Players looking to make the 53-man roster try to make a final impression when the Bengals play the Colts Thursday (7 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in the final pre-season game of 2018.
Typically, starters play in each of the first three pre-season games, but not the fourth.
Yet for Bengals scouts Steven Radicevic and Mike Potts, this is the type of game made for football junkies and talent evaluators.
"This game is an opportunity for you to check out guys and see if there is another guy out there that can upgrade your roster," Radicevic said. "The more tape the better. It gives us a better way to evaluate these players. You can't make a good assessment of a player through one or two pre-season games."
Here are three things to watch:
1. Position Battles – NFL teams have until Saturday at 4 p.m. ET to post their roster and there appear to be some close calls.
While quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back have earned most of the attention, the Bengals scouting department is always on the lookout both internally and externally to find ways to upgrade.
"I think there are so many moving parts on the last five to 10 spots with the 53-man roster," Potts said. "Maybe one guy deserves to make it, but you really need to keep another guy in a different positon. There are some hard decisions. A lot of the guys who will be playing in the fourth game don't get a lot of reps in the third pre-season game, so it's a good chance to see the guys play an extended amount of time. For example, you might watch a running back get two carries or a defensive lineman may only get eight snaps, but then in this game he gets 35 snaps. It's nice to see how they respond to adversity, react to when things are going well, when they aren't going well, their stamina on a long drive and a sudden change. It's stuff you don't get to see often, even in practice."
2. The Practice Squad – Another important roster piece is the practice squad, a great tool for developing young talent even if the player isn't on the roster during the season.
A great example of the practice squad's importance is last year's fourth preseason game star, Jarveon Williams. Down to only one healthy running back on the roster, Williams broke out with 117 yards rushing against the Colts. That performance earned him a spot on the practice squad.
"Say there is an interesting player on another team we are interested in, but he's only played 20 percent of the preseason snaps, now that fourth game he played 60 to 70 percent of the game, well, we have that in the notes," said Radicevic. "If it's a guy we've already identified and he's cut, we'll look at his tape again the following Friday or Saturday. Then we consider all of the factors, if he was injured, if he was not in the right system and if he has a skill set that would help our roster."
3. Short And Long Term Focus – Radicevic says for many NFL teams, the last 10 to 15 players on a team's roster are similar in terms of talent. One of the toughest decisions for a team is deciding between a veteran and a first- or second-year player to fill out the roster.
Contributions on special teams, a player's upside, depth at a particular position and external influences figure in an organization's decision.
"We're watching 30 to 35 bubble guys on each team and watching every preseason game," said Radicevic. "I think it's one of the most important parts of the preseason, given the guys you scouted back in college and whether or not their game translates to this level. There's still a good amount of guys that go either way from making the team or getting cut. This fourth pre-season game will decide that for them."
"It's one of the toughest decisions to make for us," Potts said. "Part of it is you have to know where you're at with that position. If you have two solid starters, maybe that guy with high upside you stash on the roster. If you don't have solid starters at that position group, maybe you go with the steady guy who every Sunday you know what you are going to get. Those are tough decisions to make, especially between veterans or first- and second-year guys."
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Eastern.
Television: Live coverage on the Bengals Preseason Network with broadcasters Mike Watts (play-by-play), Anthony Munoz (analyst) and Mike Valpredo (sideline reporter). The network is led by flagship WKRC-TV (CBS Channel 12) in Cincinnati. Also on the network are WKEF-TV (ABC Ch. 22) in Dayton, WSYX-TV (ABC Ch. 6) in Columbus, WLIO-TV (FOX Ch. 8.2) in Lima, WDKY-TV FOX Ch. 56) in Lexington, Ky. and WDRB-TV (FOX Ch. 41) in Louisville, Ky.
Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).
Tickets: Fans can purchase tickets by calling the Bengals Ticket Hotline at (513) 621-8383, online at Bengals.com or by visiting the Paul Brown Stadium ticket office. The Bengals Ticket Hotline and ticket office hours are from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Tickets may be purchased 24/7 through Bengals.com. Fans can call the Bengals Ticket Hotline or chat with a ticket representative online if they have any questions.