We have seen the future and it is Paycor Stadium filled to the brim with jerseys stretching from No. 1 (Ja'Marr Chase) to the numbers standing sentry in the Bengals Ring of Honor. (78, 13, 14 and soon to be 71 and 85.)
We also saw in Friday night's preseason opener a field filled with new, unknown jerseys vying to make one of the NFL's most talented rosters. That also looks to be the future, one where depth continues to be more and more vital.
With head coach Zac Taylor learning more and more about protecting his team, we're in a different day. The irony of it all is that one of the men Taylor studied under, Rams head coach Sean McVay, brings his player-first philosophy to Paycor for the preseason finale on Aug. 27 and the most work the Bengals starters could end up getting before the Sept. 11 opener against the Steelers is in the two practices against the Rams leading up to the game.
Maybe. We'll see. Taylor likes to read the (locker) room before making schedules, a reason he's one of the best young coaches in the game. One thing is for sure, though, after Friday's 36-23 loss to the Cardinals. The last ten spots or so are still up for grabs as the back of the roster continues to churn with to-be-determineds.
And look at it like this.
The first-rounder (Dax Hill) showed up. The third-rounder (Zach Carter) and seventh-rounder (Jeffrey Gunter) had active nights om the D-Line. The fourth-rounder (Cordell Volson) had a solid debut. The fifth-rounder (Tycen Anderson) ran and hit like he was supposed to do. And the second-rounder (Cam Taylor-Britt) didn't play but has had a good camp.
A glance at the flip card after the first preseason game. (NFL seasons in parenthesis.):
Brandon Allen (6), Joe Burrow (3), Jake Browning (1), Drew Plitt (R)
More proof to the impact of Burrowism.
Bengaldom roared with each sprint and casual toss in pregame. It sure looks like he's close, doesn't it? With the Giants game eight days away, Taylor sounded optimistic Allen could play after getting a concussion in Friday's first series.
Which is really too bad because they're hoping to see a ton of Allen. Training camp has been up and down for the offense, but a game is so much a better gauge for a quarterback. You figure if he can go, he'll get at least the entire first half in New York.
Browning played all but the first and last series and was solid. More work to do in the bid to be a 2, but he made some nice plays with his feet, some tough throws under duress and made a dicey situation doable.
"I thought Jake managed the game really well," Taylor said in his postgame. "The statistics are not going to reflect some of the really tough spots that he was in that were no fault of his own … He felt comfortable moving around and extending some plays. That was good to see and helped prolong some drives. He had the big scramble there that got us into the end zone on that first touchdown we scored. You need the quarterback to move you and put you in the end zone and did some good things that allowed us to do that."
Plitt had the feel-good story of the night when the Greater Cincinnati product got the last series and hit all six passes with the last one a 25-yard touchdown pass. If that was his last shot as a Bengal, he did what another Bengals No. 7 did and made his last pass a TD.
Norman Julius Esiason.
WIDE RECEIVERS (11)
Tyler Boyd (7), Mike Thomas (7), Trent Taylor (5), Stanley Morgan (4), Tee Higgins (3), Trenton Irwin (3), Ja'Marr Chase (2), Jaivon Heiligh (R), Kwamie Lassiter II (R), Kendric Pryor (R), Jack Sorenson (R).
How good was Pryor Friday? The undrafted rookie from Wisconsin had four catches for 89 yards, double-moved to grab Plitt's touchdown and made a stunning 30-yard diving catch when Browning, twisting to throw as he ran out-of-bounds, found him downfield. Somehow Pryor stopped his momentum as he tight-roped the sidelines, dove and stayed in. Pro Football Focus graded him as the Bengals top offensive player in the game.
Pryor is trying to do what another undrafted Wisconsin wide receiver did six years ago in Cincinnati when Alex Erickson came out of nowhere to make the club. But Erickson had a path as a returner and that's how he made it with a slew of big plays in the kicking game. Pryor has a much narrower trek to the roster than Erickson did. (The reverse happened with Pooka Williams,Jr. Muffed return Friday night, released Sunday morning.)
Pryor doesn't return, but Trent Taylor, Irwin and Lassiter do and if you're keeping six wide receivers, one of them has to be the punt returner. Thomas, who would seem to be the No. 4 receiver by the fact he didn't play Friday, and Morgan, a special teams leader named a captain for Friday, have solid roles.
