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Lewis lines them up

Posted Aug 6, 2012


Taylor Mays

One grizzled NFL assistant uttered it long before Jack Nicholson bellowed it into posterity on the big screen.

"You want answers?" said the exasperated coach to the scribe that had asked one too many questions. "There are no answers."

Certainly not now. Not 10 days into training camp. Not the day Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis released his depth chart. Not four days before the preseason opener.

Indeed, it may be the most reluctant depth chart Lewis has ever released in his 10 seasons.

For one thing it's probably the most competitive roster he's had and for another the Bengals haven't done very much to move beyond what unfolded in the spring. Four live plays for each the first and second teams on Saturday and basically a seven-on-seven in shoulder pads on Sunday isn't much to go on.

But that all changes in Friday's 7:30 p.m. preseason opener against the Jets at Paul Brown Stadium (11:35 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) when the coaches can get a much better feel on the guys that are going to make this team based on special teams. And if there are 42 players locks or close to it, that leaves just 11 spots that seem to be open.

But who is ahead of whom?

That's why they play the games.

But here's a look at how Lewis has lined them up with (years of experience):

QUARTERBACKS: Andy Dalton (2), Bruce Gradkowski (7), Zac Robinson (2), Tyler Hansen (R)

The Bengals kept two last year and Gradkowski is the favorite to back up Dalton again, although Robinson has looked sharp at times and he'll get a ton of snaps this month. Hansen apparently doesn't have a major injury, but he may not be ready Friday. Missing the mock game is damaging enough, but missing a preseason game is tough on a rookie quarterback. That's what they live on. Either way, Robinson is going to be on national display against Tim Tebow in a few days.

WIDE RECEIVERS: A.J. Green (2), Brandon Tate (4), Andrew Hawkins (2), Armon Binns (1), Ryan Whalen (2), Jordan Shipley (3), Mohamed Sanu (R), Vidal Hazelton (1), Kashif Moore (R), Marvin Jones (R), Justin Hilton (R)

OK, figure six make it and the Bengals aren't going to cut their rookie draft picks, Sanu and Jones. It's been tough for Sanu to show his strengths (strength, blocking, physicality) without pads. Jones has flashed enough that he could put heat on Tate and Binns outside. With Shipley slowly coming back from his torn ACL, Hawkins and Whalen have shown to be very reliable in the slot.

But all this means nothing until they block full speed, make an adjustment at the line, or can catch one over the middle under the lights.

LEFT TACKLE: Andrew Whitworth (7) Anthony Collins (5)

Whitworth bids for his first Pro Bowl and Collins is the first guy off the bench at either left or right tackle.

LEFT GUARD: Travelle Wharton (9), Otis Hudson (2), Trevor Robinson (R)

Wharton, the free agent from Carolina, is adjusting to his surroundings. Hudson and Robinson, the free agent from Notre Dame, look to be in the mix for one of the two backup guard-center spots or the practice squad and both figure to get plenty of chances in the preseason.

CENTER: Kyle Cook (5), Reggie Stephens (2)

Stephens is going to have to show he can play guard in the preseason.

RIGHT GUARD: Kevin Zeitler (R), Clint Boling (2), Matt Murphy (1)

Boling has had an impressive camp and he could very well be the first guard or center off the bench. The coaches like the way he improved his strength and flexibility during the offseason.

RIGHT TACKLE: Andre Smith (4),  Dennis Roland (5), Matthew O'Donnell (1)

Hard to see Roland and O'Donnell both making it since they are each massive 6-9 bodies. O'Donnell could go to the practice squad again.

Usually the Bengals, and most teams, keep nine O-linemen. If you get to seven with the starters, plus Collins, and Boling, you've got to find another guard and another tackle.

TIGHT END: Jermaine Gresham (3), Donald Lee (10), Colin Cochart (2), Orson Charles (R)

Lee continues to be a very solid player in his role as a good blocker and competent catcher. The Bengals are looking at Cochart as mainly a blocker, but they're looking for him to be more consistent. It's doubtful they'd cut the fourth-rounder Charles, who is still more receiver than blocker, but the Bengals think he's got potential to develop into a good two-way player. Rookie free-agent Bryce Davis got a lot of snaps there over the weekend and had a 27-yard catch in Saturday's brief scrimmage. But Lewis listed him Monday at only backup long snapper, probably because the Bengals are going to keep only three tight ends.

