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Final bow; Roster look heading to Indy

You can exhale now.

The Bengals head into Thursday’s pre-season finale (7 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Channel 12) in Indianapolis without the major pre-season injury hanging over so many teams. The starters and some of the regulars don’t expect to play, so head coach Marvin Lewis and head strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton should get another round of applause for getting this team to the gate in a trot instead of a limp.

They didn’t get through totally unscathed. Safety Shawn Williams (elbow) wants to get back for the opener, but it would appear the third game in Green Bay is more like it.

And it appears for the second straight year in the third pre-season game that special teams co-captain Cedric Peerman suffered a significant injury. Certainly losing such a pro isn’t easy, but his spot isn’t secure yet in a major roster battle at running back.

Last week it was safety, this week it was running back, but Jeremy Hill and Tra Carson, who got nicked in Washington, are expected Opening Day. But first Carson has to win a spot.

At every turn in the spring and training camp they’ve protected guys, such as cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (hand), running back Giovani Bernard (knee), safety George Iloka (knee) and, the latest, tight end Tyler Eifert (knee) as a bout of tendinitis  took him out of last Sunday’s game. All expect to play Opening Day, so it’s paid off.

But they couldn’t avoid a mushroom cloud pending Tuesday’s appeal of Vontaze Burfict’s five-game suspension. Now there are two factors heading into the cut down. The roster is going to look different in the second game because of cornerback Adam Jones’ one-game suspension. But a response to Burfict’s possible absence would seem to be pretty straight forward by keeping an extra backer if it’s a multi-game ban.

A look at the roster heading to Indy:

QUARTERBACKS

Andy Dalton (7), Andy Dalton (3), Jeff Driskel (2)

Hard to see them not keeping Driskel despite the tight roster.  He had another good drive Sunday and he’s got the kind of athleticism they can use in a pinch at running back and special teams. His presence also keeps them flexible on the McCarron front. One of the biggest surprises of the preseason is that McCarron has always given them the edge in the second half of these games, but in the last two weeks his 41 and 44 passer ratings couldn’t get them over the hump. Still, when he’s got the 1s weapons around him he’ll be better.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Brandon LaFell (8), A.J. Green (7), Tyler Boyd (2), Alex Erickson (2), Cody Core  (2), Chris Brown (2), Alonzo Russell (1), John Ross (R), Josh Malone (R), Kermit Whitfield (R).

All roster decisions flow from here. Malone looks like he’s the best last guy at a spot and has to stay because he has so much talent even if he’s not going to be active, at least early in the season. So with seven receivers, does that mean three backs, or three tight ends or eight linemen on offense or defense ….?

You’d think Ross plays Thursday just because he hasn’t played much at all and he needs to knock off the rust and dust. The big, strong Core should have had a TD Sunday. Even though McCarron slightly underthrew him in the end zone he should have had six but Core didn’t cleanly catch the contested ball.  

RUNNING BACKS

Cedric Peerman (8), Giovani Bernard (5), Jeremy Hill (4),  Tra Carson (1), Joe Mixon (R), Jarveon Williams (R), Darrin Laufasa (FB) (R).

They have to work through the Peerman injury and make a call on Carson. Hard to see them playing Bernard Thursday even though he’s played only one game in the preseason, but he looked like he’s ready for the bell with four carries for 25 yards Sunday.  Mixon is fabulous, but he’s human. He’s still a rookie. On Sunday he fumbled one snap and on another he appeared to have trouble knowing when to pick up a blitzing linebacker. But fantasy gurus are right to draft him. The kid is going to be a huge factor for this club.

TIGHT ENDS

Tyler Eifert (5), Ryan Hewitt (4), Tyler Kroft (3), C.J. Uzomah (3), Mason Schreck (R), Cethan Carter (R)

Here’s a numbers game, too. Has Schreck or Carter played well enough to beat somebody out from another position? Figure they carry Uzomah (ankle) even though he can’t play for a few more weeks.   

OFFENSIVE LINE

RT Eric Winston (11), RG-T Andre Smith (9), LG Clint Boling (7), C Russell Bodine (4), R-LT Jake Fisher (3), LT Cedric Ogbuehi (3), C-G T.J. Johnson (2), G Christian Westerman (2), C-G-T Trey Hopkins (2). G Alex Redmond (1), C-G J.J. Dielman (R), G Dustin Stanton (R), T Kent Perkins (R), T Cameron Lee (R).

The young tackles have allowed pressure at times and have been up and down. For instance, Fisher got bulled a few times Sunday and got flagged for hands to the face. They’ve also played well enough that they’ve shown the Bengals can win with them. Bottom line Sunday? Dalton didn’t get sacked, the key stat for their season. Look at how much time they gave Dalton on the two third-and-long completions to Green. They’re athletic, conscientious and should get better the more snaps they get.

