Smiths die-hard Bengals fans, but hope ‘Cincy’ has better 2018
The NFL owners meetings underway, Pro Days and official visits continuing ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft, we once again step away from Steelers team news to get into Rival Report mode by speaking to fans of the Cincinnati Bengals – similar to how we interviewed Cleveland Browns fan, Tony Timoteo, a couple weeks ago. After all, Steel City Underground is a site written and run by fans for fans, and the AFC North Division is where our focus tends to rest most of the time.
Tim and Mary Smith are former Cincinnati-area (Ohio) residents who now live in South Texas and although they get plenty of heat (no pun intended) from their football crazy neighbors, mostly divided between the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans, they’ve been long-time Bengals fans. Where Tim was a regular attendee of games while they lived in Ohio, Mary took the approach of “casual” fan outside of her admitted love of Boomer Esiason (and she admits it, even though she acknowledges that it’s been quite a long time since Boomer was in uniform). Tim, however, is an avid fantasy football league player and administrator who keeps his pulse on the Bengals regardless of his geographical distance from the team.
“I don’t care how many times I have to be told to take down my Bengals flag from our flagpole beneath the flag of Texas,” Tim admits. “It’s never going to happen unless the team gets sold and they change their mascot. Texans may think they own football, but one of the first things I did when we moved down here in the late 1980s was show my team’s colors. Trust me, it has created quite a stir among some of my neighbors (laughing).”
“Who dey?” Mary added with her own laugh.
Similar to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals were not one of the teams to jump right into the free agency frenzy that had social media feeds buzzing as the new NFL season officially kicked off. They’ve made a few moves since then that the Smiths see as being promising.
“I loved that Marvin Lewis finally broke out of his stupor and got down to work,” Tim said. “I haven’t been a huge fan of him as the coach and really didn’t expect he’d be back with the Bengals in 2018, but here we are.”
When I asked which players he was excited to see on the roster, Tim responded, “Cordy Glenn is a little exciting for me. I really don’t care what analysts say; Cedric Ogbuehi is not a tackle in the NFL. Sure, that’s where he got stuck, but he isn’t. With Andrew Whitworth gone, the Bengals had to address their offensive line. Glenn had a rough season last year, but I think he will give Cincinnati a big boost on that line.”
“It doesn’t hurt that he’ll join his former teammate at Georgia, Clint Boling,” added Tim. “They should work great together with previous chemistry.”
Mary was the first to pipe in when I asked if there were any players on the Bengals roster that let them, as fans, down during the 2017 NFL season. “Vontaze Burfict; the guy has got to go.” Surprised, since Burfict has never gotten love from me (as a Steelers fan), I asked her to elaborate. “Every time he does something ridiculous, it hurts the team. I wouldn’t be sad to see the team just part ways with him.”
Tim just shook his head and laughed. I put the same question to him. “I think Andy Dalton was my disappointing player of the season last year. He didn’t look the same. He didn’t play with the same spark, and now that A.J. McCarron has gone to Buffalo, I’m hoping that Lewis uses his head and finds someone besides Jeff Driskel and Matt Barkley – maybe in the draft – to boost that position. I wouldn’t be unhappy with Quinton Flowers.”
Tim and Mary were split as to who they were happy that the Bengals re-signed versus let go at the running back position. While Tim has thrown his hat in for Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard, Mary was disappointed with what she felt was a ‘Mixon Meltdown’ last season that led to Jeremy Hill’s departure to the New England Patriots this offseason. “Mixon acted like a spoiled child. I thought Hill was a better option.” To this, Tim threw his hands up, “She has never liked guys on the team that she thinks creates drama. She’s never been a big Adam Jones fan, either.”
“True,” Mary laughed. “He needs to clean up his act or get out of Cincy.”
As for the upcoming draft, Tim said he thought the defensive line should be a priority, especially in the middle. “Domata Peko proved to be a disappointment and Andrew Billings came back from a knee injury only to look flat. Then you had Ryan Glasgow and Pat Sims, who were unimpressive. I’m hearing that Lewis and the Bengals are interested in Vita Vea out of Washington. He’d be a guy that would make an immediate impact with the team, but whether he’ll be there when Cincinnati picks is questionable.”
When I asked if there was a player on the roster either of the Smiths thought would have a big 2018 season, it was Mary that spoke up first. “Tyler Eifert,” she blurted and Tim laughed. “I’m sorry, but he has always been a favorite player of mine and he has dealt with so many injuries that this may be his last season as a Bengal. I’d like to see him do well.”
“I would have to say John Ross,” Tim said. “I felt the Bengals held him back too much last season and they need to turn him loose this year. He has a ton of potential and would help solidify the receivers squad. I enjoy Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd, but Ross seems to have a bigger upside to me.”
Tim sees linebacker as another area of need in the draft and is keeping his fingers crossed that Preston Brown won’t be the only addition at that position. “With Burfict’s issues with the league, I think it’s time to get serious about linebacker depth. I’m not sure Leighton Vander Esch is the answer, although a lot of analysts have mocked him to the Bengals.”
Wrapping up the interview, I asked what the Smiths’ prediction for the Bengals’ win-loss record in 2018 would be and whether there was one team they’d really enjoy seeing Cincinnati beat this upcoming season. Mary was more optimistic than Tim, who feels the Bengals still have too many areas to address for them to be top contenders in 2018. Her prediction was that the Bengals would win ten games this season.
Tim says breaking even is more likely, as the team continues to move pieces. “I wish I was more optimistic,” he laughed, “but the Bengals really have a way to go before they snap out of the funk they’ve been in.”
The Smiths both agreed that they’d love to see Cincinnati give the Pittsburgh Steelers a run in the AFC North, but admitted that Pittsburgh looks to stay at the top of the division at least through 2018-19. “As long as the Bengals keep the (Baltimore) Ravens and (Cleveland) Browns from jumping ahead of them, I can rest a little easier,” Tim admitted. “And win or lose, I’ll never stop being a Bengals fan. Take that, Texas.”
Note: Where the Smiths often referred to players by their last names, first names were added to assist readers in clarifying player identity.