ATLANTA — Remember when Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said in the first days of training camp two weeks ago that he could pretty much cut his team "right now?"
Well, director of player personnel Duke Tobin may have a shot to do what he did in 2010 (Reggie Nelson) and 2011 (Kelly Jennings and Taylor Mays) and make some August trades. Because Thursday night's 34-10 win in the preseason opener against the Falcons seemed to indicate the Bengals have more than 53 players.
The Bengals didn't have three of their top four wide receivers and got touchdown catches from Brandon Tate and Dane Sanzenbacher, as well as two huge third-down catches from Ryan Whalen.
They had five running backs with a long run of at least six yards.
Their sixth-ranked defense from last season played pretty much only the first two series, but the Bengals still gave up just one touchdown and 3.8 yards per rush while holding the Falcons to 50 percent passing and 5-for-15 on third down.
They didn't have their present special teams captain (linebacker Vinnie Rey) and past (linebacker Dan Skuta) and yet they pumped out Sanzenbacher's draw-it-up-on-the-board-71-yard punt return touchdown, field goals by Mike Nugent and Quinn Sharp, and Sharp's four touchbacks.
"There wasn't much of a fall off. There was the same technique, same intensity," said rookie free-agent SAM linebacker Jayson DiManche, who had a sack. "It just shows how well everyone is coached and how solid this team is."
Take wide receiver. A.J. Green (knee), Andrew Hawkins (ankle) and Marvin Jones (hamstring) didn't play. The other two guys that figure to make it, Tate and Mohamed Sanu, did. Who is the sixth and last receiver? Throw in rookie Cobi Hamilton drawing a 31-yard pass interference penalty and running an end-around for 17 yards and it's anyone's guess.
"You're asking the wrong guy how many spots are left," Sanzenbacher said. "It's too early in camp to even start counting. It's only the first preseason game. At this point I think everyone is playing really well. Everybody is putting it on tape. You look at practice and everyone is having big camps."
And what about the two linebacker spots behind the three starters and Emmanuel Lamur? Rey (knee) figures to have an edge somewhere with versatility and special teams play. But there is also fourth-rounder Sean Porter, not to mention undrafted guys like DiManche and J.K. Schaffer who furiously staked their claims Thursday.
Schaffer, who led the Jaguars in preseason tackles last season as a rookie before he got cut a few weeks later, picked up where he left off and led the Bengals with six tackles while also contributing the key block on Sanzenbacher's punt return.
"The tough part about it, and the coaches talk about it, is you get tired out there," Schaffer said. "When you're a first-year player or a rookie or a second-, third-year player, you're going to get tired out there because you're going to be on defense as well as special teams. It's kind of a battle of wills out there when you're a younger player.
"I try not worry about (the roster). I'm just trying to go out there and do my thing and play and let it sort itself out in the end."
Schaffer does the things that special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons loves. On the punt return he lined up at left guard and found himself up against the speedy and dangerous Jacquizz Rodgers, a 5-6, 196-pound battering ram he said he remembered from his days at the University of Cincinnati.
"They're stout and strong players," Schaffer said of Jacquizz and brother James, also on the Falcons. "I laid everything I had into hm. I almost popped my own helmet off, but that was a good feeling. Dane had a great read and the other guys made their blocks."
The 6-1, 240-pound DiManche out of Southern Illinois is an interesting case. The Bengals made him one of the highest-paid free agents in the league ($15,000 bonus) so it would figure he'd be hard to hide on the practice squad. And after Thursday night he won't be hidden on tape. He had a sack of Falcons backup quarterback Dominique Davis and knew enough that Davis's mobility was dangerous as he tried to chop the ball out of his hands.
"Every time I get back there, especially from the blind side I'm going for the ball," DiManche said of chopping the ball out, another college pass rusher making the transition to backer. "We had a mobile quarterback back there. You have to be sure to secure the sack, but when I get back there I'm definitely trying to make the play."
He had to laugh when asked about the ESPN environment.
"If I thought about that, me coming from a small school, I probably would have frozen out there," he said. "It was a lot of fun."
He's got the same outlook on the roster.
"We're just out there having fun competing; that's all we can do," DiManche said. "You can only control what's in front of you and what we're doing."