Here's our first edition of our roster lock project.
We mix what we know, what we've learned, and what we expect when projecting the 53-man roster. It's a project that will last through the preseason with our final projected roster coming before final cuts.
Our first release has 38 players locked into the roster -- 16 on offense, 19 on defense, three on special teams. There will be players that you undoubtedly believe should be locked into the roster and in most cases, that might be true. However, keep in mind that our early selections (this one) is extremely conservative, picking players that are obvious selections and then adding players through the final preseason game. There are players that we wanted to lock in, but we explain in those situations why we're just a little hesitant.
We did include a pre-camp projection of the position; an initial 53-man roster prediction that we've promoted over the offseason for the sake of comparison.
QUARTERBACK (1): Andy Dalton
The battle for backup quarterback wages on. According to reports, Josh Johnson and John Skelton haven't separated themselves from each other. Each have their unique experiences and attributes. Zac Robinson remains on the team's Physically Unable to Perform List.
Pre-Camp Projection: Dalton, Johnson
RUNNING BACK (2): BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Giovani Bernard
Prior to training camp, Cedric Peerman would have (and should have) been locked in. However, he's been on the team's NFI list since the start of camp after a wacky offseason. I think he's otherwise safe, but before locking him on the team's 53-man roster, he needs to practice and not be a candidate for Reserve/PUP (which means he won't be on the 53-man roster to start the season). Rex Burkhead has been drawing positive reviews during camp while Bernard Scott remains on the team's PUP list.
Pre-Camp Projection: Green-Ellis, Bernard, Peerman, Burkhead
WIDE RECEIVER (4): A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Andrew Hawkins
Provided that the Bengals keep six wide receivers (they kept seven in 2012), we have two spots remaining among seven players. Cobi Hamilton has been impressive since rookie minicamp while Ryan Whalen and Brandon Tate (currently on PUP) have the experience. We're not sure if the other rookies (Goard, Roundtree) or even Taveon Rogers have a chance, but it's not like the final two spots are locked down.
Pre-Camp Projection: Green, Sanu, Jones, Hawkins, Hamilton, Tate
FULLBACK / H-Back (0)
Based on his impressive performance during the team's Oklahoma drill on Sunday, Orson Charles made his greatest advancement in the argument to replace starting fullback Chris Pressley, who remains on the team's Physically Unable to Perform List. Charles wiped out three linebackers in Rey Maualuga, Vincent Rey, and J.K. Schaffer during Sunday's drills. However, players rarely win a position on the team based on their Oklahoma performance. We're keeping an eye and Charles is impressively claiming this spot, but we think in case of Charles that it's a matter of semantics (he could still be the third tight end with Pressley staying at full back).
Pre-Camp Projection: Pressley
TIGHT END (2): Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert
Gresham and Eifert being locked into the 53-man roster leaves one spot, if the team decides to keep three tight ends when opening the season in Chicago. Alex Smith would be the obvious choice, considering there's only four eligible tight ends that aren't also defined as long-snappers and Richard Quinn being the odd man out. However, the one scenario that we could see popping up is the Bengals keeping Pressley AND Charles as a fullback and H-Back respectively, eliminating the need for a third tight end. Don't worry. Charles will probably be our first roster lock addition soon enough.
Pre-Camp Projection: Gresham, Eifert, Charles
OFFENSIVE LINE (7): Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler, Kyle Cook, Clint Boling, Andre Smith, Trevor Robinson, Anthony Collins
Dennis Roland has played some first-team offense in place of Whitworth, who was given a rest-day on Sunday. That being said, we're not sure if Roland is a lock with rookie Reid Fragel looming. Fragel dominated his matchups during the team's Oklahoma drills, beating Robert Geathers and Devon Still. Roland lost both of his matches against Margus Hunt and Dontay Moch (neither of whom are starter-quality players right now). Mike Pollak, who replaced Boling at the end of practice on Saturday and Sunday, appears like a safe bet, as does the versatile Tanner Hawkinson.
Pre-Camp Projection: Whitworth, Zeitler, Cook, Boling, Smith, Robinson, Collins, Hawkinson, Fragel
DEFENSIVE END (5): Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt, Robert Geathers
Not only do I believe that these five are locked into the 53-man roster, there's a good chance that this will be your defensive end roster when the season starts in Chicago. Gilberry will work inside during passing situations and it's clear that Margus Hunt needs time to develop. However, there's no chance that Cincinnati will put the rookie on the team's practice squad and risk losing him to waivers.
Pre-Camp Projection: Johnson, Dunlap, Gilberry, Hunt, Geathers
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (2): Geno Atkins, Domata Peko
I'll be perfectly honest. I'm not comfortable with Devon Still or Brandon Thompson yet. One of these two will make the roster, but I could see the team going only with three defensive tackles while going heavy at defensive end. This seems like a reasonable scenario, considering that Gilberry and Geathers figure to rotate at the second defensive tackle spot during obvious passing situations. But it's early. Anything could happen and if forced to make the 53-man roster prediction today, I'd go with Still and Thompson.
Pre-Camp Projection: Atkins, Peko, Still, Thompson
LINEBACKER (4): Rey Maualuga, James Harrison, Vontaze Burfict, Emmanuel Lamur
These four players have consumed the greatest number of snaps on the first-team defense with Lamur playing nickel situations alongside Burfict. I think that Vincent Rey and Sean Porter are safe, but Vincent Rey, J.K. Schaffer, and Jayson DiManche figure to impact the linebacker roster one way or another.
Pre-Camp Projection: Maualuga, Harrison, Burfict, Lamur, Rey, Porter
CORNERBACK (4): Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick
There's a position battle going on here at the bottom of the team's cornerback roster. Brandon Ghee might be a safe bet. Shaun Prater and Chris Lewis-Harris are battling, but I don't see Onterio McCalebb making it. Converting from a running back to cornerback isn't like flipping a steak on the grill. It takes time and development. There's a chance that the Bengals keep six cornerbacks and go light at safety.
Pre-Camp Projection: Hall, Newman, Jones, Kirkpatrick, Ghee
SAFETY (4): Reggie Nelson, Taylor Mays, George Iloka, Shawn Williams
In truth, I wasn't comfortable adding all three safeties that are competing for the starting job at strong safety at the expense of Jeromy Miles who keeps growing into a solid role player. Miles was second on the team with 15 special teams tackles last year and reached a career-high in tackles on defense. But it's also hard to eliminate any of those three, most of whom are playing well during training camp and figure to develop a strong roster at safety. On the other hand, if the Bengals keep five safeties, then Miles is an absolute lock -- I don't see Tony Dye beating him out.
Pre-Camp Projection: Nelson, Mays, Iloka, Williams, Miles
SPECIAL TEAMS (3): Mike Nugent, Kevin Huber, Clark Harris
Pre-Camp Projection: Nugent, Huber, Harris