Bengals mull next list

Marvin Lewis

With no changes to the 53-man roster Saturday amid the waiver-wire avalanche, all eyes are now turned to the next list that Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has to deliver:

It's due at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 10 in Baltimore. That's when Bengals public relations director Jack Brennan hands the referee the Bengals list of seven inactive players 90 minutes before the opener and Lewis is going to keep the Ravens guessing right up until then.

And for a lot of reasons, that list has more drama than this weekend's yawner of a roster cut to 53.

One thing staying pat showed, at least until the Bengals make the expected move with center Kyle Cook this Tuesday, is that they're happy with seven wide receivers. If the Bengals want to beef up another position, they can use Cook's spot when they're expected to put him on the new injured reserve recall list.

But they usually keep just five receivers active, so which four are going to play with Pro Bowler A.J. Green?

Brandon Tate, Andrew Hawkins and rookie Marvin Jones all return both punts and kicks, and Hawkins is a beast on coverage teams as well as the team's top slot receiver. Tate, Armon Binns—not to mention Green—can move in and out of the slot. But so can rookie Mohamed Sanu and second-year man Ryan Whalen. Binns and Tate have taken their snaps with the first team, so does that make Sanu and Whalen inactive? Or would the Bengals dress six?

That's why Lewis is going to keep them guessing.

Brennan's list may also reveal that the depth the Bengals acquired during the offseason either in the draft or free agency could be tested right away against the team that came within a dropped pass of going to the Super Bowl.

The Bengals, very active in an offseason they signed 14 free agents in 27 days in March and April, were hit early with injuries. But they've also been hit in a couple of sports they reinforced in the offseason.

They are without the center they've had for the last 50 games and the status of their best pass rusher (left end Carlos Dunlap), their speed back (Bernard Scott) and their No. 1 pick (cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick) is questionable and they could end up inactive for the opener. Or they could be out there. Lewis figures to make them game-time decisions.

Cook won't be on the inactive list but the guy that replaces him on the roster may very well be with the Bengals expected to bring in a slew of players to work out Tuesday after they practice Monday. Even if they re-sign the unclaimed Roddrick Muckelroy to replace Cook it would be hard to see him active as a fourth middle backer.

When the Bengals released on Friday tight end Colin Cochart (picked up by Dallas on Saturday) that indicated that tight end Jermaine Gresham (knee) is going to be ready. And it's believed that two players injured in the preseason opener, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (foot) and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee) could have played in last Thursday's preseason finale but didn't.

Plus, Lewis hasn't ruled out Dunlap (knee) or Scott (hand). Indeed, Dunlap and Gresham looked pretty vigorous in drills before Thursday's game.

Of course, it's tough all over. The Ravens don't have their best pass rusher (Terrell Suggs) and their first pick, pass rusher Courtney Upshaw taken in the second round, may be inactive after reinjuring his shoulder.

But the Bengals are certainly going to have their depth at cornerback tested after they beefed it up with the free-agent signings of Terence Newman, Jason Allen and Adam Jones, along with the drafting of Kirkpatrick in the first round and Shaun Prater in the fifth. But Prater (knee) was never healthy and went on season-ending injured reserve. Kirkpatrick (knee) has barely practiced and is on the roster but may be inactive for at least the first couple of games.  

Newman, the 10-year veteran who turns 34 on Tuesday, has been a godsend. While Jones and Allen have been saddled with muscle issues and missed most of the preseason, Newman has been healthy and played well enough that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has been able to tinker with cornerback Nate Clements at safety.

Jones and Allen figure to be active against the Ravens and Jones appeared to be one of those guys that could have played on Thursday.

The other spot where the Bengals were fortunate to fill up was the defensive line. They drafted tackles Devon Still and Brandon Thompson in the second and third rounds, respectively, re-signed tackle Pat Sims, and signed former first-round ends Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey before the D-line got decimated.

Not only did Dunlap go down with a knee injury in the preseason opener, but left end Robert Geathers had a knee scope right away in camp and hasn't practiced, Sims got hurt in the conditioning test and got PUPped, Harvey got cut, and the Bengals had to injury settle with tackle Nick Hayden just when it looked like he would make the 53.

So if Dunlap can't go, all eyes are going to be on the additions. Anderson, Still and Thompson weren't around in last year's season finale at Paul Brown Stadium when running back Ray Rice popped runs of 70 and 51 yards in Baltimore's 24-16 victory. Since the Bengals haven't gone after another end, they must think Geathers is OK.

Maybe Scott and Dunlap will be OK in time with the extra day of rest. Scott's legs aren't hurt and they got the Bengals back into that game when his 25-yard touchdown run cut the Ravens lead to 17-10 late in the third quarter.

The Bengals signed Green-Ellis in the offseason because they believe the former Patriot has the kind of tough reliability needed in the AFC North stocked with four of the league's top 10 defenses last season. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's idea has been back-by-committee, but The Law Firm is no stranger to carrying the load in spots for the pass-happy Pats. He set career highs last season against the Jets No. 5 defense with 136 yards on 27 carries and had 20 carries against the 11th-ranked Chiefs for 81 yards later in the season.

And maybe the biggest test of depth is Cincinnati's most recent signing, veteran center Jeff Faine. His first work with the Bengals is Sunday's walkthrough, and his first practice with the team is Monday, seven days from the opener. With this looking to be his 118th NFL start, that's one name Brennan probably won't see on the list.

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