CINCINNATI – Training camp will be interesting with a few new faces trying to win starting spots. The regular season will be a challenge with a much tougher schedule.
None of it will be remembered if the Bengals don't do one thing.
The whole season comes down to winning in the playoffs. Anything less will be an immense disappointment, one that will bring a call for change to an organization reluctant to do it.
"We have to win one in the playoffs," owner Mike Brown said. "We are fully aware that didn't happen. It sticks in our craw. First we have to get the opportunity again. That is a long, hard road."
The Bengals have reached the playoffs each of the past three seasons behind quarterback Andy Dalton, who had his worst games under the postseason pressure. The Bengals remain committed to Dalton and are negotiating a long-term extension.
Dalton is one of only five NFL quarterbacks to lead his team to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons as a starter. It's that 0-3 playoff mark that hangs over everything, including training camp.
"For us, we've got to be playing our best at the end of the season," Dalton said. "Obviously, this (past) year we did some good things, but then when it got to the playoff game, I didn't play my best, the team as a whole, we didn't play our best.
"We have to do whatever it takes to be doing that toward the end of the season. It starts now."
The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, which ties for the sixth-longest streak of postseason futility in league history. Coach Marvin Lewis is 0-5 in the playoffs, but got a one-year extension that runs through the 2015 season.
Lewis' way of addressing the playoff futility is to try to avoid talking about it, even while everyone else is.
"The postseason doesn't matter right now," Lewis said. "It's the season that matters."
Some things to watch during Bengals camp as they get ready for that season:
DALTON'S DEAL: The Bengals hope to have an extension done with Dalton before the start of the season. He's got one year left on his current contract and the team could use its franchise tag on him for 2015, so the Bengals can keep him around for two more seasons even if they don't reach agreement. Colin Kaepernick's six-year deal with $61 million guaranteed seems to be a measuring stick.
"Kaepernick's a good player," Brown said. "He's been successful. And we tend to think that our deal should be something in that range, not way beyond it."
THE INJURED GUYS: Cornerback Leon Hall is coming off a torn Achilles tendon. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins had a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Both starters are expected back during camp, bolstering a unit that finished No. 3 in yards allowed last season. Coordinator Mike Zimmer left to become the head coach in Minnesota, but new coordinator Paul Guenther has the core of the defense intact.
"That helps always," Guenther said. "Especially in football, knowing where guys are going to be. So the continuity of having everybody back except for a few guys really helps out."
MORE PRESSURE: Guenther wants to use more alignments up front and is looking for new ways to get pressure on the quarterback, the two main changes he's made in Zimmer's defense. The four preseason games will provide the first look at a unit that has been the main reason for Cincinnati's recent success.
FASTER OFFENSE: On the other side, new coordinator Hue Jackson wants the offense to get the snaps off faster. Jackson, elevated when Jay Gruden got the head coaching job in Washington, is pushing the throttle.
"It's still a work in progress, but I want it to be as fast as our unit can go," Jackson said. "I think it gives us an advantage playing against some of these defenses.
"We want to play as fast and furious as we can. There won't be a dull moment because we are going to be a very aggressive unit."
THE RBs: Second-year running back Giovani Bernard replaces BenJarvus Green-Ellis as the starter. The Bengals drafted LSU's Jeremy Hill in the second round, looking to give them another powerful runner who can catch the ball. Jackson is hoping to run the ball more consistently this season, and a lot of focus in camp will be on how the two young guys mesh.
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