In an effort to walk a line between settling the last spot at some positions and keeping their starters and regulars healthy for the Sept. 8 regular-season opener, the Bengals' split squad fell behind the Colts, 7-3 at half-time of Thursday night's pre-season finale.
The first half was marred by rookie running back Rodney Anderson walking to the locker room after he limped off the field following a four-yard run on his fifth carry of the night with an injured right knee. That's a real concern given his college resume that includes three serious season-ending injuries and he just got back to practice two weeks ago after an 11-month rehab following reconstructive knee surgery for a torn ACL.
Undrafted rookie quarterback Jake Dolegala got the starting nod for the Bengals after last week's glittering debut and he again showed off his big arm when he connected on 15 of 21 for 160 yards and a passer rating of 93.4 in the first half. Three of those throws went for at least 21 yards, including a 39-yarder to wide receiver Cody Core.
Check out some of the best photos from preseason week four as the Bengals host the Indianapolis Colts.
But unlike last week Dolegala couldn't get into the end zone. On their next-to-last drive of the half, Dolegala rifled a 22-yard pass over the middle and got a terrific leaping catch from wide receiver Josh Malone as he seemingly scraped the ball off linebacker Zaire Franklin's helmet. But the drive stalled when Dolegala threw an incompletion between two receivers and rookie Tristan Vizcaino hit the right upright on a 55-yard field goal try.
Is Dolegala giving them something to think about for the 53-man roster cutdown on Saturday? He clicked on his first third down try with a 17-missile over the middle to undrafted rookie Ventell Bryant, one of just four wide receivers to dress. But on the next third down when he went over the middle to Bryant again, he threw it low behind him for an incompletion. He was good in the first half, but not as consistent last week. He missed some open receivers, but he also showed off the arm.
The Bengals, with their stitched-up offensive line, could do nothing on their first three series even though rookie long snapper Dan Godsil recovered a fumbled punt at the Colts 31, forced from rapid down-field coverage by rookie middle linebacker Germaine Pratt and tight end Cethan Carter.
John Jerry, who figures to be one of the eight offensive linemen with a spot, started at left tackle, next to guard Alex Redmond, rookie center Keaton Sutherland, right guard Brad Lundblade and right tackle Justin Evans. One pre-season theme, the lack of a punch in the running game, Anderson lost two yards on his first four carries, the fourth one coming on fourth-and-two from the Colts 23 following the recovered punt. There was no room for Anderson up the middle and Anderson had to lean back and recover his fumble.
Jerry did give up a sack to right end Carroll Phillips, but Dolegala had pretty good time the rest of the half.
Defensively, the Bengals started only two starters in nose tackle Andrew Billings and linebacker Jordan Evans and they played a couple of series before giving way. Other regulars, such as Pratt and left end Kerry Wynn, as well as players expected to make the roster like cornerbacks Tony McRae and Darius Phillips, got starts. Phillips ha nice pick when he high-pointed Chad Kelly's underthrown bomb to wide receiver Parris Campbell at the Bengals 5.
Cincinnati turned that into a 22-yard field goal by Vizcaino for their first points off a turnover into the preseason. The big play was Dolegala's 26-yard throw to a leaping Bryant at the Colts 10, but they couldn't jam it in from there. There was no room on the ground again (three yards on their first eight carries) and when Dolegala got flushed out of pocket he couldn't hook up with well-covered Malone on the sideline in the end zone.
The Colts scored on Kelly's seven-yard scramble that capped a drive ignited by rookie wider receiver Parris Campbell's 31-yard-catch-and run through the middle of the secondary.
Maybe head coach Zac Taylor sent a message about the linebackers corps even before the when he sent out his captains. Four of the captains figure to make the roster as backups in Jerry, Billings, Carter and cornerback Tony McRae. Hardy Nickerson, who made the club the last two seasons as a backup is thought to be on the bubble like most of the backers, also went out as a captain.