Setting The Scene: Bengals Kick Off Preseason with Green Bay

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HB Chris Evans catches the ball during the Packer-Bengals game in week 5 of the 2021 season.

The Bengals open the preseason at home on Friday night when they host the Green Bay Packers at Paycor Stadium. Friday will mark Cincinnati's first game action since the AFC Championship at Kansas City on Jan. 29. The Bengals fell short to the Chiefs, 23-20, in their second straight appearance in the conference title game, but they enter the 2023 campaign with much of the same young core still intact for another potential postseason run. Leading the Bengals' dynamic offense once again is QB Joe Burrow, who in 2022 set team single-season records for completions (414) and TD passes (35) and was selected to his first Pro Bowl. Burrow will not play Friday night after sustaining a calf strain on the second day of training camp practices, which head coach Zac Taylor said would require "several weeks" of recovery. Sharing the snaps behind center in place of Burrow will be ninth-year veteran Trevor Siemian and first-year pro Jake Browning.

Though Bengals coaches and players have agreed that preparing for the regular season without Burrow on the field is not ideal, Taylor believes the reserve QBs — particularly Browning — are taking advantage of this time to develop chemistry with the offense while facing a first-team defense each day. "This has been really good for Jake to have these opportunities," Taylor said. "We think highly of him. He's locked in and he brings something to the table in the quarterback room. He's a talented player who makes things happen when he's out there. He's done a really good job of evolving in our offense the last couple of years, and now he's getting a chance to get a lot of reps with Trevor." Defensively, the Bengals boast talent at all three levels that has been added through the draft, free agency and trades. Cincinnati placed an emphasis on signing several of its core defensive pieces to contract extensions during the offseason and did so with LB Germaine Pratt, DE Trey Hendrickson and, most recently, LB Logan Wilson. Wilson, whose extension was announced on Aug. 5, has led the team in tackles in each of the past two years, and alongside Pratt serves as the nucleus of a defense that tied for fifth in the NFL in points allowed per game (20.1) last season.

"I feel like we have one of the best tandems at linebacker in the league," defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. "The old cliché of coaches on the field — there's two of them there. They can really affect the game in so many ways, they're both talented guys and I'm thrilled that they're back." While the Bengals have retained several key contributors, Friday will also be the debut for a number of new additions, including S Nick Scott. Scott, who signed with Cincinnati as a free agent in March, spent his first four pro seasons with the L.A. Rams and brings a veteran presence to the Bengals' secondary. The team also landed TE Irv Smith Jr., a fifth-year pro who will look to provide Burrow with another explosive option in the passing game.

The headliner of Cincinnati's free agency class was OT Orlando Brown Jr., a four-time Pro Bowl selection who will be slotted as the starting left tackle. Brown helped Kansas City defeat the Bengals in the AFC Championship and win Super Bowl LVII just six months ago, but according to Taylor, the newest addition to the offensive line room has already ingratiated himself with his teammates. "He's a guy that feels like he's been here for a lot longer than he has," Taylor said. "There's no shyness to him. That's how you blend into a locker room and get to know people when you're personable like that and he is, so I appreciate that about him. He asks really good questions, football questions. He wants to be the best."

A majority of the Bengals' 2023 draft class also figures to see extensive action in the preseason opener. Cincinnati selected eight players in April — four defensive, three offensive and one special teamer. The class consists of DE Myles Murphy (first round), CB DJ Turner II (second), S Jordan Battle (third), WR Charlie Jones (fourth), HB Chase Brown (fifth), WR Andrei Iosivas (sixth), P Brad Robbins (sixth) and CB DJ Ivey (seventh).

As is always the case in the preseason, there are a variety of battles to watch for roster spots, playing time and even starting positions. Some of the most notable competitions figure to take place at punter, running back and punt/kick returner. This marks the second consecutive year that the Bengals open their preseason slate at home. After facing the Packers on Friday, Cincinnati will travel to Atlanta to play the Falcons on Friday, Aug. 18, and remain on the road to take on the Washington Commanders on Saturday, Aug. 26.