In a surprise move, Jason Shirley was moved from defensive tackle to guard. (AP photo)
Updated: 3:15 p.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Head coach Marvin Lewis threw a couple of depth charges at the depth chart Monday morning in unveiling some intriguing moves as the Bengals prepare for Friday night's preseason opener in New Orleans.
They also announced the first cut of camps in releasing veteran running back Kenny Watson and veteran fullback J.D. Runnels Jr.
As Runnels left, Jeremi Johnson, a year out of football, was promoted to first team ahead of rookie Fui Vakapuna and defensive tackle Tank Johnson moved ahead of Pat Sims as a starter at defensive tackle.
They also moved '08 fifth-rounder Jason Shirley from defensive tackle to offensive guard and promoted rookie Michael Johnson to second team ahead of Frostee Rucker and behind Antwan Odom.
Watson, 31, has been one of the most reliable and admired Bengals, but age appeared to be a factor in the move on a day 24-year-old Brian Leonard was moved to backup tailback behind Cedric Benson.
The most intriguing move of the day had to be the 6-5, 340-pound Shirley switching lines. As the horn blew to begin practice after the stretching period Monday morning, he took off his No. 97 white jersey and pulled No. 70 in black over his head. The first time, really, since high school that he'd been on the offensive line.
The move comes with seventh-rounder Clinton McDonald making a huge run to be the fourth and final tackle on the roster and three guards going down with injury: Colin Dow (cut), Evan Mathis (sore muscles) and Dan Santucci (foot).
Shirley said Lewis told him Sunday night when the players got back from their day off.
"I was always playing the defensive line and had that mentality for so long it was kind of hard (hearing it)," Shirley said after practice. "I thought about it a little bit and it's all football. If it helps the team, I'm willing to do it."
Whether it helps him make the team remains to be seen, but he says he thinks he can learn it quickly enough to stick. The club dabbled with him there back in November when it used him on the scout team to counter a slew of O-line injuries.
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander told Shirley the story of right tackle Stacy Andrews, which has a happy ending but not for the Bengals. They took Andrews in the fourth round of the 2004 draft even though he had played just 70 snaps of football. Andrews became the Bengals franchise free agent in 2008 before the Eagles paid him $7 million per year in free agency.
"I think he has a lot of skills that would define a pretty good offensive line prospect. It will be fun to work with him," Alexander said. "We're down in numbers so he's going to get work and an opportunity. I told him he's played more football, even offensive football, in his life than Stacy Andrews has."
They didn't waste any time. On Monday morning he took a few snaps in goal line, no-huddle and 9-on-7.
"I don't think the coaches would have moved me if they didn't think I could contribute. Out there today I felt cool with the techniques," Shirley said. "I just have to get them under my belt. You can use your hands. You just have to wait to punch instead of automatic hands first. I've got to go hands second, feet first. It's kind of switched over.
"I've got to pick the brains of Bobbie Williams and some of the other veterans as fast as I can to contribute to the team or whatever they want me to do."
The knock on Shirley at Fresno State and with the Bengals has been his inconsistent motor. He was on the roster last year but didn't make his debut until the 11th game and only played in three.
There is some thought that he has more of an O-lineman's mentality. It could be just the last move before he gets cut, or the club may try to develop him on the practice squad. It looks like a tough haul to make the 53-man roster for Shirley on offense. The Bengals usually keep nine offensive linemen and even without No. 1 pick Andre Smith signed it is tight.
There are the five starters plus backup center Jonathan Luigs, backup guard-tackle Scott Kooistra and backup right tackle Dennis Roland. That leaves one spot and there are guards like Mathis and Andrew Crummey with more experience. There is a fear that Santucci has another serious foot problem.
As always, one of Shirley's new mentors, Williams, the starting right guard, had his broad smile working after practice.
"It never ceases to amaze me coming to work," Williams said. "It might turn out to be a good thing. As practice went on and he spent more time with Paul and some of the older guys, he started to pick it up. I'm telling you, he was looking pretty good."
Williams' advice is as straightforward as the position.
"In that guard position, everything happens a lot quicker," Williams said. "He has good feet. The transition might not be that bad. He just has to stick to the technique, learn the plays and don't slack on the intensity. You've got to have intensity."
Tank Johnson, 27, a six-year veteran looking to reclaim his potenial as second-round pick in '04, shrugged at news of his promotion.
"It's what I came here to do," said Johnson, who arrived in April via Chicago and then Dallas. "I didn't come here to sit around. I came to contribute."
Watson saw action in 10 games for with 55 rushing yards on 13 carries and three receptions for four yards. Runnels, Jr. did not see game action in 2008, but he was on the Bengals practice squad for a portion of the season and was signed to the team's 2009 offseason roster.
It is tough when a good man like Watson gets cut. Tough. Reliable. Unselfish.
Lewis saw all that when he was the defensive coordinator at Washington and when the Redskins cut Watson the following year when he was in his first season in Cincinnati as the head coach, he pounced on Watson.
As a do-it-all third down back that averaged 4.6 yards per his 242 rushes during six seasons here in 67 games, Watson also caught 103 balls and returned 34 kickoffs. After playing every game in '06 and '07, injuries took him out of six games last season, including the last four.
The reasons the Bengals made the move so quickly? Not so much the emergence of a young Watson in Leonard but because they need to get the ball this preseason to their three quick change-of-pace backs in veterans DeDe Dorsey and James Johnson and rookie Bernard Scott.
Watson may be gone, but there are young guys still trying to be pros. After Scott dropped a wide-open pass in the flat in Saturday's Mock Game from Carson Palmer, he stayed after practice Monday morning as reserve quarterback Jordan Palmer worked with him on his routes out of the backfield.
"I went over there and grabbed Jordan. He's helped me out," Scott said. "Just working on fundamentals, trying to get my route running more precise. Working on looking the ball in before I try to make a play."
» Linebacker Keith Rivers was back on the field practicing, while fellow linebacker Rey Maualuga, defensive end Frostee Rucker and wide receiver Antonio Chatman did not dress.
» Tight end Daniel Coats (ankle) did not dress but worked with rehab trainer Nick Cosgray. He said he's shooting to be back Tuesday for the 3 p.m. practice so he can play in New Orleans.
OTHER DEPTH CHART MOVES:
» Jonathan Luigs is now the backup center behind Kyle Cook and ahead of Santucci and unsigned Andre Smith has been moved to third right tackle behind Anthony Collins and Dennis Roland.