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Roster Look: Crunch Time For Bubble Bengals And On The Edge With Ossai Injury

Jalen Davis making a roster run.
Jalen Davis making a roster run.

The Bengals practice Sunday after Friday's 17-13 loss in Washington, but other than that it's like a regular-season week as they prep for next Sunday's preseason finale (4 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against Miami at Paul Brown Stadium. But a preseason finale is never normal for the back of the roster. Especially after Sunday's report third-round pick Joseph Ossai is feared out for the year.

Which makes next week a bit interesting in the construction of the roster. Instead of having about ten days between the finale and the opener, there is now a solid two weeks to set the final 53 between the Dolphins and the Vikings' Opening Day date at PBS on Sept. 12.

More time to make more moves (trades?) if that is indeed what they decide. First things first, though. They cut five players Sunday and signed veteran defensive end Noah Spence in response to Ossai's injury that is described as a torn meniscus. And head coach Zac Taylor has indicated the first string won't play more than the 11 snaps the offense worked and the 16 the defense got in Washington.

So two things we know. If Joe Burrow makes his 2021 debut next Sunday, it won't be for very long. And the rest of the day belongs to the back of the roster.

A roster look heading into the final week:


Brandon Allen (5), Joe Burrow (2), Kyle Shurmur (1)

The word is Burrow looked great warming up. Now the last milestone of his rehab before starting the Sept. 12 opener against the Vikings at Paul Brown Stadium is if he'll get a tune-up against Miami. If he does, make sure you're there for the first series.

The quarterback play was not good Friday night. Allen, still the obvious No. 2, admitted that. He hit just five of 13 passes in the first half. Surprising after he played so well in Tampa. But he was wild high and outside.

Shurmur couldn't overcome a mix-up on the offensive line and gave up a sack-fumble, the only sack the Bengals have allowed in two games.


Tyler Boyd (6), Mike Thomas (6), Trent Taylor (5), Auden Tate (4), Stanley Morgan (3), Tee Higgins (2), Trenton Irwin (1), Scotty Washington (1), Ja'Marr Chase (R)

One day you'll tell the grandkids you saw Bengals great Ja'Marr Chase drop three straight third-down passes in a preseason game. It's destined to become one of the seminal lessons for the next wave of rookies that have tough outings. "Remember when …."

Not a great look, of course, and the Tweet observing Penei Sewell has no drops is good for a laugh. But let's get back to the real world and remember what Pro Football Focus wrote before the Bengals selected Chase ahead of Sewell.

(This is a nod to the analytic elite of The Athletic's Paul Dehner, Jr., and Jay Morrison:)

"Both Chase and Sewell have good chances of developing into one of the five-to-10 best players at their respective positions. If each was to reach their ceiling and end up in that top-10 range, then Chase would be worth roughly 2.5 times more than Sewell in terms of wins generated, just like he was in their 2019 breakout years. If Sewell were to become the best or second-best tackle in the NFL, then Chase would need to produce like a top-30 wide receiver to match the value generated."

Burrow taught us a lesson. He didn't look himself early in camp, either, but he has busted out since with simply more reps. He was rusty and still had ten games in the league. Chase is not only a rookie, but until last week he hadn't played in a game in nearly two years. Plus, most of his throws this camp came from Burrow and not Allen. Not an excuse. Just a reality check. No one is trying harder and maybe that's part of the problem. But Chase is a supreme competitor and you know he'll be working overtime this week.

Anybody get the impression that Irwin and Taylor are now neck and neck in the bid for one of the last two or three spots behind the Big Four? Taylor has a nine-yard punt return and Irwin has a fair catch. But Taylor has no catches from scrimmage on one target and Irwin has six catches on 10. Making it tougher for Taylor is that it looks like Darius Phillips has the punt return job. Hard to see them letting go Thomas, because they think he can give them extended reps if needed, and Morgan, because of his abilities on special teams. But we also may be talking about seven spots instead of six depending on how they come down on running back and the offensive line.

