I found out yesterday I might have appendicitis. Excruciating, terrible pain that keeps you up at night, the threat of an impending surgical operation, it surely can send shivers down the spines of even the toughest men. You can’t plan for it, it’s not your fault it just happens.
Just like me and my supposed appendicitis, the NFL can’t plan for everything that happens in the offseason and preseason. They certainly try to but sometimes, things just happen. Players get injured, incumbent starters get beat out by newcomers, contract negotiations stall.
The pain of which players to cut as a coach probably keeps them up at night. The impending surgical operation that is cutting down a roster of 90 men to the final 53. Imagine that? Working with a group of people for almost 3-4 months and then have to "fire" almost half of them, despite how much use they’ve been in camp, despite how much you like having them around as people.
It’s sort of comparable to getting rid of an organ in your body after years of having it. Despite the fact it doesn’t do anything for your body overall. It has still been a part of the organization that is your body, it’s unfortunate that you can’t keep it around anymore.
Players like DeDe Dorsey and Dezmon Briscoe come to mind of players who were electrifying in the preseason and didn’t get much of an opportunity in the regular season. It happens every year. Daniel Herron was great last year but was cut due to the numbers crunch. Here’s my top 10 list of players that I’m excited to see play this preseason, as well as a bold precise prediction for what we’ll see from each of them.
MARVIN JONES: One year removed from his breakout season, I imagine his preseason starting off on the same note. Expect at least one short catch and run or reverse type play for at least 30-40 yards with the first team offense.
CARLOS DUNLAP: Last year I dubbed the Ex-Florida Gator; Carlos Dun"Slap", for his albatross like arm length and his propensity for forcing fumbles and blocking kicks and passes. I think DunSlap will get at least one of those game-breaking southpaws in the preseason this year.
10. RUSSELL BODINE C #61
When the Bengals traded up with the Seahawks in the 4th round of May’s NFL Draft to get a Center, I can’t say I was extremely excited. I thought they were trading up for a Quarterback, but they took the much less sexy trade route. After watching some tape on Bodine I can see a raw talent with exceptional strength but with some technique concerns. But one thing Paul Alexander adores above all else is strength. He likes his big boys to be able to push the other big boys around. Bodine definitely has that, and with the help of Alexander will be in the best position possible to take over that starting center position.
(FUN FACT: Bodine joins the likes of Ki-Jana Carter and Matt Schobel as the only players in the history of the Bengals franchise to be traded up for to draft)
PREDICTION: He’ll be the starting center in September barring injury or an extremely large setback. But as far as performance in the preseason goes I think he’ll have two highlights. One, he will sail a snap over the head of or to the side of Dalton during game Two vs the Jets in the 1st quarter, recovered by Jeremy Hill. Two, he will absolutely level at least one defender in K.C. in the 2nd quarter of that game. Like Whitworth did to Kiko Alonso here
9. JAMES WRIGHT WR #86
Every fan from Cincinnati to California and everywhere beyond and between has said these words at one point or another. "Number 86, who the heck is that guy?" One of my favorite parts of the Preseason is learning about the new faces in camp and seeing if they can improve my favorite team.
There will be very few who recognize James Wright by his number. Wright has Jeromy Miles and Tony Dye written all over him. As in he will probably make the team on special teams play. But what I’m anxious to see what he can provide in the passing game. He sat behind Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. in the receiving core, a pair of 1,100 yard receivers and didn’t record a catch in 2013 (Beckham was drafted in the 1st round and Landry in the 2nd).
I think he’s a sleeper to replace the receivers lower on the depth chart but he’ll make the team this year as a special teams ace.
PREDICTION: Wright didn’t score any receiving touchdowns at LSU. This preseason I think he’ll score at least 1, probably against the 3rd stringers but none the less. A 48 yard bomb (matches a college career high) from A.J. McCarron in the 4th quarter against The Jets. He will also level the return man in Arizona on a punt return in the 2nd quarter.
8. RYAN HEWITT FB/TE #89
Last year, the experiment with an H-Back in the form of Orson Charles left a bad taste in the mouths of many Bengal’s fans. Remember how much we wanted the versatility of Charles and opted away from Jon "The Terminator" Connor? I wonder how much better the running game would have been in 2013 with a pure bred Fullback in the fray.
While I would normally lean towards the side of the pure FB, like EVERYONE in the world seems to think Hue Jackson is going to do, I think the opposite will come to fruition. During Jackson’s tenure in Oakland his main man as a FB was Marcel Reece.
Reece who was a decent blocker in Jackson’s scheme plowed through defenders allowing holes for his star tandem Michael Bush and Darren McFadden to cruise to the 2nd best and 7th best rushing attacks in 2010 and 2011 respectively. But surprisingly Reece’s rushing totals weren’t all that impressive throughout that time. He rushed 47 times for 234 yards and a TD from 2010-2011 but he caught 52 balls for a crazy 634 yards and 5 touchdowns. That’s pretty solid production for a FB and truly personifies what Jackson wants, a good blocker with the upside to catch the ball out of the backfield, not a pure FB.
