A great debate generates when one must make bold statements; words that can have earth shattering consequences. Such as: The Xbox 360 is more awesome than the Playstation 3. Or my dad can beat up your dad. Or Nancy "Melons" Beavers is the purest female in third grade (note: this statement happens while you're in third grade... not now. For the love of god, not now).
Statement is made. And for those that this statement greatly draws a reaction from -- aka Google searches -- there is always absolution in their "facts". Their opinion isn't just the most effective rebuttal, but it's totally awesome and totally awesome has no adversary. Then, while alone and still on the internet, you do what any healthy minded American male would do. After another Google search, you can't believe that Nancy Beavers looks like that now? The ultimate fat kid turned somewhat success story snickering that the once hot chick in school now has gout.
That said, I believe there are 46 players that you could classify as locks to make this year's roster. There are plenty of what-if statements that we'll examine. Remember, this list isn't a prediction of the team's entire roster. I don't do predictions. The last time I made a prediction, the Bengals went 4-11-1 when I said they'd win ten games, easy. Alright, technically, you could call it a prediction. Because god knows that Carson Palmer is on the bubble, right?
Players: Carson Palmer, J.T. O'Sullivan
What If: The question here is whether the Bengals free up a roster spot for another position. If they take two, while admittedly a long-shot that has been nonetheless discussed, then I believe that O'Sullivan wins the job, mostly because he remains listed as the backup quarterback and has been the quarterback to replace Carson throughout the preseason. If three, then O'Sullivan and Jordan makes the squad.
RUNNING BACK (3):
Players: Cedric Benson, Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard
What If: It's a foregone conclusion that with Leonard out for much of September, the Bengals will need a third healthy running back. One could have argued that Fui Vakapuna could do spot double-duty if asked, but alas, he's injured. Leonard will take a roster spot; there's no way getting around that. The battle for the fourth running back comes down to Cedric Peerman and James Johnson.
What If: I'm not saying the Bengals won't take a fullback into the regular season. But if they did, who knows who that could be. Fui Vakapuna is still listed as the starting fullback; though we suspect that the only reason they have the depth chart on their site is so people like me could do posts like that. Joe Tronzo seems like the natural selection, with most of his playing time coming with the first team unit.
Furthermore, the Bengals could just as easily not take a fullback and allow tight ends like Reggie Kelly and Daniel Coats fill in as de facto fullbacks.
WIDE RECEIVER (5):
Players: Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley, Andre Caldwell, Quan Cosby.
What If: Let's be honest. Even if you include your emotionally charged opinion on the subject (aka lovin' ya some Jerome Simpson), there's always that annoying area in the back of your mind forcing you to understand the argument for someone else. We're still pretty unsure how the sixth spot on the team's wide receiver roster will shape up. Much like fullback, the team could simply elect to only go with five receivers heading into the regular season, considering that most sixth wide receivers are gameday inactives. However, if a sixth is chosen, then the battle is, in our view, wide open between Jerome Simpson, Matt Jones, Dezmon Briscoe and Maurice Purify. How's that for the bold art of making a prediction?
OFFENSIVE LINE (9):
Players: Andrew Whitworth, Anthony Collins, Andre Smith, Dennis Roland, Bobbie Williams, Nate Livings, Evan Mathis, Kyle Cook, Reggie Stephens
What If: Otis Hudson being the team's backup right guard is a close lock to make the team, of course. With Reggie Stephens working at guard against the Bills, I wonder if they won't have Stephens backup Cook and Williams. In truth, Hudson's chances isn't so much personnel competition as it is with numbers. If the Bengals take 10 offensive linemen, like they did last year, it's Hudson. If they only take nine, like they did the three years before 2009, then Hudson is likely a practice squad candidate.
TIGHT END (3):
Players: Jermaine Gresham, Reggie Kelly, Chase Coffman
What If: Because I didn't want to be murdered in my sleep, I left Daniel Coats off this list. Though practical reasoning does suggest that Coats is a lock, considering he's a decent blocker and could be used in big-formations, as well as a fullback if the team elects not to keep a natural fullback and as a special teams contributor. Don't worry. With Gresham, Kelly and Coffman as the team's tight ends and Kelly probably being first as de facto fullback, I wouldn't expect Coats to have many opportunities to drop passes. All that being said, I'm honestly not that confident to call Coats a lock, though I have more reason to believe he'll make this year's squad.