RUNNING BACK: BenJarvus Green-Ellis (5), Bernard Scott (4), Brian Leonard (6), Cedric Peerman (3), Aaron Brown (3), Daniel Herron (R), Jourdan Brooks (R)

The Bengals are only going to keep four and the first four are tough to move because of the work Leonard and Peerman do on third down and special teams, respectively. Scott has his arm in a cast, but indications are if he misses any time in the regular season, it won't be very much. Brown could make a run if he shows up on special teams, like he did Saturday as a gunner that covered a punt by knocking it back out of the end zone to the 5. Brown has a little more upfield burst and a make-you-miss element that Leonard and Peerman might not have, but those two guys are highly valued. Herron is supposed to be a durable and reliable grind-it-out back, but his hamstring issues are keeping him off the practice field.   

FULLBACK: Chris Pressley (4), James Develin (1)

The Bengals are only going to keep one and after letting him get away once, they don't look like they're ready to jettison Pressley just yet again.

LEFT END: Carlos Dunlap (3), Robert Geathers (9), Micah Johnson (1)

Lewis traditionally doesn't let injuries impact his depth chart, so Dunlap ahead of Geathers raises some eyebrows. But Geathers is going to miss most, if not all, of the preseason with last Friday's knee scope. The Bengals have switched the 6-2, 265-pound Johnson from linebacker to end and Lewis has indicated he's looking for some big backers that can play end and provide some versatility. That way they can keep four ends and Dunlap and Geathers are the two on the left side.

NOSE TACKLE: Domata Peko (7), Pat Sims (5), Brandon Thompson (R)

Lewis has Sims behind Peko even though he has yet to be cleared to practice. But that's because he's not going to give a rookie anything. But the Bengals won’t cut Thompson. Sims seems to hold his own fate in his hands. If he comes back and plays the run like he did last year before he got hurt, that may make them keep nine D-linemen instead of just eight.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Geno Atkins (3), Devon Still (R), Nick Hayden (3), Vaughn Meatoga (R)

The Bengals are not going to cut the second-rounder Still, either, and he has shown the ability to provide some pass rush inside. Hayden has looked good, so there are enough of these guys that they may try to keep nine even if two cornerbacks go on season-ending injured reserve.

RIGHT END: Michael Johnson (4), Jamaal Anderson (6), DeQuin Evans (1)

Johnson and Anderson round out the four ends. Lewis had some good things to say about Anderson after the mock game and his versatility. He can sink inside to tackle and provide some work inside if needed. Evans is fun to watch. A try-hard guy with good speed, he worked at linebacker on the practice squad last year.

Four ends and five tackles? Or four ends and four tackles? Depends. Depends on how Sims and Hayden play and if the Bengals need to keep extra defensive backs. One of those no answers. Yet.

SAM LINEBACKER: Manny Lawson (7), Dan Skuta (4), Dontay Moch (2)

Lawson and Skuta are two of the six backers the Bengals figure to keep. Skuta can also play the middle and is relentless on special teams. Moch is one of those big backers Lewis wants to try at end, but he's going to miss the first month of the regular season on NFL suspension and won't be on the final 53-man roster.

MIDDLE LINEBAKCER: Rey Maualuga (4), Roddrick Muckelroy (3), Vontaze Burfict (R)

The guy who ends up backing up Maualuga, Muckelroy or Burfict, is the guy that plays best on special teams. Muckelroy has come back strong from his torn Achilles that wiped out all last season and he mixed it up on the goal line Saturday. He's not a stranger to special teams. As a rookie he was third on the club with nine special teams tackles. But this promises to be one of the marquee roster battles. Burfict is a powerful 250 pounds who came up with a pick Sunday.