Do I think Hewitt is Marcel Reece? No. But he is a sound blocker, also spent some time playing Tight End in college catching 36 passes for 299 yards and 5 Touchdowns from the Andrew Luck at Standford. His rushing totals weren’t all that great but he’s almost identical in size and stature to Reece. (He even has 2 inches on him vertically) His 40 time of 4.87 would suggest he’s not in the same league as Reece as far as speed is concerned, but his height will help him immensely in that department.
PREDICITION: Hewitt will make very little noise in the run game if at all. But I predict a 15 yard Touchdown Snag from A.J. McCarron in between two defenders against Indianapolis and his former quarterback Andrew Luck in the 3rd quarter.
7. WILL CLARKE DE #93
A casual fan won’t even notice Michael Johnson’s departure from the team at first this summer when Clarke takes the field. The Ex-West Virginia product is not only looking to replace Johnson’s role in the defense but he also took his number. They are identical in size and stature. They even have the same hairstyle. While Clarke might not break the starting role this year simply because of the depth in front of him, I still expect him to make some hay in the preseason.
Unlike Johnson who played his whole career on the edge, Clarke has played every position, at one point or another, along the defensive line. This will help him get snaps in the Preseason. He is still far from a finished product and will probably spend most of 2014 on the bench, barring injury or the release of Robert Geathers.
Sounds exactly like Johnson out of Georgia Tech doesn’t it? Raw, needs a lot of work, will need a couple years to develop. Johnson didn’t start his whole rookie year in 2009, but on a rotational basis he was phenomenal. It remains to be seen how these developmental picks will blossom without Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer grooming them.
PREDICITION: Clarke posted a whopping 17 tackles for loss in 2013 to go along with his 6 sacks. That’s a significant of time in the opposing backfield, expect more of the same in August. Clarke will post 3 tackles for loss, 2 against the Jets and 1 against the Colts. He will also strip-fumble sack Arizona back-up Drew Stanton in the 4th quarter, and back-up linebacker Sean Porter will run it in for a score.
6. JASON CAMPBELL QB #17
Jason Campbell was thrusted in the starting job in Cleveland 5 games into last season when Brian Hoyer was injured against Buffalo. The team went off the tracks and they only won 1 more game the rest of the year with Campbell at the helm. So why am I excited to see him in the
Preseason? Because Dalton finally has a veteran presence to learn from. And with the right team, I think Campbell can at least produce well enough in the league to win. Bruce Gradkowski couldn’t beat second string talent and Josh Johnson wasn’t terribly good at throwing the ball, neither was Skelton, and none of them had the amount of starting experience Campbell has.
Finally the Bengals have a solid back-up for Dalton. One thing Campbell has noticeably over Dalton is a cannon arm. It will be pretty cool to see some of these speedy guys like Tate and Jones catching 80 yard bombs in the Preseason against 2nd stringers.
PREDICITION: Campbell won’t play that much more than McCarron in the Preseason but he’ll get his snaps. Final stat line at the end of the Preseason will be: 27/50 404 yards and 3 Touchdowns. His best throw will be to a streaking Brandon Tate caught in stride for an 80 yard score against Indianapolis in the 2nd quarter.
5. JAMES WILDER JR. RB #34
Wilder played in a rotational basis for the National Champion Florida State Seminoles. He reached pay dirt 22 times in 3 years on just 250 touches for 1,545 yards. That’s 6.2 yards per play from scrimmage. Very solid production for someone in a rotational role. That being said, Wilder is a big bruiser when it comes to playing style. He is very similar to 2nd rounder Jeremy Hill in that respect, which doesn’t help his spot on the roster. The only way he makes it into a crowded running back stable is if BGJE gets cut AND someone else gets injured or cut. If he can make some noise in the preseason with his bruising style and nose for the endzone you can bet he’ll be more than a "practice squad candidate" this fall.
PREDICITION: He was a very exciting player to watch last year in College. I was very excited to hear such a supposed big name signing with the Bengals as an UDFA this year. His nose for the endzone will pay off against The Colts in the 4th quarter when he runs over a Colt defender en route to a 34 yard Touchdown. He will make the practice squad with 10 carries for 84 yards and the aforementioned touchdown.
4. JEREMY HILL RB #32
Reminiscent of the days of Rudi Johnson, The Bengals may finally have their extremely potent running attack to match the talent this team has through the air. Taking Jeremy Hill in the 2nd round of this year’s NFL draft marked the second year in a row The Bengals drafted a running back in that round.
They really want to run the ball and can pound it with the man out of Louisiana State University. Hill posted a ludicrous 6.9 yards per carry on 203 carries. That’s the kind of production the Bengals could really use on the ground. A week or two before the draft, NFL Network aired "Dynasty Week" for the Cowboys.
