CINCINNATI (AP) — During their 15-year run without a playoff appearance, the Bengals drafted players in hopes they would start soon and turn things around right away. It never worked.
David Klingler. Akili Smith. Ki-Jana Carter. Peter Warrick. The Bengals were always looking for someone to save them between 1990-2005.
They’re beyond that now. With three consecutive postseason appearances, they’re at the point where they don’t need someone to become an overnight star. Instead, they’re looking long term and trying to add depth during the three days of the NFL draft this week.
It’s a sign of how much the franchise has stabilized.
“Knock on wood, hopefully as we have in the past, these guys don’t necessarily have to step in and be a Day 1 starter for us,” coach Marvin Lewis said.
But those who get drafted could find themselves playing a lot by the end of the season, especially at spots left thin by injuries and free agency. Cincinnati could use some help at cornerback and on the defensive line. The Bengals also could use more depth on the offensive line. And they might draft a quarterback in a later rounds, although they remain firmly committed to Andy Dalton as the starter.
Cincinnati picks 24th in the first round Thursday.
Five things to watch for from the Bengals during the draft:
A NEED TO COVER: Cornerback Leon Hall is trying to return from his second torn Achilles tendon in three years. Terence Newman and Adam “Pacman” Jones are in their 30s. Dre Kirkpatrick, the 17th overall pick in 2012, has been hurt and inconsistent. The Bengals could use some younger players at cornerback so they can start getting them ready to move up. Lewis appreciates the importance of the position.
“Quarterback and cornerback are the toughest positions to play in the league,” Lewis said. “And if you’re not good enough there, everyone else suffers. And there’s no way to mask it. It takes a certain rare ability to play those two spots.”
DEFENSE ON THE LINE: One of the Bengals’ biggest losses in the offseason was end Michael Johnson, who got the team’s franchise tag in 2013, had another good season and left as a free agent. They’re waiting to see how starting tackle Geno Atkins recovers from a torn knee ligament. The line has been the foundation of one of the league’s top defenses the last few years, a deep group that could rotate and stay fresh during games. Cincinnati ranked third overall last season and will be looking to keep that depth.
“Our defensive line is one of the groups that leads this team, that makes this team go round,” tackle Domata Peko said. “If we continue to do what we’ve been doing, we’re going to be fine.”
QB OR NOT QB: The Bengals are unwavering in their commitment to Dalton, who is entering the final year on his deal. The sides are talking about a multiyear extension. The Bengals haven’t been able to hold onto a backup, with Bruce Gradkowski, Josh Johnson and now Jason Campbell filling the No. 2 job over the last three seasons. They could consider taking a quarterback in a later round and trying to develop him into a dependable backup who could stick around for a few years.
“I’ve heard it’s been a long time since we’ve done that, so I think that’s what they’re planning on doing,” Dalton said.
IT’S NOT OVER WHEN IT’S OVER: The Bengals have spent a lot of time trying to find players who slip through the draft. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict made the Pro Bowl last season, his second with the Bengals after signing as an undrafted player out of Arizona State. The process goes on when the draft finishes.
“We don’t want to chase our tail if a guy isn’t going to get a true opportunity,” Lewis said. “That’s going to alienate the agent, and it’s going to make it harder in the future. But like you say, we have given guys the opportunity.”
FIRST-ROUND HISTORY: During Lewis’ tenure, the Bengals have had 12 first-round picks. Seven went to offense, five to defense. They’ve taken three cornerbacks (Jonathan Joseph, Hall and Kirkpatrick), two tight ends (Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert), two linebackers (David Pollack, Keith Rivers), two offensive linemen (Andre Smith, Kevin Zeitler), receiver A.J. Green, running back Chris Perry and quarterback Carson Palmer.