Updated: 7:45 p.m.
With an eye toward developing youth but also having enough experience for a team taking a rookie quarterback into the AFC North fray, the Bengals kept an unprecedented six safeties as well as an extra running back and only two quarterbacks when they cut their roster to 53 players Saturday.
As the roster sits precariously now, the average years of NFL experience are 3.75, even less than two years ago when the Bengals began the season with a roster averaging 3.98 years and went on to win the division with a perfect record. In the wake of the departures of Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, the Bengals have gone young at quarterback and receiver, but they've also added more experience at linebacker and in the secondary as they search for the right mix of young players and veterans.
If the recent past is any guide, the roster is going to change at least once starting Saturday night when the waiver wire opens and maybe even as head coach Marvin Lewis convenes his first practice Monday in preparation for the Browns.
"We could be making moves all the way up until Tuesday," Lewis said. "We're going to try and make the back end of the roster better and that's how you do it."
The Bengals have been looking for guards all preseason (now we know why with the Bobbie Williams suspension) and no doubt they'll be looking on the waiver wire Saturday night. Since they only kept four cornerbacks, they're probably on the radar, too.
As expected cornerback Adam Jones (neck) and outside linebacker Keith Rivers (wrist) start the season on lists that prevent them for practicing until the seventh week while tight end Bo Scaife (neck) and linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy (Achilles) went on season-ending injured reserve.
The effort to keep experienced players as well as young players that might not be ready but are good enough to develop could be seen at safety, where the Bengals kept six instead of the usual four or five. It also happened on the offensive line, where they kept first-year guard Otis Hudson even though his knee injury might shelve him for the first couple of games.
The Williams suspension takes out a chunk of 12 NFL seasons, which lowers the average, and he'll be back for the fifth game.
But faced with losing fifth-rounder Robert Sands if they tried to put the rangy 6-5 safety from West Virginia on the practice squad, the Bengals put him on the 53. He's there with veteran Gibril Wilson, intriguing newcomer Taylor Mays and fast but inexperienced second-year man Jeromy Miles all backing up starters Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson.
"Not having Bobbie is going to have an impact on that," Lewis said of the average experience. "I like the mix of guys we have. We've got two young kids there (Miles and Sands) that we like, but Gibril has come back from his injury (torn) ACL and done things to show that he deserves to be on the team."
Keeping six safeties meant the Bengals kept the fewest cornerbacks possible with four, a bit of a surprise when one of them, newcomer Kelly Jennings, arrived via this week's trade with Seattle with a hamstring issue and didn't play in Thursday night's preseason finale.
The Bengals do have a swingman in Crocker that can play the nickel corner in the slot if needed.
With the Associated Press reporting running back Cedric Benson was released from an Austin, Texas jail Saturday in clearing up his legal matters before the regular season, his staus with the league isn't known. The Bengals opted to keep four running backs instead of the usual three when they kept Cedric Peerman for the second straight year on the 53 with Benson, Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard.
But last year the Bengals didn't keep a fullback and they did this year when they opted for Chris Pressley and cut Fui Vakapuna and James Develin.
"Whether it's special teams or running the ball Cedric (Peerman) has played well for us. It's a case where you're keeping your best players," Lewis said. "Benson hasn't been here, so we'll see how he is when he gets back but this covers us with a guy that's played well."
The extra spot at running back came courtesy of the decision to keep just two quarterbacks—Andy Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski—and to cut Dan LeFevour.
LeFevour has a shot at the eight-man practice squad to be formed Sunday, or the Bengals could sign someone else but they will put a quarterback on the squad.
One of the casualties of keeping an extra back came on the corner, where 2010 third-rounder Brandon Ghee, the team's highest-drafted payer cut Saturday, was released. Ghee, who played in six games as a rookie, fought injuries from almost the day he started practicing. When he suffered a hamstring problem on the first day of practice in this camp, he had trouble showing the coaches that there was more to his game than speed and athleticism.
After missing the first two preseason games and playing sparingly in the third, Ghee played a ton Thursday night but didn't make enough headway. No doubt the Bengals would like to keep him on the practice squad, but he'll be a tough guy to get there. A third-round corner than can run usually isn't available for long on the waiver wire.
