Here's our first edition of pre and post-game looks at the projected 53-man roster. We'll give you our beliefs on how the 53-man roster looks before the game, and then revisit the position after the game.
QB (2): Andy Dalton, Josh Johnson
All indications are that Johnson has a significant comfort zone for the vacant backup job. Unless he collapses and John Skelton vastly improves with an epitome of the west coast offense, this will be your opening day roster.
RB (4): BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead
Because Peerman is such an effective special teams player and serviceable backup running back, the fourth spot will likely be the only spot up for grabs. The competition comes down to Burkhead and Daniel Herron; and I believe it's Burkhead's to lose. Bernard Scott remains out and will likely start the season on PUP.
FB (2): Chris Pressley, Orson Charles
TE (2): Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert
Here's where I believe things get complicated. Hopefully you'll apply an open mind for a moment. Instead of doing the traditional roster with one full back and three tight ends, we could see the Bengals keeping Chris Pressley and Orson Charles as fullbacks, with only two tight ends in Gresham and Eifert. Charles can play both positions during specific situations, and slip in as a tight end if there's an injury. Keep in mind, however, we're not actually calling Charles a backup. But the versatility he's impressing everyone with this year gives the team options. Options that expands their playbook.
As for Thursday, Pressley is still out. Charles and John Connor will be the team's primary fullbacks with a full compliment of tight ends, including Richard Quinn and Bryce Davis. Don't look for Gresham to play after the first quarter and maybe Eifert too.
WR (6): A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Hawkins, Cobi Hamilton, Brandon Tate
We won't see Green or Hawkins. With a sore hamstring and limited work this week, Jones is questionable at best. This will give guys like Ryan Whalen, Dane Sanzenbacher, Cobi Hamilton, and Brandon Tate expanded opportunities for the final two spots on the roster.
OT (4): Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Anthony Collins, Dennis Roland
Perhaps it's the Ohio State fandom in me that's hoping Reid Fragel unseats Dennis Roland, who may start at right tackle if Andre Smith is unable to go. However, Fragel didn't make the trip so, for the time being, it's Roland's job to lose. Anthony Collins will start at left tackle in place of Andrew Whitworth, who is doing rehabilitation work on his surgically-repaired knee.
OG (3): Kevin Zeitler, Clint Boling, Tanner Hawkinson
Zeitler and Boling should start against the Falcons. Trevor Robinson will get some snaps, but expect Mike Pollak, Hawkinson, and John Sullen to absorb a majority of the team's snaps after the starters are quickly pulled. Hawksinson has also done extensive work as an offensive tackle, but at some point he'll need the game-experience as interior backup. Either way, calling some of these guys a guard or tackle is just symantics. They're that versatile.
Center (2): Kyle Cook, Trevor Robinson
I believe that Robinson needs huge performances through August... and that's with a corresponding decline by Kyle Cook to have an opportunity to start this year. Robinson will backup Cook, and play a significant amount of snaps as a backup center and guard once the first team exists on Thursday, which is expected to be after a series or two (depending on how they perform).
DE (5): Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Wallace Gilberry, Robert Geathers, Margus Hunt
Still under NFL protocols with a concussion, Dunlap isn't expected to suit up. However, he still made the trip. Dontay Moch is a bubble player who will have his opportunities. Last year he led the team with 3.5 quarterback sacks in the preseason before a four-game suspension and migraines ended yet another season.
DT (4): Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Devon Still, Brandon Thompson
We don't see much change here after Larry Black's injury -- who may have rivaled Brandon Thompson for a moment (if that). Atkins and Peko won't offer much against the Falcons Thursday, giving rookie Terrence Stephens and Vaughn Meatoga opportunities. More importantly, we're extremely interested to see what Still can do. Thompson didn't make the trip to Atlanta.
LB (6): Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfict, James Harrison, Vinnie Rey, Emmanuel Lamur, Sean Porter
Vinnie Rey is out with a PCL sprain. We're looking forward to J.K. Schaffer, Brandon Joiner, and Jayson DiManche. If the Bengals keep six linebackers, their chances really aren't that good. Unfortunately for those "bubble players", the team is loaded at linebacker. But there are practice squad possibilities here. Then again, I'm not 100 percent convinced that Porter is safe.
CB (5): Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones, Brandon Ghee, Dre Kirkpatrick
S (5): Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Taylor Mays, Shawn Williams, Jeromy Miles
As of this posting, I believe that Jeromy Miles is the tenth defensive back. I don't see players like Shaun Prater, Chris Lewis-Harris, and Tony Dye replacing any of the projected ten. Onterio McCalebb is the definition of "project" and won't make the 53-man roster; if he gets claimed on waivers, so be it. But we're not sure that another team will throw a hail mary for him right now. In fact, it would wise for the Bengals to keep McCalebb off the field during the preseason to limit the tape on him.
Special teams (3): Mike Nugent, Kevin Huber, Clark Harris
Don't expect any movement here. Save for an injury, this is your opening day roster on special teams. Quinn Sharp will have plenty of opportunities against Atlanta (perhaps kicking and punting duties), but that only benefits the rookie with game-experience for future employment. Because god knows how long before Nugent succumbs to injury (and I love Nuge).