Hard to remember the last time the Bengals had such a massive offseason overhaul followed by the newcomers showing up en masse in the preseason opener.
Especially for a defense that saw its blueprint, morphing together with the dollar signs of free agency and the projections of the draft room, come to life in Saturday night's 19-14 victory in Tampa. Built in the shadow of a three-year stretch they've allowed the most rushing yards in the league, the Bengals stoned the Bucs on 29 yards rushing with a cast of relatively new characters that limited Tampa to just 159 total yards.
As they say, numbers don't lie. If you want to know if the defense is better, those are numbers that weren't around last year. Preseason or no preseason.
The win began on a sack initiated by third-round edger Joseph Ossai and was cemented in the last minute on a sack by the guy they drafted next in the fourth, Tulane defensive lineman Cam Sample. Trey Hendrickson, the 13.5 sacker from New Orleans and the biggest Bengals free agent ever, helped Ossai cash the sack of Thomas Edward Patrick Brady.
It was fun on offense, too. Sixth-round running back Chris Evans did everything he's done in practice and more, fourth-rounder D'Ante Smith played both left tackle and left guard and first-rounder Ja'Marr Chase's 16-yard scoot in space is exactly what they projected him to do in this offense. The offensive line stared back from under the microscope and didn't allow a sack.
And the kicking game honored special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. On a day he attended the funeral services for his father in Kansas, two kickers logged two field goals each to supply enough points on a night they scored just one touchdown. That came six days shy of the 12th anniversary Simmons oversaw a Chad Ocho Cinco extra point beating Brady's Patriots in Foxboro, 7-6.
Here's a roster reset heading into the second preseason game.
Brandon Allen (5), Joe Burrow (2), Eric Dungey (1), Kyle Shurmur (1)
No, head coach Zac Taylor hasn't announced yet if Burrow is playing in the preseason. If he was leaning that way, maybe Ossai's sack of Brady keeps him on the bench.
Allen quietly keeps doing what backup vet quarterbacks do. Gives you a chance. He did make a bad decision on an interception, but the bottom line is his three drives got them into the red zone each time. Shurmur played for the first time in two years and he's getting the cobwebs out as evidenced by an ill-advised pick-six.
WIDE RECEIVERS (11)
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)
Is Tate the best No. 4 receiver in the league? It seems like he either catches it or draws a flag. Taylor didn't light it up, but he seems to have a hold on the fifth spot, backup slot/punt return job, since he played just 15 snaps. A battle royale for the sixth and final spot? Thomas had some nice catches-and-runs, but the red-zone fumble was a killer. Irwin just keeps showing up and well. He took some hellacious shots and held on, including one that drew a penalty to set up a field goal. Then he made the tackle on the ensuing kickoff.
RUNNING BACKS (6)
Joe Mixon (5), Samaje Perine (5), Trayveon Williams (3), Jacques Patrick (1), Chris Evans (R), Pooka Williams Jr. (R)
Everyone knew Evans could catch the ball, but his ability to get tough yards along with his elusiveness running the ball showed up and tightens the battle for the spot behind Mixon and Perine. Incumbent Trayveon Williams (hamstring), who didn't play, has some formidable competition. But then, the 230-pound Patrick is having a say, too. The guy just seems to advance the ball no matter if it's in a practice or a game. After all, this is a big-back franchise. Pooka, nursing some muscle pulls in camp, didn't play and has to make an impact quickly in the return game.
TIGHT ENDS (7)
C.J. Uzomah (7), Mason Schreck (4), Drew Sample (3), Thaddeus Moss (2), Mitchell Wilcox (1), Cheyenne O'Grady (R)
The snap counts may offer a lead on where this one is going as they search for a No. 3 behind Uzomah and Sample. Moss (36) and Wilcox (35) took the bulk of Saturday's snaps. Schreck got 15 plays. O'Grady didn't play. They know what Schreck can do, but they seem to be giving a lot of air time to Moss and Wilcox. They love Wilcox's speed and athleticism and Moss' brains and hands. Wilcox couldn't get loose on a couple of screens (no yards on two catches) and Moss converted an intermediate route for a 14-yard catch-and-run. To be continued.
OFFENSIVE LINE (16)
T Riley Reiff (10), G Xavier Su'a-Filo (8), G Quinton Spain (7), C-G Trey Hopkins (6), C-G Billy Price (4),C-G Lamont Gallard (3), 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)
With 65, Prince played 18 more snaps than the nearest Bengal when he took 92 percent of the plays at left tackle. (Jonah Williams held up on his one pass set against JPP and Reiff looked like he kept Shaq Barrett at bay as Allen had enough time to convert third and long to Boyd.)
