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Roster seasoning sizzles

Posted Aug 30, 2014

The Bengals ended up with the best of both worlds as the core of a young team that has made it to three straight playoffs begins to mix with some new blood. In 2012 they were the youngest AFC team to make the playoffs with an average NFL years of experience at 4.08. It rose to 4.22 last year and is now at 4.39. But the average age dipped ever so slightly, from 26.4 years old last year to 25.96 in 2014.

Starting SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur is one of those guys that keeps the Bengals a little more stable but a little bit younger.

Updated: 6:15 p.m.

When the waiver wire pulled back from Paul Brown Stadium Saturday after final cuts, the Bengals added only 13 new faces to the roster that won the 2013 AFC North and that stands as a veritable status quo in the revolving door of the NFL.

And three of the veterans were here last year on injured reserve in starting SAM linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and backup linebacker Sean Porter and the practice squad in backup guard-center T.J. Johnson. Speaking to their depth, the other three veterans _ quarterback Jason Campbell, tackle Marshall Newhouse, defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi _ are backups. The only undrafted player out of the seven rookies that made it is Stanford fullback/tight end Ryan Hewitt.

The Bengals ended up with the best of both worlds as the core of a young team that has made it to three straight playoffs begins to mix with some new blood.

In 2012 they were the youngest AFC team to make the playoffs with an average NFL years of experience at 4.08. It rose to 4.22 last year and is now at 4.39. But the average age dipped ever so slightly, from 26.4 years old last year to 25.96 in 2014.

Things could change Sunday when the Bengals have at the waiver wire Saturday night, but in the last couple of years they’ve chosen to back off and stick with their own roster.

“I think we have another very hard-nosed, hard-working group of men. I think that plays well,” said head coach Marvin Lewis at the end of the day on a conference call. “I think we have to understand that. We have a couple of our young guys right now that are injured, but they’ll get back real quick and make us even stronger. But going into the year we have to feel good about where we are. I’m excited about where we are and I think they understand what’s ahead.”

Along with Porter (hamstring), the Bengals won’t have for a couple of weeks wide receiver Marvin Jones (foot), running back Rex Burkhead (knee) and maybe not rookie wide receiver James Wright (concussion).

Wright, a seventh-rounder out of LSU who didn’t have a catch last season, made the club on the strength of some big-time practices catching the ball after sitting out Thursday’s pre-season finale. Cobi Hamilton, last year’s sixth-round pick who spent his rookie year on the practice squad, had the edge coming in but he didn’t play well in the pre-season games and doesn’t do what Wright does on special teams.

Even though Wright picked up four penalties in the kicking game this preseason, the Bengals think he can be a factor right now on teams and eventually on offense.

“James has done a great job in practices as an outside receiver and every opportunity he’s had on special teams he’s done some good things,” Lewis said. “He’s still learning to do it completely right.

“We just like what his upside is and his athleticism.”

“Upside and athleticism,” is why the Bengals went with seven linebackers on their final 53-man roster and that meant the termination of veterans Danieal Manning and Will Svitek.

Manning, a nine-year safety, and Svitek, a nine-year offensive tackle, were picked up in the spring but became casualties when the Bengals opted to keep just nine defensive backs and nine offensive linemen.

In a nod to special teams, the Bengals kept three young linebackers behind their top four even though they struggled at times from scrimmage.

“We’ve kept (seven) 70 percent of the time I’ve been here,” Lewis said. “They play on special teams. Most times they’re up and active for the games and we play against 3-4 teams. They have more linebackers than we do, so it’s good for us to have more linebackers up and active and ready to play on Sundays.”

The sophomore Porter, fifth-round pick Marquis Flowers, and second-year special teams stalwart Jayson DiManche are all viewed as athletic and having potential. Porter makes it even though he has played just three preseason games in his career because of injury and it’s believed he’ll miss a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury that iced him early Thursday night.

They opted to keep just five cornerbacks and all are first-rounders:  Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and rookie Darqueze Dennard. Taylor Mays, a nickel linebacker, was kept at safety with special teams ace Shawn Williams and starters Reggie Nelson and George Iloka.

The Bengals cut two members of the draft class of 2012 that were selected fairly early, second-rounder Devon Still and fourth-rounder Orson Charles. It’s the first time two players drafted in the first four rounds didn’t make it into a third season since third-rounder Chase Coffman and fourth-rounder Jonathan Luigs in 2009.

