: T.J. Houshmandzadeh missed the season's first two games with a heel injury; Chris Henry missed three games due to "conduct issues"; the starting center went down for the season during game #2; the starting left tackle missed 10 games; the starting right guard missed three games; the backup running back, Chris Perry missed 10 games and Rudi Johnson had very sub-par season.
Of all the players on this team in 2006, Palmer's injury was the least troublesome on this team but most recognizable.
Fast forward to this year: Rather then spending an entire offseason rehabbing during a season he played as well as the league's top-five passes winning the Pro Bowl MVP, Palmer spent this offseason and training camp becoming a better quarterback redefining an already potent offense.
A lot of us expect he'll have his best season yet in 2007.
2. With Kenny Irons face down in a scrap heap somewhere, who is the favorite to grab the backup halfback spot?
Kirkendall:The other day a development unexpectedly appeared when Marvin Lewis said he wouldn't rule out having Chris Perry to start the season. It was unexpected because Perry's offseason rehab wasn't going well and the impression we got was he'd start the season on the PUP. If that's the case, then this offense could show their 2005 form second to only Indianapolis. While the talent is obviously less than Reggie Bush, Chris Perry has enough talent to perform in the same role. I'm not comparing Bush to Perry, but Perry can get results -- if healthy. And that "if" is larger than Mr. Burns sun blocking disk.
If Perry can't go, then it's Kenny Watson and Quincy Wilson after Rudi Johnson. Wilson's physic and style of play is so similar to Rudi that Wilson is a mini-Rudi. I wrote, several weeks ago, that Watson isn't a backup running back. He's a third down back that does well sneaking out of the backfield. His blocking is excellent. But he doesn't relieve Rudi enough to really be a backup running back. And yes, I do think that backup running back and third down back are completely different entities. Some can perform the same role. Watson can't.
So to answer your question, if Perry can go, it's him all the way. He can perform that backup/third down role. Otherwise, Wilson will backup Rudi while Watson will do mostly third down duties.
3. The Bengals haven't been famous for excellent defense over the last couple of years. Have they made any great improvements?
Kirkendall:There are far too many unknowns. But you have to remember, the 2005 defense had more take-aways (43) than any team in the NFL. Unfortunately, you can't rely on the possibility of turnovers.
Last year Deltha O'Neal's quit attitude really bothered fans for obvious reasons. He also suffered injuries that degraded his playing time and performance. It's a big deal with O'Neal and the question is asked, "Will O'Neal return to 2005 form (10 interceptions, Pro Bowl) or will he return to 2006 form (injuries, attitude problems and lack of results).
Everyone knows the plight of Odell Thurman. But you have to remember that Thurman was in the same class as Shawn Merriman during their rookie seasons. In fact, comparing their rookie seasons, Merriman's biggest assets that season was his sacks (10). Odell Thurman had 41 more tackles with five interceptions (Merriman has one career) and a touchdown. I made the argument that Thurman should have won the defensive player of the year award. If this team had Thurman playing this year like his rookie season, this defense instantly improves.
The linebackers starting in 2007 will likely only see one returning starter from last season -- so they're the biggest question mark. The secondary will be improved with Leon Hall replacing the free agent departed Tory James. The defensive line should be improved as the team implements a rotational defensive line with a cast of very solid players along with the impressive combination of Robert Geathers and Justin Smith on the edges.
4. It's 3rd and 3 and you're just outside of field goal range. Who are you going to in that situation every time?
Kirkendall:Simple. That's usually a pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh running a zig-zag route. T.J. is one of the best receivers in the league finding the separation needed for a Palmer fast ball.
5. How will the Bengals finish up the season and who will be the team MVP?
Kirkendall:I'm too much of a homer to have an unbiased prediction. I thought 12-4, but I have a lot of "could beat this team" footnotes. But I do think Palmer will be the team's MVP for the next 18 years.