Healthy Burrow, new faces boost optimism in Bengals camp

CINCINNATI BENGALS (4-11-1)

CAMP SITE: Cincinnati

LAST YEAR: Coach Zac Taylor’s second season began with great optimism and fizzled to a close, just as his first season had in 2019. There were reasons for hope in 2020 with Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow taking over at quarterback. After showing exciting flashes of what could be, Burrow suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 11. Premier running back Joe Mixon went out with a foot injury, and the offensive line was decimated. A late-season moral victory came when they upset playoff-bound Pittsburgh on “Monday Night Football” on Dec. 22, and beat Houston the next week, but the familiar problems were on display again in a season-ending pummeling by Baltimore.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Ja’Marr Chase, OL Riley Reiff, DL Trey Hendrickson, DT Larry Ogunjobi, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Mike Hilton, OT Jackson Carman, DE Joseph Ossai.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR A.J. Green, RB Giovani Bernard, DL Geno Atkins, K Randy Bullock, OL B.J. Finney, OL Bobby Hart, DL Carl Lawson, CB William Jackson, LB Josh Bynes, CB LeShaun Sims.

CAMP NEEDS: Get Burrow back to 100% after his knee injury and rehab. Make sure Mixon can carry the load at running back after rehabbing an injured foot. Settle on an offensive line that should be much better with the additions of free agent Reiff and draftee Carman, as well as a healthy OT Jonah Williams and C Trey Hopkins. Get a defense with many new faces to mesh quickly.

KEY CAMP COMPETITIONS: Taylor said Carman, who played offensive tackle at Clemson, will compete immediately at guard, putting him in the mix with Xavier Su’a-Filo, Michael Jordan, Quinton Spain and Hakeem Adeniji. After the release of the venerable Giovani Bernard, Samaje Perine, who was re-signed, will try to establish himself as the No. 2 running back. Competition will come from Trayveon Williams, draft pick Chris Evans and undrafted free agent Pooka Williams.

EXPECTATIONS: With Burrow, Mixon and other key players healthy again and a retooled offensive line, the Bengals should be much better. WR Chase, the No. 5 overall draft pick, rejoins former LSU teammate Burrow as an explosive weapon and deep threat. Another problem area, the defensive line, was upgraded with the addition of DE Hendrickson and DT Ogunjobi. A half-dozen new assistant coaches will shake up things. Taylor got a vote of confidence from ownership after the disappointing 2020 season, but this may be his last year in charge if there isn’t significant progress.

FANDUEL SUPER BOWL ODDS: +10000

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