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Five things to watch: Bengals at Commanders

WR Charlie Jones
WR Charlie Jones

The Bengals close out the 2023 preseason on Saturday night when they face the Washington Commanders at FedEx Field. The game airs at 6 p.m. on the Bengals Preseason TV Network (Local 12 in Cincinnati) and will also stream in market on Paramount+. Here are five things to watch:

1. Finale of backup quarterback competition

Saturday will serve as the conclusion of the backup quarterback position battle. Jake Browning and Trevor Siemian have each received first-team reps throughout training camp as Joe Burrow recovers from his calf strain.

At his Monday news conference, head coach Zac Taylor indicated the week of work ahead — including practices and Saturday's game — would still weigh into the decision. He also commented that he was pleased with the progress both quarterbacks have made throughout the summer, which was echoed by offensive coordinator Brian Callahan this week.

Taylor stated that QB Reid Sinnett should see some second-half action vs. the Commanders as coaches hope to evaluate him as well. Sinnett was signed by the Bengals on July 30 and has previously spent time with the Buccaneers, Dolphins and Eagles in addition to the XFL's San Antonio Brahmas.

2. Offensive line versatility

The Bengals have been largely splitting up preseason reps along the offensive line, underscoring the group's versatility. Jackson Carman figures to be an option as a swing tackle as he started on the right side against Green Bay before stepping in at the starting left tackle at Atlanta. He was the lone Bengal to play 100 percent of the team's offensive snaps (63), which included additional time at right tackle in the fourth quarter. Callahan this week praised Carman for his flexibility, noting that switching between both sides of the line in a single game isn't easy, but provided an opportunity to get valuable in-game experience.

D'Ante Smith also received playing time at both tackle positions at Atlanta while Cody Ford saw time at right tackle in the preseason opener vs. Green Bay in addition to handling guard duties.

3. Punt returning opportunities

Wide receiver Charlie Jones, the team's fourth-round draft pick in April, is looking forward to getting more reps as punt returner Saturday night. Jones has returned only three punts in the preseason, his longest being an 11-yard return in the second quarter at Atlanta. He has split punt returner responsibilities with veteran Trent Taylor, who took on the role for Cincinnati late in the 2021 campaign and has two returns this preseason.

Despite the lack of preseason opportunities, Zac Taylor noted that Jones has received extensive punt return reps in practice and brings with him a wealth of experience returning kicks in college. Jones in 2021 was named the Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year after returning 25 kickoffs for 635 yards (25.4 average) and one TD and 37 punts for 25 yards for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

4. Myles Murphy's return to game action

Rookie defensive end Myles Murphy is a key player to watch in the preseason finale, as he will see game action on Saturday night after an illness kept him out of the game last week in Atlanta. Cincinnati's first-round draft pick this year, Murphy returned to practice on Sunday and will have had a solid week of work under his belt.

In the opener vs. Green Bay, Murphy played 32 snaps and tallied two tackles. Bengals coaches are hopeful to see Murphy progress in more game action as the rookie works to make his way up the Bengals defensive line depth chart.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said that the transition for rookie edge rushers can be a difficult one as they adjust to going up against the league's top offensive tackles, but that he expects Murphy to play well on Saturday after a productive training camp.

5. One last showing before final roster cuts

Zac Taylor made it public that starters will not see the field on Saturday, offering opportunities for players fighting to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. Cincinnati will need to trim its current roster size (89) to 53 by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 29 — just 12 days ahead of the regular-season opener on Sept. 10 at Cleveland. Though the coaching staff has used every day of training camp to evaluate the team's depth, Taylor reaffirmed that several position battles have yet to be finalized.

"You have to force yourself to see how it all shakes out," Taylor said. "To say that decisions are set in stone is unfair and unrealistic."

Taylor also stressed the importance of the preseason finale for players who are candidates for one of Cincinnati's 16 practice squad spots, acknowledging that Bengals coaches will be making sure they take every opportunity to see what they need to see. The Bengals' roster at the end of the 2022 postseason featured a number of players who began the year on the practice squad, including long snapper Cal Adomitis, punter Drue Chrisman and wide receiver Trenton Irwin.

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