Offense enters new era

Posted: 6:40 a.m.

The Bengals bid to keep their sellout streak alive for Sunday's opener at Paul Brown Stadium almost mirrors their attempt to revive another artifact from a few years ago when they were playoff contenders.

Except they've got an idea where they stand with the crowd, which late Wednesday was somewhere less than 5,000 to go with club execs slated to meet Thursday morning in the face of a 1 p.m. deadline.

Offensively? All they know is that in quarterback Carson Palmer's last 18 starts, the Bengals have failed to score 24 points on 14 occasions. In his 18 games before that, they did it nine times. In his previous 18 games before that, they did it 10 times.

Is this offense back to where it was in 2005 and 2006? Or is it still stuck in 2007 and 2008? Even the trigger man has no idea.

"That's what is so fun about this point in the year -- that you don't know," Palmer said. "Of course we want to score 60 points every game; I think every offense wants to. But until you get out on the field and see and get into real regular-season games with the guys you have, you don't know. There are a lot of new faces on our offense, especially from that year. And until you play with those guys and go back and look at the film  -- for technique and execution -- you really don't know how good you are. But right now we're a very confident group. We're very confident in each other, and that's all you can ask for going into Week 1."

Even the man who put the offense together, coordinator Bob Bratkowski, has no idea. Yes, he has tweaked the running game. Not drastically, but just enough that head coach Marvin Lewis' call to be dedicated to it is in his headset in stereo. Yes, the club has some talent, but except for Palmer, wide receivers Chad Ochocinco and Chris Henry, and linemen Bobbie Williams and Andrew Whitworth it is a totally different offense than the one that finished 6, 8 and 10 in the NFL from 2005 to 2007.

"I don't know. The story of this offense has yet to be written," Bratkowski said after Wednesday's practice. "It starts Sunday."

And even 2007 wasn't sweet with Palmer's 20 interceptions and a yards-per-rush of 3.7.

"Even '06 really," said right guard Bobbie Williams, who remembers the Bengals failing to score 24 points in the last three games in missing the playoffs. "I think 2009 is a new era. What pushes us over that threshold is hard work. Guys have busted their butts. Veterans have paved the way for young guys. Guys have really worked. Nobody came in with a sense of entitlement. They came into honor their spot. That's what the coaches talked about. Guys had to earn their spots."

Gone are the elite tackles of Willie Anderson and Levi Jones, but Williams says there is similar talent along this line. It might be distributed differently in different style, but he says "absolutely" there is enough talent in the trenches to win.

Whitworth, who has moved from left guard to left tackle, stared 10 games at tackle in early 2006 when this team seemingly scored at will. He thinks this offense can do the same things, if in a different way.

"The attitude is totally different," Whitworth said. "The thirst to be good, the hunger to be good is dramatically different to me. Guys are staying after. Guys are working out more. Guys are staying extra. When you see guys at the facility every day, every hour, we're here. The work being put in is dramatically different to me. What the result is we don't know until we get on the football field."

No Willie. No. T.J. No Rudi.

"Big names and guys that play good football," Whitworth said. "But it's not necessarily names that play good football. The 2005 team was a team and they played good football. The '06 team had a chance to make the playoffs and we played well as a team ... teams make it. So I think this is a team and that's what we're excited about."

Now the names are Cedric, Laveranues, Anthony, Kyle. Tight ends? No Reggie Kelly. It is Daniel Coats and a guy named J.P. Foschi who arrived here three weeks ago.

"Totally different," Bratkowski said.

But enough that Denver head coach Josh McDaniels and Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey still call them "explosive." It was McDaniels that coached Ochocinco in the '06 Pro Bowl.

"To witness how he runs routes and how he runs plays and how fast he does everything. He looks as good or better than he did when I coached him a few years ago," McDaniels said Wednesday. "He's made a bunch of big plays already. He's very dangerous with the ball in his hands. It's hard to get a jam on him at the line of scrimmage. When he goes vertical you have to hold your breath. He can run by people and he's certainly one of the best at getting the ball and then doing something with it once he has it in his hands."

And The Ocho is reiterating what he said back in the spring.

"It's better," he said of this offense compared to '05 and '06.  "The run game. We've got running backs, what? Three, maybe four that can go 80, 90 from anywhere on the field. That's going to leave the passing game wide open for myself, Laveranues and we do have the best receiving corps in the league and the most depth."

It was after '07 that The Ocho bristled that the team wasn't going enough to win. Particularly on defense.

No more.

"Especially with the draft we had, some of the offseason acquisitions; easy," he said. "(The defense is) good. They finished 12th last year? It can only get better. It can only get better."

But everyone knows if this offense is going anywhere, Ochocinco has to provide the vertical speed. At 31, he seemingly still has it. On Wednesday, Bratkowski fretted more about Ochocinco's game-long consistency and his ability to withstand frustration during an afternoon. Bratkowski thinks Ochocinco can with his current mindset.

Physically, though, no question.

"He looks like he did three or four years ago," Bratkowski said. "He keeps good care of himself."

Or, as Palmer said, ""The way he works, he runs every single route. In my seven years, we've had a lot of receivers come in that are in good shape, but I've never seen a receiver be able to take every rep. He just doesn't get tired.

"He's like Bruce Bowen of the (NBA) Spurs. For whatever reason, the guy just doesn't get tired. He can run all day. And when he comes in with that focus and that determination to work that hard, his game consistently gets better each day. And just when you think he can't run a route any better, he goes back and looks at it on film and finds a way to sink his hips a little bit more or to get his head around out of the top of the break. So when he comes in with that right focus and that work ethic, he's got a good shot to take over that No. 1 spot.

"Chad does not age. He acts like he's 19 and he plays like his body's 20. He may be 31, but he doesn't look it at all. He doesn't act it, either. But the guy just doesn't get tired, he doesn't get hurt." 

Ochocinco's friskiness in the preseason has been well documented. How he broke short routes into the yards-after catch of 55 and 35 yards. How his boxing regimen has helped him avoid some shots.

"I don't age, I don't age," The Ocho said. "Age is not one of the things you'll be able to use against me at any point, at any given time. I'll probably be 38, 40 years old and running like I'm 18. I take care of my body, I eat well, I train well. Age becomes a factor when you're not productive and last year doesn't count because you know what happened."

What Williams has been watching is what has happened to him this year.

"He's been great this year," Williams said, "He's really showed it. That guy has been focused all the way through. There hasn't been a practice he hasn't showed up to and he showed up in every preseason game. I like the way he's handling that because he's showing the young guys how to work hard."

But as big as Palmer and Ocho are, they are overshadowed by the need to run the ball. After leading the NFL in preseason rushing with a stable of four running backs, the days of failing to reach four yards per carry better be over. The Bengals haven't finished at more than four yards per carry for a season since '05.

Bratkowski says it's the most diverse group he's had. The scatback stuff of rookie Bernard Scott and DeDe Dorsey is a nice complement to the slashing hammer of Cedric Benson is a nice complement to the versatility of Brian Leonard.

"Each guy brings his own (style) to the game," Williams said. "With this offense we can once again crush records. Cedric is the kind of running back that can crush records if we give him the holes."

Back to '05-06?

"Still to be seen," Bratkowski said.

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