The Bengals gather this week for voluntary workouts with a vastly different roster than the one they had going into that last game on Jan. 3. You can't cut to 53 without a preseason, but this roster reset gets you started.
Brandon Allen (5), Joe Burrow (2), Eric Dungey (1), Kyle Shurmur (1)
Judging by their moves at quarterback, the Bengals appear confident Burrow is going to be back for the opener. His practice schedule is unknown, but they've got enough guys to hold his place until he's in a routine.
They traded Ryan Finley and re-signed Allen to a one-year deal after he proved to be a solid caretaker of the offense despite miserable circumstances during the pandemic.
Shurmur, son of Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, is Vanderbilt smart and can spin it at times. He sat out last year when the Chiefs cut him following a rookie year he bounced on and off the Kansas City practice squad. Dungey made it off a one-day tryout in rookie minicamp. They'll keep an eye peeled for a No. 3 while developing those here.
WIDE RECEIVERS (10)
Tyler Boyd (6), Mike Thomas (6), Trent Taylor (5), Auden Tate (4), Stanley Morgan (3), Tee Higgins (2), Trent Irwin (1), Scotty Washington (1), Ja'Marr Chase (R), Riley Lees (R)
Besides Burrow, these first four are the lockest of the locks on the roster: Boyd, Higgins, Chase, Tate. After that, it's open season for the last two spots if they keep six.
Thomas looks to have an edge because of his experience in the system, but Morgan's special teams play can't be overlooked. They need a backup slot receiver and Taylor, just off a tryout, has the most experience with 79 catches in 41 games for the 49ers. Other possible slots are Thomas, Morgan and Lees. Taylor, the most experienced punt returner on the team with 49 returns for an average of 9.6, has a path to a roster spot winning that job but it looks like those final spots are going to get decided in the pre-season finale.
RUNNING BACKS (6)
Joe Mixon (5), Samaje Perine (5), Trayveon Williams (3), Jacques Patrick (1), Chris Evans (R), Pooka Williams Jr. (R)
They've said they'd like to keep Mixon on the field more on third downs, but they know if he's healthy he's a lock for 1,000 yards and some big games no matter how many snaps he plays. Perine showed in last year's late stretch he's a power back who can protect as well as catch. After that, it's a real battle.
Trayveon Williams has quickness and good vision as a runner as he continues to work on pass pro and catching out of the backfield. The coaches are raving about the natural hands of both rookies. Evans hasn't dropped a pass yet. Pooka Williams may have to win the punt return job to make it, a positon central to how many backs and receivers they keep. The 231-pound Patrick is the kind of power back that leads the NFL preseason in rushing and a good guy to have on campus even if not active.
TIGHT ENDS (7)
C.J. Uzomah (7), Mason Schreck (4), Drew Sample (3), Thaddeus Moss (2), Mitchell Wilcox (1), Cheyenne O'Grady (R), Pro Wells (R)
When Uzomah went down last season seven quarters into the year with a torn Achilles, Sample showed he's not only a good, big 6-5, 258-pound blocker, but a steady, reliable player with 40 catches on 53 targets. All signs point to Burrow drawn to the solid play of Sample and Uzomah, a handsy guy that causes some problems himself at 6-5.
After that, they're trying to find a successor to physical special teamer Cethan Carter. Schreck is more of an in-line blocker while after a year on the practice squad the undrafted Wilcox has shown to be a natural catch. The 6-3, 249-pound Moss has terrific hands as another intriguing Burrow college target. He's not in the mold of Sample or Carter and may be more of an H-Back, but his superb hands make him a guy to watch.
At 6-4, 253 pounds, O'Grady, who signed after the minicamp tryout, has a style like Sample's, along with a highlight film against Moss' LSU Tigers from 2018. He bedeviled future second-round safety Grant Delpit with two touchdowns and six catches for 75 yards in Arkansas' tight loss. Wells, a high school basketball star who arrived relatively late to football, gets a shot to develop.
OFFENSIVE LINE (14)
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)
Welcome to what figures to be the most fluid and intense competition on the roster. Offensive line coach Frank Pollack returns to find only two players left over from his stint here in 2018: Hopkins and Price. With Hopkins rehabbing an ACL, Price figures to line up Tuesday at center with Reiff at right tackle, Carman at right guard and Williams at left tackle.
The left guard could be anybody, among them the pair of veteran guards that finished last season in Su'a-Filo and Spain, the left guard that started the last two Opening Days in Jordan (still only 23 as he looks to bottle his consistency) and Adeniji, last year's sixth-round pick who impressed enough in games and practices to be seen as a potential four-position player at both guard and tackle. Hill also projects as a solid player that can back up all three interior spots. His fate as a rookie could be tied to Hopkins' health and when he's able to get back.
