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Bengals mull position papers

Posted Aug 18, 2013

There didn't appear to be much separation Saturday in the most interesting roster battles.


Shawn Williams

Just another sign that a lot of people outside Paul Brown Stadium think the Bengals roster is deep:

The top row in the PBS press box reserved for scouts from other teams looked to be pretty jammed during Saturday night's warmups before the 27-19 victory over the Titans and some teams even sent two as clubs prepare for the next major dates on the NFL calendar.

Teams have to cut to 75 players by 4 p.m. Aug. 27 and pare their final rosters to 53 by 4 p.m. Aug. 31.

Which means the flight to Dallas for Saturday's game (8 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) is still going to be full because the Bengals have 87 players. Plus, Pro Bowlers A.J. Green and Andrew Whitworth, as well as starters Michael Johnson and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, are expected to get their most extended looks of the preseason before going pretty much on the shelf in the Aug. 29 finale against the Colts at PBS.

There didn't appear to be much separation Saturday in the most interesting roster battles. Running back, linebacker and safety remain murky, largely because of the excellence of the backs, the indifferent play of the backers, and a wrist injury to starting safety George Iloka combined with rookie safety Shawn Williams learning on the job.

What was clearly on display against the Titans is that the Bengals are much more versatile in the passing game, attentive to third down, and need to be stouter protecting quarterback Andy Dalton on dropback passes. And while the defense didn't offer a scintillating performance (the backups didn't play nearly as well as they did in Atlanta), the first group still kept the Titans out of the end zone during the first half in a workmanlike effort.

It's just difficult to project anything out a game where the most snaps a player took on offense was 55 percent of the 64 plays, the team's best defensive player (tackle Geno Atkins) played just 31 percent of the snaps, and its best player (Green) didn't play at all.

And, yes, the defense gave up 53 percent of its third-down conversions. But the first unit was OK (4-for-9 without its two starting ends) and Graeter's August flavor should be Mike Zimmer's Vanilla Nickel Package.

What's it all mean? Another day closer to cuts.

A look at the roster as the Bengals prepare for Monday's last public practice of the year at 5:30 p.m. at Springboro High School.

(NFL years in parenthesis)

QUARTERBACKS

Josh Johnson (5), John Skelton (4), Andy Dalton (3), Zac Robinson (2).

Dalton looks pretty good when he has time, doesn't he? The Bengals were 3-for-4 on third down when he was in there with the line doing a great job after the disastrous first series. The O-line gave him enough time to hit all three of his third-down throws and his very pretty two-yard TD fade to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu should remind people that Dalton has the most red-zone TD passes without a pick (35) of all active quarterbacks.

Skelton took the field before Johnson on Saturday and while he led the Bengals to a field goal with competent play, Johnson directed the offense to 10 more points in the second half after putting up 17 in the first half in Atlanta, so he's making more things happen. Johnson is quicker with his feet and the offense. But Skelton, with a 110.7 passer rating on 15 passes is showing he should be somewhere if not here.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Brandon Tate (5), A.J. Green (3), Andrew Hawkins (3), Ryan Whalen (3), Dane Sanzenbacher (3), Marvin Jones (2), Mohamed Sanu (2), Taveon Rogers (2), Cobi Hamilton (R), Roy Roundtree (R), Jheranie Boyd (R).

If it indeed does happen and Hawkins (ankle) goes on injured reserve-recall Aug. 31 as head coach Marvin Lewis has indicated, who are the Nos. 5 and 6 receivers? When the Bengals go three wides it is Green and Jones with Sanu in the slot and it looks like Tate makes it because all he's done is make plays at receiver while the club tries to find his successor at punt and kick return.

Hamilton, a sixth-round pick, poked his head into the derby with a 30-yard catch but he would still seem to have a ways to go to catch Whalen and Sanzenbacher. The fifth and sixth guys have to play special teams and while Whalen and Sanzenbacher each played 22 percent of the special teams snaps Saturday night, according to the NFL, Hamilton played none. But that's not because he's bad on special teams, it's just that he played a lot more offense Saturday than he did the week before, when he did play special teams. But Whalen and Sanzenbacher have a combined four years of regular-season experience on him.

