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Roster showdowns open as draft hailed again


Memo to Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin:

Those trades that weren't made during the draft may have been resting you up for a busy August. After plugging in the 10 draft picks from this past weekend, this looks to be the most competitive Bengals training camp in recent memory. You're going to have some talented veterans and some intriguing youngsters you might be able to deal for future draft picks.

For the fifth year in a row the national pundits applauded the Bengals draft. The gurus, Pete Prisco and Dane Brugler, both delivered. As with Prisco exulting about running back Giovani Bernard's fit: "For the second consecutive year, the Bengals had a big haul. They landed a lot of quality players for a roster that already had a bunch. There is no more laughing at the way they draft." Brugler offered the A with the observation that second-round pick Margus Hunt could be a defensive line steal along the lines of Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap.

The Sporting News gave out an A-minus, along with the Vikings, Cardinals and Texans, while the Eagles, Steelers, Packers, 49ers and Jags got As, putting the Bengals in some nice company: "(Tyler) Eifert and Bernard are great options for (Andy) Dalton to further break out of his (A.J.) Green dependency."

The Eifert pick caused Master Mel Kiper Jr., himself to give the Bengals his top grade, an A-minus that he also gave the Ravens and Rams.

Now that the 10 guys are here, where are some of these guys going to play?

The Bengals are so deep in some spots they need a lifeguard. Plus, the Bengals could announce their dozen or so college free agents as soon as Monday, and they have a history of keeping one or two of those guys. These CFAs are basically going up against not one draft class, but two because four of the club's top seven picks from 2012 hardly played as rookies because of injury or veterans in front of them.

Counting CFAs, the Bengals will have about 94 players, which is OK because the unsigned picks don't count toward the 90-man limit. Which means in order to get to the 53 for Opening Day, they have to cut 41 guys, which is roughly the size of the May 10-12 rookie minicamp with its draft picks, CFA, first-year players, and tryout guys.

Try cutting it before the first snap and even before the CFAs officially join the roster. The number in parentheses is years of NFL experience as well as the number of players the Bengals usually keep at that position:

QBs (2): Andy Dalton (3), Josh Johnson (5), John Skelton (4), Zac Robinson (2).

When the Bengals didn't take USC's Matt Barkley in the third round (a definite slide), it was pretty clear they had no interest in this crop of college quarterbacks. So they may end up and do what they've done the last two years and keep two vets. If the Bengals sign another vet, someone else will go. And someone may go anyway because they may go to training camp with just three.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Ts Andrew Whitworth (8), Anthony Collins (6), Dennis Roland (6), Andre Smith (5), Dan Knapp (1), Reid Fragel (R); Gs Travelle Wharton (10), Mike Pollak (6), Clint Boling (3), Kevin Zeitler (2), Tanner Hawkinson (R); Cs Kyle Cook (6), Trevor Robinson (2), T.J. Johnson (R).

OK, the starting five and the backup center (Robinson at the moment) are six. Collins can back up both tackle spots for seven. The last two spots? Roland and Fragel are going to be locked in a tight one at backup right tackle. Fragel is a former tight end that could also be a tackle-eligible guy. The backup guard-center type? Wharton is working on a deal for starter's money, but he can play two spots, too, at tackle and guard. The Bengals like Hawkinson's potential to play all five spots and offensive line coach Paul Alexander is heaping high praise on him in citing some similarities with Eric Steinbach. Very crowded.

TIGHT ENDS (3): Alex Smith (9), Richard Quinn (5), Jermaine Gresham (4), Orson Charles (2), Bryce Davis (1), Tyler Eifert (R).

The big question here is if the Bengals are going to keep three or four. Behind Gresham and Eifert, the club really likes the smarts, reliability and versatility that Smith provides and it likes Charles's athleticism and hands. Charles has some H-Back qualities in him (a la James Casey in Houston) with the one qualifier the Bengals would have to go light somewhere else if they went with four.

RUNNING BACKS (4): BenJarvus Green-Ellis (6), Bernard Scott (5), Cedric Peerman (4), Dan Herron (2), Giovani Bernard (R), Rex Burkhead (R).

BJGE and Bernard are the running mates with Bernard the third-down back, and Peerman would seem to have the edge as a specialty back/special-teamer. The Bengals might get some breathing room with Scott (ACL) if they view him as a PUP candidate. Whatever happens, that's a war to roster behind BJGE and Bernard.

FULLBACKS (1): Chris Pressley (5), John Conner (4), Jourdan Brooks (1).

