To generate a better discussion of where things currently stand, I'm providing my own depth chart based on my personal experiences through nine training camp practices so far.
First up is the defense. The battles on the defensive side are much simpler than on the offensive side. In fact, in my eyes, there's only one major battle going on right now - at backup linebacker.
This position group is very straight forward. Wallace Gilberry has been with the first team at right defensive end, filling the gap left by Michael Johnson. In the nickel defense (usually third & longs), Carlos Dunlap switches over to right defensive end, while Gilberry kicks inside to one of the defensive tackle spots. Geno Atkins will take the other inside spot when he is fully healthy, and Margus Hunt comes in off the bench to play at left defensive end.
With Geno Atkins recovering from an ACL tear, longtime Bengal veteran Robert Geathers has taken his reps in the nickel package. Brandon Thompson & Devon Still have also taken up some of these extra reps in the base defense.
Third round rookie Will Clarke rounds out the defensive line as the ninth player.
Defensive tackle Cristo Bilukidi has flashed some potential so far, even taking reps with the first team at one point. LaKendrick Ross is a very interesting project player, who simply needs more football experience right now before he's ready to contribute to an NFL roster.
The starters are mostly set at this point. Vontaze Burfict will stay at weakside linebacker. Rey Maualuga, the incumbent middle linebacker, will probably stay in his spot. Vincent Rey has also taken some first team reps and is nipping at the heels of Maualuga. Both Reys have certainly made the roster already.
Emmanuel Lamur, the tall and lean speedster, will start at strongside linebacker. Lamur will get a lot of snaps this year because he is also the second nickel linebacker next to Vontaze Burfict. Hopefully Lamur remains healthy through this preseason because he could have a breakout year.
Jayson DiManche has already made several impressive solo plays this camp. He hustles to the ball every play and flies around the field from sideline to sideline. He had these traits as a rookie last year, but it looks like he understands his responsibilities better this year and has eliminated the mental mistakes.
Since I've got nine defensive linemen and ten defensive backs (including Taylor Mays, who also plays nickel LB) probably making the team, the team won't take seven linebackers. That leaves one spot left. This is the biggest battle on the defensive side. Sean Porter versus Marquis Flowers. Porter started off camp as the second team weakside linebacker. He played fairly well (certainly a lot better than his rookie year, when he constantly made mistakes), but he missed a few practices due to injury. On the other hand, Flowers started off camp on the rehab field and missed a few practices himself. His first practice was a big debut, as he even took first team reps because Burfict took a veteran's day off and Porter was hurt. Flowers nearly decleated Cobi Hamilton in the first series of 11 on 11. In limited snaps, he flew to the ball and always looked like he was in the right spot.
I'm really looking forward to this battle playing out in the preseason. Both are extremely athletic and relatively unknown. The sixth LB spot will be hotly contested.
The five first round corners are locks. Leon Hall and Terence Newman will start. Adam Jones will come onto the field in the nickel package and Hall will kick inside to the slot. Dre Kirkpatrick has played on the second team in base defense with Jones. Darqueze Dennard has taken some first team reps due to the rest days given to the top three corners and Kirkpatrick's slight hamstring tweak. Kirkpatrick is currently ahead of Dennard, who is probably better in the slot at this point.
Reggie Nelson and George Iloka will start at safety. Iloka plays more of a free safety, center fielder type of role. Danieal Manning and Taylor Mays have taken the second team reps at safety. Manning is one of the options at kick returner. Mays has several roles on this team. He plays on kickoff and punt coverage, and he can also play nickel linebacker, as mentioned above. He took Lamur's reps last season through the first eight weeks, until Mays himself suffered a season ending injury.
Shawn Williams plays on kickoff coverage and punt block units. As a second year player who was drafted in the third round, he won't get cut. Isaiah Lewis, the undrafted free agent from Michigan State, impressed the coaches during OTAs, but the first 10 spots at defensive back appear to be set. Lewis is a good practice squad candidate.
RJ Stanford, entering his fifth year in the NFL, has been the most impressive of all the non-first round cornerbacks on the team. He has been in the proper position almost every play and is probably in the top three in pass breakups so far in camp (behind Newman and Adam Jones). Chris Lewis-Harris was on the 53-man roster late in the year last year. He has a chance to make the team in week three after his two game suspension is up.
The offensive side is much less clear than the defensive side. I can get to 26 defensive players pretty easily, but there are at least 30 players on the offensive side with a legitimate chance of making the team.
It's hard to get a good idea of how the trench guys are playing during training camp. Contact is very limited and no one is allowed to touch the quarterback. On top of that, the offensive line has been plagued by injuries. Andrew Whitworth is on PUP with a strained calf, Andre Smith is recovering from a concussion, and both Clint Boling and Mike Pollak have been taking frequent rest days as they rehab their knee injuries.
