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Hobson's Choice: Bengals Looking To Line Up Depth

Pookah Williams, Jr., makes a leaping catch this week as the Bengals young receivers try to separate themselves.
Pookah Williams, Jr., makes a leaping catch this week as the Bengals young receivers try to separate themselves.

Hi Geoff! Have the Bengals (or NFL) decided if any part of the 2022 training camp in July will be open to the public? Such as a scrimmage open to public? Would love to get an early peek. Lisa G., Cincinnati, OH

LISA: From all indications, the NFL has lifted all COVID protocols and the club very much wants them to be able to enjoy their team again, so I expect the fans to be back at training camp. Nothing official yet, but I'm hoping for an announcement soon to clarify all the details.  

Thought we'd prioritize WR depth in the draft or with more "high end" UDFA offers. Not trying to derail this into a position v BPA talk, I'm very happy with our draft. But has Heiligh & co shown much yet? We're 1 WR injury from bad days. Alex Phillips, Springboro, OH

ALEX: I think you said it yourself. You're happy with the draft and one of the reasons is because they didn't reach for a need and, at this point, if back-up receiver is a need, you're in pretty good shape.

Teams, I don't think, target any undrafted free agents with the thought they're going to make a specific roster spot their rookie seasons. Coastal Carolina's Jaivon Heiligh is impressive physically at 6-1, 202 pounds with a productive college career (191 catches in 49 games) and, like the rest of the young, undrafted receivers, they're here to develop but unlikely to contribute by Opening Day. The other CFA receiver who has stood out is Kansas' Kwamie Lassiter, who the scouts targeted for both receiving and return skills.

All that said, they see what you see and are looking for depth there. This coaching staff has high regard for Michael Thomas and his knowledge of the offense, as well as the strides he's made on special teams. Trent Taylor is here until he's unseated at punt return.

So that gives you one open receiver slot on Sundays if you're dressing six and one of them may be a CFA if they can be trusted on special teams. Or they may also look to repeat another August move a la B.J. Hill and explore a trade. They do have depth at other positions, like linebacker, for capital. Given their impending contract extensions over the next calendar year, it's hard to see them warming the seat for a big name when they already have three pretty big names starting.

Do you think that Cincinnati will be able to re-sign Bates? if for no other reason than to trade him? Or do you think he sits this season and moves on next? Provided of course the new secondary talent live up to their draft spots. John Olson, Richmond, KY

JOHN: Like Zac Taylor said Tuesday: I'm not making any predictions. But it sounds to me as if they're counting on Jessie Bates III, one of the league's best safeties and an influential team leader, on playing this season. They've got until July 15 to get a long-term deal. Rarely does a player sit out the year.

My sense is they're not looking to trade the guy. As good as first-round pick Dax Hill has looked, no decisions are going to be based off six OTA sessions, and the mindset I hear from the coaches and scouts is that everyone is "all in on 2022", which means you keep your best players. So it sounds like they want Bates to play for them in at least 2022 and hopefully longer. Time will tell.

Will the Bengals look into adding more depth at the 3 Tech spot as well as Edge? Banking on Zach Carter to replace some of Larry's productivity as the backup is asking a lot. One injury to Trey or Sam and you don't feel good about edge. Ryan Henes, Athens, OH

RYAN: More depth questions, another good sign. Yes and yes. Judging from their recent activity, it seems like they feel pretty good on the edge with Khalid Kareem and Cam Sample out there behind Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. It's going to be hard to hard to replicate last season's 21.5 sacks of those two, but no team has those number of sacks in back-up roles.

Sample and Kareem played a lot of meaningful snaps last season (Denver knows all about Kareem) and there is last year's third-rounder Joseph Ossai waiting in the wings, but if a vet shakes loose you could see them adding him in August.

Same at the back-up three technique. They proved they could get a good one in late August in the B.J. Hill trade. Let's hold off on judging rookie linemen like Carter before they work in pads. I don't think they're banking on any rookies (another good sign), but let's see what guys like the third-rounder Carter, the seventh-round edge Jeffrey Gunter and the undrafted three tech/edge Tariqious Tisdale look like in August. Then they can make some moves that could include re-signing Larry Ogunjobi, if healthy.

