8-29-03, 11:55 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
INDIANAPOLIS _ The release of wide receiver Ron Dugans remains the top cut so far of the preseason, but it looks to have the biggest impact on the bottom of the roster.
The Bengals arrived here for Friday night's pre-season finale against the Colts emphasizing special teams as they prepare to cut head coach Marvin Lewis' first roster Sunday from 66 players to 53 for the NFL regular season.
It's believed the starters on either side of the ball won't play more than a quarter, leaving the bulk of the game to the players trying to make the last one or two spots at each position.
Since Dugans has been their leading special teams player the past two seasons, the Bengals are looking at shuffling the numbers on their roster to make sure they get enough fast players on teams. So instead of having six wide receivers, 10 offensive linemen, nine defensive backs, and two tight ends as they did last year, they could be looking at five wideouts, nine offensive linemen, 10 defensive backs, and three tight ends.
Which makes Friday a key game for free-agent cornerback Terrell Roberts, thought to be battling safety Lamont Thompson for the 10th spot in the secondary. And not only from scrimmage, but in Dugans' old spot as the lead punt cover guy on the outside.
Tight end Sean Brewer may have got promoted over Matt Schobel on the depth chart before the last game, but he played so few snaps against the Titans the writing appeared to be on the wall. Yet he is getting more of a look on teams, where he didn't play at all in the first two games.
They will probably stick with six linebackers. So guys who have played well on special teams this preseason, such as teams leading tackler Riall Johnson and Dwayne Levels, have their final shot to finish it off. With Brian Simmons, Kevin Hardy, Adrian Ross, Steve Foley and Khalid Abdullah (a rookie who is three tackles shy of having the club's first 20-tackle preseason in eight years) the leading candidates, Levels, Johnson, and middle linebacker Armegis Spearman find themselves in a huge roster tussle that may come down to Friday's teams play. Plus, Spearman has been fighting hamstring problems.
Dugans proved to be an interesting case because receivers usually aren't used to tackling, and he provided a luxury when fixing the roster. Not now, but they have been preparing for the problem the past month.
"Ron looked good on tape from last year and he was obviously one of our top players and we'd love to have him," said special teams coach Darrin Simmons. "But we never really had him in camp, except maybe for the first couple of days, because he was hurt. So we've been playing with other guys in games and practice. You don't replace one guy on teams, you do it collectively and that's what we've been doing."
Reggie Myles has pretty much wrapped up the fifth cornerback spot because he has played well as one of the guys covering and tackling from Dugans' spot, and is second on teams in tackles. Roberts got one snap on the punt team against the Titans and should get more against the Colts.
More roster battles:
PUNTER: This could be Travis Dorsch's last appearance in his stormy one-year stint with the Bengals. But his last two punts have been for 50-plus yards and he's going to get a long, hard look Friday. Still, the conventional wisdom is Nick Harris keeps the job with some solid 41s with the big hang time. **
RUNNING BACK:Free-agent rookie Ray Jackson looks to be a long shot in his bid to overtake Brandon Bennett as the man who spells Corey Dillon. They will probably make sure he returns nearly all of Friday's kickoffs to give him some chances.
WIDE RECEIVER:** It would appear that Lawrence Hamilton and new pickup Kevin Walter are playing for a practice squad spot. But Lewis has made no bones about his desire to get more blocking and special teams contributions from the five (Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Peter Warrick, Danny Farmer and Kelley Washington), that look to make it.
TIGHT ENDS: How close Tony Stewart closed the gap in his race with Sean Brewer when he dropped a ball for a red-zone interception last week is anyone's guess. But Brewer is still here. **
OFFENSIVE LINE:They have done a lot of moving around here during the games. It appears they're trying to see if their best backup center is 10-year veteran Rich Braham or second-year man Thatcher Szalay.
DEFENSIVE LINE:** They just picked up second-year tackle-end Greg Scott off waivers, but it's most likely too late to get him on the roster. Veteran Reinard Wilson would like to get off the bubble with a big game.