Best things out of the Bengals 27-13 loss to the Packers at Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday night:
» No major injuries.
Starting SAM backer Manny Lawson tweaked his hamstring and probably won't play in Thursday's preseason finale in Indianapolis (7 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) and he's probably going to have plenty of company. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (foot), tight end Jermaine Gresham (knee), middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee) and left end Robert Geathers (knee) may all sit out to make sure they get to Sept. 10.
It would fit into how head coach Marvin Lewis has steered this year's preseason, which is making sure he's got as many key players as he can get healthy for the Opener of Openers in Baltimore. With left end Carlos Dunlap (knee) and running back Bernard Scott (hand) questionable at best for that one, Lewis knows there isn't a lot of margin on a game day active sheet.
He says all the injured guys are ahead of schedule or on schedule. But that doesn't mean they'll play Thursday.
"That's the goal is to get them ready for Indy and then let me decide who should go out there and who shouldn't," Lewis said. "That gives us obviously a good 12 days (between the finale and opener)."
With a roster fraught with a young core that is coming off a playoff run and spring workouts in the bank, Lewis hasn't had to use the preseason to find out a whole lot about who are his guys. It's been more like how to use the 30 or so he knows are solid.
"It's a lot different than years past," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "We're definitely trying to get there and get there healthy and trying to work on all the different things we're trying to do. That's kind of what's going on."
The one year that may have been similar was 2010, when the Bengals were coming off a division sweep with relatively the same roster, except for Terrell Owens.
"I think in 2010 that was talked about a lot. People thought we were really talented but this team hasn't discussed that," Whitworth said. "I don't think one guy has said let's get to the gate and get to the games healthy. Every guy takes the approach of there's something we have to get better at every day and that's been unique. No one is asking for a day off."
» It looks like the Bengals safeties are going to be better than most thought. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is going to have to mix Taylor Mays with Jeromy Miles and match them with cornerback Nate Clements, but it looks like it might be productive.
» Cornerback Leon Hall and his Achilles held up well against a Pro Bowl wide receiver in Greg Jennings. Jordy Nelson got position on Hall down the field when he didn't turn his head to look for the ball and he could have been called for pass interference, but other than that, nobody ran by him and the Bengals have to feel good about that.
Hall obviously isn't going to be as fast as he was just nine months off surgery. Maybe next year. But at least three times he lined up against Jennings in bump-and-run and ran with him down the field and a couple of times was actually able to open his hips to find the ball and get back on Jennings.
In fact, the Packers didn't run by anybody. Aaron Rodgers's two longest throws were a 19-yarder to Jennings on a comeback route on Hall and a 17-yarder in which Hall and Mays missed tackles on a short pass.
» The wide receivers continued to show up, from Brandon Tate's tough, leaping sideline catch to Armon Binns's diving catch to the 1 to rookie Marvin Jones's 15-yard touchdown catch.
» The young guards, rookie Kevin Zeitler at right and second-year left guard Clint Boling, continue to improve and look like they're going to be OK.
The not so good things from the preseason's third game:
» The running game better not be that bad. The offense didn't get much help from the backs and the tight ends not named Jermaine Gresham. A week after the first group managed 11 yards on 10 carries, Cincinnati's backs went for 25 yards on seven carries.
» The pass protection wasn't as good as it has been and quarterback Andy Dalton fell victim to a lot of blitz pressure as well as some line stunts. And when he did get time, he wasn't sharp. He overthrew Binns and A.J. Green once each and he left one short to Green in the end zone.
» The Bengals miss Dunlap and Geathers on the edge, which Rogers exposed. And they need to get Jamaal Anderson back at right end to give starter Michael Johnson a break on his number of snaps.