(If Hawkins goes on IR-recall, that means he'd miss the first half of the season. He would be eligible to return to practice if he has been on IR for at least six weeks from the date he is placed on Reserve. He is eligible to return to the active list if he has been on IR for at least eight weeks from the date he is placed on IR.)

RUNNING BACKS

BenJarvus Green-Ellis (6), Bernard Scott (5), Cedric Peerman (4), Daniel Herron (2), Giovani Bernard (R), Rex Burkhead (R).

Good luck cutting it to four. BJGE and Bernard are locks, but Peerman is helping lead special teams while Daniel Herron and Rex Burkhead are gouging it for 6.5 and 5.5 yards per carry, respectively. On Saturday, Herron reversed field for a 40-yard TD run and Burkhead proved running backs coach Hue Jackson's point that he plays faster than his 40 when he jetted around the right edge for 22 yards.

So what do the Bengals do? Herron had a nice run on special teams at the end of last year, but Peerman plays the most important positions other than the three specialists as the quarterback of the punt and punt return teams. Burkhead is Peerman's backup at those spots, but would he be ready to do it Sept. 8?

With Scott still out, he's looking at PUP.

One of Cincinnati's parlor games for this upcoming season? Guessing who gets more total snaps between BJGE and Bernard.

FULLBACKS

Chris Pressley (5), John Conner (4), Orson Charles (3).

Thanks to Hard Knocks, we know where Jackson stands on this thing. Last week he lit up Charles by indicating Conner was passing him in their competition and Saturday didn’t provide anything definitive. They each played 10 snaps but didn't stand out either way. The Bengals are putting Charles out there for versatility reasons while coveting Conner for his blocking and yet Conner has one catch and Charles has none.

It looks like two guys from the group of Charles, Conner and tight end Alex Smith can make it. Pressley (knee) looks to be ticketed to PUP.

TIGHT ENDS

Alex Smith (9), Richard Quinn (5), Jermaine Gresham (4), Bryce Davis (1), Tyler Eifert (R).

The coaches like Smith because, in the Reggie Kelly mold, he can block large men as well as catch. But he didn't play until Saturday because of a sore knee and he worked 34 percent of the snaps without a catch. The competition continues to evolve.

So does Gresham with ferocious blocking in the running game that has helped spur the running backs to a 4.3-yard average on 31 first-half carries. He's come out so crisply that Gruden wondered aloud after Saturday's game if there was a better blocking tight end in the league.

Eifert seemed to be more relaxed in the passing game than he did in his debut and his 25-yard catch from Skelton makes him one of seven Bengals with at least one catch of at least 20 yards.  

"He caught a seam ball, which was excellent; no fear up the middle," Gruden said. "He caught another ball out in the flat, which was good. He had a screen pass in the flat that got called back so we tried to get him a few touches. I’m not worried about Tyler at all."

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT Andrew Whitworth (8), T Anthony Collins (6), C Kyle Cook (6), T Dennis Roland (6), G Mike Pollak (6), RT Andre Smith (5), G Clint Boling (3), G Kevin Zeitler (2), C Trevor Robinson (2), G Otis Hudson (2); T Tanner Hawkinson (R), T Reid Fragel (R), C T.J. Johnson (R), T Jason Weaver (R), G John Sullen (R).

After a horrific first series that gave up a sack and strip of Dalton, the line settled down. The right side that got victimized ended up being dominant in the running game with Gresham teaming with tackle Andre Smith and guard Kevin Zeitler. Center Kyle Cook plays better the more snaps he gets. With Robinson and Pollak, would the Bengals keep two backup centers? Hawkinson (ankle) could be back as soon as this week but it certainly looks like he'll be ready for the opener, which means he and Anthony Collins would probably be the first two guys off the bench. Since both can play tackle, the last two guys would figure to be interior players but this thing has to play out.

