The Bengal's QB situation is a mess. The latest report says that the organization is looking to either draft a QB in the first round or make a trade. Jeff Blake may be the first of the four QB's (Blake, Paul Justin, Neil O'Donnell and Eric Kresser) to go. O'Donnell had a decent year, considering the line he played behind, but at this stage of his career this is not the type of QB Cincinnati is looking to build with. All four QB's had encouraging moments, but were consistently ineffective and usually injured. The tricky part is deciding which one's to hold onto and which one's to send packing.
Corey Dillon isn't the most consistent back in the league but has displayed promise, and his 1,130 yards in '98 was a lot better than what former No. 1 draft pick Ki-Jana Carter has put up in his four seasons. Nonetheless, the Bengals are not willing to give up on Carter just yet. With Carter and Dillon returning, it is likely the Bengals will let go of UFA Eric Bieniemy. Brandon Bennett did a respectable job of spelling Dillon with a 3.2 yards per rush on 77 caries. However, a healthy Dillon and Carter will likely keep Bennett sidelined for much of the '99 season. FB Brian Milne continues to fulfill his duties, but nothing else. He is a lead blocker by nature, and does an excellent job of getting square in the hole. Ray Zellars is the backup, but his future is undecided because he is an UFA.
Carl Pickens is obviously the main concern for during the free agency period. However unhappy the big play receiver may be in Cincy, the Bengals should re-sign his services after sticking the franchise tag on him. Across from Pickens is another premier WR in Darnay Scott, who made enough big plays to keep defenses honest in coverage. The only problem with either of these players is that they don't get enough touches. If Pickens does hold out it moves Scott to the No. 1 spot and leaves a gap for a solid No. 2 WR. Damon Gibson was picked up by Cleveland in the expansion draft. James Hundun is the only other candidate, but still needs time to develop.
Tony McGee had somewhat of a down year in '98. McGee is sure-handed and has the ability to stretch defenses. Run blocking is not his best suite, but he continues to improve each season. Fellow TE Marco Battaglio is used more in H-back situations, and like McGee, is a better receiver than blocker. A power blocking TE would be a welcome addition to this unit and aid in rejuvenating the run game.
The Bengal's line left much to be desired in the '98 season. Bengal QB's were sacked 53 times-28 more than its opponents. Center Derric Brilz is the only UFA of the group. This may be a good place for the Bengals to start. The 13-year veteran isn't getting any younger and is showing signs of skill deterioration. The only standout on this line is ROT Willie Anderson. Anderson is a big guy with a lot of ability. He is an outstanding run-blocker and has developed his quickness to pick up the rushing DE. A major concern for this unit over the free agency and draft period is depth, especially at the LOT position.
The immediate future of this line lies in the full-recovery of DE John Copeland after losing DE Clyde Simmons to the Bears in free agency. It is crucial for Copeland to be able to replace Simmons. Michael Bankston holds down the LDE position and will be back for another season. Bankston had 4.5 sacks in '98 and does an adequate job vs. the run. NT Kimo Von Oelhoffen needs to step up in '99 or he'll be backing up newly acquired Oliver Gibson.
Cincinnati is excited about the future of its linebacking position. LOLB Steve Foley has seemingly beaten out 10-year veteran James Francis. This means Francis, an UFA, will likely be packing his bags. At the other outside position, there will be a great competition for the spot between Reinard Wilson and Adrian Ross. The Bengal's organization hopes the middle will be taken care of for years to come with the youth movement of Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons. Spikes and Simmons showed enormous upside this season and should benefit with the experience of playing together.
The other big story in free agency for the Bengals is DC Ashly Ambrose's situation. The team is diligently working to find a way to re-sign the veteran, but are also interested in drafting Champ Bailey in the third spot of this year's draft. SS Sam Shade was lost to the Redskins in free agency creating another need in the secondary. DC Atrell Hawkins is known for giving up the big-play but he has outstanding natural athletic ability and is a key player in the Bengal's secondary. The organization is determined to find a premier cover guy either through free agency or the draft. FS Greg Myers is a steady player but the Bengals would like to upgrade here.
The special teams unit is facing rocky times. KR Tremain Mack had an outstanding season, but ended up in jail. 10-year punter, Lee Johnson, was fined and cut after criticizing his team publicly. This leaves K Doug Pelfrey who had an unusually inconsistent season, making just 19 of 27. However, he is usually the model of consistency and will bounce back next season. The team is going to need to address its punting situation in the off-season, and will likely have a few competing in camp for the position.