The sure-handed Taylor flashed why he's going to be so hard to unseat. He was right behind Pryor with four catches for 74 yards. Lassiter had one punt return for four yards.
Here's the thing, though. If Pryor keeps playing like this, they may have to keep a spot for him and go lighter somewhere else. That's the keep-the-best-players model and he was one of those Friday. Maybe it comes down to Spot 53. Can he stack two more of those?
"I'm just soaking it all in tonight," said Pryor, in between notifications. "Yeah, I had a good game tonight, but we've still got another week to prepare. I just don't want to be that guy that does it (only) for one game. I want to continue to build off that. I may not have the same game as this week, but whether that's blocking or just doing my job helping my teammates get open, (maybe) they'll have a good game next week. I just want to be that team guy, doing what I can to help out the Bengals."
RUNNING BACKS (5)
Joe Mixon (6), Samaje Perine (6), Trayveon Williams (4), Chris Evans (2), Jacques Patrick (1).
Mixon and Perine enjoyed the view Friday. Evans may be in that category now. What more does he have to show them? He had a 60-yard run and a five-yard touchdown run eliminated by penalty and popped a 41-yard kick return. Certainly, Williams is capable enough to handle the rest of it. All he does is show up, run hard every snap, get yards and on Friday he had some nice blocks in pass protection. But this has to be one of the toughest rooms in the league because they've traditionally kept three and kept Williams on the practice squad. And you know Patrick can play, too. Tough room. How tough? Rookie Shemari Jones played one snap, didn't get a carry and was cut Sunday morning.
TIGHT ENDS (7)
Hayden Hurst (5), Drew Sample (4), Mitchell Wilcox (3), Thaddeus Moss (2), Nick Eubanks (1), Scotty Washington (1), Justin Rigg
Tough day at the yard. They're already thin there with Sample out with a knee sprain until probably the opener. They've been trying to get a gauge on Wilcox to see if he can secure the No. 3 job like he did last season and he went down in the first series with an ankle injury. Then Moss got nailed with two huge holding calls on a long run and a touchdown run.
Rigg, a Springboro, Ohio product, is undrafted out of Kentucky and was another feel-good story. He wasn't expected to get as much work as the 20 snaps he got and PFF gave him the club's third best pass protection grade. He also had what could have been a touchdown saving tackle on the 55-yard punt return.
OFFENSIVE LINE (14)
T La'el Collins (8), C-G Ted Karras (7), G Alex Cappa (5), T Isaiah Prince (4), T Jonah Williams (4), G Hakeem Adeniji (3), C Lamont
Gailard (3), G Jackson Carman (2), C Trey Hill (2), T D'Ante Smith (2), G-C Ben Brown (R), T Devin Cochran (R), G Desmond Noel (R), G-T Cordell Volson (R).
In one of the only starting derbies on the roster (punter and long snapper are the others), Carman got 33 snaps at left guard in the first half while Volson got 34 in the second half. Both flashed and the Bengals are hoping to see more consistency from them.
Volson had a better pass protection grade from PFF against a softer part of the roster while Carman had a holding call on a pass that was declined. They virtually had the same run blocking grade, a part of the game where Carman flashed.
After watching him string together several good practices in training camp, the Bengals were hoping Carman could bring his techniques into a game, marry them with his huge athleticism and play stouter. He still seems to be looking for that consistency, but the flashes are there.
Same with Volson. Since he's a rookie, he has a way to go to win the job. But there were moments he also showed why they took him in the fourth round and expect him to eventually have a solid career. He's strong, steady and has no hesitation to finish. That's what he did on Patrick's one-yard TD run. He took a 300-pound, five-year NFL vet (and former Bengal) Christian Ringo and drove him a couple of yards into the end zone.
Stay tuned on this one, as well as the offensive line backups. Hill also flashed in 33 snaps at center, another guy they wish showed more consistency. According to PFF, the tackles Prince and Adeniji gave up a combined seven pressures and no doubt they'd like to address that. Adeniji also had two holding calls, but if Smith gets back this week then maybe they can slide Adeniji into guard.
Brown, who played some guard and center in the second half, got hurt and they'll have to see if he's available for the Giants.