But that ’09 class also yielded four starters in Andre Smith, Rey Maualuga, Michael Johnson, and Kevin Huber. And the ’12 class has produced three Opening Day starters for ’14 in Iloka, Kevin Zeitler and Mohamed Sanu.

The cutting of Still clearly had an impact on Lewis as they tapped Bilukidi to be the fourth tackle. Not only has Still fought injuries since he came into the league as Penn State’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (he missed six games last year with elbow and back problems), but he discovered this spring his four-year-old daughter has stage 4 cancer. He missed the last two preseason games this year with a hamstring injury.     

“I took a lot into account,” Lewis said. “This is where we are today. We’ll see where we are with Devon down the line, whether he’s back here on the practice squad or whatever happens to him. He’s going through a lot. He’s had some injuries. He’s got a lot to overcome.”

Hewitt became the only undrafted rookie to make it when guard Trey Hopkins (leg) went on season-ending injured reserve. Rookie quarterback AJ McCarron (shoulder) went on the reserve/non-football injury list, meaning he can come back in six weeks. The only draft pick that didn’t make it is seventh-rounder Lavelle Westbrooks, a cornerback waived after an injury settlement.

The Bengals kept veteran guard-center Mike Pollak and first-year center-guard T.J. Johnson to back up rookie center Russell Bodine and chose to release center Trevor Robinson.

Pollak hasn’t started an NFL game at center, but he’s a natural one and played there at Arizona State when the Colts made him a second-round pick in 2008. Johnson, a seventh-round pick last year after playing center at South Carolina, had a nice training camp after he spent his rookie year on the practice squad. He gained some admirers when he played Thursday night four days after getting carted off the field in Arizona and got a life with Hopkins’’ injury.

“He’s played with great strength on the inside,” Lewis said. “He’s very, very tough. He’s done a nice job playing these preseason games.”

Robinson looked to be on his way when the Bengals went 5-2 in the seven games he started as a rookie in 2012. But he struggled last year after injuring his shoulder in the offseason.

The Bengals can put 10 players on the practice squad by noon tomorrow and Still, Robinson, and Charles are very much practice squad candidates. But they can only keep two of them because that is the limit of players on the squad with two years of NFL experience. Plus, all have an excellent chance of getting claimed.

“There’s no reason to practice and play the games if we’re not going to keep the guys who perform the best on the field,” Lewis said.

“Some we’d love to have back on the practice squad and continue with our depth and their development. It’s not that we’ve given up on anybody. For today this is the 53 guys we’re going in with.”

The toughest cut may have been on Friday when they let go running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a move that had been written on the wall when they drafted LSU running back Jeremy Hill. Green-Ellis had been the lead back for two years and decided to stick with it to see if he could make the club. He refused to be drawn into any controversy and declined during the spring and summer to do media requests.

“It’s good for Benny to go somewhere and get an opportunity to play,” Lewis said. “He handled the whole thing very classy through the spring. We kept him here for a while to give us insurance if anything happened to anybody and he did a nice job.”

 

Here is the list of the 18 moves:


 

* Placed one player on the Reserve/Injured list:

            --G Trey Hopkins (leg)

 

* Placed one player on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list:

            --QB AJ McCarron (shoulder)

            (McCarron will remain with the team for rehab and meetings, but may not practice for Weeks 1-6 of the regular season. Beginning the week following Week 6, he will begin a window of eligibility to return to practice under a roster exemption, if medically cleared.)

 

* Terminated the contracts of two vested veterans, releasing them to free agency:

--S Danieal Manning

--OT Will Svitek

 

* Moved one player to the Reserve/Suspended by Commissioner list:

--CB Chris Lewis-Harris (suspended for Games 1-2 for violating NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.)

 

* Waived 13 players:

--H-back Orson Charles (third-year player, Georgia)

 --OT Dan France (rookie, Michigan State)

--WR Cobi Hamilton (first year, Arkansas)

--CB Victor Hampton (rookie, South Carolina)

--DT David King (first year, Oklahoma)

--WR Colin Lockett (rookie, San Diego State)

--CB Onterio McCalebb (first year, Auburn)

--DE Dontay Moch (second year, Nevada)

--DE Sam Montgomery (second-year, Louisiana State)

--C Trevor Robinson (third year, Notre Dame)

--DT Devon Still (third-year, Penn State)

--FB Nikita Whitlock (rookie, Wake Forest)\

--HB James Wilder Jr. (rookie, Florida State)

 

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