The Bengals have 76 players on the roster and need to get to 75 Monday and 53 by Friday at 9 p.m. A look at how it's going heading into Sunday's practice (years of NFL experience):
QUARTERBACKS: Andy Dalton (2), Bruce Gradkowski (7), Zac Robinson (2)
Hansen, the free agent from Colorado, got cut after his pick-six, which means Robinson is headed to the practice squad. Gradkowski looks set at No. 2 unless the waiver wire conjures up a surprise. Dalton wasn't sharp Thursday, but he also didn't have all his weapons. Still, the long-ball accuracy isn't where he wants it. His longest completion went for 11 yards.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A.J. Green (2), Brandon Tate (4), Andrew Hawkins (2), Armon Binns (1), Ryan Whalen (2), Mohamed Sanu (R), Vidal Hazelton (1), Kashif Moore (R), Marvin Jones (R), Justin Hilton (R)
For the first time since maybe ever, the Bengals could keep seven wide receivers at the start of the season. They really like Whalen, so they may end up viewing him better than the ninth offensive lineman or ninth defensive lineman. Whalen has practice squad eligibility, but he'll never get past waivers.
Or maybe this is where the Bnegals pull off what has become their annual preseason trade. In the previous two preseasons they've made deals that resulted in their current starting safeties: Mays and Reggie Nelson.
The top six receivers look solid: Green, Tate, Binns, Hawkins, Sanu and Jones. Who do they make inactive on that crew? Here's an idea. Make Green inactive Thursday.
LEFT TACKLE: Andrew Whitworth (7) Anthony Collins (5)
Collins is playing all over the place. Left tackle. Both guards. With him and Roland the first two guys off the bench, the Bengals are very solid there.
LEFT GUARD: Clint Boling (2), Trevor Robinson (R)
Robinson, the free agent from Notre Dame, is looking more and more like he could stick on the 53 as the eighth guy behind Collins and Roland because of his ability to play center and both guards. He's probably a year away and needs to get stronger, and if the Bengals needed a center it would no doubt be Boling. But Robinson looks to be a find.
CENTER: Kyle Cook (5), Reggie Stephens (2)
Put Cook down as another starter that figures not to play in Indy. Not after he surfaced at Friday's walkthrough in a boot. He says he's just using it for stability and says it's nothing that's going to keep him out.
RIGHT GUARD: Kevin Zeitler (R), Otis Hudson (2)
Hudson worked with the first group for a series on Thursday, but he's not going to get a second look if he can't play left guard. He does have practice squad eligibility. This is a spot, even if the Bengals keep eight or nine that may very well go to a veteran center-guard that's not here yet and surfaces on the waiver wire.
RIGHT TACKLE: Andre Smith (4), Dennis Roland (5), Matthew O'Donnell (1)
O'Donnell could need some more seasoning on the practice squad.
TIGHT END: Jermaine Gresham (3), Donald Lee (10), Colin Cochart (2), Orson Charles (R)
With Gresham out of there, the Bengals certainly haven't made much room in the running game blocking. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden indicated this week that Lee is his No. 2. It would be tough to see them cut Charles, the fourth-rounder, because he can run and is a good athlete. Cochart has no practice squad eligibility, which is unfortunate because the coaches think he can develop as a blocker but he hasn't passed Lee in that department.
RUNNING BACK: BenJarvus Green-Ellis (5), Bernard Scott (4), Brian Leonard (6), Cedric Peerman (3), Daniel Herron (R), Jourdan Brooks (R)
Here's another spot where the waiver wire could yield a backup of note, but Leonard and Peerman help out so much on special teams. Herron could be the only draft pick that ends up on the practice squad. With 13 yards on 10 carries, the coaches don't have much to go on.
FULLBACK: Chris Pressley (4), James Develin (1)
The Bengals will only keep one and Pressley is the AFC North guy.
DEFENSIVE LEFT END: Carlos Dunlap (3), Robert Geathers (9), Micah Johnson (1)
Geathers (knee scope) has started running and working on the side, so how he'll fare when he figures to start in place of Dunlap in Baltimore is anyone's guess. He had his career game against the Ravens in the Monday Night opener back in '07. Johnson would seem to be worthy for the practice squad.