DEFENSIVE END (4):
Players: Antwan Odom, Robert Geathers, Jonathan Fanene, Carlos Dunlap
What If: This is where I'm conflicted. Every year since 2006, the Bengals have taken eight defensive linemen, heavier on the ends, except in 2008 when the Bengals elected to go with three defensive tackles and five defensive ends. Though one could argue that both Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker were able enough to work outside, as well as inside. If the Bengals elect to take five defensive ends, then the obvious person is Rucker; having only five defensive ends on the roster tends to make that decision easier.
Why would Rucker be the one that's cut? The truth is, I've always liked Rucker. He's the kind of talent that seems to always have the potential to make plays. However, the knock against him is inconsistency and the inability to get on the field, either through injury or being listed as inactive. But if you think about it, after four years in Cincinnati, Rucker has only played 28 games and accumulated two sacks and an interception.
DEFENSIVE TACKLES (4):
Players: Domata Peko, Tank Johnson, Pat Sims, Geno Atkins
What If: On the outside looking in are Orien Harris and Clinton McDonald. If the Bengals go with five defensive tackles, then the decision boils down to those two. Which brings us to part two of our Rucker discussion.
Why Rucker wouldn't be cut? While Rucker is inconsistent and tends not to appear in many games, he is coming off back-to-back seasons in which he played 11 games or more with a career-high 12 games played in 2009. Consider just for a moment that we're not talking about a starting defensive lineman. If the Bengals elect to take nine defensive linemen, in truth, the battle comes down to Harris, McDonald and Rucker. Of those players, Rucker is the most experienced and most versatile. That could go a long away in the Marvin Lewis thought process. And as we've said before, Rucker seemingly has enough potential and somewhat decent production to warrant the ninth spot on the defensive line. Against the Ravens on November 8, he led all defensive linemen with four tackles. His interception against the Pittsburgh Steelers was critical that eventually led to a game-tying field goal.
Again, we're talking about the ninth defensive lineman, not even the backup player. All of that being said, he's not a lock on this squad.
Players: Dhani Jones, Rey Maualuga, Keith Rivers, Brandon Johnson, Michael Johnson
What If: It's always a numbers game with linebackers. Depending on how many spots that Marvin Lewis, Mike Zimmer and Jeff Fitzgerald elect to keep (note: Fitzgerald wouldn't mind every defensive player employed by the Bengals to be linebackers), the battles will be down to Vincent Rey, Dan Skuta, Roddrick Muckelroy and Abdul Hodge. A key here, again in the Marvin Lewis thought process, how does each linebacker contribute to special teams. If they take six, I believe Skuta is the lock because of what he brings to the offense and special teams. If they take seven, then a battle takes place between Rey, Muckelroy and Hodge. And if they take eight, the battle comes down to Hodge and Rey.
Regardless, after you get through the five linebackers that I believe are locks to make the team, there's no assurance that any one linebacker makes the squad.
Players: Leon Hall, Johnathan Joseph, Adam Jones, Morgan Trent, Brandon Ghee
What If: Because safety seems like it's going to be a very thin heading into the regular season, the Bengals could play with the idea of shifting, though not permanently moving, a cornerback as a safety. Because of this reason, the Bengals could take a sixth cornerback and take four safeties. With that thought process in mind, do they keep David Jones while allowing Ghee to shift between cornerback and safety?
Players: Roy Williams, Chris Crocker, Chinedum Ndukwe, Kyries Hebert
What If: Cincinnati could take five safeties, though I see it as being very unlikely. Once you get past the four locks, with Hebert being a decent backup safety as well as the team's special teams Captain (awarded by his peers), you'd have a battle between Rico Murray, Marvin White and Jeromy Miles. Once you get to this point you have to ask yourself, are any of those players better than David Jones?
Special teams (2):
Players: Kevin Huber, Clark Harris.
What If: We're wondering if either David Rayner or Mike Nugent cares to win a job here.
That's 46 players we have as locks, which means at least seven players not listed above will make the squad. Who do you have? Remember, this is about roster locks, not a complete roster prediction.