Hopkins has been playing well as their right guard, but even though he didn’t have the greatest game Sunday he’s done enough to win the job. Heck, he deserves it on perseverance alone. He came back after Johnson checked in for a few snaps on Sunday to finish with the first group and Johnson showed why he’s the first guy off the bench at guard and center.

It’s the first time anybody can remember Smith playing left tackle in a game and he looked fine in the second half. It wasn’t exactly Terrell Suggs over there but, look, Smith is a solid guy that’s going to get the job done if they need him in a pinch. The question will be for how long if they need him. Those two young guards, Redmond and Westerman, are strong guys that look like they belong as backups. The massive Redmond has been particularly impressive tossing people.  

DEFNSIVE LINE

NT Pat Sims (10), DL Wallace Gilberry (10), DE Michael Johnson (9), DE Carlos Dunlap (8), DT Geno Atkins (8),  DE Will Clarke (4), DE Chris Smith (4), DL Marcus Hardison (3), NT DeShawn Williams (2), NT Andrew Billings (2), DT David Dean (1), DE Ryan Brown (1), DE Jordan Willis (R), NT Josh Tupou (R), DT Ryan Glasgow (R).

The young rushers, Willis and Smith, looked so good again on Sunday, didn’t they? Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther can put them anywhere and it frees up the other guys. It looks like Johnson’s career has been revived with inside rushes. How many do they keep? Eight? Nine? Ten?

 There’s quite a tractor pull at tackle, where no one has really emerged next to Atkins at nose. Glasgow has been pretty stable, but he plays pretty much the same spot as Geno. Tupou, the undrafted rookie, has been quite interesting and intriguing. Billings has been inconsistent and still looks like he’s coming back from his knee injury. Sims is Sims, the veteran, reliable run stuffer. How young can they go there? They’re probably surprised this isn’t as solidified as they like.

LINEBACKERS

Vincent Rey (7) Vontaze Burfict (6), Kevin Minter (5), Nick Vigil (2), P.J. Dawson (2), Bryson Albright (1), Carl Lawson (R), Jordan Evans (R), Brandon Bell (R), Hardy Nickerson (R).

The potential Burfict suspension looms, a real gut punch. His 62-yard pick-six on Sunday shows why he’s so special. He not only can diagnose the play, he can game break it. The Bengals have guys that can diagnose, but how many backers in the league can pop it, too?  They could end up being really young here. Evans has been very good and looks like an emerging starter. Nickerson is the ultimate coach’s son player, but he hurt his back and didn’t play Sunday. Stay tuned.

SECONDARY

CB Adam Jones (10), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (6), S George Iloka (6), S Shawn Williams (5), CB Darqueze Dennard (4), CB Bene Benwikere (4), CB-S Josh Shaw (3), S Derron Smith (3), CB William Jackson (2), S Clayton Fejedelem (2), CB KeiVarae Russell (2), CB Tony McRae (1), S Demetrious Cox (R), S Brandon Wilson (R).

Jones is out for the opener, so do they only go with nine DBs when they play the Ravens? They’re trying to coax through at safety with Williams out and Iloka dinged, but it looks like Iloka is back for the opener and Fejedelem is going to be next to him still learning. They seem to prefer Shaw as a handyman coming off the bench when needed and he’s the guy that would allow them to keep nine because he can swing between safety and corner.

Two observations on the corner: Jackson is a big-league cover guy and had a nice knock-away Sunday. Russell is an athletic, fast guy that can help them on special teams. As for safety, Cox got 21 snaps on Sunday and still looks to be in the mix for a last spot.

SPECIALISTS

P Kevin Huber (9), LS Clark Harris (9), K Randy Bullock (6), K Jake Elliott (R).

The thinking was that Bullock had to knock out the fifth-rounder Elliott to win the job. Elliott’s missed one of four field-goal tries in the games while Bullock has hit five of five and has ripped off two 50-yarders with basically the same number of touchbacks. Is that a knockout? We defer to special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons and he’s got a tough call. He has to balance the back of Bullock’s football card with Elliott’s potential along with three months of kicking in practice. The guess is the longer Bullock stays the better for him.

Huber punted for the first time this preseason Sunday and drew raves more for his sleight of hand than his foot when he caught a snap and put it around his back so he could keep it away from a free runner. That will happen when you have 10 guys on the field. The Bengals didn’t respond on teams when Carson got hurt, which shows you its preseason for everybody.

 

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