I've returned from Los Angeles and a productive four days on the west coast, ready to get back at it for the opening week of the NFL.
The highlight of the trip was the season-opening win by the Bearcats, which I wrote about for The Athletic. I thought this tweet did a good job on encapsulating things...
Look, no one is saying the UC football is "back" just because the Bearcats won at the Rose Bowl. UCLA's team is a far cry from what Chip Kelly will likely eventually win with - they're young, and extremely limited at a number of skill spots - but to fully understand the magnitude of what UC did on Saturday night, you do have to realize what the last two years have been like, and if you watched the game, you saw a team that looks drastically different than anything either Tommy Tuberville or Luke Fickell rolled out onto the field over the last two seasons.
Saturday was about a look. A look that was faster, more physical, and better prepared than anything UC looked like in 2016 and 2017. There's still a very, very long way to go for this program to get to where it needs to be, but nothing could get done until the coaching staff changed the way the on-field product looked. Saturday night was a step in the right direction, and it helped that they actually won the game.
Aside from the UC game, the other highlights were three very well-played baseball games at Dodger Stadium, and an appreciation for morning kickoff times that builds every time I visit the west coast.
I like rolling out of bed at 9am and seeing a football game.
Here's some stuff...
*The preseason ended, training camp concluded, cut-down day happened, and we can finally focus on what's important. We spend a lot of time in August discussing the minute details of the roster, and sifting through the lower reaches of the depth chart. So much so, that once the real games begin, a lot of it seems inconsequential.
For all of the ups and downs of the preseason - and there were more ups than downs - the main themes of this season haven't changed....
Can the Bengals block?
Can the Bengals rush the quarterback?
Will they be healthy?
I feel far, far better about the answer to question number two. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that with a potentially devastating pass rush, the Bengals have finally found, and can establish, an identity.
I feel good about this team, mainly because I like the potential for this defense. I pause when asked if they can be really, really good this season because I'm not fully convinced that the O-line is going to be markedly improved and I'm concerned about the lack of depth at corner.
Plus, there's a little too much reliance on youth to really believe that 2018 can be The Year.
But the Bengals are a better team today than they were when last season ended. And while I'll wait until Thursday to go into full-on prediction, I can absolutely see this bunch playing in January.
*Know what the best part about being at Dodger Stadium was? Attending three games that mattered, with fans hanging on nearly ever pitch, reacting to even the smallest developments, and being a part of the environment that accompanies a pennant race.
I miss going to games like that.
*Colin Kaepernick is being used to sell shoes, because the people at Nike believe that the former QB will help business more than hurt it. That is nothing else in play here.
*More people in LA asked me about our pro soccer team than asked me about our pro football and baseball teams combined.
Here's some other stuff....
Joey Votto. Still the best ever.
Like small blurbs about Bengals players? There's one here.
This is a good question.
I've gotta imagine this guy is echoing sentiments that others would like to share.
Like geeky basketball stuff? You'll like this.
Radio Show: Lots of football on tap today. Paul Dehner from the Cincinnati Enquirer in his usual Tuesday spot at 4:04 to talk about the Bengals. Highlights from Luke Fickell's press conference. And hopefully, a UC fan or two checks in. That'd be nice. Join me at 3:05 on ESPN1530.