To re-edit a Ball Four line, Thursday night is The Preseason Finale or the preseason finale, depending how you feel about it.
For the guys on the roster bubble, of course, the 7 p.m. game against the Colts (11:35 p.m. on Cincinnati's Local 12) doesn't get any bigger. For vets like Andrew Whitworth and Leon Hall, not so much. For prized rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, they could use some more reps (but not too many) and another confidence boost before the Sept. 11 regular-season opener in Cleveland.
And head coach Marvin Lewis? We'll find out how he feels about it once it gets going.
He's played the offensive starters about the same length of time as he did when there was spring ball, which means his guys would only get two series at most. And there may be some clues who the Bengals keep at Saturday's final cutdown, which really isn't the final cutdown because they can claim players off waivers Sunday.
At this point, at most positions, the Bengals are hashing out the final spot and some of them won't be active game day. Given that the depth has not always showed up this preseason, you might not see the 22 starters very long.
A roster look. (In parenthesis are the number of players usually kept at that position in Lewis' eight previous seasons and the number of NFL seasons for that player:)
QUARTERBACKS (3): Andy Dalton (R), Bruce Gradkowski (6), Dan LeFevour (2).
Lewis sure sounded earlier in the week like the Bengals were only keeping two, which would be Dalton and Gradkowski. You always get nervous about how your No. 2 QB plays in the preseason. Shouldn't he be better or does he look like that because he's playing with a turnstile of guys that won't make it? The Bengals have to feel that Gradkowski would play better with the 1s.
So where does that extra spot go? The offensive line, where there isn't an experienced backup center? Running back, where Cedric Benson's status with the NFL is unknown? The secondary, a spot teeming with intriguing young players? Tight end, where Bo Scaife is injured?
WRS (6): Andre Caldwell (4), Quan Cosby (3), A.J. Green (R), Andrew Hawkins (R), Calvin Russell (1), Jerome Simpson (4), Jordan Shipley (2), Ryan Whalen (R).
The only mystery here is where were Caldwell and Simpson the last couple of years? Did it take them that long to adjust?
We told you you'd love watching Hawkins. We also said he'd have a tough time making it. It still looks that way. But are there spots for him and Russell, another guy that's looked good, on the practice squad? The Bengals like Whalen, the sixth-rounder from Stanford, and he should play a lot Thursday in an effort to nail down the sixth spot. The club thinks he might grow into a T.J. Houshmandzadeh smart-route-runner-sure-hands type.
RBS (3): Cedric Benson (7), Jay Finley (R), John Griffin (R), Brian Leonard (5), Cedric Peerman (2), Bernard Scott (3).
With Benson serving his jail time in Austin, Texas, in an effort to clear up his legal commitments before the regular season, Scott figures to start Thursday but Peerman, Finley and Griffin figure to do the bulk of the work against the Colts. Even though it looks like there is no room for them, do the Bengals have to keep one of them with Benson's status up in the air? Finley, the seventh-rounder from Baylor, returns after injuring his ankle in the opener. As always, Peerman looks prepared and productive off the bench.
FB (1): James Develin (1) Chris Pressley (3), Fui Vakapuna (3).
How good did Pressley look last week against the Panthers? He hit everybody but Cliff Lee and if he keeps blocking like that, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has reasons to run out of that two-back set he's using much more frequently than the Bengals have here lately.
TE (3): Colin Cochart (R), Chase Coffman (3), Jermaine Gresham (2), John Nalbone (2), Bo Scaife (7).
The question mark here is Scaife, a proven NFL receiver the Bengals picked up for his experience. But after injuring his shoulder last week, he has been consulting doctors and Lewis still didn't know Wednesday. Not usually a good sign. The Bengals can replace a receiver with a receiver in Coffman, although he doesn't have near the experience. But they know he can catch. They seem set on Cochart because the undrafted rookie has shown not only a willingness and talent to block, but also soft hands. If Scaife doesn't go on season-ending injured reserve, do the Bengals have to keep four until he gets healthy?
OL (9): G Clint Boling (R), T Anthony Collins (4), C Kyle Cook (4), G Otis Hudson (1), G Max Jean-Gilles (6), G Nate Livings (4), T Mathew O'Donnell (R), G Chris Riley (R), T Dennis Roland (4), T Andre Smith (3), C Reggie Stephens (2), T Andrew Whitworth (6), G Bobbie Williams (12).