The Bengals came out it with six of their draft picks: Dalton, Sands, guard Clint Boling, wide receivers A.J. Green and Ryan Whalen, and injured outside linebacker Dontay Moch (expected to be back from his broken foot maybe as soon as the Sept. 25 Paul Brown Stadium opener), as well as one undrafted rookie in South Dakota State tight end Colin Cochart.
The Bengals could get Ghee and the seventh-rounders from this year (Baylor running back Jay Finley and Southern Illinois cornerback Korey Lindsey) on the practice squad, but there are other guys that were released that have impressed them, such as Kentucky linebacker DeQuin Evans, CFL wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, and Develin, a Jay Gruden refugee from the UFL.
The 6-2, 250-pound Evans, who played end at Kentucky, showed his natural pass-rush ability from the down position Thursday night when he beat Colts tight end Mike McNeil for a blindside sack late in the first half and forced a fumble. When Evans saw he was lined up against the 235-pound McNeil, he knew what he had to do.
"I have to beat the tight end. I have to win that one," Evans said after the game. "When I saw the quarterback's back, it was like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."
Evans also came up with a fumble in the second half. If no one claims him, he'll no doubt continue his pursuit of the rainbow on the Bengals practice squad.
One cut that could be on the Bengals radar is cornerback Joselio Hanson, just cut from the Eagles. He's a very solid backup corner, but the Eagles couldn't trade him, according to philly.com, because of a salary cap hit in excess of $2 million. But now he's free. His agent couldn't be reached.
53-MAN ROSTER AS OF SEPT. 3
QBS (2): Andy Dalton (R), Bruce Gradkowski (6).
WRS (6): Andre Caldwell (4), Quan Cosby (3), A.J. Green (R), Jerome Simpson (4), Jordan Shipley (2), Ryan Whalen (R).
RBS (4): Cedric Benson (7), Brian Leonard (5), Cedric Peerman (2), Bernard Scott (3).
FB (1): Chris Pressley (3).
TE (3): Colin Cochart (R), Chase Coffman (3), Jermaine Gresham (2).
OL (9): G Clint Boling (R), T Anthony Collins (4), C Kyle Cook (4), G Otis Hudson (1), G Nate Livings (4), Dennis Roland (4), T Andre Smith (3), C Reggie Stephens (2), T Andrew Whitworth (6).
DL (8): T Geno Atkins (2), E Carlos Dunlap (2), E/T Jon Fanene (7), Robert Geathers (8), E Michael Johnson, T Domata Peko (6) E/T Frostee Rucker (6), T Pat Sims (4).
LBs (7): OLB Thomas Howard (6), OLB Brandon Johnson (6), OLB Manny Lawson (6), OLB Dontay Moch (3), MLB Rey Maualuga (3), OLB Vincent Rey (2), MLB Dan Skuta (3).
DBS (10): CB Nate Clements (11), S Chris Crocker (9), CB Leon Hall (5), CB Kelly Jennings (6), Taylor Mays (2), S Jeromy Miles (1), S Reggie Nelson (5), S Robert Sands (R), CB Morgan Trent, S Gibril Wilson (8).
SPECIALISTS (3): LS Clark Harris (3), P Kevin Huber (3), K Mike Nugent (7).
PLAYERS TERMINATED: G Max Jean-Gilles, CB Jonathan Wade, DE Victor Adeyanju.
--FB Fui Vakapuna (third-year player; Brigham Young)
--CB Brandon Ghee (second-year player; Wake Forest)
--QB Dan LeFevour (second-year player; Central Michigan)
--CB Rico Murray (second-year player; Kent State)
--TE John Nalbone (second-year player; Monmouth University)
--DT Jason Shirley (second-year player; Fresno State)
--FB James Develin (first-year player; Brown)
--CB David Pender (first-year player; Purdue)
--DE James Ruffin (first-year player; Northern Iowa)
--WR Calvin Russell (first-year player; Tuskegee)
--DT Cornell Banks (rookie; Fresno State)
--LB DeQuin Evans (rookie; Kentucky)
--RB Jay Finley (rookie; Baylor)
--RB John Griffin (rookie; Massachusetts)
--WR Andrew Hawkins (rookie; Toledo)
--CB Korey Lindsey (rookie; Southern Illinois)
--T Matthew O'Donnell (rookie; Queens [Canada])
--G Chris Riley (rookie; Illinois State)
--K Thomas Weber (rookie; Arizona State)