One of the good problems with a team that has built depth is that the main roster battles are towards the back end of a position's depth chart. One such "problem" that the Bengals are staring at in 2013 is a roster scrum at cornerback. We went over the subject on our top-ten keys to success list, saying that the team needs to sort out the position group.
Traditionally, the Bengals have kept five or six cornerbacks on their final 53-man roster. The final determination usually lies with how many safeties and/or "swing guys" they keep on the final roster. By swing guys, we mean those types that have the ability to line up as safeties and corners. In recent history, examples of these players were Kevin Kaesviharn and Tom Nelson. Currently, one could argue that George Iloka could be considered one of these types of "swing players". By keeping a guy like this, it solves a problem at two positions and allows the team to take more players at another spot.
As it currently stands, and not accounting for possible designations on the PUP List or Injured Reserve, there are four locks on the 2013 roster: Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick. Beyond them, there will be no more than two open spots on the final 53-man roster. The big battle at the cornerback spot is at the tail end of the position group between two players looking to prove themselves: Brandon Ghee and Shaun Prater. Both players have a lot of ground to make up in grabbing the coaches' attention.
THE BREAKDOWN ON GHEE:
Coming out of Wake Forest in 2010, Ghee was one of the better corners in the draft. He was an invitee to New York for the festivities, based on the fact that he was going to be drafted within the first two rounds. It didn't work out that way, and Ghee waited around until the end of the third until he landed with the Bengals. Sadly, he was the last player left in the "green room" before his name was called.
Ghee's M.O. as a college corner was that he had solid size (6'0", 200 pounds) and was a sound technician. Though also known as a solid tackler, Ghee only had one interception in three years of work as a Demon Deacon. He did, however, have four forced fumbles and two sacks in his three seasons.
Ghee's pro career has been a disappointment to this point. Though he has continued to impress his coaches through OTAs and Training Camp over the past four seasons, he just can't stay healthy. Name an ailment and it's likely that Ghee has had it. In three accrued seasons, Ghee only has ten total tackles to his name. Now entering the final year of his rookie deal, Ghee is hanging on to a roster spot by a thread. If he can finally manage to stay healthy, he should be able to be one of the final guys to latch onto a spot.
THE BREAKDOWN ON PRATER:
Sometimes there are players that don't wow you with workout times and don't necessarily look the part at first glance, but they just know how to make plays. In last year's draft, many (including myself) saw this in Vanderbilt cornerback, Casey Heyward. Prater, out of the University of Iowa, seemed to have the same type of football DNA.
Take a look at this video around the three-minute mark:
Prater was a scrappy and productive player in his four years at Iowa. In his last three seasons, Prater had seven interceptions (two for touchdowns), one sack and three forced fumbles. Though he's smaller than Ghee, Prater has flashed some physicality and is a willing tackler.
In his only season as a pro, Prater blew out his knee and was placed on IR. He did participate in OTAs this offseason, so it doesn't appear as if he'll be placed on PUP.
It's hard to say which player that the Bengals' staff prefers between the two. If both are healthy, we could definitely see them finding a way to get both of these guys on the final roster. And, to be honest, we see that as being the likeliest outcome. However, if it comes down to keeping one, we can see a scenario where the Bengals give Prater the shot over Ghee. They could opt for the player with more upside and show Ghee the door. Then again, the team has shown a lot of patience with Ghee, so they could let him play out that final year of his deal. Either way, this could be one of the storylines on "Hard Knocks".