Anyone watching the Bengals preseason game against the Packers on Thursday was more than likely left without any further clarity on who exactly will be testing defensive backs alongside AJ Green this season. Armon Binns and Brandon Tate were slightly effective with a largly unaffective 5 completions from quarterback Andy Dalton. While three preseason games, in reality, is a small sample to judge in the NFL, Bengals fans may be starting to feel some repetition week in and week out as no wide receiver is "breaking out" on the first team offense.
It's not as though any individual receiver is dropping the ball at the position (that pun was absolutely intended and you're welcome). Let's consider the usual first team receivers this August: In three weeks of preseason games for the Bengals, Armon Binns has totaled 35 yards on 3 receptions and Brandon Tate is looking at 43 yards on 4 receptions. During the second half of preseason games Marvin Jones is currently at a total of 85 yards on 5 receptions and a touchdown, and Mohamed Sanu has a total of 25 yards on 4 receptions and a touchdown. Somewhere among all of this lies Andrew Hawkins with 10 yards on 2 receptions.
It's important to list these receivers specifically because it brings me to a very important point: In addition to AJ Green, these are the five receivers that will more than likely be on the Bengals roster when the deadline reaches on September 2nd.
We can talk about Jordan Shipley's exit from Cincinnati little more than a week ago. We can talk about Marvin Jones' improvement with each passing week. We can even continue with the speculation that Jermaine Gresham may end up being the second biggest receiving threat in the Bengals offense this season. If there is any true revelation to gain from the receivers on this Bengals squad it may simply come down to the game plan that has been suggested even well before the start of preseason: This will be a group effort.
It was exciting in July; fans stirred with excitement at the idea of AJ Green being complimented by an unknown player fighing for the opportunity. It was easy to identify a single player as the missing piece to what would ultimately solidify the need at wide receiver. We sometimes used Jerome Simpson as the measuring stick for the singular "Z" to A.J. Green's "X"; That's not to say Simpson was the prototypical wide receiver we wanted by any means. We knew what we appreciated out of Jerome Simpson, but also were fully aware of what he lacked. We hoped that the player to supplant Simpson would be successful at eliminating the shortcomings he brought on the field.
All of this reflection brings us back to the current reality of the situation. While the Bengals may have virtually locked in their six receivers heading into the regular season, realizing the true "number 2" is still a process. We've suggested a committee approach at the receiver position, and it's hard to think sharing No. 2 duties won't be the plan to start out the season. And who's to say that's a problem? Inexperience and fresh faces have been acknowledged over and over in regards to the wide receiver position; when you consider the young talent on this team, it can't come as a surprise that there isn't a singular identifiable player after three preseason games.
Perhaps the "One" No. 2 will emerge during the season. Perhaps it will help players if the team shares duties and rotates at wide receiver - keeping opposing defenses as uncertain as we could assume they were last season. Perhaps it will be a mess. Either way, I'd feel much more comfortable letting these receivers win the war on the field even if it means tabling the position battle one day a week beginning in September.