Posted: 9 a.m.
With the Bengals' first preseason game in the can, time to honor Lance McAlister and Peter King again with 10 things I Think I Believe.
1. I Think I Believe there were a lot of sighs of relief heaved at halftime in two spots in the Superdome: The visiting owner's box and the visiting coaches locker room.
Sure, it was ugly in spots. The five holding calls, three turnovers and the failure to get points were bad. But has a preseason opener ever appeared on ESPN Classic?
Fact is, the players the Bengals are counting on played well for the most part. They are miles ahead of where they were at this time last year. At halftime they nearly had 300 yards of offense and their defensive starters held the NFL's most explosive passer to 14 yards in their two series.
2. I Think I Believe the offensive line can get a lot better. But I also Think I Believe they can and were better than I thought they would be.
The O-line gave Palmer some nice time and they got some movement against a pretty good front seven, and they were mixing it up physically. And, it looks like these guys are in better sync with Kyle Cook at center than Eric Ghiaciuc.
Should we be bothered by the holding calls on tackles Anthony Collins and Andrew Whitworth? Collins. I think, has surprised the coaches with how well he has played and Friday night was no exception with how he kept Charles Grant off Palmer, and they know Whitworth will be there when the bell rings. But the lack of depth at tackle and across the line is stunning. The Bengals should give the starters bulletproof vests for the last three preseason games.
(Converted defensive tackle Jason Shirley, an offensive lineman for five days, played guard for a handful of plays and looked like he used his strength well, but that's not the kind of depth the club needs. They need people now.)
3. I Think I Believe that Carson Palmer answered any lingering questions about his arm and talent.
Yeah, he threw a pick. Yeah, he had a miscommunication in a pass route that ended up getting his ankle rolled when he pumped and the ball fell out of his hand.
But, we forget. The guy hadn't played in a game for 313 days. His elbow injury shelved him longer than his ACL tear. The first play out of the box to The Ocho shows he can still throw the long ball even if it was a tad short, and his 18-yard throw to The Ocho across the field as he stood in and took a shot in the end zone was vintage Palmer 2005.
By the way, if Palmer plays against New England Thursday night with his sprained ankle, there should be a federal investigation. I Think I Believe that Palmer has enough chance of playing as HBO is of coming up with a spinoff of Hard Knocks *like CSI: Cincinnati.*
4. I Think I Believe I can invoke the classic line of one of the greatest figures in Bengals history, Frank Smouse, Paul Brown's trusted scout.
"Even my wife can tell you Bernard Scott can play," Smouse is no doubt saying today in retirement in northern Ohio.
The rookie running back can jet, can't he? He averaged five yards per his six carries and maybe the Chris Johnson comparisons are still presumptuous, but what's not to like? He can get to the outside in a hurry and his hands look pretty good. Now, can he just stay healthy?
Heck, give the ball to DeDe Dorsey and James Johnson the rest of August in the showcase and see if you can work a trade.
When Scott got the call right after Cedric Benson in the second quarter that already showed he's got a leg up in the backup derby. Brian Leonard played well, too, so there may be some roster separation beginning there if the Bengals do indeed keep three tailbacks and two fullbacks.
Indications were the leg injury to rookie fullback Fui Vakapuna wasn't serious, but Jeremi Johnson and Chris Pressley also did some serious thumping.
5. I Think I Believe Michael Johnson is going to make a lot of draft gurus look bad.
Scott looked great with the ball, but Cincinnati's best rookie on the field very well could have been Johnson, the third-round pick from Georgia Tech. He played nearly every snap between defensive end and special teams. He played pretty much in the nickel with every group, including the first team, and he played most of the special teams.
Remember how the gurus said he fell out of the top five because of his lack of motor and toughness? He couldn't get off the field Friday. Take this one sequence where he helped make a third-down tackle and then made the tackle on the ensuing punt. He ended up with three tackles from scrimmage, one for a loss, and a pass defensed.
I have no idea what the record is, but I Think I Believe Johnson is going to challenge it for passes defensed in a season.