If the four tackles are Reiff, Jonah Williams, Johnson and Smith, that gives you the sense of how exactly tight at a spot they usually keep nine players. And when Hopkins gets healthy, it's even tighter. The other wild cards are that this time Pollack is also the run game coordinator who has at his disposal versatile tackles-guards such as Reiff, Carman, Adeniji and possibly Williams. The only thing we know is that first lineup may very well not be the last.
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).
If the O-line is the most fluid, the defensive line and cornerbacks have undergone the biggest overhauls. Up front they feel like they've used free agency and the draft to shore up the depth that was so riddled last season. Start with the back-up tackles that can rotate in with Daniels, the solid, well-regarded vet, and Shelvin, the potential game-changing land mass. That's an upgrade as massive as the 350-pound Shelvin.
So are the back-up edge players. They're kids, but Ossai and Sample are also relentless, talented players that can move up and down the line. Something else they didn't have last year. At first glance, you'd say it's an interesting battle between Kareem and Hubert for the ninth spot. Hubert did it all at Kansas State and Kareem had a tough time showing what he's got given his rookie year was plagued with a shoulder injury. Plus, this is a spot where they could keep ten pending what goes on at backer and the secondary. And you wonder if there's a swing guy in there (Kareem?) that could serve as both a tenth lineman and sixth backer.
They poured the free-agent money into the starting line with the addition of Ogunjobi and Hendrickson joining two of the team's most consistent players in Reader and Hubbard. That gets you to eight players pretty quickly with Daniels, Shelvin, Ossai and Sample. Also in the mix are two huge vet nose tackles that didn't play last season in Tupou (opt out) and Wren (quad).
Jordan Evans (5), Germaine Pratt (3), Markus Bailey (2), Akeem Davis-Gaither (2), Logan Wilson (2), Keandre Jones (1), Darius Hodge (R)
The numbers may suggest they're keeping just five. Wilson moves into the starting lineup in the middle and Pratt returns to what has been pretty much defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo's 4-2-5. They believe the three backers they drafted in 2020 (Wilson, Davis-Gaither, Bailey) are heading into a break-out year. Bailey played just 44 snaps last season, but they liked what they saw and now that he's fully healthy from the knee injury that cut short his senior year at Purdue, they think he's ready to run.
Evans quietly returns with 60 games under his belt and, you could win a trivia contest with this, the most Bengals games of anyone on defense. Put him in and he'll simply produce. Last year he had two sacks, a pick and a fumble on 61 snaps. Jones, the Ohio State transfer who finished at Maryland before the Bears signed him in college free agency last year, is still flying around. At 6-3, 220 pounds, he's got elite speed and after he played 19 snaps in the kicking game late last year, he'll get more scrutiny there. The undrafted Hodge is making the transition from edge rusher to on-the-ball SAM backer with some intriguing skills.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (15)
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)
Figuring Kirk Cousins comes out three wide on Opening Day, it's hard to find the last time the Bengals started three brand new corners across the back. Waynes is the 11th pick of his draft, Awuzie is coming off four steel-belted seasons in Dallas and Hilton is the most versatile slot corner in the game. Upgrades
Plus, Darius Phillips and Apple give them that depth they were missing right away last season when Waynes (shoulder) went down before the year started and Phillips and William Jackson III missed a combined six games. Anarumo coached Apple when they were with the Giants and he's in a good place to revive a career that began in the first round.
Bates and Bell are one of the NFL's best safety tandems and in Allen they get a third safety that can do it all. Anarumo knows Allen well from their Purdue days and they love what the former Falcons captain brings in versatility (nickel corner, special teams) and personality. Wilson, their best special teamer with and without the ball in his hands, returns to continue his assault on the Bengals kick return records.
It's going to be hard to dent those four safeties and if you're looking for a sixth corner, start with Tony Brown. He's played 33 NFL games, 13 in his first season with the Bengals last year, and got a start along with 94 snaps on special teams. Davis was rushed into action off the practice squad last season. Lewis, a seventh-round pick in Cleveland in 2019, is looking for his first NFL snap. Undrafted Antonio Phillips is rounding into form after back surgery clouded his draft status and should be healthy for the preseason.
LS Clark Harris (13), P Kevin Huber (13), K Austin Seibert (3), K Evan McPherson (R), LS Dan Godsil (1), P Drue Chrisman (R)
Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has made it pretty clear. Until further notice, McPherson is the Bengals' first Opening Day rookie kicker since Neil Rackers opened Paul Brown Stadium in 2000. The soon-to-be-36-year-old Huber had a career year last season after he dipped in 2019 and has designs on punting until he's 40. Chrisman, another homegrown punter, has a big leg and figures to get a long look in preseason. Harris' first snap against the Vikings in the opener ties him with Anthony Munoz at 185 on the Bengals games played list.