CINCINNATI — Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick looked around the locker room on the first day of the Bengals’ voluntary workouts and noted that not all that much had changed.
“Certain new faces, but it’s still kind of the same team,” Kirkpatrick said.
A third straight losing season prompted the Bengals to finally end coach Marvin Lewis’ run at 16 seasons without a playoff victory. Zac Taylor and a youthful coaching staff were brought aboard and handed a team closely resembling the one that finished at the bottom of the AFC North last season.
The draft will be an important chance to fill some big holes overall, and maybe even pull a big surprise in the first round when the Bengals pick No. 11 overall.
Cincinnati’s needs are obvious. With Vontaze Burfict gone after a subpar season, the Bengals have to get a starting linebacker. They also could use an offensive tackle and a defensive end early in the draft. At some point, they’ll get a tight end, a running back and yes, another quarterback for depth behind Andy Dalton, who’s entering his ninth season.
Unless the Bengals pull a surprise and take a quarterback in the first round, their draft will be more about filling holes than going in a different direction with the roster. Most of the changes will be in the playbooks, not on the depth chart.
“We’re going on a new journey,” Kirkpatrick said.
Some things to watch with the Bengals during the three days of the draft:
When Lewis became head coach in 2003, the Bengals took Carson Palmer first overall and let him learn behind Jon Kitna for a season. While it’s unlikely the Bengals will have a chance for one of the top quarterbacks at No. 11, it will be interesting to see what owner Mike Brown decides if, say, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins is still available at that spot. Most likely, the Bengals will end up taking a quarterback on the third day of the draft for depth behind Dalton and Jeff Driskel.
Cincinnati’s most noteworthy offseason move was releasing its most volatile player. Burfict had another suspension, more injuries and a subpar seventh season. Preston Brown and Nick Vigil return, but the Bengals need another linebacker.
Either LSU’s Devin White or Michigan’s Devin Bush could move into a starting role immediately, and at least one of them will likely be available at the No. 11 pick.
Oh that line
The Bengals gave right tackle Bobby Hart a three-year deal and added guard John Miller from the Bills, but the offensive line still needs work. They’ll look for a tackle in the early rounds. They’re also in the market for another defensive end. The line struggled to get consistent pressure last season, when the defense finished among the worst in franchise history .
Tight end tipping point
The Bengals have been at their best offensively when Tyler Eifert is healthy. He set a club record for tight ends with 13 touchdown catches in 2015, the most recent time Cincinnati reached the playoffs. He’s been limited to 14 games the past three years by various back and ankle injuries.
Eifert returns on a one-year deal, and C.J. Uzomah got a three-year deal after leading Cincinnati’s tight ends last season. The Bengals will add another tight end at some point.
The Bengals lean heavily on their coaching staff to scout draft picks. They had to assemble a coaching staff late because Taylor was with the Rams through the Super Bowl. The draft will provide some insights into how the new coaching staff evaluates players and how it’s moving ahead with new coordinators on both offense and defense.