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NFL AM: Cincinnati Bengals, St. Louis Rams Raise Expectations

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Big-Talk Bengals

The Bengals have been doing a lot of talking lately. From offensive coordinator Hue Jackson boasting about shedding the “Bungles” label to defensive line coach Jay Hayes praising a “scary” good offseason by Geno Atkins, team officials have not been shy to raise the bar heading into a critical 2015 season.

But the franchise’s latest source of optimism stems from a most surprising source: backup QB A.J. McCarron.

Cincinnati’s coaching staff is confident McCarron is “fully capable of becoming a starting-quality player,” according to NFL Media’s Albert Breer.

Those comments are consistent with the high praise McCarron has received throughout the offseason.

DE Wallace Gilberry, a fellow Alabama product, told Mobile’s WNSP earlier this month: “The kid is doing awesome. When I say awesome, that’s kind of an understatement. I mean, last year, he kind of struggled with the arm situation. But this year, man … his throwing motion is on point. His passes are on point. I think he’s thrown one interception the whole camp. Not to say Andy (Dalton) has thrown any, but the kid is competing.”

It’s fair to question the legitimacy of all this praise, especially after the Bengals elevated McCarron to the No. 2 position in a push that could be described as Roman Reigns-esque. Cincinnati opted  not to re-sign veteran reserve Jason Campbell after last season, choosing instead to shake up the quarterback depth chart in an effort to push Dalton.

Is all this McCarron mania just an effort to light a fire under the Red Rocket? Or is the second-year quarterback actually ready to  lead an NFL franchise with Super Bowl aspirations? Until the pads go on in training camp, these questions are impossible to answer with any certainty.

That hasn’t slowed the Cincinnati hype machine.

Former Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who is currently a coaching intern with the team, believes this year’s offense can be better than his 2005 outfit that snapped a 14-year streak without a winning record. The Cincinnati offense ranked No. 4 that year, led by Carson Paler, Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson and Houshmandzadeh.

“They can be better,” Houshmandzadeh says of this year’s group. “They have better players.”

There is no denying the Bengals are loaded at the skill positions. Led by receivers A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones; running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard; and tight end Tyler Eifert, the Bengals boast arguably the deepest, most dynamic set of playmakers in the league.

“They have more depth than we had,” said Houshmandzadeh, comparing the two teams. “I think our wide receivers were better, or it’s very comparable. Offensive line is about a push. … They’re dynamic at the running back position. They’ve got great tight end play. They have more weapons, where we relied on myself, Chad, Rudi and No. 9 (Palmer).”

But, as always, it comes down to the quarterback position. Either Dalton must play up to his massive contract or McCarron must live up to the heaps of praise thrown his way this offseason. If neither of those things happen, the Bengals will be stuck watching Palmer lead the Cardinals to the playoffs while Cincinnati succumbs to another early exit.

Roaring Rams

While the Bengals appear stacked on offense, the Rams are even more loaded on defense. Their defensive line features five former first-round picks, with free-agent pickup Nick Fairley joining Pro Bowlers Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn. The linebacker corps includes recent high selections Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis, while the secondary is home to playmaker Janoris Jenkins  and former top-10 pick Mark Barron.

With defensive coordinator Gregg Williams entering his second season with the team, expectations are sky high.

“The guys took it to heart and really had a very good spring in the weight room, in the training room and then here on the field,” Williams told The Post-Dispatch. “It’s light years ahead of where we were last year (at this time) because they didn’t know me, I didn’t know them.

“Just from a terminology (standpoint), are we speaking the same language? Do we understand what we really want? It took a little bit of time for all of us to get acclimated last year.”

The Rams showed a lot of fight late last season. St. Louis beat the Seahawks in Week 7 and took down the 49ers in San Francisco two weeks later. In Weeks 13 and 14, the Rams beat the Raiders and Redskins by a combined score of 76-0.

If that defense keeps improving and supplements an offense an offense that added Nick Foles and Todd Gurley, the Rams will have a great chance to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2004 season.

Galette: The Worst a Man Can Get! 

Saints officials concede they are aware of a 2013 video that allegedly shows leading pass rusher Junior Galette striking a woman with a belt. This incident is not related to Galette’s January arrest on domestic violence charges; those charges were dropped, although Galette will meet with NFL officials later this month to determine if he will face a fine and/or suspension.

Now, Galette and Commissioner Roger Goodell will have something new to talk about.

“We were made aware of the video, and we sent it to the league office,” Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said. “There is a process this will go through at the league office level, and we are waiting on that to be determined.”

Galette’s lawyer, Ralph Whalen, says his client is not the man in the video.

One season after the Panthers lost their top edge rusher for the season due to domestic violence issues, their NFC South rivals are suddenly facing the same fate.

It’s been a rough offseason for the Saints in the headlines, including former safety Darren Sharper pleading guilty to rape in Louisiana last week. Galette’s situation provides yet another black eye for a team trying to bounce back from a hugely disappointing 2014 campaign.

it is too early to write off Galette entirely, especially while awaiting more clarity on this video and his meeting with NFL officials. But the Saints cannot wait too long before taking action, for fear of getting Ray McDonald-ed.

Want to talk more about these and other headlines? Join Michael Lombardo for his weekly NFL Chat on Friday at 2pm EST. But you don’t have to wait until then … you can ask your question now


About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.