DEFENSIVE LINE

E Robert Geathers (10), NT Domata Peko (8), E Wallace Gilberry (6), RE Michael Johnson (5), LE Carlos Dunlap (4), DT Geno Atkins (4), LE Dontay Moch (2), DT Devon Still (2), NT Brandon Thompson (2), RE DeQuin Evans (1), DT Vaughn Meatoga (1), RE Margus Hunt (R), NT Terence Stephens (R).

The D-linemen are playing for a practice squad spot since the Bengals have their nine at this position. And it looks like the linemen are still trying to separate themselves. One thing about Moch, though. Whenever he plays on the edge he always seems to get there at least once and he had a sack again Saturday night. He's yet to play in a regular-season game, but in six preseason games dating back to last year when he returned to his college position at rush end, he's got 4.5 sacks.

With Cincinnati's starting ends not playing and the tackles only playing a third of the time, the future got a lot of work Saturday. Second-year tackle Devon Still played the second-most snaps on defense with 68 percent and rookie end Margus Hunt the fourth-most with 49 percent. Still flashed here and there with a sack, two tackles for loss, and quarterback hit, but the Bengals are still looking for more consistency. Hunt didn't look as active as he was in the first game and the stat sheet had him for one tackle in 37 snaps.

LINEBACKERS

James Harrison (10), Rey Maualuga (5), Vincent Rey (4), Vontaze Burfict (2), Emmanuel Lamur (2), Brandon Joiner (1), J.K. Schaffer (1), Sean Porter (R), Jordan Campbell (R), Jayson DiManche (R), Bruce Taylor (R).

The coaches think Maualuga is playing well and he made a play early Saturday he might not have made last year when he hauled down Titans speedster Chris Johnson on a stretch play for just a one-yard gain. With Rey (knee), Lamur (hamstring) and Porter (shoulder) out, it didn't look like the backups made enough of an impact to change the situation for the last two spots, which remains cloudy. The stock of Rey, one of the special teams leaders, may have risen even though he didn't play. The Bengals are trying to decide if Porter needs season-ending surgery for a torn labrum or to let him play with a harness.

SECONDARY

CB Terence Newman (11), CB Leon Hall (7), CB Adam Jones (7), S Reggie Nelson (7), CB Brandon Ghee (4), S Taylor Mays (4); S Jeromy Miles (4), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (2), S George Iloka (2),  S Tony Dye (1), CB Chris Lewis-Harris (1), CB Shaun Prater (1), S Shawn Williams (R), CB Terrence Brown (R), CB Onterio McCalebb (R).

Iloka didn't play Saturday with what looks like an injured wrist in a cast-like apparatus and indications are he'll miss the last two preseason games but be ready for the opener. Whether he'll start is another question. Williams keeps showing progress and on Saturday he led the defense with 53 snaps and 10 tackles compared to Mays's four tackles in 41 snaps.

While Williams is on track to start at some point, it would be hard to see the Bengals throwing him in early in the year when guys like Mays and Iloka have been in the system longer. And they like Mays's size and speed on special teams, where he played 41 percent of the snaps Saturday.

How many corners and safeties? With the uncertainty of Adam Jones's situation with the NFL, the Bengals will probably have to keep six corners. That could mean four safeties, perhaps putting Jeromy Miles, one of the special teams leaders, firmly on the bubble.

It appears that Prater and Lewis-Harris are battling for the sixth spot and no one seems to have a clear edge. Prater and Kirkpatrick didn't play as well Saturday as they've practiced and while Lewis-Harris got beat on a double move for a TD, he saw some quality time on special teams with seven snaps. Prater has looked good in the slot much of camp, but this one is under construction.

SPECIALISTS

K Mike Nugent (9), P Kevin Huber (5), LS Clark Harris (5), K-P Quinn Sharp (R).

Nugent is ready. He came out of mothballs on kickoffs and put three of his four shots deep into the end zone, two for touchbacks and one that got run back even though it was five yards deep. He also hit his only field goal, a 38-yarder. Sharp hammered two more touchbacks but didn't get a chance to show the mob of scouts a field-goal try.

McCalebb (34) and Rogers (24) made their bids for the practice squad with two of the club's three longest kick returns of the brief season.

 

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