Special teams is the most overlooked and underrated aspect of any football team. Let's face it, while important, the times when a punt or kick put fans on the edge of their seats are few and far between. However, many kickers have won and lost games for the teams and the punter is one of the most important player on any NFL team.
The Bengals are lucky to have an established punter and kicker as well as a long snapper on their team. Barring injury, there will be little competition at those positions. However, the kick and punt returner positions are open for discussion. Due to the nature of special teams, this will be a little different than the other camp battle articles.
Locks at their position:
Kicker: Mike Nugent
Long Snapper: Clark Harris
Punter: Kevin Huber
Likely To Compete for Kick/Punt Returner:
Tate is a good returner, but the depth of wide receiver talent on the roster may leave him on the outside looking in. Unless he blows away the competition as a return specialist and as a receiver, he may not make the team in 2012.
Jones is a fantastic punt returner when he's healthy and constantly keeps the Bengals in good field position. He's quick and fast, but most importantly, he finds seams in the defense and makes the opposition's special teams units pay.
Hawkins is quicker than fast and makes teams pay when he finds himself in open space. He displayed his abilities as a receiver in 2012 and those abilities could easily be put to work on special teams.
Jones has the speed to be considered a deep threat as a wide receiver and the shiftiness to succeed as a punt or kick returner. He'll make the team as a receiver and he may compete for playing time on special teams as well.
Bernard is going to get quite a bit of playing time as the team's change-of-pace running back and, while the Bengals may want to keep him off special teams to avoid injuries, it never stopped them from having Bernard Scott return kicks. Bernard is likely the new and improved Scott and could be a return specialist for the Bengals.
Others That May Compete for Special Teams Positions:
Onterio McCalebb, Bernard Scott, Taveon Rogers, Quinn Sharp, Bryce Davis