With the Bengals fearing they may have to place starting nickel linebacker Emmanuel Lamur on season-ending injured reserve with what sounds like dislocated shoulder and versatile backup offensive lineman Mike Pollak nursing a tweaked knee, the club went into Friday meetings listening to doctors as much as the scouts and coaches.
The Bengals won't announce any moves until Saturday, when the 53-man roster has to be in New York by 6 p.m. and while they've settled on the final moves a lot can happen in the next 30 hours or so.
There's a report from NFL Network that the Bengals are shopping defensive end Dontay Moch, he of the 6.5 sacks in the past two preseasons without an NFL game played. And with the brutal quarterback play that has broken out this year, somebody has to want John Skelton after he posted a 103.7 preseason passer rating to go along with his 17 NFL starts. A conference call to the non-New England teams in the AFC East may suffice.
Something could crop up medically between now and 6 p.m. Saturday. Maybe the Bengals think Lamur can play in a harness and they'll keep him active. Although head coach Marvin Lewis indicated Thursday night that Pollak's injury isn't believed to be major, do they still have to keep one more interior player than previously planned? Or maybe not if the club is still worried about left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Any way you slice it, it's tough to see the Bengals not keeping 10 offensive linemen or 10 defensive backs.
A look at the roster in the wake of Saturday's 27-10 victory over the Colts in the preseason finale (NFL years in parenthesis):
Josh Johnson (5), John Skelton (4), Andy Dalton (3).
You have to hand it Johnson. Despite falling off the ends of the earth the past two seasons, he came in, played his butt off, and flat won the backup derby with Skelton, a guy with 12 more NFL starts. Johnson still has accuracy concerns, completing just 55 percent of his 49 passes. But he made big plays with his arm (three TD passes) and legs (143 yards as the team's second-leading rusher in the preseason), while winning the trust of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden with his knowledge of the playbook.
There seems to be some angst about Dalton's completion percentage more than 15 yards downfield. But overall in 38 preseason throws he completed 66 percent of his passes. Compare that to 46 percent last preseason on his 44 attempts, or even 60 percent of his 60 passes as a rookie. Downfield? His career yards per attempt is 6.77 and last preseason it was 5.57. This preseason? 7.4.
Salute Gruden for that. The team ratio of 129 runs to 112 throws in the preseason has helped the pass game.
Brandon Tate (5), A.J. Green (3), Andrew Hawkins (3), Ryan Whalen (3), Dane Sanzenbacher (3), Marvin Jones (2), Mohamed Sanu (2), Taveon Rogers (2), Cobi Hamilton (R), Roy Roundtree (R).
Hawkins (ankle) has to be on the 53-man roster Saturday if he's going to be placed on injured reserve-recall Tuesday. So if the Bengals don't want to expose a Sanzenbacher, Whalen or Hamilton to waivers they probably have to keep seven with Hawkins and two of those other three. The two veterans, Whalen and Sanzenbacher, have to have the edge even if the talented Hamilton is a current sixth-round pick. Both catch everything thrown their way and both are factors on special teams with Sanzenbacher a savvy returner and Whalen a physical player both in the kicking game and from scrimmage. Hamilton's got upside, but not now.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (6), Bernard Scott (5), Cedric Peerman (4), Daniel Herron (2), Giovani Bernard (R), Rex Burkhead (R).
Scott figures to go to PUP, so it's coming down to Burkhead or Herron, right? Herron had a terrific preseason, leading the Bengals in rushing with 167 yards on 5.4 yards per carry. But Burkhead had a very solid 4.6-yards per his 28 carries and may have shown just a tad more versatility. He got to the edge a few times with runs of 22 and 20 yards and on Thursday he picked up a first down on fourth-and-one with patience and body lean, and showed good red-zone awareness with a 10-yard catch that set up his two-yard TD run.
If Mohamed Sanu is just a bit bigger and faster than the clutch T.J. Houshmandzadeh, isn't Burkhead a bit faster and a tad sleeker than the valuable Brian Leonard?
But the Bengals can't go wrong with a Boom Herron, either.
John Conner (4), Orson Charles (3).
Conner is going to be a starter in the NFL this season, but it's hard to see him doing it here. The Bengals just aren't a fullback-oriented team. Before Chris Pressley got hurt late last season, he averaged less than 15 snaps per game. And Thursday night when they committed to getting Conner on the field, the NFL had him for just 13 snaps.
The problem is if the Bengals go with a traditional fullback like Conner, that means they don't have a second tight end like Tyler Eifert or a third receiver like Marvin Jones on the field. Charles, meanwhile, may not be the crushing blocker like Conner, but he can play both tight end (like he did Thursday in Eifert's absence) as well as get in the way as a fullback. Plus, he's a factor in the passing game and on special teams that Conner isn't. But Charles did have a bad drop Thursday.
Alex Smith (9), Jermaine Gresham (4), Bryce Davis (1), Tyler Eifert (R).
