The Cincinnati Bengals have until 9PM Friday evening to release 22 players, setting their maximum roster to 53. From our perspective most of the team's positions are set, with few roster battles remaining giving us a somewhat easier 53-man prediction than in years past. But we'll miss one or three. There will be a surprise roster change that no one took account. It happens every year.
Now. The annual Cincy Jungle 53-man roster projection.
QUARTERBACK (2): Andy Dalton, Bruce Gradkowski
The quarterback situation wasn't expected to undergo any changes and won't. At best there could have been a third quarterback, but that greatly depended on injuries with the first two. Dalton did suffer an arm bruise that Lewis and Dalton appear to be disregarding. Zac Robinson will likely return on the team's practice squad.
RUNNING BACK (5): BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard, Cedric Peerman, Chris Pressley (FB)
Dan Herron was gift wrapped his final opportunity Thursday to highlight an argument to make the 53-man roster against the Colts. He didn't make it. He blocked a punt in which he lined up over the line of scrimmage, lost a fumble that resulted in a Colts touchdown and averaged 1.9 yards/rush on 15 carries, which is actually an improvement over his collective preseason performance. Herron rushed for 42 yards on 25 carries for a 1.7 yard/rush average in four preseason games. Jourdan Brooks and Dan Herron are strong practice squad possibilities -- more Brooks than Herron.
WIDE RECIEVER (6): A.J. Green, Brandon Tate, Armon Binns, Andrew Hawkins, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones
Once Jordan Shipley was released, the wide receiver roster took shape. Marvin Jones' production late in the preseason may have shifted him up the depth chart for opportunities during the regular season rather than being the sixth receiver, often inactive during games.
TIGHT END (3): Jermaine Gresham, Donald Lee, Orson Charles
There's still a chance for Colin Cochart making the team over Orson Charles, who could be viewed as being more of a development. However Cochart didn't solidify his own stock with mediocre blocking performances, something that was supposed to promote him. Both tight ends caught three passes, but Charles generated 36 yards receiving compared to Cochart with only 13 yards.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Clint Boling, Kevin Zeitler, Anthony Collins, Jeff Faine, Trevor Robinson, Dennis Roland, Otis Hudson
With a high ankle sprain, Kyle Cook is likely going on Injured Reserve. Modified rules allow him to return later in the season, if he's able. In the meantime, Faine replaces Cook on the 53-man roster (more on that below).
DEFENSIVE LINE (8): Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Jamaal Anderson, Robert Geathers, Devon Still, Brandon Thompson
No surprises with how the defensive line shapes up. Pat Sims will head to Reserve/PUP, which prevents him from playing through the first six weeks of the regular season. We wanted to add Dontay Moch, with a team-leading 3.5 quarterback sacks, over Robert Geathers. But it felt more contrived as opposed to what the team is expected to do. Moch will be suspended the first four games this season, so it's possible that the Bengals keep him, use the roster exemption and make a decision on him later (more on that towards the end).
LINEBACKER (7): Rey Maualuga, Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson, Dan Skuta, Roddrick Muckelroy, Vontaze Burfict, Vinny Rey
Vinny Rey really impressed me, finishing the season with 19 tackles, tied for second on the team. However he's not entirely safe because Skuta can play both outside linebacker spots and Muckelroy, who should be the team's backup middle linebacker, can play outside in a pinch. If the Bengals wanted to add a spot elsewhere on the roster, Rey could be a casualty.
CORNERBACK (6): Leon Hall, Nate Clements, Terence Newman, Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones, Jason Allen
If this were any other year where younger cornerbacks like Brandon Ghee and Shaun Prater were healthy with a deeper roster of safeties that could contribute, the roster status for Adam Jones and Jason Allen would be seriously jeopardized. However the Bengals are short-handed at safety with Nate Clements projected to take some snaps and injuries at cornerback will allow Jones and Allen, both of whom missed the preseason, to make the roster anyway.
SAFETY (4): Reggie Nelson, Taylor Mays, Jeromy Miles, George Iloka
Arguably one of the weakest positions on the team, or at the very least scary thin. George Iloka had a disappointing preseason finale with multiple personal fouls and a bad angle during a Colts touchdown run; he did have a fumble recovery later in the game. However there's no safeties that can take his spot and we don't see the team only taking three.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3): Mike Nugent, Kevin Huber, Clark Harris
Like quarterbacks, not expecting any changes from last year.
Dontay Moch could be a variable that upsets other spots on the roster. Two possible options could be move Robert Geathers and Vinny Rey off the team in favor of Moch. However Moch is suspended for the first four games. But when his suspension actually starts makes a world of difference. If it starts early next week, then the Bengals have to keep him on the 53-man until that suspension goes into affect -- meaning someone else loses their job.
Cincinnati could release one of their lesser known contributors, hoping to clear waivers and then re-signing him to the 53 once Moch's suspension gives the team a roster exemption, making a final decision on that later in the season.
I really liked the preseason performance of Chris Lewis-Harris, especially in the final two games. Though we have him tagged as a strong practice squad possibility, could the team keep him with the intention of shifting Clements to safety and putting Iloka on the practice squad (if he clears waiver)? Probably not because Clements will likely play most of his snaps at cornerback. Just something that rattled around in my head.
Cook can't actually be placed on the 53-man roster until Tuesday. However depending on his sprain he could be out for the year, or he could be on the team midway through the season. Either way it's impossible to do a projection based on the unknown severity of one player's injury.