By the way, Tate continues his streak of making a Holy Bleep catch every game. On Friday he got drilled on the sideline before the ball got there and still corralled it despite him and the ball bouncing around. Holy Bleep.


Joe Mixon (5), Samaje Perine (5), Trayveon Williams (3), Jacques Patrick (1), Chris Evans (R), Pooka Williams Jr. (R)

Three or four? Right now that seems to be one of the bigger roster debates. Evans may be still trying to figure out how to get north and south, but he's an emerging third down back and gives them something no one else has.

That would seem to give them three. Plus, you just have to love Patrick. He's one of these 230-pound guys who is just going to get yards in a snowstorm or in any other setting. The man is averaging nearly five and a half yards per his 21 carries behind the backup lines. But he and Perine have the same big back role and Perine is a core special teamer while Patrick has taken four snaps in the kicking game in two games.

As for the Williamses, Trayveon has more game experience than Evans and Patrick, but has yet to play because of a hamstring injury. It looks like in next Sunday's preseason finale he would have to pass two guys instead of one and that's formidable to do in a day's work. But the guy is an SEC rushing champion.

Pooka showed that wiggle he had in college during Friday's NFL debut, but he only took three snaps and not one at punt return. He did have a nifty eight-yard run from scrimmage and returned a kick 19 yards, but he's running out of time. He's clearly got some juice, though. Could a big game Sunday make him the seventh receiver?


C.J. Uzomah (7), Mason Schreck (4), Drew Sample (3), Thaddeus Moss (2), Mitchell Wilcox (1)

Seems like they're still looking for a consistent third tight end behind Uzomah and Sample from the trio of Schreck, Wilcox and Moss. That process got slowed Friday when Wilcox didn't play because of injury. Schreck, the most experienced of the three, seemed like he played better than he did in the opener and Moss is looking for room to show his explosion in the pass game. Playing out all the way to the end.


T Riley Reiff (10), G Xavier Su'a-Filo (8), G Quinton Spain (7), C-G Trey Hopkins (6), C-G Billy Price (4), T Fred Johnson (3), G Michael Jordan (3), G-T Keaton Sutherland (3), T Jonah Williams (3), G-T Hakeem Adeniji (2), T Isaiah Prince (2), G-T Jackson Carman (R), G-C Trey Hill (R), T D'Ante Smith (R) T Gunnar Vogel (R)

The line drew six flags (two on the first series), the first offense got one first down against one of the top defensive lines in the league and they had just 214 yards the entire night. But there seems to be a sense that it is coming along better than last year.

The first group didn't allow a sack or pressure against the rushers that wreaked havoc on them last year and the holding call on Spain during the screen Mixon got 17 yards on the game's first play looked questionable at best. Spain is a big man that gives them a presence on that left side.

And it looked to be a good night for the young guys, particularly Carman and Hill. Jordan also seemed to hold his own. Physically, the kids are NFL impressive. And, remember, 35-inch armed D'Ante Smith had been working as the left guard with the first group before dehydration knocked him out of Friday's game.

Carman played better than he did in the opener and appeared to get to the second level more consistently. Hill had a couple of penalties, but he appeared to impress them on most of his offense-leading 45 snaps. The thing about Hill is he's the one backup they've got that can play all three interior spots.

Maybe you keep ten here and three backs and six receivers. The interesting thing here is you could have some guys either be an Opening Day starter or get cut. The other interesting thing is they've juggled the guards, but do they put the two out there next Sunday that they think are going to start on Sept. 12?