What was interesting about Bernard's three-yard run Thursday is he did it with three tight ends on the field as Charles took Eifert's place with Gresham and Smith. Put Eifert back in there, and that gives the Bengals frightening versatility out of a three tight-end set.
After playing 47 percent of the snaps in Dallas, Smith followed up with 41 percent Thursday, so the Bengals must be getting him ready for something. They like his size, willingness and ability to block bigger people, and catching experience. Keeping four tight ends seems a bit much and the Bengals may not do it, but it sells the versatility model.
LT Andrew Whitworth (8), T Anthony Collins (6), C Kyle Cook (6), T Dennis Roland (6), G Mike Pollak (6), RT Andre Smith (5), G Clint Boling (3), G Kevin Zeitler (2), C Trevor Robinson (2), T Tanner Hawkinson (R), T Reid Fragel (R), C T.J. Johnson (R), G John Sullen (R).
Nine or 10? The five starters plus Collins and Hawkinson are in and maybe Robinson with Pollak's tweaked knee. The Bengals could keep both of those guys and go with another tackle depending how they're evaluating Whitworth. Or would they risk going light at nine? Pollak had a nice camp playing both guard and center and really pushed Robinson.
True to the pregame scuttlebutt, the Bengals played the heck out of their rookie tackles Thursday with Hawkinson getting the bulk of his 62 snaps at left tackle and Fragel getting 38 at right tackle before he left with his second knee injury of the preseason.
They both held up pretty well. Johnson and Skelton were a combined 13-for-23 passing, averaging 7.2 yards per throw. If the Bengals do go heavy at right tackle, do they stick with the veteran right tackle Roland, who hasn't missed a game for them in the last four seasons?
E Robert Geathers (10), NT Domata Peko (8), E Wallace Gilberry (6), RE Michael Johnson (5), LE Carlos Dunlap (4), DT Geno Atkins (4), LE Dontay Moch (2), DT Devon Still (2), NT Brandon Thompson (2), RE DeQuin Evans (1), RE Margus Hunt (R), NT Terence Stephens (R).
Dunlap (concussion) didn't play a preseason snap. But he only had about two last year before he made his debut in the third week of the regular season with 59 percent of the snaps and harassed Robert Griffin III into a key forced fumble at the Washington 12 that set up a TD.
The Bengals are reportedly offering up Moch, a 2011 third-rounder, but there's a shot they can keep him, too, in light of the Lamur injury. Moch was switched to linebacker from defensive end after the draft, but his transition to the position was stalled by a broken foot in his first preseason game and a bout of severe migraines that prevented him from playing in a regular-season game. He had an off-the-charts scouting combine in 2011 and he can certainly run. The Bengals wouldn't find anybody as athletic on waivers.
Hunt is intriguing, isn't he? Particularly with defensive line coach Jay Hayes starting to wave his magic wand. Hayes has already rotated into tackle on passing downs Geathers and Gilberry and he's easing Hunt into that role, too. Faced with a 6-8 tackle in Hunt coming up the middle and the 6-7 Johnson and the 6-6 Dunlap on the edge, a QB doesn't need a pocket but an elevator shaft.
Still, by the way, played 66 percent of the snaps and looked active after defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer asked him to play with more intensity.
On Friday, Evans, who was ticketed to the practice squad, was suspended for eight games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. It's his second violation in 22 months.
James Harrison (10), Rey Maualuga (5), Vincent Rey (4), Vontaze Burfict (2), Emmanuel Lamur (2), J.K. Schaffer (1), Jayson DiManche (R), Bruce Taylor (R).
The Lamur injury is a downer. If the worst fears are realized and he's gone for the year, the Bengals may spend the weekend scouring the waiver wire for a backer that can run. Of course, if he can run, he probably wouldn't be on waivers.
It would seem to suggest that DiManche makes it because, like Lamur, he's an outside guy. Where it leaves Schaffer, primarily an inside player is anyone's guess. Rey can play all three spots. So if Lamur's done, the question may not be who, but how many? Five or six?
CB Terence Newman (11), CB Leon Hall (7), CB Adam Jones (7), S Reggie Nelson (7), CB Brandon Ghee (4), S Taylor Mays (4), S Jeromy Miles (4), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (2), S George Iloka (2), S Tony Dye (1), CB Chris Lewis-Harris (1), CB Shaun Prater (1), S Shawn Williams (R), CB Onterio McCalebb (R).
Hard to see the Bengals not keeping six corners with the uncertainty of Adam Jones's situation and Ghee and Kirkpatrick fighting concussion symptoms. But that means they can only keep four safeties and that brings us back to the Mays-Miles showdown. Miles has been a special teams staple in his three seasons, but plays rarely from scrimmage. Mays has had more impact from scrimmage, but hasn't been consistent.
K Mike Nugent (9), P Kevin Huber (5), LS Clark Harris (5).
After ending last season injured, Nugent has been at his smooth best. He hit all five of his field-goal tries in the preseason and was a big reason the Bengals spent much of the preseason leading the NFL in opponents average drive start.