The Bengals' pursuit of a fullback may not be over as they dive into the waiver claim pool Saturday night. But their lack of one apparently helped dictate their most surprising move of cutdown day when they released Chase Coffman a year after drafting him in the third round and kept just three tight ends.
The Bengals, who use the tight end as a fullback in some of their formations, opted to keep a blocker in Dan Coats rather than a receiver in Coffman. They waived injured Fui Vakapuna, a seventh-round pick in 2009 who was the only fullback on the roster. He was negated almost immediately when he popped out his shoulder early in training camp and never played in a preseason game. If he clears waivers Saturday night, he reverts back to the Bengals season-ending injured reserve list.
The Bengals appeared to go with three tight ends rather than four so they could keep nine defensive linemen and seven linebackers as well as four running backs. Cedric Peerman beat out James Johnson as the fourth back and he'll have to dress in New England in next Sunday's opener because Brian Leonard (foot) probably can't.
The other surprise came in the secondary, where the Bengals usually keep 10. But this time they went with nine and just three safeties, a move that indicates they may also still be looking for a safety. The Bengals not only released special teams captain Kyries Hebert, but veteran safeties Marvin White and Rico Murray, as well as rookie free agent Jeromy Miles.
With their play in the five preseason games, Jerome Simpson and Quan Cosby secured the final two wide receiver spots to join Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell.
Coffman came to the Bengals last season out of Missouri as college football's most prolific pass-catching tight end ever. But he arrived rehabbing a broken foot acquired on the final snap of his college career and was never fully healthy enough to dress for a game. Coffman ended up never playing a game for the Bengals not only because of his health but because he barely ever played in a stance in high school and college and the blocking part of the NFL game didn't come easily for him.
Coats has been skewered for his drops, but he played one season at fullback in 2008 and his blocking skills clearly helped him with no fullback currently on the roster.
Without much turnover for a sitting AFC North champion, the Bengals had a tough roster to crack. Only two vested veterans, wide receiver Matt Jones and linebacker Abdul Hodge, were waived while no college free agents made it and two of the nine draft picks got cut.
But the Bengals are expected to try and get back sixth-rounder Dez Briscoe, a wide receiver out of Kansas, and fifth-rounder Otis Hudson, right guard out of Eastern Illinois, on the eight-man practice squad if they clear waivers Saturday night, as well as some of the undrafted rookies. Potential guys there are Miles, Duke linebacker Vincent Rey and Eastern Michigan cornerback Johnny Sears. Also eligible for the practice squad after their release are two guys that were on it last year, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and tight end Darius Hill.
If the Bengals are expected to go skimming the waiver wire for a fullback and safety, they're also probably looking for a guard-center type along the offensive line. They've got four tackles but their only backup interior guy with any experience is Evan Mathis. Seventh-rounder Reggie Stephens, who played both guard and center in preseason, is one of seven rookies that made it.
With his play in the last two games, fourth-rounder Roddrick Muckelroy secured one of the seven linebacker spots, as did Dan Skuta after a camp he worked for a bit as fullback before he twisted his ankle in the second preseason game. Skuta missed the next two games before he played much of the preseason finale at SAM linebacker.
A college free agent last season, Skuta came off the practice squad in October and ended the season fifth on the team with 10 special teams tackles in just eight games. Their ability to cover punts and kicks probably boosted Skuta and Muckelroy and the club will need to get something from them. Hodge finished fourth in special teams tackles with 11 last season.
Hebert led the team in special teams tackles the past two seasons with 35 and not only is he gone, but three of last year's four top special teams tacklers (Hebert, Hodge and Rashad Jeanty) are no longer on the roster.
The Bengals began last season with the youngest roster in the NFL, but they seasoned it up a bit with the average years of NFL experience for the 53-man roster going from 3.98 to 4.36. Thank the presence of 15-year wide receiver Terrell Owens and 12-year tight end Reggie Kelly for taking the average of the offense from 3.96 to 4.64. The defense also got a little grayer by half a season. The average NFL seasons for the 25 defenders are 4.2 compared to 3.7 last season. The defense simply got older by a year because the only different guys are Muckelroy, Carlos Dunlap, Brandon Ghee and Geno Atkins, as well as the second-year Skuta and fourth-year cornerback Adam Jones.
They also reached an injury settlement with wide receiver Maurice Purify.
Carson Palmer (8), J.T. O'Sullivan (8), Jordan Palmer (3)
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Chad Ochocinco (10), Terrell Owens (15), Jordan Shipley (R), Andre Caldwell (3), Jerome Simpson (3), Quan Cosby (2)
RUNNING BACKS (4)
Cedric Benson (6), Bernard Scott (2), Brian Leonard (4), Cedric Peerman (1).
TIGHT ENDS (3)
Jermaine Gresham (R), Reggie Kelly (12), Daniel Coats (4).
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
LT Andrew Whitworth (5), LG Nate Livings (3), C Kyle Cook (3), RG Bobbie Williams (11), RT Dennis Roland (3), RT Andre Smith (2), T Anthony Collins (3), C-G Evan Mathis (5), C-G Reggie Stephens (R)
DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
E Robert Geathers (7), T Domata Peko (5),T Tank Johnson (7),E-T Antwan Odom (7), E-T Jon Fanene (6), E-T Frostee Rucker (5), T Pat Sims (3), T Geno Atkins (R), E Carlos Dunlap (R)
Dhani Jones (11), Keith Rivers (3), Rey Maualuga (2), Michael Johnson (2), Brandon Johnson (5), Dan Skuta (2), Roddrick Muckelroy (R)
S Roy Williams (9), S Chris Crocker (8), S Chinedum Ndukwe (4), S Reggie Nelson (4) CB Johnathan Joseph (5), CB Leon Hall (4), CB Adam Jones (4), CB Morgan Trent (2), CB Brandon Ghee (R)
K Mike Nugent (6), P Kevin Huber (2), LS Clark Harris (2).