My question is about our defensive line. We know the starters are Hubbard Hendrickson Hill and Reader but how do you think the back end shakes out? How many do they keep? With Sample, Ossai, Hubert, Gunter, Kareem and Tisdale lotta options Wade Shultz, Newport, KY

WADE: Typically, they keep ten defensive linemen with nine dressing on Sundays. So going into training camp they've got Hendrickson, Hubbard, Kareem, Sample (who can play tackle on third down) and Ossai on the edge. Those five are the leaders in the clubhouse with the last two seventh-rounders, Gunter and Wyatt Hubert, as well as practice squad vet Noah Spence, battling. Behind Reader they've got Josh Tupou and Tyler Shelvin, although Shelvin clearly has to take a step. That's eight. There is B.J. Hill and behind him are two rookies in Carter and Tisdale. That's ten, but don't be surprised if there is a vet not here now that could very well be on the Opening Day 53. They like who they've got, but they have also been dogged about adding D-Linemen when they can.

What are the Chances the Bengals the Bengals make a trade for a 3T come September? Also if the Bengals make a trade for Bates; What should they expect back in return? Jake Walton, Fredericksburg, VA

JAKE: Given that the Bengals made a pretty good trade for a three technique in B.J. Hill in late August last year, that certainly has to be on their radar again, unless they can find one on the waiver wire. Or maybe Larry Ogunjobi returns if he's deemed healthy.

They're not looking to trade the guy. If they do trade Bates, you have to figure they'd want at least the second-round pick they used to draft him. That's what the Chiefs got from the 49ers when they traded Pro Bowl edge Dee Ford in 2019 off his 13-sack season in a tag-and-trade. In a more recent tag-and-trade, Jacksonville tagged edge Yannick Ngakoue in 2020 and got a second-round pick in 2021 and a conditional fifth-round draft pick in 2022 from the Vikings. But, like I say, that's not what they want to do.

Hi Geoff, We hear a lot about the new o line and passing game; what are the coaches expectations for Mixon and company, with the new lineman? I'm hoping burrow gets an extra second to pass the ball. Will mixon get more gaps? Dave Caldwell, Milford, OH

DAVE: That's the hope. A more consistent running game translates into better pass protection as much as a bountiful free agency on the offensive line. Running back Joe Mixon had a career-high 292 carries last season, third most in the league. Since Mixon came into the league in 2017, only Zeke Elliott and Derrick Henry have more carries. Expect more of the same, but they're looking for a better yards per than his 4.1 of last season. These three new starters on the offensive line mean as much in the run game as they do in the pass game.

Talking to offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, much of the offseason has been spent on making play-action passes and short-yardage situations more successful. Both rely on creating more gaps in the run game. It is being addressed. And, like you, I'm a Mixon guy. So the more he is in discussions about potentially being an offensive player of the year candidate – and he has that kind of talent – the better everybody else will be looking. Stay tuned.

Hobbs, my guy....

Do you agree with me that the Bengals need a little more depth on the offensive line & defensive line. I would like for them to bring Spain & Reiff back for solid depth on the offensive line, also a solid 3T. T Moody, Bel Air, MD

T: They hear you on the three technique. But they're not looking to get any older up front offensively. It seems to me they feel like these guys they've drafted and developed on the offensive line have to be the ones to back it up.

They love vet guards Quinton Spain and Xavier Su'a-Filo and vet right tackle Riley Reiff. But when you look at durability issues and the impending pay structure of 2023, it just doesn't seem to be the way to go.

Yes, the estimable Pat Kirwan of Sirius NFL Radio has been urging for months that the Bengals re-sign Reiff as a swing tackle, but the Bengals think they have an emerging player in that spot in sophomore fourth-rounder D'Ante Smith and they're not looking to take reps away from him.

And at left guard, second-year second-rounder Jackson Carman has looked worthy this spring of being the training camp starter, but they've also been impressed with rookies Cordell Volson, a fourth-rounder, and Ben Brown, a free agent. They've always had high hopes for second-year man Trey Hill, a sixth-rounder. Now that he's solely been a guard for two years, they also think third-year player Hakeem Adeniji, a 2020 sixth-rounder, can make a contribution. As it is, one of these young guys they like isn't going to make it. And, like all young players, they need the snaps.

If you never play the young guys, they never get the chance to ascend. Paul Brown always said, "It's a young man's game", so let's see if offensive line coach Frank Pollack can fashion a good unit with the young talent.

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