6. I Think I Believe Keith Rivers can be counted as an extra first-round pick.
He only played seven games last year so he spent Friday night reminding the Bengals what they were missing. Like much of the first-team defense, he only played about eight snaps or so and he ended up with five tackles. The first one was the big one when he filled quickly on right end Robert Geathers' penetration and wrapped up old USC mate Reggie Bush for a two-yard gain on the Bengals 4.
What if the Bengals decide to keep seven linebackers? Who are the two guys beyond the three starters and Rey Maualuga and Brandon Johnson? A guy they may have to start considering is rookie free agent Dan Skuta, a guy that really throws his body around in the middle and can probably play all three spots.
7. I Think I Believe the two starting cornerbacks are playing their best ball as Bengals.
Again, it was only about 8-10 snaps, but Hall blanketed the physical Colston on the goal line and Johnathan Joseph broke on the ball like he did as a rookie before he broke his foot in the spring of '07.
But after that, well, it has to make the coaches a little nervous. Rookie Morgan Trent recovered a fumble and veteran Geoff Pope made a couple of nice plays on the ball, but they think that David Jones (foot) can be back in time to reclaim the No. 3 job for the opener.
Secondary coach Kevin Coyle looked forward to having his backups go against 17-year veteran Mark Brunell and Brunell obliged by raking them for a 126.4 passer rating that included a 64-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Robert Meachem.
8. I Think I Believe the starting safeties are hitting as advertised and that Chris Crocker and Roy Williams give this defense an edginess it hasn't had certainly in the Marvin Lewis era and not since Tim Krumrie retired 15 years ago.
Like a Bourbon Street bartender at Happy Hour, they each served a few pops early Friday night before getting out of there quickly. But the coaches couldn't have been very happy with the backup safeties.
Lewis didn't name Chinedum Ndukwe, Marvin White and Corey Lynch, but he seemed to be referring to them when he said he was disappointed in some of the backups that have played for him but weren't in the right place and were on the field when Meachem hauled in Brunell's pass and Brees threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey.
So if the Bengals end up keeping eight DL, seven backers and nine DBs (five of which figure to be cornerbacks), who is that fourth safety behind Crocker, Williams and Ndukwe? You can see the major decision evolving. Do they sacrifice the special teams brilliance of Kyries Hebert for a Lynch or White?
9. I Think I Believe I won't worry about Shayne Graham.
Has Graham been this erratic ever? In the scrimmage last week, he got better the further he got away from the goalposts and he's been good in some practices and not so good in others. Last night he yanked a 30-yard field goal attempt to the left.
But, look, the man is a career 85-percenter and he'll be there again. It's his first year with holder Kevin Huber, they'll get it together, and there are more fragile things on this team to worry about.
And one of them isn't Huber, the rookie punter. His first two NFL punts? They pinned the Saints on the 10 and 12. When is the last time the Bengals did that on consecutive punts? Doesn't that always happen to them? He tailed off at the end, but the kid has all the looks of a solid NFL punter for the next decade.
10. I Think I Believe The Ocho is back.
Maybe it was just being back in the Superdome, but the way Chad Ochocinco was running around, he looked as good as he did the last time he was dominant. Remember when? That stretch in the middle of 2006 when he had three straight games of 260 yards against San Diego, 190 in New Orleans, and 123 at Cleveland. Like his offense, he has struggled since. But Friday night sure looked familiar.
And, I Think I Believe Jerome Simpson helped his cause immensely with three catches for 30 yards. He looked sure of his routes, but he also didn't get much push from the other receivers. Maurice Purify was the only other backup receiver to make a catch and rookies Greg Orton and David Richmond weren't listed as injured but didn't play.
11. I Think I Believe tight end Daniel Coats can give provide some of Reggie Kelly's toughness and grit.
He proved that by getting back last week on his ginger ankle. But don't be surprised if the Bengals bring in some tight ends Monday to give these guys a rest because they've been taking so many snaps. Remember, rookie Chase Coffman is just getting back from a broken foot that ended his college season and he needs a blow along with Coats to rest his ankle.