With the release of Chris Davis on Tuesday, the training camp field for wide receivers is set with the club's all-time leading receiver (Chad Ochocinco), a former first-round pick (Matt Jones), a $7 million man (Antonio Bryant), and four guys (Andre Caldwell, Quan Cosby, Maurice Purify, Jerome Simpson) trying to regain last year's roster spots.
Also in the mix is last year's seventh-round pick in Freddie Brown, a member of the practice squad for the last two months of last season. Third-rounder Jordan Shipley of Texas and sixth-rounder Dez Briscoe of Kansas make it a nice round number of 10.
With the Bengals needing to cut three more players to get down to 80, they could cut as many as two more defensive backs before they have to report to Georgetown College July 28 for camp. They appear to be trying to make room for a preseason kicking competition between Mike Nugent and Dave Rayner.
Heading into camp, the consensus appears to have the four top receiver spots going to The Ocho, Bryant, Caldwell and Shipley with the battle for the last two spots taking up one of the biggest spotlights of camp. Under head coach Marvin Lewis the Bengals have traditionally kept six receivers on the 53-man roster and dressed five on game day when the limit is 45 players.
A quick topography of the competition:
The oldest is The Ocho at 32 and the youngest is Briscoe at 20. The Ocho has 684 career NFL catches. The other nine have a combined 605, ranging from Bryant's 372 to one for Simpson and none for the two rookies as well as Purify and Brown. There are three second-rounders in the group with The Ocho, Bryant and Simpson, meaning six were drafted in the third round or higher. Two are college free agents in Cosby and Purify. Shipley (248) and Cosby (212) are the two most prolific receivers in University of Texas history.
Dez Briscoe, 6-2, 207, Rookie: Sixth-round pick with second or third-round talent. Nice size and has impressed coaches with route running. But he's so young (he doesn't turn 21 until the week of the last preseason game) he doesn't know what he doesn't know. Plus, he missed a lot of the spring with a hamstring problem. Not a project like Jerome Simpson, but needs time to be schooled.
Freddie Brown, 6-4, 198, 1st season: Seventh-rounder from '09 got cut after making one catch for 18 yards in four preseason games. Came back to practice squad Nov. 10 and finished the season there. Hard worker, smart guy. Physical with good hands.
Antonio Bryant, 6-1, 205, 8th season: Free-agent acquisition. Has impressed with work ethic and smarts and responded well to being moved around in different spots. Showed quickness early in the spring, but the pounding appeared to affect a knee injury that limited him to half a season in Tampa last year, and the coaches backed him off last week in the mandatory mini. They think he'll be OK with rest.
Andre Caldwell, 6-0, 200, 3rd season: Fans are down on him because of two critical fourth-quarter fumbles in Oakland and San Diego losses last year, but coaches love his knowledge of offense and ability to play all spots. They say he had best spring of any receiver (position coach Mike Sheppard says he plays fastest of the group), yet all eyes will be on if he can improve his hands on the deep ball and his overall ball security.
Quan Cosby, 5-9, 196, 2nd season:With an average of nearly 12 yards per his 40 tries, Cosby had the best season for a Bengal returning punts since Taft High School head coach Mike Martin led the NFL 25 seasons before. But special teams coach Darrin Simmons was just as impressed with Cosby's decision-making that led to 19 fair catches and two fumbles but none lost. His size hurts him from scrimmage, but he does seem to have a knack. Had two huge catches in the slot in the game-tying drive in San Diego. The fifth and last active receiver on game day is usually a special teams contributor, which should help him in the roster battle.
Matt Jones, 6-6, 218, 5th season: Former No. 1 pick who ran afoul of off-field problems in Jacksonville and the conversion from college quarterback on the field. Has been solid in the room here. Didn't miss a workout once he reported in March. Had a quick start in spring running the deep route but cooled later in workouts. He presents two qualities the Bengals need to replace with loss of Chris Henry in size and hands, but he has to consistently show burst.
The Ocho, 6-1, 192, 10th season: Five-time Pro Bowler. Star of stage and screen. Just 48 yards from becoming the 33rd player with 10,000 yards receiving. He looked good in last week's mandatory mini. His quickness seems to be intact.
Maurice Purify, 6-3, 226, 1st year: A big physical guy who didn't have a catch in five games last year. The Bengals were hoping he'd have more of an impact blocking and on special teams, but his five special-teams tackles are going to help his bid.
Jordan Shipley, 6-0, 190, Rookie: Third-round pick who would have been voted this spring's outstanding newcomer. The coaches came away raving about his comfort in the slot and his "naturalness" at finding the nooks and crannies of a defense. He's not as powerful as the 6-2, 205-pound T.J. Houshmandzadeh, so while he may not have the same ability to get yards after the catch, the Bengals still think he'll be a go-to guy for Carson Palmer when he needs a first down. Also a big-time punt returner at Texas but if the Bengals use him as much as it sounds like they might from scrimmage, he won't see much time there.
Jerome Simpson, 6-2, 195, 3rd year: His line says it all: One catch in eight games. His transition from tiny Coastal Carolina has been excruciating. He had his best spring this year, but he's inconsistent catching and running routes correctly. Still, he put his ample physical skills on display with excellent downfield speed and leaping ability along with a penchant to make the spectacular catch. The inability to contribute on special teams has hurt his bid to get on the field.