The Bengals really got after it physically against the Panthers last week and the best news of all for them is how Smith has stayed healthy and has improved in each game. They also like how agile Cook has looked and the depth at tackle behind Whitworth and Smith with Collins and Roland.
Their big questions heading into the cut are backup center and the glut of guards, particularly if they only keep nine. Stephens, a seventh-rounder from last year, is the lone center behind Cook. The Bengals have talked about putting Boling there, but he hasn't snapped much in a game. It looks as if Hudson's knee injury is coming along well enough that he could stick on the roster.
DL (8): E Victor Adeyanju (6), T Geno Atkins (2), T Cornell Banks (R), E Carlos Dunlap (2), E/T Jon Fanene (7), Robert Geathers (8), E Michael Johnson, T Domata Peko (6), E James Ruffin (1), E/T Frostee Rucker (6), T Jason Shirley (2), T Pat Sims (4).
The Bengals lost a backup tackle in Clinton McDonald in the Kelly Jennings trade, but Sims returned to practice for the first time this week and said his knee felt good. They'll know more about him after the game, but they think he's OK.
The trade did ease the numbers crunch. Adeyanju has looked terrific, but would the Bengals keep nine if they've got guys like Rucker and Fanene that can play a couple of spots? Shirley, the fifth-rounder from '08, is a tough dude to move. Practice squad? They just signed Banks probably to get through the game, which may mean Shirley's calf is still bothering him.
LBs (7): OLB DeQuin Evans (R), OLB Thomas Howard (6), OLB Brandon Johnson (6), OLB Manny Lawson (6), OLB Dontay Moch (3), LB Rey Maualuga (3), LB Roddrick Muckelroy (2), LB Vincent Rey (2), OLB Keith Rivers (4), OLB Dan Skuta (3).
Muckelroy (Achilles) goes on IR Saturday, when it figures Rivers gets PUPped because his wrist is still in a cast. But it looks like Moch (broken foot) could be back up for the Sept. 25 home opener. The Bengals are really excited about this group. Maualuga is playing like they thought in the middle. Howard and Lawson, the free-agent pickups, have been nice fits. Howard has been terrific in coverage and Lawson has shown pass-rush skills. Rey helps on special teams. Everyone's favorite project, Evans, the rookie from Kentucky, probably ends up on the practice squad.
DBs (10, five CBs, five S): CB Brandon Ghee (2), CB Nate Clements (11), S Chris Crocker (9), CB Leon Hall (5), CB Kelly Jennings (6), CB Adam Jones (5), Korey Lindsey (R), Taylor Mays (2), S Jeromy Miles (1), S/C Rico Murray (2), S Reggie Nelson (5), CB David Pender (1), S Robert Sands (R), CB Morgan Trent (3), CB Jonathan Wade (5), S Gibril Wilson (8).
What a tractor pull. The Bengals have to make some big-time decisions on whether to develop some interesting young talent. That may be a reason to take the extra spot from the QBs and use it here.
It sounds like Jones (neck) is going on PUP and the first four corners off experience and play time are Hall, Clements, Jennings and Trent. Wade has looked solid, but what happens with Ghee?
Ghee, a third-rounder from 2010, has shown flashes of speed and athleticism that attracted the Bengals in the draft but he's raw at the position and he's hardly played this summer because of a hamstring problem. He came back to play about a dozen snaps last week so he figures to get a slew of time Thursday as they try to make up their minds. And if they try to get him to the practice squad, he would no doubt be claimed.
Safety behind starters Crocker and Nelson is another dilemma. You've got to figure the Bengals will keep Mays, but two other young safeties have caught their eyes. Jeromy Miles is a special teams workhorse and has really impressed with his speed. And while Sands is a raw player trying to cope with NFL schemes, his 6-5, 210-pound athletic ability is hard to overlook. Like Ghee, he's probably gone if the Bengals try to waive him and put him on the practice squad.
And then there's Wilson, a smart, athletic veteran the coaches love coming back from his torn ACL.
SPECIALISTS: LS Clark Harris (3), P Kevin Huber (3), K Mike Nugent (7), K Thomas Weber (R).
Nugent's 55-yard rope last week served notice he's back to where he was last year at this time. He drilled a 52-yarder in Indy in the preseason finale and then set a record hitting his first nine field goals as a Bengal. Figure Thursday the Bengals tune Nugent and display Weber.