DEFENSIVE LINE (15)
T D.J. Reader (7), E Trey Hendrickson (6), E Sam Hubbard (5), T B.J. Hill (5), DE Noah Spence (5), T Josh Tupou (5), E Khalid Kareem (3), E Raymond Johnson III, E Joseph Ossai (2), E Cam Sample (2), T Tyler Shelvin (2), T Domenique Davis (1), T Zach Carter (R), E Jeffrey Gunter (R), E-T Tariqous Tisdale (R).
Maybe Gunter didn't have the PFF kind of night Ossai had in last year's opener in Tampa, but he was still very good on 50 snaps. He had three pressures and knocked down a pass. The only guy who played more than Carter's 61 snaps was rookie cornerback Allan George (66) and Carter showed why he can also move to the edge from the three technique if needed. He had four tackles and a pressure and also got his hand on the ball.
Remember, Gunter has traffic to get through on the edge. Kareem didn't play and Ossai played just the first series as they take him slow after he got hurt a year ago in that opener and missed the season with knee and wrist injuries.
They were hoping to get a long look at Tisdale inside, but he got hurt and played just five snaps.
Here's how much they think of Tupou as Reader's backup. After walking to midfield with Morgan as a captain, he played just 16 snaps as they try to keep him healthy.
Germaine Pratt (4), Joe Bachie (3), Markus Bailey (3), Akeem Davis-Gaither (3), Clay Johnston (3), Logan Wilson (3), Keandre
Jones (2), Tegray Scales (1), Clarence Hicks (R), Carson Wells (R).
Hicks, making the transition from edge to linebacker, showed why he rushed in college when he had a bone-jarring sack on a blitz. All eyes are on Bachie as the fifth backer (behind Wilson, Pratt, Bailey, ADG) in what's expected to be a five-man group. If Bachie comes back from his ACL looking like he did last year, he's a hard out.
But Johnston always does something, especially on special teams. He had a teams tackle to go with a tackle for loss from scrimmage. After he got led off following his 21st snap, it's believed he cleared a concussion check.
S Michael Thomas (9), CB Eli Apple (7), S Vonn Bell (7), CB Chidobe Awuzie (6), CB Mike Hilton (6), S Brandon Wilson (6), S Jessie
Bates III (5), CB Tre Flowers (5), CB Jalen Davis (3), S Trayvon Henderson (3), S Tycen Anderson (R), CB Alan George (R), S Dax Hill (R), CB Delonte Hood (R), CB-S Bookie Radley-Hiles (R), CB Cam Taylor-Britt (R).
The kid safeties, Hill and Anderson, ran around as advertised. PFF rated Hill their fourth best defender and Anderson had three tackles. Anderson, the special teams heir apparent, flew down field on his first NFL kickoff using his 4.38 40-yard dash speed and got there before everybody else but missed the tackle.
The rookie cornerbacks had a tough baptism in coverage as the Arizona quarterbacks racked up a 103.3 passer rating. George, who took all 66 snaps and 18 more in the kicking game, got nailed with a 40-yard pass interference penalty on the first series. But in the preseason they're always talking about guys that can bounce back and George finished with the defense's second-highest PFF run grade.
Another feel good story. The undrafted slot cornerback, Daramy-Swaray, a 26-year-old long shot, made his NFL debut all over the field on 18 snaps and PFF graded him as the defense's second best overall player. Welcome to the NFL. Still a long shot. And cut Sunday morning.
Thomas, at 32 the oldest player on offense and defense, continues to play like he's 22. It looks like they're trying to save him, too, but he still had two tackles on teams and three tackles elsewhere in 25 total snaps, just 16 from scrimmage.
LS Clark Harris (14), P Kevin Huber (14), K Evan McPherson (2), P Drue Chrisman (1), LS Cal Adomitis (R).
McPherson has been so good, so the snapping and holding must be good. But the punting wasn't as good Friday. Maybe the biggest surprise is that the big leg Chrisman has had in practice didn't make it to the game. Or maybe not considering it was the first game he's played in since the 2020 national title game early in 2021.
Huber got nicked for a 55-yard return, but the coverage wasn't good and he did put the only punt inside the 20 on a 49-yarder fielded inside the 10. Adomitis is adjusting to having to cover in the pros. In his first live NFL action, he was on the field for the 55-yard return and later a 17-yarder that Chrisman punted. But Adomitis has had no problem with his snaps.