When the Bengals face the Green Bay Packers on Monday night, all eyes will be on the surgically-repaired left knee of Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer, who will make his 2006 preseason debut and attempt to take the biggest step yet in returning from a pair of torn ligaments.
But there is another big debut, literally, on which the Cincinnati coaches will focus, and which may help determine how well much the Bengals' run defense improves this season.
After spending the past month on the physically unable to perform list, as he worked to shed the excess weight with which he almost always reports to training camp, veteran defensive tackle Sam Adams is finally ready to get back on the field. And that might mean that the Bengals, who have never statistically ranked higher than 20th in the league against the run under coach Marvin Lewis, might finally be prepared to remedy their defense's most glaring deficiency.
"He's such a great athlete," said Lewis, referring to Adams, with whom he once worked, and won a Super Bowl, while in Baltimore. "He's a big, strong person, very quick and very strong, and he makes great use of his hands."
How strong Adams is has never been disputed. How big he was when he reported for camp, after signing a three-year contract with the Bengals as an unrestricted free agent this spring, is an internal team matter and tantamount to a national security document. But Adams was listed at 350 pounds on the camp roster, and it is probably fair to characterize that as understatement.
There is no overstating, though, what Adams could mean to a Bengals defense that, versus the run, ranked 25th in 2003, 26th in 2004, and 20th in 2005. Those numbers are probably especially galling to Lewis, who earned his stripes in the NFL as a top-shelf defensive coordinator, and who knows that the first priority for any defense is stopping the run.
Even at 33, and entering his 13th NFL season, Adams is still regarded as one of the premier interior players in the league, a space-eater who devours blockers and allows linebackers to flow to the ball. Adams might not make a lot of tackles, but he seems to make a difference wherever he goes, and the Bengals represent his fifth different team.
It is a team that has attempted, over the last three years, to land a big-time, wide-bodied inside defender as an "anchor"-type player against the run. A three-time Pro Bowl performer, Adams figures to team with John Thornton, signed as a free agent in 2003, to give Cincinnati its best tackle tandem in a long time.
"We're lucky to have him here, and now [that he's in shape], he'll prove he's worth his weight," Lewis said last week, drawing laughs.
A key for the Bengals will be to maximize Adams' effectiveness by limiting the number of snaps he plays. That should not be a problem, given the team's depth at the tackle spot.
In stints with Seattle (1994-99), Baltimore (2000-01), Oakland (2002) and Buffalo (2003-05), the former Texas A&M star has 438 tackles, 42 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, five recoveries, three interceptions and 32 pass deflections in 179 games.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.