Updated: 10 p.m.
You can't exactly call this the Graying of the Bengals.
After the Bengals cut their roster to the 53-man limt Friday, the AFC's youngest team last season with an average age of 25.74 years on the Opening Day roster stands at 25.82 without center Kyle Cook. That figures to fluctuate in the next 96 hours as the roster shuffle begins, but it shows the core's youth and talent for a team coming off a Wild Card playoff berth.
Without Cook, the average years of NFL experience is up slightly to 4.08, compared to last season's cutdown day average of 3.75. Which means they're a year older and the Bengals are hoping a year wiser and better.
Both this year and last year the Bengals cut down to 17 players with two years of experience or less, a third of the roster. It paid off last year and this year with more emerging young players like their starting guards and complementary wide receivers, head coach Marvin Lewis likes the profiles of the 46 guys that are going to be active on game day.
"There is a lot of flexibility with guys getting the majority of the play load," Lewis said.
And that was reflected in the Bengals keeping seven wide receivers, which highlighted Friday's cuts. Anointing rookie free agent Vontaze Burfict as the backup middle linebacker while releasing three-year veteran Roddrick Muckelroy and keeping the injured Cook on the 53 also were noteworthy moves.
It's believed the Bengals have never gone with seven wide receivers in Lewis's 10 seasons and he may be back to the usual six by the time they hit the practice field Monday to prepare for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener.
"They out-performed a lot of guys competing for other spots," Lewis said. "That's the beauty of training camp. Guys get the opportunity to play and that adds value to what they do."
This is not the final 53. There figure to be additions and deletions Saturday by early afternoon after the Bengals paw through the waiver wire. Plus, Lewis said Friday night there is a possibility that Cook goes on the new injured reserve recall list Tuesday in the hopes of his return in eight weeks.
That means the Bengals would go into the opener with just eight offensive linemen instead of the usual nine, but they'll be able to add a player in time for Wednesday's practice if they shelve Cook.
Or will they subtract a receiver and add to another position?
It depends what they see on the waiver wire, where there could possibly be a veteran center-guard type that they could use with free-agent rookie Trevor Robinson the only pure backup guard, although backup tackles Anthony Collins and Dennis Roland have played guard since starting left guard Travelle Wharton went down with a season-ending knee injury on the third snap of the preseason.
But the Bengals are also running one light on the defensive line with eight instead of nine and could make a move there.
As expected, Pat Sims went to the physically unable to perform list (PUP) with a hamstring he injured in the training camp conditioning test and is shelved for the first six weeks of the season. It was expected the Bengals would keep defensive tackle Nick Hayden as the ninth guy, but they reached an injury settlement with him after he got hurt last week.
But the seven receivers certainly deserve to be here.
The two draft picks, third-rounder Mohamed Sanu and fifth-rounder Marvin Jones, led the team in catches and receiving yards respectively, during the preseason, while Brandon Tate and Andrew Hawkins staked their claims as receivers and special-teamers.
Armon Binns continued to practice like he did last year while serving on the practice squad, and second-year man Ryan Whalen showed his resourcefulness as a slot receiver with four targets and four catches in Thursday night's preseason finale in Indianapolis.
The Bengals apparently decided Whalen is the better player when compared to an 11th DB, a ninth D-lineman, or a fourth tight end. Muckelroy, a fourth-rounder in 2010 off missing all last season with an Achilles he ruptured in the first half hour of training camp, is the most noticeable release.
After a solid year on special teams as a rookie, Muckelroy rebounded from his injury with a solid preseason and went into the finale with a team-leading 15 tackles. Muckelroy had two against the Colts on the press-box stats while Burfict had a sack and two tackles, as well as a tackle on special teams.
Yet Muckelroy got caught in a numbers game because not only can Burfict back up middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, so can backup SAM backer Dan Skuta. Burfict is viewed as a guy with huge, early draft-round upside who has responded in a big-time manner to the issues that made him undraftable.
Burfict's rise from the draft's most controversial player to a roster spot happened because Lewis gave him a fresh start after a turbulent last year at Arizona State that also included a terrible NFL scouting combine at Indianapolis where he ran the slowest 40-yard dash time at his position and turned off teams in his interviews.
But Burfict returned to Lucas Oil Stadium Thursday a different guy.
"I don't know the guy at Arizona State. I don't need to know about anything in the past," said Lewis, and that's why Burfict made it. "He's done everything he needs to do to be a productive linebacker in the National Football League on special teams and defense."
Along with Burfict, Notre Dame's Robinson also made the roster as an undrafted rookie after his first start at center on any level against the Colts. All but one of the 10 draft picks made it, but the Bengals figure to try to sign Ohio State running back Daniel Herron to the practice squad. Fifth-rounder Shaun Prater, a cornerback from Iowa, had been put on season-ending injured reserve last week with knee issues.