Prince may be trying to knock the rust off his technique after not playing last year, but the man must have been blocking someone because the Bengals didn't allow a sack and gave up just two quarterback hits. With Fred Johnson expected to play Friday night in Washington (8 p.m.-Cincinnat's Channel 12), the battle for the third tackle spot intensifies.
No sacks? New offensive line coach Frank Pollack no doubt frowned on the penalties (two holds, two false starts) and the running backs gaining just 3.4 yards per rush. But no sacks is no sacks and reflects the culture change going on up front.
Pollack got plenty of snaps out of his young guards. Carman, the second-rounder, and D'Ante Smith, the fourth-rounder, each played 40. Smith moved from left guard to left tackle late and while there may have been a hiccup or two, he continued to impress with his natural movement at both spots. Carman continues to try and get settled at right guard, where he took all his plays in his bid to find consistency. He got a holding call on his first snap, a stretch run, but he came back to get a block on Evans' one-yard touchdown run.
Age-old question. Keep nine or 10 O-linemen? Lately it's been nine. Key factors could be if they count Smith as a tackle or guard. Right now, it seems to be guard.
DEFENSIVE LINE (15)
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), T Freedom Akinmoladun (1), Wyatt Hubert (R), E Joseph Ossai (R), E Cam Sample (R), T Tyler Shelvin (R)
The veteran NFL team of first-year defensive line coach Marion Hobby and Bengals long-time defensive specialist Mark Duffner certainly showed up here. Hobby's tackles were stout and Duffner's rookie edge guys of all ilks had some huge games.
Ossai was immense on the edge before he hurt his wrist colliding with fellow rusher Hodge at the quarterback on his 22nd and last play. Ossai realized where he was when he lined up across from the Hall of Fame and tight end Rob Gronkowski on his first snap. Then on his second third down he was sacking Canton itself with the help of Hendrickson, beating tackle Tristan Wirfs. The only guy that beat Wirfs last year was Pro Bowler Khalil Mack and the team that had the fewest sacks in the NFL last season had one in the first three minutes of the preseason.
Pro Football Focus has a new darling. The website charted Ossai for five pressures, best among rookie edgers. The impressive thing about Sample is that he lined up both inside and outside Saturday on the line with his sack coming off the edge.
Hodge, an undrafted hybrid, has the jersey number of a linebacker and the stats of an edger with 1.5 sacks and five quarterback hits. A linebacker no more, Hodge niche looks to be as a nickel rusher and let's see if he stacks up another outing. With Kareem not playing Saturday and nursing a shoulder problem, they may be trying to fortify the edge, but Kareem is more of a three-down player that can play the run.
The massive Shelvin has been spending camp trying to round into shape, but he was as advertised when he looked better in the game than he did in practice and they seem to think he got better as the game went on. It was nice Wren was able to play 23 active snaps in his first game since tearing his quad a year. It looks like they've got plans for Tupou. He and Reader, the starting nose, each played four snaps.
Jordan Evans (5), Germaine Pratt (3), Joe Bachie (2); Markus Bailey (2), Akeem Davis-Gaither (2), Logan Wilson (2), Keandre Jones (1), Darius Hodge (R)
These guys swarmed from the start of the night. They didn't let playoff hero Leonard Fournette breathe on that first series (two carries for two yards, thanks to Pratt) and they gave up 27 yards on the ground the rest of the way. Bailey had four tackles on 20 snaps and Evans had another economical night with three tackles and a quarterback hit on his dozen plays. Bachie may be making them think about keeping six backers with a pass defensed.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (16)
SS Ricardo Allen (7), CB Trae Waynes (7), CB Eli Apple (6), SS Vonn Bell (6), FS Kavon Frazier (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)
Check out Brady's incomplete bomb to wide receiver Antonio Brown. You saw the kind of coverage they didn't have last year. Awuzie was right with him while Waynes neutralized Mike Evans on the other side. The backups were alert and busy with six passes defensed, two of them interceptions. The backup slot guys, Phillips and Davis, combined for four of them, but can you keep three slot guys? Phillips showed his roster value with a 40-yard kick return. They seem to have a bunch of depth at safety because Allen, one of their four projected to the final 53, didn't play and is expected back by the opener.
LS Clark Harris (13), P Kevin Huber (13), K Austin Seibert (3), K Evan McPherson (R), P Drue Chrisman (R)
McPherson and Seibert did what they've done in camp. They matched each other twice with two field goals each. Taylor is probably going to give Harris a bit of a break on Friday night and see if a guy like Uzomah can back him up as the snapper. No call made yet on Chrisman as he continues to heal from injury and has yet to work.