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Bengals at Falcons: Five things to look for

We look at five things to look for between the Bengals and Falcons this Thursday.

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

DO: Remember and apply the Bengals 2012 class

While generically reviewing the Bengals '12 class, what's stands out the most? Injuries. Dre Kirkpatrick, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, and Shaun Prater all suffered injuries last year; three of those four landed on IR. But it's not just injuries. Devon Still, who played half the season last year, was a casualty when Pat Sims returned. Orson Charles and George Iloka had spot duty, but were good contributors in one form or another.

Fast-forward to Aug. 8 and things have changed.

As I told my colleagues the other day, the Bengals '12 class could literally five-finger death punch this 53-man roster with a starting guard (Kevin Zeitler), starting receivers (Sanu, Jones), starting strong safety (George Iloka), starting fullback (Orson Charles) and maybe a starting defensive tackle (Still, Thompson). Most of Cincinnati's classes have acquired at least a handful of starters, but projecting as many as seven?

But that's what we're looking at during the preseason. The impact of the '12 class, many of whom were contributors in 2012, though somewhat limited. A year later and now it could become one of the more complete classes that's feeding into the 53-man machine during the Marvin Lewis era.

DON'T: Expect much out of the starters Thursday

Provided that the first-team crew aren't colossal failures in the opening quarter, expect most of the starters (or otherwise termed, first-team) to be pulled after a series or two. It would be surprising if they played the entire first quarter.

However, if they're still on the field by that point, then the coaching staff believes that they needed more work and thus, weren't playing very well. Yet, one shouldn't necessarily commit fandom suicide or drink to an alarming excess because of it.

The team isn't implementing a focused gameplan to beat the Falcons; they're more concerned about their own players, where they fit, how they can contribute, and what changes need to be applied to correct certain mistakes.

DO: Get familiar with backup and bubble players

We have an intense three-way battle for the vacant starting strong safety position between George Iloka, Taylor Mays and rookie Shawn Williams. Iloka is listed with the first-team defense, so it's a reasonable conclusion that he'll start on Thursday.

Mays and Williams should rotate throughout the evening, similar to how the team rotated all three during trianing camp. How much will Iloka play? That's undetermined. He may accumulate more snaps than the other starters because the team is continuing evaluations at the position to determine who will start.

We're also looking forward at battles near the bottom of the roster, such as the fifth and sixth cornerback, fourth running back, backup quarterback, fifth and sixth receiver. Preseason games like this carry a critical component for players vying for a spot on the 53-man roster. This is their playoffs.

DON'T: Apply this game as a reaction to the season as a whole.

In fact, we'd argue that applying any predication based on what you see in the preseason is extremely risky.

Offenses and defenses, from both teams, will play more generic formations, routes, and plays. Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer will want to keep their best cards buried away for more important games during the regular season.

Additionally the backups and third-team players will play together, which never happens during the regular season. You'll have a backup starting in spots because of an injury with the starter, but never will an entire second and third team unit play together when it matters (we're not talking about mop-up duty).

So if the second-team offense struggles with a bunch of three-and-out possessions, it's not like Josh Johnson is throwing to the receivers that will be contributing much. However, watching one-on-one matchups is a completely different animal.

DO: Look for those rookies

Tyler Eifert and Bernard Giovani may have a similar time-card with the first-teamers in an effort to avoid injuries.

But the rest of Cincinnati's '13 draft class will turn in a significant number of snaps on Thursday. From Shawn Williams rotating in at start safety, to Margus Hunt's continued development as a defensive end, and even Cobi Hamilton, who may benefit with playing time with A.J. Green and Andrew Hawkins sidelined this weekend, you will see a lot of rookies contributing Thursday night. Sean Porter should make his debut early, as will Tanner Hawkinson.