Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's first Opening Day roster reflects his era.
It's always been a young man's game, as Paul Brown would say, but they're getting there faster and faster. The average age of Taylor's 53-man roster, given a few fractions as it gets finalized in the next 48 hours, is 25.2, more than a year younger than the group head coach Marvin Lewis put together for the 2003 opener in his first year. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that club that went 8-8 averaged 26.6 years old. Yet Taylor's guys are slightly more seasoned, averaging 4.09 NFL years of experience compared to the 3.9 of that '03 team.
Then when Lewis and the Bengals re-booted with the 2011 team, the age began to drop, (26.2 according to Elias) with the experience staying relatively the same at 3.8 years. Fast forward to last year and Elias says the Bengals were even younger at 25.9 year old with a 3.9 seasoning.
So while Taylor's team is younger, it's also more experienced. That 2018 team that opened with a win in Indy but finished 6-10, had seven rookies and 14 other players with two years of experience or less. This team has nine rookies, but just six with two years or less of experience. Compare that to the Ravens, a team that according to profootballtalk.com has 22 players that are rookies or second-year players.
But, as Taylor said Saturday in a media conference call, they're not there yet. Everyone is buzzing about the move to keep undrafted veteran rookie quarterback Jake Dolegala on the 53 and Taylor gave him praise ("He's certainly got a bright future. So we felt like he had earned himself a spot"), but there are more pressing issues for Seattle.
Here's a look at all the Bengals players on the 53-man roster. Check out some of the best action photos.
He pointed to offensive line and running backs as potential spots where moves are to be made in the next 48 hours. Both are spots where they kept one fewer player than usual (eight and three, respectively) and they're both hamstrung by injured rookies, tackle O'Shea Dugas (knee) and running back Trayveon Williams (foot).
It was originally thought Williams, a sixth-round pick from Texas A&M, would be out the first two games. But the Bengals kept only him and regulars Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. Plus, they cut guard-tackle John Jerry, the only other experienced back-up tackle besides Dugas and Andre Smith.
Yet, Taylor said it's about moving pieces.
"There could be some movement here in the next two days. We feel comfortable with the direction we're heading there," Taylor said of the offensive line. "We keep seeing the progress that Trayveon's making, and we'll see what his timeline is here in the next couple days. Certainly that doesn't mean it has to be set in stone the way that we've got it for this next Sunday. We'll keep making progress this weekend and make some decisions next week."
They'll also need to replace one of their more reliable special teams players for the past few seasons with the release of fourth-year wide receiver Cody Core. It apparently came down to Core or Josh Malone for the seventh wide receiver spot and Malone seems to offer more speed and length at receiver.
"Not easy. Cody's done some great things for us, so it's just the decision we made. We came to it and Josh just had a good training camp. Cody had done some good things. Wasn't an easy decision. But I felt like Josh earned an opportunity there," Taylor said. "He's got good speed. He's done a nice job. He's made some plays for us this preseason. But one thing he does is have is he's got good size, he's got good speed. Like I said, he's shown up a couple times this preseason making some plays."
Taylor says he's OK going with a surplus of defensive linemen (11) and a shortage of linebackers (five), but that could also hinge on some other moves. Although it seems like they don't mind the number of players at those spots, they could be in the market to claim a fourth running back, a ninth offensive lineman or a fifth backer. And, maybe, a sixth cornerback.
But, like Taylor said, they have to weigh bringing in a new player cold and teaching him the system, compared to turning to an internal player that knows the playbook and has been with them since spring.
"It's a case by case basis on who the player is and who the player is replacing," Taylor said. "We certainly feel like if it's an even swap or just a slight tick upgrade, then you have to look at the position and how much does it matter, along with the reps we've invested in that player. I think that certainly plays into the scenario."
It also looks like the injury cloud around Taylor is slowly starting to lift. It had been a miserable start for him. Dean of the offensive line Clint Boling's retirement. No. 1 pick Jonah Williams' shoulder injury. His best player, A.J. Green, dealing with torn ankle ligaments. Then Thursday night rookie running back Rodney Anderson tore his ACL.
But on Saturday the Bengals put Williams on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) in the hopes he can make his NFL debut in December after it was originally thought he couldn't play at all this season. And Taylor confirmed they have no intentions of moving Green to injured reserve-recall on Sunday. They've seen enough that they don't believe he'll hit the worst case scenario and not play for the first eight weeks.
"We feel like we're going to get him back in the first eight weeks. We're just going to continue to carry him on the roster," Taylor said. "We don't get daily updates on him because everything's progressing along as we hoped. Once we get into the season, I think we really start getting into, OK, what's the projection for him when he's coming back? But right now, everything's been on schedule and we intend on him coming back the first half of the season."