NOSE TACKLE: Domata Peko (7), Pat Sims (5), Brandon Thompson (R)
Sims, who pulled his hamstring during the conditioning test, hasn't practiced yet and looks headed to the physically unable to perform list (PUP). That means he'd be iced for the first six games.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Geno Atkins (3), Devon Still (R), Nick Hayden (3), Vaughn Meatoga (R)
With Geathers and Dunlap dinged, hard to see the Bengals keeping just eight D-linemen as they head into the opener and Ray Rice. Dunlap, Geathers, Peko, Atkins, Mike Johnson, Anderson, Still, Thompson. Hayden, with a very solid camp and five tackles on Thursday, would be the ninth guy. A sixth-round pick of the Panthers in 2008, Hayden has started 14 of his 26 NFL games and can help as Still and Thompson take their rookie years to become consistent contributors.
RIGHT END: Michael Johnson (4), Jamaal Anderson (6), DeQuin Evans (1)
Anderson has been pressed into service at left end, but the Bengals need him back at right end to lighten Johnson's load in the rotation. The coaches think Still can give them some snaps at end and Hayden can go out there in a pinch. Evans could go to the practice squad.
SAM LINEBACKER: Manny Lawson (7), Dan Skuta (4), Dontay Moch (2)
Lawson is set. Skuta is a special teams maven that can back up the middle, SAM and play a little end. Moch has a sack in every game this season, but he'll have to serve an NFL suspension before he comes back on the roster.
MIDDLE LINEBAKCER: Rey Maualuga (4), Roddrick Muckelroy (3), Vontaze Burfict (R)
Who backs up Maualuga? It can probably only be one of them. Muckelroy has no practice squad eligibility and Burfict does, but Burfict may have the bigger upside and the coaches have invested a lot in him. Still Muckelroy is a gamer that makes himself felt from scrimmage and special teams. There's an outside shot the Bengals could keep both, which would give them seven backers, but with the injuries on the line and at cornerback, that doesn't seem likely.
WILL LINEBACKER: Thomas Howard (6), Vincent Rey (2), Emmanuel Lamur (R), Grant Hunter (R)
Rey racked up 10 tackles against the Pack, plus one more on special teams, and has become a core backup. So if the Bengals go with six, it is probably Skuta, Rey and Burfict or Muckelroy, as the backups.
LEFT CORNERBACK: Nate Clements (12), Terence Newman (10), Dre Kirkpatrick (R), T.J. Heath (2)
Clements and Newman are the wily vets. Clements can swing to safety and Newman can make picks like he did the other night off Rodgers. Right place, right time. Kirkpatrick (leg) may make his debut in Indy if he responds this week.
RIGHT CORNERBACK: Leon Hall (6), Jason Allen (7), Adam Jones (6), Chris Lewis-Harris (R)
Lewis thinks Allen can make his Bengals debut in Indy, but the Bengals may have to wait on Jones. Right now, Allen and Jones are the Nos. 4 and 5 corners with Kirkpatrick the last at No. 6.
STRONG SAFETY: Taylor Mays (3), Jeromy Miles (3), Tony Dye (R)
Mays and Miles just keep making plays, Mays with his tackles and Miles with his coverage. Dye (foot) has missed the last couple of games but might be able to make the practice squad with Robert Sands (chest) on IR.
FREE SAFETY: Reggie Nelson (6), George Iloka (R)
At 6-4, 225, Iloka has intriguing size and he's shown some good football sense, but he won't be playing much as the fourth safety and 10th DB. Zimmer has been toying with a package of three safeties, but he'd probably use Clements as one of them.
PUNTER: Kevin Huber (4)
KICKER: Mike Nugent (8)
LONG SNAPPER: Clark Harris (4), Bryce Davis (R)
Davis could stick around on the practice squad.
PUNT RETURN: Brandon Tate (4), Andrew Hawkins (2), Adam Jones (6), Marvin Jones (R)
Marvin Jones returned his first one for 18 yards Thursday, but he may not be active early in the season. Hawkins and Tate look like they're going to rotate. But once he's healthy and gets a couple of shots, the job is probably going to belong to Adam Jones.
KICK RETURN: Brandon Tate (4), Andrew Hawkins (2), Adam Jones (6), Marvin Jones (R)
It also looks like Tate and Hawkins are going to rotate on the kickoffs.