T Mike Daniels (10), NT D.J. Reader (6), E Trey Hendrickson (5), T Larry Ogunjobi (5), E Sam Hubbard (4), NT Josh Tupou (4), T Kahill McKenzie (3), NT Renell Wren (3), E Amani Bledsoe (2), E Khalid Kareem (2), E Darius Hodge (R) Wyatt Hubert (R), E Joseph Ossai (R), E Cam Sample (R), T Tyler Shelvin (R)

Devastating report that they fear Ossai is out for the year with torn meniscus. He apparently hurt his knee a few plays before he injured his wrist on the 22nd and last snap of his spectacular debut of sack and five pressures. They hope to replace a third-rounder with a second-rounder in Spence, a 6-2, 250-pound fifth-year player who has 7.5 sacks in 41 NFL games with three teams and missed all last season with a torn ACL. The Saints had him for the past two seasons before releasing him six days ago.

The big men are as advertised, aren't they? The free agents, Ogunjobi and Hendrickson, have been terrific. (Hendrickson clearly looks like a big-time player vs. the run and the pass.) All Shelvin does is take up space and play better than he practices. Reader and Tupou make them as stout as they've been since the Domata Peko days. They like Wren, too, so there's a battle for the fifth tackle. Some nice depth there.

They wish they had some of that on the edge. Sample continues to look like an excellent fourth-round pick behind Hendrickson and Hubbard, but it's not clear when Kareem (shoulder) is going to be available and Ossai apparently is no longer an option any time soon.

You have to count Hodge as a nickel rusher, not a linebacker, but they're clearly interested in the undrafted rookie from Marshall. He's got 1.5 sacks, six pressures and a tipped pass. And he got the tipped pass when they put him in on the second series against Washington's first group. His cause was helped by no one blocking him, but a tipped pass is a tipped pass. He's not going to be in there on the run, so can they afford a spot for a raw, pure rusher?

Sure. Depending on the injury situation. And if they go with a roster makeup of ten D-linemen, five backers and 10 DBs, he would seem to have a shot.


Jordan Evans (5), Germaine Pratt (3), Joe Bachie (2), Markus Bailey (2), Akeem Davis-Gaither (2), Logan Wilson (2), Keandre Jones (1)

The core five of Evans, Wilson, Pratt, ADG and Bailey look solid. Bailey could have had two picks Friday. It would seem if they keep six here, someone has to bowl over special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons against Miami.


SS Ricardo Allen (7), CB Trae Waynes (7), CB Eli Apple (6), SS Vonn Bell (6), CB Chidobe Awuzie (5), CB Tony Brown (5), CB Mike Hilton (5), SS Brandon Wilson (5), CB Darius Phillips (4), FS Jessie Bates III (3), CB Jalen Davis (2), SS Trayvon Henderson (2), CB Donnie Lewis (1), CB Winston Rose (1), CB Antonio Phillips (R)

After checking Antonio Brown on a long route a week ago Saturday, Awuzie went step-for-step Friday with Washington's Scary Terry McLaurin. Hilton had a fumble recovery. Waynes made some nice tackles. They're doing more than showing up. Phillips can drive you nuts, looking so good on one play and not so good on the next. But he does more to help you and you're glad you've got him. He's a productive guy settling in under punt returns. Apple (hamstring) has yet to play, but you figure he's got the experience and pedigree to be one of the six cornerbacks.

With the core four safeties (Bates, Bell, Wilson, Allen), the tenth and final DB spot may come down to Brown and Davis. Brown has the experience on teams and in the league and has played 20 snaps in the kicking game this season, compared to Davis' 12. But Davis has really shown up in coverage as strictly a slot corner. If it is down to those two, that figures to play all the way out to Sunday, too.


LS Clark Harris (13), P Kevin Huber (13), K Austin Seibert (3), K Evan McPherson (R), P Drue Chrisman (R)

How smooth is McPherson? The guy hit a 50-yarder Friday night like he was combing his hair. Huber got a workout in the first half with five punts of the mixed variety, but he did what he does. He nudged two inside the 20 and didn't put any in the end zone.

With the release last week of 17- year Lions long snapper Don Muhlbach, Harris remains a Golden Oldie veering into his 15th NFL season and 13th with the Bengals.