Russell Bodine, center
Most of the starters won't play in Thursday's game, but Russell Bodine should play a few series. He's a rookie who hasn't played up to par yet. Quite frankly, he needs the experience playing against lesser competition, as well as a bit of a confidence boost.
There was a heated discussion yesterday on our Russell Bodine film piece about Bodine's performance so far. Fortunately, to settle the debate, our own Joe Goodberry has watched and graded eight of the offensive linemen from all three games. Click on the link to view the full statistics. I have selected some of the statistics and provided them below.
|No contest (neutral)||40||45||20|
I chose to provide Zeitler's statistics as a control. Zeitler, Andre Smith, and Andrew Whitworth all play at a very high level. Boling falls somewhere in the middle, and Bodine's preseason performances thus far have been ...bad. Of course, he is just a rookie. But this excuse falls flat when a proven veteran in Mike Pollak is now healthy and has been more steady in limited action.
Bodine has been far better as a pass protector than a run blocker. Joe Goodberry chose to include screen blocking as a pass blocking number, so Bodine's true pass blocking numbers likely are five positive blocks and five negative blocks.
The glaring number is Bodine's 11 negative run blocks, as well as two holding penalties on run plays (one wasn't called). These plays have hurt Gio Bernard's production and put the Bengals in 2nd/3rd and long situations. With Ravens' Nose tackle Brandon Williams (who has posted a +4.3 run defense grade this preseason) coming up in week one, the Bengals may struggle to run the ball up the middle.
James Wilder Jr., running back
I struggled to pick another offensive player to watch because most of the starters won't play and many of the backup receivers and running backs are injured. Cobi Hamilton and James Wright are currently battling for the 6th receiver spot, but Wright may miss tomorrow's game due to a concussion.
With Rex Burkhead out with a knee injury, and Cedric Peerman and BenJarvus Green-Ellis both dealing with hip injuries, Wilder and Jeremy Hill may play most of this game.
Wilder's physical run-through-you running style didn't help him early in training camp because most plays are whistled dead at first contact. He also didn't do well in pass protection early on, but improved greatly the next time he has given a shot.
Now he has an opportunity to get a lot of carries against weaker competition. I fully expect him to have some impressive runs and run over a few of the Colts backups. He does need to lower his pad level as well because he tends to run very upright.
Sean Porter, linebacker
Porter was a player to watch last week because he had been taking first team snaps in practice while Burfict was out with a stomach bug. However, Burfict ended up playing in the Cardinals game and Vincent Rey came onto the field when Burfict went down with a minor hamstring issue.
Porter ended up only getting 18 snaps, but he played well in coverage. He was thrown at twice, allowing no completions and recorded an interception off a tip ball in garbage time on the last play of the game.
He should play more snaps against the Colts backups. Since Jayson DiManche is the first backup at strong side linebacker, I believe he has a leg up on the Porter and Marquis Flowers for the 5th LB spot. That leaves Porter and Flowers in a close battle for the 6th linebacker spot.
Keep an eye on both of these players. They are neck and neck in terms of ability, but Porter has the slight edge right now. Porter played as the second team weak side linebacker, while Flowers was on the third team.
Christo Bilukidi, defensive tackle
Bilukidi is thought to be battling Devon Still for the 4th defensive tackle spot. Still went down with a hamstring injury in the Cardinals game, and of course he is in a terrible real life situation with his daughter being diagnosed with cancer in early June.
The team might choose to keep Still on the 53-man roster no matter what, due to his underlying potential and the fact that the team should support him in a time like this.
Bilukidi looked bad in run defense against the Jets, but he has looked decent enough to make the team consider him as the 4th defensive tackle. He has long arms and shows his strength in one-on-one matchups. He will get a big chunk of snaps against the Colts to show his ability. Bilukidi will be eligible to be added to the practice squad under the new rules. This seems to be the most likely ending to this tough scenario.
Also keep an eye on LaKendrick Ross, who has flashed ability as a space-eating nose tackle. Marvin Lewis has called him the strongest guy in the building, yet Ross has only played two seasons of organized football. Ross didn't get any snaps in the Cardinals game, perhaps because the Bengals want to sneak him onto the practice squad.
The other Bengals backup DTs have struggled taking on double teams, but Ross has done it well. He might be the guy to step up as Peko's backup at nose tackle in 2015.
Margus Hunt, defensive end
Hunt looked very good through the first two preseason games, making several splash plays. However, he had his worst game of the preseason last week against the Cardinals. He only posted one tackle and didn't earn a single pressure in 19 pass rushing snaps.
He looks better at defensive end than defensive tackle, where he seems to lose leverage because he can't get his pads low enough. He needs to play better as a pass rusher against the Colts backups. Hunt will be relied on in nickel packages this year at left defensive end, so he needs to become more consistent as a pass rusher.
Right now, he can look like J.J. Watt on one play and then like an undrafted free agent on the next.