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Hot Spots

Posted: 5:15 p.m.

At the moment, it is only about paper.

Projections and pronouncements and Pro Bowls are only worth the paper in Jack Brennan's Bengals media guide.

But with voluntary workouts underway a week from Tuesday, here is one view of the hottest roster spots burning through the paper.

(Keeping in mind, of course, the final composition depends on injuries, special teams, other positions, players that could get picked up once training camp gets started, etc.)

DEFENSIVE LINE (13): Ends: Darryl Blackstock, Jonathan Fanene, Robert Geathers, Chris Harrington, Michael Johnson (rookie), Antwan Odom, Frostee Rucker. Tackles: Tank Johnson, Clinton McDonald (rookie), Domata Peko, Pernell Phillips (rookie), Pat Sims, Jason Shirley 

Usually the Bengals keep eight, sometimes an extra if they find a guy that can be the ninth lineman and seventh linebacker. The starters right now look to be Geathers at left end, Odom at right end with Peko and Sims in the middle and Tank Johnson looking to be the first tackle off the bench on passing downs while also pushing for a starting job. And third-rounder Michael Johnson is going to stay around with the only question being if he'll end up counting as just an end or an end/backer.

Because Fanene and Rucker can move inside on passing downs, they hold some value. Does that make them the seventh and eighth men? How far has Shirley come after a wash as a rookie? Will McDonald, a seventh-rounder, continue to impress with veterans around?

SECONDARY (14): Safeties: Chris Crocker, Kyries Hebert, Corey Lynch, Chinedum Ndukwe, Tom Nelson, Marvin White, Roy Williams; Cornerbacks: Simeon Castille, Leon Hall, David Jones, Johnathan Joseph, Trent Morgan (rookie), Rico Murray (rookie), Geoff Pope.

In the past the Bengals have kept 10 with five and five or six corners and four safeties. But they've never had this many hitters at safety.

Crocker knocked out Santonio Holmes in November, Ndukwe blew a hole through Ken Dorsey on a half-ending sack in a December shutout, and Williams comes in with more hits from Texas than Michael Young. Plus, the club has second-year hopes for Lynch in the brainy, handy mold of Kevin Kaesviharn and Hebert is coming off an MVP-like season on special teams. White won't get on the field until the start of training camp with his rehabbing ACL, but he's proven to be aggressive and tough in his two seasons.

With Joseph's foot finally healthy after another surgery, the Bengals are banking on him returning to his rookie form of 19 pass breakups. Hall came into his own covering every team's top receiver. Now they're hoping tall, talented David Jones puts it together enough in his third season to be a capable third corner. Keep an eye on Trent, expected to be back for training camp after breaking his foot last week. The Bengals thought he could have gone as high as late third and felt pretty good when they got him at the top of the sixth.

RUNNING BACKS (7):  Cedric Benson, DeDe Dorsey, Brian Leonard, Marlon Lucky (rookie), James Johnson, Bernard Scott (rookie), Kenny Watson.

In the past, the Bengals have only kept three and they've already cut a first-rounder in Chris Perry. Kenny Watson has served long and well as the third-down back, but at 31 he's fending off some challenges.

But Dorsey hasn't been able to stay healthy since averaging more than eight yards per his 21 carries in '07. Can Johnson, a college free agent last season, continue his momentum from late in the year? The 230-pound Leonard can catch and block and is trying to show people he's got speed, too.

By the way, Leonard arrived last week via the Bengals' first player-for-player trade since 1990. But it wasn't linebacker Joe Kelly to the Jets for wide receiver Reggie Rembert. That was on Aug. 27, 1990. The Bengals pulled another one five days later when they sent defensive end Jim Skow to Tampa Bay for cornerback Rod Jones on Sept. 1.

OFFENSIVE LINE (14): Digger Bujnoch (C-G), Anthony Collins (T), Andrew Crummey (C-G), Kyle Cook (C-G), Colin Dow (Rookie C-G), Scott Kooistra (G-T), Nate Livings (G), Jonathan Luigs (rookie C), Evan Mathis (C-G-T), Dennis Roland (T), Dan Santucci (C-G), Andre Smith (rookie T), Andrew Whitworth (G-T), Bobbie Williams (G).

In the past the Bengals have usually kept nine. They need 3.5 tackles and 2.5 centers. The rest have to be able to play some combo of center, guard and tackle.

Much depends which tackle they make Smith. With a potential holdout and Whitworth and Collins both with snaps under the belt at left tackle, Smith could very well end up at right.

Cook gets the nod at center to start, but he's got plenty of numbers breathing down his neck. Luigs is going to have to get acclimated at guard. Whitworth and Williams can be the half-center for emergencies.

FULLBACKS (3): Jeremi Johnson, Chris Pressley (rookie), Fui Vakapuna (rookie).

If Johnson comes in out of shape this time, it will be hard to keep him. If he does, the guy was Pro Bowl-like three years ago. But there won't be many second chances. Both kids look to have some talent, are smart, and showed they didn't mind mixing it up at minincamp.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12): Freddie Brown (rookie), Andre Caldwell, Antonio Chatman, Laveranues Coles, Quan Cosby (rookie), Chris Henry, Chad Ochocinco, Greg Orton (rookie), Maurice Purify, David Richmond (rookie), Jerome Simpson, Mario Urrutia.

The Ocho and Coles start and Henry and Caldwell are the first off the bench. Cosby challenges Chatman if he can show some flash returning punts. Usually only five dress, but Simpson has shown a lot of determination in his bid to get on the field. They keep raving about his natural talent. These next two months are big for him.

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