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Bengals at Cowboys: Pregame 53-man Roster Projection

Taking a quick look at how we're projecting the 53-man roster heading into Dallas this Saturday.

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QB (2): Andy Dalton, Josh Johnson

Skelton was the first quarterback off the bench against the Titans and strung together a 53-yard drive that resulted in a Mike Nugent field goal. His other possessions didn't move the football much. When Johnson was the quarterback, the team scored 10 points, including a 92-yard drive in the fourth quarter that gave Cincinnati a 24-12 lead. Nothing has changed here. Still projecting Johnson as the backup quarterback.

THE BATTLE: Johnson vs. Skelton

RB (4): BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead

Dan Herron is currently leading the team with 111 yards rushing and a 6.5 yard/rush average. Yet Rex Burkhead is second with 83 yards rushing and a 5.5 yard/rush average. Additionally, during each of the two preseason games, Burkhead has averaged more than five yards rushing. It's close between Burkhead and Herron right now. But how close how Peerman dropped back? Personally, I don't believe he has but the argument that Burkhead and Herron are making can't be ignored.

THE BATTLE: Peerman, Burkhead, Herron

FB (2): John Conner, Orson Charles
TE (2): Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert

Marvin Lewis told reporters this week that the players currently on the Physically Unable to Perform will likely stay there when the team opens in Chicago. That means John Conner will likely make the 53-man roster. There's always a possibility that the Bengals go with Charles as the fullback and Alex Smith as the third tight end, but based on what we've seen in the preseason and the conversations being held in Hue Jackson's office, we tend to doubt it.

THE BATTLE: Alex Smith vs. John Conner (if that)

WR (6): A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Hawkins, Cobi Hamilton, Brandon Tate

It might be a safe bet by now that Andrew Hawkins goes on Injured Reserve with a designation to return. Unfortunately, teams are required to announce their 53-man roster first, and then place players on IR with that designation. Which means Hawkins makes the 53-man roster and the Bengals may keep seven as a contingency to avoid waivers. There's also the possibility that Hawkins is far more injured than what's being publicly acknowledged and that he'll just go on IR and be done for the season.

THE QUESTION: When will Hawkins be placed on IR and who replaces him after that? Will the Bengals keep seven before placing Hawkins on IR? If so, then you have to figure it boils down to Dane Sanzenbacher and Ryan Whalen.

OT (4): Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Anthony Collins, Dennis Roland
OG (3): Kevin Zeitler, Clint Boling, Tanner Hawkinson

Hawkinson returned to practice this week and since he's been working primarily as a tackle, it made since to replace Roland. That was our original thought. It didn't stick. It boiled down to the team having a backup guard in Mike Pollak or Hawkinson, and who was better overall between Roland and Pollack. Given the choice, I believe the coaching staff will pick Roland every time. We might not like it, but since when do they take our advice for roster development?

Center (2): Kyle Cook, Trevor Robinson

Robinson took snaps under center and at guard again while T.J. Johnson played center when Robinson was bouncing around. We're comfortable with Robinson and Cook at this point, but could see Johnson on the practice squad as a contingency if there's an injury on the interior offensive line which would require spot starts from Robinson at guard.

DE (5): Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Wallace Gilberry, Robert Geathers, Margus Hunt
DT (4): Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Devon Still, Brandon Thompson

We're pretty comfortable declaring this as the team's defensive end roster and Thompson is finally easing his way back to practice. Terrence Stephens is the only challenge at defensive tackle right now, but that's an American Idol long shot. To his credit, Stephens did knock down Ryan Fitzpatrick for a quarterback hit (not a sack).

LB (6): Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfict, James Harrison, Vinnie Rey, Emmanuel Lamur, Sean Porter

Linebacker projections completely depends on how quickly Vinnie Rey and Sean Porter return to the field. Rey actually practiced last week while Porter suffered a torn shoulder labrum and may go under the knife for season-ending surgery. J.K. Schaffer didn't have the type of performance against the Titans that he did in Atlanta with only two tackles. Jayson DiManche and Bruce Taylor each finished second on the team with five tackles each.

I'm starting to side with DiManche making the roster over Schaffer but there's plenty of time for that battle to figure itself out -- presuming that Porter goes on IR. I still don't see the team going with seven linebackers yet. If they do, then they'll probably take away from defensive back.

CB (5): Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones, Brandon Ghee, Dre Kirkpatrick
S (5): Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Taylor Mays, Shawn Williams, Jeromy Miles

Though anything could change with the final two spots on the defensive backs roster, we're not seeing players like Tony Dye, Chris Lewis-Harris, or even Onterio McCalebb making an argument to replace anyone. That certainty wasn't the case Saturday night.

Special teams (3): Mike Nugent, Kevin Huber, Clark Harris

Save for an injury or another unthinkable scenario, this won't change.