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Five things to watch: Bengals vs. Packers

K Evan McPherson kicks the ball for a field goal during the second quarter of the 2022 season AFC Championship against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, January 29 2023.
K Evan McPherson kicks the ball for a field goal during the second quarter of the 2022 season AFC Championship against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, January 29 2023.

The Bengals open their preseason slate with a Friday night matchup against the Green Bay Packers at Paycor Stadium. The game airs at 7 p.m. on the Bengals Preseason TV Network (Local 12 in Cincinnati) and NFL Network. Here are five things to watch:

1. Rookies look to earn their stripes

Cincinnati's active roster features 20 rookies who all figure to see extended action on Friday. Notably, fans will have a chance to watch the Bengals' eight-player draft class under the Paycor lights for the first time. While the versatile class — which consists of four defensive players, three offensive players and one special teamer — continues to battle for roster spots, Bengals coaches have praised the efforts shown by the entire group, including the 12 who joined as college free agents.

"I've been really impressed from start to finish with these rookies," said head coach Zac Taylor in his Wednesday news conference. "There are some instances where maybe they disappear for a day or two, and I don't think that's uncommon, but those are guys I'm excited to watch on Friday in a new environment and see if they continue to grow over the course of this camp."

Rookies for fans to keep their eyes on include edge rusher Myles Murphy and running back Chase Brown. Murphy, the team's first-round pick out of Clemson, picked up All-ACC honors last season with 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Friday will be the first chance for Murphy to showcase his true pass-rushing abilities, after spending the first two weeks of camp chasing down quarterbacks in red non-contact jerseys. Brown's explosiveness out of the backfield has been on display at the Kettering Health Practice Fields, and now he looks to carry that over to game day just as he did the past two seasons at Illinois. Brown became just the third player in Fighting Illini history to reach 1,000 rushing yards in back-to-back years, and in 2022 he ran for 100-plus yards in a program-record 10 straight games.

2. Competition for second-string QB

Zac Taylor didn't drop any hints on Friday's starting quarterback during his Wednesday news conference. With Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Burrow sidelined for several weeks with a calf injury, Trevor Siemian and Jake Browning have shared increased reps in practices as they compete for the Bengals' backup spot.

Siemian, a veteran signal caller who is entering his ninth pro season, signed with Cincinnati as a free agent during the offseason. He has started 30 games in his career and has 7,027 passing yards with 42 touchdowns.

Browning, meanwhile, hopes to crack a 53-man roster out of training camp for the first time since he entered the league in 2019. He spent the past two seasons on the Bengals' practice squad but has flashed at times during training camp, and Taylor told reporters that with Burrow out, Browning is getting a chance to take on more responsibility in the offense.

"This has been really good for Jake to get these opportunities," said Taylor. "We think highly of him. He's locked in and he brings something to the table in the quarterback room. He's a talented player who makes things happen when he's out there. He's done a really good job of evolving in our offense the last couple of years, and now he's getting a chance to get a lot of reps with Trevor."

3. Huskies in The Jungle

Browning is not the only former University of Washington player on the Bengals looking to make an impression on Friday. Cincinnati is well represented by the purple and gold, and the preseason opener holds a distinct significance for each former Husky.

Cornerback Sidney Jones IV joined the team as a free agent this offseason. Jones, a former second-round pick out of Washington in 2017, spent the past six seasons with four different teams and now hopes to earn an impact role in Lou Anarumo's secondary. Also making his Bengals debut will be rookie guard Jaxson Kirkland, who signed with Cincinnati as a college free agent in May. Kirkland was an All-Pac-12 performer in each of the last three seasons at Washington and brings premier size to the Bengals' O-line room at 6-foot-7, 328 pounds.

4. McPherson preseason magic

Evan McPherson has put together one of the best starts to a career by a kicker in NFL history, and he's shown that he needs very little — if any — time to get into midseason form. In his six preseason games, Money Mac is 14 for 15 on field goal attempts and five for five on PATs. But his long-range kicking in August has been even more notable. He has booted five field goals from 50-plus yards, including a 57-yarder in 2021, as well as 58 and 56-yarders in the second quarter alone in the 2022 opener against Arizona.

5. Fans back at Paycor

The Jungle will host its first game since an exhilarating 24-17 win over Baltimore in the Wild Card Playoff on Jan. 15. Anticipation for the 2023 season has been building over the past six months, and it's clear fans are excited to watch the Bengals play. Both home games in the 2022 preseason featured an attendance figure of over 60,000. Friday's crowd is expected to top that number once again. Fans are encouraged to arrive early to experience one of the top pregame shows and atmospheres in the NFL. Click here to learn more about "What's New in Paycor Stadium" this season.

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