Pressley and Conner are two solid, reliable, tough guys. Pressley is rehabbing the knee injury that brought Conner here in December. That's a pro's pro matchup.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6): Brandon Tate (5), A.J. Green (3), Andrew Hawkins (3), Ryan Whalen (3), Dane Sanzenbacher (3), Mohamed Sanu (2), Marvin Jones (2), Taveon Rogers (2), Justin Hilton (1), Cobi Hamilton (R).

Green, Sanu and Jones could be one three-receiver set with Hawkins also playing the slot in situations. And the addition of Eifert along with the return of Sanu should make Hawkins even more effective because he won't get as worn down playing so many snaps from scrimmage and on special teams. After those four … someone is going to have to beat out Tate. Good guy, good speed, reliable and not only is the team's kick returner, but the Bengals need him to split punt returns with Adam Jones. Bernard isn't the punt returner those two guys are, and while he may be looked at as a kick returner, the Bengals won't give him a steady diet of that. Someone will have to have a big preseason to beat out Tate.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9): E Robert Geathers (10), T Domata Peko (8), E Jamaal Anderson (7), E Wallace Gilberry (6), E Michael Johnson (5), T Geno Atkins (4), E Carlos Dunlap (4), T Devon Still (2), T Brandon Thompson (2), E DeQuin Evans (1), E Margus Hunt (R).

How about this skirmish? Five ends and four tackles, right? The nice thing is the Bengals can break in Hunt and it would be hard to see him being active early in the season. Tackle is tough to dent with Peko, Atkins and the two second-year guys, Still and Thompson, that didn't play much as rookies. The ends are tough to dent, too. Geathers and Gilberry just signed multiyear deals, Johnson is the franchise player, and Dunlap has 20 sacks in 38 career games. You need your hand stamped to get into this fray.

LINEBACKERS (6): James Harrison (10), Aaron Maybin (5), Rey Maualuga (5), Vincent Rey (3), Vontaze Burfict (2), Emmanuel Lamur (2), Dontay Moch (2), J.K. Schaffer (1), Brandon Joiner (1), Sean Porter (R).

Is there just one chair left already? If the Bengals go with nine defensive linemen (and they almost really have to), then it's probably going to be just six backers.

Harrison at SAM, Maualuga at MIKE, and Burfict at WILL are the starters. The Bengals think Lamur is their best cover backer and Porter makes it somewhere even though he's just 230 pounds. The club loves the way he flies around and runs, a la Thomas Howard, and the Bengals think he can make a big impact on special teams with the departure of backup backer and special teams captain Dan Skuta. The team's backup MIKE, in essence, is Burfict. Porter can conceivably back up all three spots, but he looks like he'll do his best work in space, like Howard, who will probably be signed himself at some point as he rehabs his ACL.

And let's see the CFA backers the Bengals bring in after Burfict and Lamur made it last season. This roster joust is not for the faint of heart.

SECONDARY (10): CB Terence Newman (11), CB Adam Jones (7), CB Leon Hall (7), S Reggie Nelson (7), CB Brandon Ghee (4), S Taylor Mays (4), S Jeromy Miles (4), Robert Sands (3), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (2), S George Iloka (2), CB Shaun Prater (2), S Tony Dye (2), CB Chris Lewis-Harris (1), S Shawn Williams (R).

Five corners and five safeties, where one of them swings to play the other spot in nickel? Or six corners, four safeties?

It depends how people practice and play, but we know the first three corners: Hall, Newman and Jones. And after playing minimal snaps from scrimmage last season because of injury, the '12 first-round pick, Kirkpatrick, has the team intrigued. So does Ghee, whose promising spring last year was cut down by a season-ending injury in training camp. Prater also had a good spring before he got shelved for the year with injury.

Nelson is one starting safety, and anything else is up for grabs. Williams, this year's third-rounder, is going to get the chance to win the job that Mays and Miles couldn't last year but are going to bid for again. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer sounds like he's going to give the kids a shot. He likes the smarts Williams showed at Georgia, and Dye, the CFA from UCLA, showed last year in camp before he went on injured reserve. And then, the Bengals will be keeping an eye on which safeties can play nickel corner and which corners can play nickel safety with the losses of Chris Crocker and Nate Clements. After the first four DBs of Hall, Nelson, Newman and Jones, well, don't write them in pen.

SPECIALISTS (3): K Mike Nugent (9), P Kevin Huber (5), LS Clark Harris  (5), LS Bryce Davis (1).

The Bengals moved to keep the core of their kicking game intact even before free agency. Harris has been snapping to Huber for holds for three and a half seasons and Huber has been holding for Nugent for three seasons. Plus, Huber is coming off the best season ever by a Bengals punter.

See any room?

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