I’m going to get a lot of smack for this. After watching that all week and watching some tape on Hill, this kid reminds me so much of Emmitt Smith it isn’t even funny. The way he moves the way he created space and plowed through people gave me Déjà vu. If this crazy reference stands and Hill has even half of the success Smith had in yards and Touchdowns a year. The second round pick will have been a very worthy investment.
PREDICITION: Hill will probably receive reps similar to what Gio got last year in the Preseason, enough to give us a taste but not enough that we are satisfied. He will score only once but his 64 yard rumble against K.C. opening quarter of opening night will be definitely one to remember.
3. COBI HAMILTON WR #87
Cobi Hamilton was very good in training camp last year, and this year so far for that matter. But his play in practice didn’t completely translate in the preseason last year. Often he couldn’t get open while always seeing single coverage come his way. As a 2nd year player in an extremely crowded receiver room, Cobi will need a very strong preseason and more than a few goose eggs from everyone else to break into the starting line-up but that doesn't mean he can't shine in August.
PREDICITION: Cobi scored once in the Preseason last year against the Cowboys. I think he will double his production this year. 14 catches 126 yards and 2 TDs. 1 against Arizona in game 3 and 1 against Indianapolis in week 4.
2. DARQUEZE DENNARD CB #21
This year's first round draft pick started on last year's second best college defense. Dennard was largely regarded as the draft's second best corner going into May and the Bengals got an absolute steal at 24. Dennard joins a secondary unit that was ranked 5th against the pass in 2013.
Dennard won't need to start right away but that doesn't mean he won't be available in nickel passing situations for the team this year during the regular season. The Bengals secondary, filled with all these "old" players allowed the least amount of 1st downs given up by the team completed through the air in the league, at 29%.
They also had the league's 2nd lowest passer rating of opposing quarterbacks and the league's second best 3rd down percentage allowed. These stats come despite playing Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Ben Roethlisberger twice, and the reigning super bowl champion from 2012 Joe Flacco twice.
All of this was accomplished without the help of their best cover corner, Leon Hall and their best pass rusher/run gap player in Geno Atkins for more than half of the year. Imagine how great the defense could have been with two of their best players in place for the whole season.
Dennard will join this group that is hopefully going to get all of it's pieces back. Adding Dennard's 26 passes defensed and 10 interceptions to a defense that suffocated opposing offenses last year while only losing one starter will only make this defense even more terrifying. Dennard will make an impact in 2014 during the regular season, but I think Dennard will downright shine in the Preseason.
PREDICITION: Dennard will be thrown at often in the Preseason, as is the trial by fire for most rookie corners. As a result Dennard will be all over the field with interceptions in the Preseason. He will accumulate a total of 4 in August.
1. A.J. McCARRON QB #5
McCarron had his fair share of success in college. This includes 2 National Championship rings, a 66.9% completion percentage and an amazing 77 touchdowns to only 15 interceptions thrown. A.J. McCarron had one of the most proficient college careers in recent memory. A lot of experts compare his skill set to Andy Dalton, but say Dalton's arm is better.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard that exact comparison. I'm not under the opinion that McCarron can beat out Dalton for the starting job, definitely not this year. Maybe if Dalton plays terribly and the team is out of playoff contention later this year and they decide to move on from their fourth year starter. Even then, they would chose Campbell to start.
All this being said McCarron is still who I am most excited to see in this year's Preseason. I want to see if the comparisons to Dalton are accurate. How good is his deep ball? Can he lead the team against what is normally a string ahead of all of the talent around him and succeed?
Last year with Josh Johnson, was the first time I have ever been remotely excited about a backup or third string guy playing in the preseason. The Bengals have only drafted 4 quarterbacks in Marvin Lewis' 11 years as Head coach, unless you want to count Reggie McNeal in 06. Will he be the next Tom Brady? Andy Dalton? Or the last quarterback drafted by Lewis in the 5th round, Jeff Rowe? Anyone remember him?
PREDICTION: The preseason is built to allow the 2nd and 3rd string players to get a bulk of the snaps. A.J. McCarron will get plenty opportunity to show us what he's got, and he will. He will play in all four preseason games: 29/39 334 yards 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.
With only 1,696 spots available on NFL teams this fall and 1,504 players to cut each year the owners and coaches in the NFL have their fair share of operations to perform before September 4th. Each one is more precise than the last. Those 1,504 players that get removed from teams may not play this year, some might not play next year some you may even forget about in a few years time. These players may not be the heart of the NFL, they may not be the lungs. But just like what the appendix does for your body , the preseason doesn't have any real weight on the regular season other than taking up space for most people. But for those 1,504 this might be their first, second maybe even only chance to shine. That's why I enjoy the preseason. Learning about all these new names and watching possibly their only performance in a Bengals uniform. So I hope that like my appendix, the players I'm most anxious to see can stay with the team, and don't have to be surgically removed.
Who do you most want to see this preseason?