There was no shortage of roster battles in last Thursday's preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. While some players took the next step in the roster battles we previewed before the game , other players emerged that weren't necessarily on our radar. Some players simply made great individual efforts. Others bumped up their stock due to outside circumstances on the roster. Either way, here are a handful of players we believe are trending upwards based on game 2 of preseason:
Roddrick Muckelroy – Muckelroy filled in with first team defense as middle linebacker Rey Maualuga sat out with a right knee injury. Muckelroy responded to the opportunity given to him by leading the team with 7 tackles. Muckelroy has proven to be the definition of "solid" during this offseason, whereas Vontaze Burfict is the more explosive player of the two. Muckelroy’s performance gives his stock a bump up because he absolutely delivered on his promising camp as a starter last Thursday. While he isn’t supplanting Maualuga by any means, Muckelroy established himself as a deserving candidate behind Maualuga on the depth chart. The roster battle is by no means decided, and the next few weeks simply became more interesting.
Andrew Hawkins – Hawkins has received his fair share of hype this offseason. We’re considering Hawkins as a player who’s stock is rising simply because of Jordan Shipley’s release from the team last Friday. It may be a bit short sighted to leave out other potential slot players (Ryan Whalen, Mohamed Sanu, or virtually any wide receiver not named AJ Green on the roster, depending on who you ask), but Jay Gruden has already declared Andrew Hawkins as the team’s inside guy for the time being. It’s not as if Hawkins was even on the roster bubble, but his contributions to the team heading into the regular season are now better defined by the loss of Shipley. In the meantime, Hawkins continues to make plays where needed and last week was no exception particularly on special teams (see: Hawkins taking down 252-pound fullback Mike Cox on a kickoff in the 2nd quarter). Hawkins seems to have a visible road map now, and his stock is trending upwards.
Marvin Jones – Jones provided a bit of a highlight reel in a fairly lackluster second half on Thursday. Jones executed on an end-around play in the 2nd half which resulted in 16 yards on the ground for the rookie wide receiver. He also made an impressive 42 yard catch as he overcame tight coverage by Falcons Domonique Franks in the 3rd quarter. Marvin Jones was on the roster bubble coming into the preseason, but he’s been making the most of his opportunities and Thursday night was the night Jones assured clear distance of the roster bubble into a virtual roster lock.
Jeromy Miles – Miles was impressive. The second year player took full advantage of the Bengals roster battle at safety, especially in the wake of Taylor Mays furthering his reputation as an on-the-field liability after incidentally injuring a second teammate in two preseason games. Miles had 6 tackles and an interception in the endzone during the 3rd quarter of Thursday’s game. We’ve pointed out that the starting safety position is Taylor Mays’ to lose. I don’t know that his collision with Vontaze Burfict necessarily changed that, but Miles is officially at the heels of Mays one way or another. It will be interesting to see if Miles gets more time playing against first team offenses during the next few weeks. Until then, Miles clearly took a step in the right direction with his performance against the Falcons.
Donald Lee – This may be a bit of an under-the-radar selection for the week. After Jermaine Gresham was sidelined with a knee he tweaked on the field, Donald Lee played well in his place. The ten year veteran hauled in 4 catches for 46 yards. There are a few reasons that Donald Lee’s performance is worth mentioning: First, Lee seemingly outplayed Colin Cochart in the passing game. Cochart blocks well, but his receiving game has been an area needing improvement. Second, it’s becoming more apparent that offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is involving his tight ends in the passing game more and more as we get deeper into the preseason. With just the first team offense alone, tight ends have been targeted 7 times in two preseason games. It will be interesting to see how the number of targets trends in the remaining two preseason games especially with Jermaine Gresham sitting out at least one preseason game with a knee sprain. If Gruden commits to the tight end position more often in the receiving game, Donald Lee proved he will be second on the depth chart until Cochart or even rookie Orson Charles takes the next step.