The Bengals can form a practice squad of up to eight players Saturday and among the leading candidates are Herron, running back/fullback Jourdan Brooks, and right guard Otis Hudson, as well as some players that were on the squad last season in quarterback Zac Robinson, tackle Matthew O'Donnell, and defensive ends DeQuin Evans and Micah Johnson.
Also as expected, SAM backer/end Dontay Moch went on the suspended list for the first four games because of violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.
Rookie safety Tony Dye was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a foot problem.
The Bengals didn't put one of the five players they placed on injured reserve last week on the 53, an option the NFL gave teams to help implement the IR-Recall list.
As for flexibility, Lewis has some options.
For instance, at wide receiver he's got three returners in Tate, Hawkins and Marvin Jones, as well as three slot receivers in Hawkins, Whalen and Sanu.
On the offensive line, Collins and Roland can play both guard and tackle, and in the secondary cornerback Nate Clements can swing to safety, and safeties Reggie Nelson and Jeromy Miles can play corner if needed in a pinch on passing downs. On the defensive line, rookie tackle Devon Still can go outside on run downs and right end Jamaal Anderson can go inside on passing downs.
Here is the 53-man roster as it stands before it can be tweaked with waiver claims and IR moves (Years of NFL experience):
QUARTERBACKS: 2 - Andy Dalton (2), Bruce Gradkowski (7)
WIDE RECEIVERS: 7 - A.J. Green (2), Brandon Tate (4), Andrew Hawkins (2), Armon Binns (1), Ryan Whalen (2), Mohamed Sanu (R), Marvin Jones (R)
OFFENSIVE LINE: 9
LEFT TACKLE: Andrew Whitworth (7) Anthony Collins (5)
LEFT GUARD: Clint Boling (2), Trevor Robinson (R)
CENTER: Kyle Cook (5), Jeff Faine (10)
RIGHT GUARD: Kevin Zeitler (R)
RIGHT TACKLE: Andre Smith (4), Dennis Roland (5)
TIGHT END: 3 - Jermaine Gresham (3), Donald Lee (10), Orson Charles (R)
RUNNING BACK: 4 - BenJarvus Green-Ellis (5), Bernard Scott (4), Brian Leonard (6), Cedric Peerman (3)
FULLBACK: 1 - Chris Pressley (4)
DEFENSIVE LINE: 8
LEFT END: Carlos Dunlap (3), Robert Geathers (9)
NOSE TACKLE: Domata Peko (7), Brandon Thompson (R)
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Geno Atkins (3), Devon Still (R)
RIGHT END: Michael Johnson (4), Jamaal Anderson (6)
SAM LINEBACKER: Manny Lawson (7), Dan Skuta (4)
MIDDLE LINEBACKER: Rey Maualuga (4), Vontaze Burfict (R)
WILL LINEBACKER: Thomas Howard (6), Vincent Rey (2)
LEFT CORNERBACK: Nate Clements (12), Terence Newman (10), Dre Kirkpatrick (R)
RIGHT CORNERBACK: Leon Hall (6), Jason Allen (7), Adam Jones (6)
STRONG SAFETY: Taylor Mays (3), Jeromy Miles (3)
FREE SAFETY: Reggie Nelson (6), George Iloka (R)
PUNTER 1: Kevin Huber (4)
KICKER 1: Mike Nugent (8)
LONG SNAPPER: 1 - Clark Harris (4)
--FB Jourdan Brooks (rookie, Morgan State)
--TE Colin Cochart (second year player, South Dakota State)
--LS Bryce Davis (rookie, Central Oklahoma)
--FB James Develin (first-year player, Brown)
--DE DeQuin Evans (first-year player, Kentucky)
--WR Vidal Hazelton (first-year player, Cincinnati)
--CB T.J. Heath (second-year player, Jacksonville State)
--RB Daniel Herron (rookie, Ohio State)
--G Otis Hudson (second-year player, Eastern Illinois)
--LB Grant Hunter (rookie, Butler)
--DE Micah Johnson (first-year player, Kentucky)
--LB Emmanuel Lamur (LB, Kansas State)
--CB Chris Lewis-Harris (rookie, Tennessee-Chattanooga)
--DT Vaughn Meatoga (rookie, Hawaii)
--LB Roddrick Muckelroy (third-year player, Texas)
--T Matthew O'Donnell (first-year player, Queens, Canada)
--QB Zac Robinson (second-year player, Oklahoma State)
--G Reggie Stephens (second-year player, Iowa State)