First team reps are the biggest factor in this depth chart. Marshall Newhouse is the backup left tackle. Undrafted rookie Trey Hopkins has even gotten reps with the first team at left guard and has looked fairly strong. Will Svitek has taken Smith's vacated reps at right tackle and has looked like a rookie. Tanner Hawkinson has been left out of the first team reps, which surprises me a bit. In reality, I have no idea how the backup offensive line battle will shape up. We need preseason games to really sort these guys out.
We do know that the Bengals are determined to plant rookie 4th rounder Russell Bodine into the starting lineup. He didn't look very impressive on tape at UNC and he has had more than five bad snaps at camp, usually high above Dalton's head. This is unacceptable. He must show improvement in the preseason. If not, Mike Pollak or Trevor Robinson need to be given a proper shot at the starting center job.
We all know Gio Bernard is the starting back. Jeremy Hill, based off of training camp reps, is clearly the second string back. He figures to take BJGE's role of the short-yardage, between the tackles, goal line type of guy.
However, until he proves that he can do all of these things and improves his pass protection, I think BenJarvus Green-Ellis makes the team as well. Once Hill can fulfill these roles, BJGE becomes basically useless. He doesn't have any special teams value.
If Hill can get up to speed before week one, I think both Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead make the team. Peerman has special teams value as the personal protector on punts, the up back on kickoffs, kickoff coverage, and punt blocking. He is a pretty decent running back as well, though he won't blow you away.
Burkhead is the most explosive running back on this team outside of Gio Bernard. He is more athletic than most people give him credit for. Burkhead is extremely fast and looks lethal on screens. He is Peerman's backup at both personal protector on punts and up back on kickoffs. He also plays on the punt block team.
I've been waiting for James Wilder Jr. to show me something for nine practices. I'm still waiting.
AJ Green, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu are obviously locks. The 4th, 5th, and 6th receiver spots on this team are perhaps the hardest spots to decide on this team.
Dane Sanzenbacher runs great routes and has very good hands. He's a smaller target, but he works the slot very well. His clutch catches coming off the bench last year helped us win a few games too. He is one of the punt return and kick return candidates. He also can play punt gunner.
Cobi Hamilton has a big frame and presents a big target. His long strides and track speed make him a solid deep threat. He has played punt gunner in camp and also backs up Peerman as the up back on kickoff return. He needs to fix his drops, he's had way too many at this point in camp. At the same time, he has more touchdowns in camp than everybody else on the team outside of Eifert and Green. If he can show his worth as a punt gunner and fix his drops, I think he makes the team. His lack of versatility in special teams hurts him.
Brandon Tate, the incumbent punt and kick returner, scape goat, and training camp king. He runs with the first team in three wide receiver sets since Marvin Jones is still hurt. He's still first up to return punts, but both Adam Jones and Sanzenbacher can both return punts. The big issue is that no one really has stepped up to take his kick returner spot. Danieal Manning might be the guy to take the spot from Tate, but has he lost a step? Manning turns 32 next week. Sanzenbacher is unproven at kick return. Onterio McCalebb is extremely fast and an experienced kick returner, but he's one of the worst cornerbacks on the team.
James Wright, the 7th rounder, has turned some heads at camp. He has played very well at receiver, destroying the backup cornerbacks on the team in 1 on 1s. He also has a lot of experience playing special teams. He can play kickoff coverage and punt gunner, pretty well too. Wright is making this WR battle extremely hard to predict. They took seven WRs last year, but with the tough battles on the offensive line, running back, and tight end, will they take seven again?
Ryan Whalen, still on PUP, also figures into the battle. He's been on the 53-man roster in the past, he runs precise routes and has solid hands, but maybe the PUP is the best way for him to enter the team, in week seven if injury strikes one of the other receivers.
Preseason performance will determine the final results of this intense roster battle at receiver.
Tight End & H-back
Tyler Eifert & Jermaine Gresham are locks. I just hope Eifert takes a good chunk of Gresham's snaps when the regular season rolls around.
Alex Smith isn't the best route runner, but he is a good blocking tight end. He is used in a lot of special teams packages as well, I think he makes the team.
Orson Charles, despite all his athleticism, has had a very quiet camp. Sometimes used at tight end, and sometimes at fullback, he hasn't shined in any area. He still looks uneasy at fullback. He hasn't made many catches either.
Undrafted rookie Ryan Hewitt may be seizing the moment, as he looks more natural than Charles at fullback. He hasn't made many catches though. This battle at H-back will certainly be one to watch in preseason.
We all know who the starting quarterback is. Andy Dalton has had his best camp so far. We're just hoping he can stay consistent all the way into January.
Jason Campbell has locked down the number two spot. He looks great some days, and mediocre on others. His throws have a bit more velocity than Dalton's, but he's no threat to take the starting spot from Dalton. He's a very serviceable backup.
AJ McCarron is on the Non-Football Injury list with a bum shoulder. I've seen him throwing on the rehab field every day, usually with Marvin Jones or Andrew Whitworth. I have no idea when he'll be ready.