WILL LINEBACKER: Thomas Howard (6), Vincent Rey (2), Emmanuel Lamur (R), Grant Hunter (R)

Howard had a big weekend and Lewis is raving about what a great camp he's having after his very solid Bengals debut last season. The guy backing him up is either going to show up on special teams, or there will be a guy on the waiver wire at the final cutdown.

LEFT CORNERBACK: Nate Clements (12), Terence Newman (10), Brandon Ghee (3), Dre Kirkpatrick (R), Shaun Prater (R), T.J. Heath (2)

The fear is that two guys, Ghee (wrist) and Prater (knee), are going to end up on season-ending injured reserve. But if Kirkpartrick (leg) can get back on the practice field in late August, maybe the Bengals can keep the usual 10 DBs and not have to go heavy with 11, and that would allow them to keep nine defensive linemen. The usual ratio is six corners and four safeties and the six corners would be all those first rounders, such as Clements, Newman and Kirkpatrick.

RIGHT CORNERBACK: Leon Hall (6), Jason Allen (7), Adam Jones (6), Chris Lewis-Harris (R), Taveon Rogers (R)

Hall, Allen and Jones are the other three first-rounders, but Jones has to stay on the field. He's been nicked by hamstring pulls and tweaks all spring and summer. Given that he's going to be getting some work at punt and kick return, Jones has to be durable. If he's still iffy after a couple of preseason games and Ghee and Prater are done this year, do the Bengals have to go get another guy? Who would have thought that looking at the teeming corner depth chart coming into camp just 10 days ago?

STRONG SAFETY: Taylor Mays (3), Jeromy Miles (3), Tony Dye (R)

Mays has done a good job in coverage, which is his biggest knock, and both Mays and Miles are diligent guys that know the defense. But do we know if they can replace Chris Crocker? Not now, but the Bengals should have a pretty good idea after the Aug. 30 preseason finale in Indianapolis.

FREE SAFETY: Reggie Nelson (6), Robert Sands (2), George Iloka (R) 

After Nelson, which three safeties make it? Iloka and Dye have flashed the typical first-year inconsistencies. Sands gets his second preseason shot after playing just one regular-season game last year. Miles can play corner in a pinch. Mays has been running downfield with A.J. Green. Let's see if he can do the same with Santonio Holmes early Friday.

PUNTER: Kevin Huber (4)

KICKER: Mike Nugent (8), Thomas Weber (1)

The Bengals didn't make Nugent the franchise player to eat $2.7 million and cut him. Plus, Nugent has outkicked Weber at pretty much every turn, although Weber nailed a 48-yarder Sunday night, along with a 29-yarder, while Nugent had just two PATs. But on Saturday, Nugent was 4-for-4, with makes from 46 and 52, and Weber was 2-for-4 with misses from 46 and 52.

LONG SNAPPER: Clark Harris (4), Bryce Davis (R)

Davis may be a developmental guy. It's hard to argue with Harris's 395 playable snaps since he rescued the Bengals from disaster in October 2009.

PUNT RETURN: Brandon Tate (4), Andrew Hawkins (2), Adam Jones (6), Marvin Jones (R)

This is just the setup for the Jets game and don't expect Tate to get a lot of looks because special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons already knows what he can do after Tate set single-season Bengals records for returns and yards last season. Adam Jones, who popped three for TDs in the last year he was fully healthy in 2006, may not be ready to do it as he recovers from his hamstring issues.

But Simmons does want to see Hawkins and the rookie Jones. He's been intrigued by Hawkins's quickness even though the only two punts he's returned since high school were last year in preseason. But one went for 32 yards.

It depends on so many factors and one of them is how many snaps from scrimmage do they play. As Simmons will say, his depth chart for returners figures to change 10 times in the 35 days between now and the opener in Baltimore.

KICK RETURN: Brandon Tate (4), Andrew Hawkins (2), Adam Jones (6), Marvin Jones (R)

Tate was more effective returning punts than kicks last season, but how much of either can he do if he's one of the primary receivers? Hawkins hasn't done much of it and returned two in last year's preseason for a 26-yard average.

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