For a young team like Cincinnati, the preseason is much more important than a veteran-heavy, time-tested squad.
During their first offseason together, the burgeoning duo of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have had time to absorb more of Jay Gruden’s playbook, notoriously thick in traditional Gruden style.
With many players on the roster that have something to prove, during the preseason many role-playing spots up for grabs. The Bengals will be actively digging through the scrap heap during cutdown day, but as it stands now the roster fringes are iffy, to say the least.
Head coach Marvin Lewis, like many coaches, relies on his preseason depth chart for internal motivation as much as updating the general public. Still, for some position battles, the depth chart as it stands today could be very telling.
With every preseason game this year a inevitable triage for what was a healthy Bengals squad last season, the second and third stringers have suddenly become of great interest. Here are a few positions that could be of great interest to Bengals fans.
Although free-agent acquisition and nickname champion, BenJarvus Green-Ellis (aka The Law Firm), has returned to the practice field, Gruden has promised to use a running back by committee this season. He aims to take advantage of each player’s individual strengths in situational use.
Based on preseason play, the strengths are few and far between.
Long-time backup Bernard Scott has not seen any playing time due to injury, but throughout his career he has never capitalized on his brief flashes of brilliance. Third down specialist and third stringer Brian Leonard has struggled in his chance in a more traditional running back role, to the tune of 3.14 yards per carry this preseason.
With Green-Ellis featuring more pass-catching ability than his predecessor, Cedric Benson, Leonard could be searching for a new job if a back like Chris Ivory or Anthony Dixon is available. Fourth string back Cedric Peerman offers very little as a runner at 2.57 YPC this preseason, but his special-teams play could make him more valuable on the roster, if not on the depth chart.
In the completion at flanker, neither Brandon Tate nor Armon Binns have distinguished themselves. Tate’s position atop the depth chart, however, could be a strong indicator. Binns is rangy with outstanding hands, but Tate’s kick-returner mentality to gain yards after the catch might win out. He still struggles to gain separation on routes, however, hurting his YAC opportunities.
Jordan Shipley was sent packing, allowing Andrew Hawkins to grab the slot receiver job. Shipley was outstanding as a rookie, but has looked tentative and slow out of breaks in his route running after returning from a knee injury. Hawkins is explosive and dangerous in the open field, and could take over kick returner duties if Tate ends up starting.
Last on the depth chart on the split end position is Marvin Jones, arguably the most explosive wideout this preseason. Despite his acrobatic displays on his way to catching passes at an average of 22.2 yards each, with an outstanding back-shoulder touchdown catch.
Head coach Marvin Lewis wants Jones to become more consistent, as he has only caught five balls, and his positioning shows he still has something to prove.
Injuries have decimated what was expected to be a strength for the Bengals, with guard Travelle Wharton blowing out his knee and center Kyle Cook possibly out for the year with a foot injury. Clint Boling has claimed Wharton’s starting spot, but backup tackles Dennis Roland and Anthony Collins have spent some time at guard during the preseason.
Roland is an outstanding run blocker, but his slow feet allow speed rushers to blow past him. Perhaps he was always meant to play guard. Collins is not such a mauler, but is too talented to not try at guard.
In reaction to the loss of Cook, the Bengals signed center Jeff Faine today. The long-time veteran is currently listed at third behind rookie free agent Trevor Robinson, but his experience in similar West Coast schemes could elevate him to a position in the opening day starting lineup.
Although Pat Sims has spent the preseason on the PUP list, his presence was felt when he went down for the year last season. The rush defense suffered noticeably, including giving up 221 yards in a Week 17 debacle against the Ravens.
Third round selection Brandon Thompson is another massive man on the nose in the same mold, and is outstanding at neutralizing two blockers at once. Sims is expected to begin the season still on the PUP list, so Thompson is the de facto second stringer at the moment. What his role is when Sims returns remains to be seen.
The Bengals’ first selection in this year’s draft, Dre Kirkpatrick, finally returned from a minor knee injury only to suffer a setback and return to the sidelines. After missing the majority of camp and OTAs, the chances of Kirkpatrick contributing this season seem slim to none.
That is good news for Terrence Newman, reunited with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer who coached him to his best years in Dallas. Newman has been up and down this preseason, but with his experience and Nate Clements playing some strong safety in nickel and dime packages, he looks like a lock to stick around as a third corner.
Although another free agent signing, Jason Allen, has also spent most of the preseason injured, he still remains ahead of Adam Jones behind Leon Hall at right cornerback. Jones has said all the right things this offseason, but his lengthy injury history continues to hold him back. Unless he secures the job as a punt returner, his chances of sticking on the roster appear to be hinging on his impending return this week.