The team's wide receiver spot is setting up as the team's most interesting position battle this year. With Jordan Shipley and Dezmon Briscoe joining the Bengals during last weekend's NFL Draft, the team recognizes that the position will be, as Bob Bratkowski calls it, a "free-for-all".
“There’s going to be heated competition,” he said after Saturday afternoon’s practice at rookie camp. “It’s going to come down to who stays healthy and who can be productive and consistent and develop a good feel with Carson. That will be something to watch.”
No, we're not talking about superstar Chad Ochocinco or Antonio Bryant. They're the starters, provided injury doesn't weigh in on the matter. After those two, nothing is set. Andre Caldwell, the incumbent third-string receiver, hasn't earned much in his own right and will have to fight alongside the rookies just to make enough of an impression to keep his playing time.
Jordan Shipley, the team's third-round draft pick, is a fan-favorite as the team's leading slot receiver being compared to with names like T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Wes Welker. Even Briscoe draws comparisons to Houshmandzadeh. Writes Geoff Hobson:
The 6-2, 207-pound Briscoe has more in common with the other receiver he has watched, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, than the Ocho. Houshmandzadeh was an end-of-draft guy, too. The Bengals liked him, but right before they picked him offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski made a call to Oregon State head coach, Dennis Erickson, an old friend, to double check that even though he was a junior college guy with little big-time experience that Houshmandzadeh had the requisite NFL tools. Erickson passed muster and the third-leading receiver in franchise history was born.
“I was impressed. He did some things extremely well,” Bratkowski said. “Route-running and catching the ball. He’s got a real good feel for the game and that’s hard to teach. Just an understanding of angles and holes in zones and setting people up. Sometimes you either have that or you don’t and he’s got it. But he’s got to get in better shape to compete at that spot.”
Some believe that Briscoe would be a perfect practice team candidate. This is how it works. Players are waived from a team first, which allows 31 teams to put a claim on that player. If only no team claims him, then the Bengals can sign him to the practice squad. First, I don't think Briscoe passes through 31 uninterested teams. Second, if the things we're hearing this weekend about Briscoe are any indication, providing a dramatic setback, Briscoe could find himself not just making the roster, but competing for that slot receiver position.
Let's say that the first five receivers on the squad are Chad Ochocinco, Antonio Bryant, Jordan Shipley, Andre Caldwell and Dezmon Briscoe. After that, guys like Matt Jones, Quan Cosby and Jerome Simpson will be fighting for the lonely sixth spot -- clue: which guy helps you most on special teams? And guys like Maurice Purify, Chris Davis and Freddie Brown are long-shots, at best.
It's way too early to make these type of projections. A lot will happen from now until the start of September when the final roster has to be decided. Either way, you just know that after Chad and Bryant, there's absolutely nothing set in stone with the position.