With the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cincinnati Bengals about to square off in Week 3 of the preseason, we wanted to talk to SB Nation’s Cincy Jungle about Andy Dalton, the AFC North, their thoughts on our receiving corps, and more. Thanks to @HoweNFL for answering our questions.
1. Tell us a little about how the Bengals have done this preseason. Admittedly, I haven't followed anything out of Bengals camp. Are there any big position battles? Is Andy Dalton still Andy Dalton-ing?
The Bengals always seem to perform well in the preseason when Dalton is at the helm. Last year, he was masterful in every performance throughout the preseason, following that up with a season to remember in which he led the Bengals to a 10-2 record before sustaining a season-ending thumb injury. Like last year, Dalton has been great this preseason, going 11-for-14 on 7.9 yards per attempt. Provided his production doesn't take a drastic drop-off from last season, Dalton is now a top-10 quarterback, so if Andy Dalton-ing equates to being an average player, then he is no longer Dalton-ing.
The biggest position battle is at wide receiver, where no one knows who will line up opposite A.J. Green as the number two wideout. Most anticipated free agent acquisition Brandon LaFell would fill that role, but he is currently attempting to play with a torn ligament in his hand. If LaFell eventually opts for surgery, rookie second-rounder Tyler Boyd -- who has been dominant throughout the preseason -- will likely be the guy. Behind the three aforementioned receivers, no one is an absolute lock, so the wide receiver battle is interesting for sure.
2. Which players are Bengals fans most paying attention to? If there were a player or position group Jaguars fans would enjoy watching on Sunday, what would it be?
As I mentioned, the wide receiver battle is pretty intriguing. Undrafted rookie Alex Erickson has made big plays in the passing game and return game in both games he's played so far, while incumbent return man Brandon Tate has done enough to secure a roster spot.
Jags fans might not enjoy watching this position group, but the defensive line has been absolutely dominant throughout the first two weeks of the preseason. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap have been their usual selves, while Michael Johnson has really started to come on and Domata Peko has cleaned up anything that has gotten past his three teammates along the line.
Jeremy Hill has also been an exciting guy to watch, so I'd advise fantasy football enthusiasts to keep an eye on him. He looks like a completely different player this year, as he's much more decisive and quick-footed than he was a year ago.
The position group Jaguars fans will love watching the most, however, is the Bengals' secondary, simply because it has been really banged-up. After letting Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall walk in free agency, the Bengals drafted cornerback William Jackson III in the first round. And with slot corner and former first-rounder Darqueze Dennard still recovering from injury, Cincinnati's cornerback depth will be questioned. Shawn Williams, entering his first year as the full-time starter at safety, gave up a huge pass to Marvin Jones last week; I could see him doing the same this week to Allen Robinson or Allen Hurns.
3. Are there any major injuries creeping into Bengals camp?
The aforementioned injuries to Jackson III and Dennard have killed the Bengals' cornerback depth. Both Cedric Ogbuehi (2015 first-rounder) and Jake Fisher (2015 second-rounder), the two tackles who are competing to start at right tackle this year after the Bengals let Andre Smith walk in free agency, are dealing with injuries. That could present a major problem for the Bengals' offensive line. Rookie fourth-rounder Andrew Billings (defensive tackle) also suffered what looks like a season-ending injury. Cincinnati has not been fortunate health-wise, but on the bright side, the Bengals have yet to lose one of their many Pro Bowl-caliber players (knock on wood).
4. If there were a position group on the Jaguars that you could take to replace a position group on the Bengals, what would it be?
Oh man, that's a good question. The obvious answer would be wide receiver, but I don't think any Bengal fan would want to swap receivers, because A.J. Green could be a Hall-of-Famer when it's all said and done. If it were gun to head, I'd probably swap tight end groups. Yeah, Tyler Eifert may well be the second-best tight end in football, but I think Andy Dalton would be able to connect with Julius Thomas just as often as he did with Eifert last year. The Bengals would be sacrificing youth at the position, but I think they'd have to sacrifice to swap any position group with one in Jacksonville. I will say, Jacksonville's cornerback position group looks pretty nice, too.
5. What's your outlook for the Bengals and the AFC North as a whole in 2016? Could the Steelers make a run for the division title?
I mean yeah, the Steelers could make a run for the division title, but at the end of the day, I truly believe it's the Bengals' division to lose. Even considering their losses, the Bengals are still the deepest team in the AFC North, with true weapons all over their offense and defense. I expect Pittsburgh to stay strong and win something within the realm of 7-10 games (though I only think they win seven or fewer if Ben Roethlisberger misses a ton of time), while the Ravens and Browns likely won't be major contenders. The Bengals have what currently looks like one of the easier schedules in football. I truly believe they're a Super Bowl contender this year, as long as they don't get hit by huge injuries like they have been hit in every season of the Dalton era (Dalton in 2015, half the team in 2014, Geno Atkins and a few others in 2013 and so on). Fingers crossed, and good luck to the Jags. I think they can win the AFC South this year if the defense can click and Blake Bortles backs up a nice 2015 season with an even better 2016.