The first game of the preseason is always tough to make an evaluation. Guys have major jitters, it's the first time that they've seen a member of another team in at least a year and it's a major step up in play compared to Training Camp. Still, it provides a litmus test of sorts, especially for the rookies trying to make an impression.
For the sixth year in a row, it appears that the Bengals have brought in a productive crop of youngsters. This class may not have been as popular as some other recent ones in the eyes of fans, but some of these rooks look to be ready to step in and contribute immediately.
In reviewing the tape, there were moments that inspired both hope and doubt. It's an expected myriad of emotions when looking at a rookie, but with so many hits by the Bengals in recent drafts, it's always difficult when these cringe-inducing moments occur. The good news overall? Marvin Lewis was more than willing to give a lot of these youngsters significant time in the opener to give us a pretty solid look at where things stand.
Rookies That Impressed:
Darqueze Dennard, CB: The first round pick showed up with his advertised physicality and was a willing tackler on plays. He had three in the game, including a sack, showing his ability to do a couple of different things on the field. The downside to his play on Thursday night was more of a guilty by association type of thing. The second and third defensive units had trouble covering receivers and tackling running backs at times and Dennard was part of that group. Still, a promising start for a young man that Lewis recently called "the best rookie corner I've seen".
Jeremy Hill, RB: The back that was somewhat of a surprise in the second round was one of the most impressive rookies on Thursday night. He hit the hole quickly and constantly fell forward for positive yardage and it wasn't just against scrubs either. He took over after Giovani Bernard had some early work and was the top rusher on the day for those not named Matt Scott. He averaged six yards per carry on the night, took care of the football in wet conditions and played physically.
James Wright, WR: For a guy that wasn't any kind of an offensive threat last year for the LSU Tigers, Wright definitely showed up on Thursday. He had two catches on the night--one resulted in a first down and the other was a circus touchdown catch. With Cobi Hamilton doing nothing to help his cause, Wright may have pulled ahead in the competition with his performance in the opener.
Ryan Hewitt, TE/HB: The undrafted kid out of Stanford really intrigues me. He is pegged to play a similar role to Orson Charles and may have made that competition closer than anyone expected. Hewitt lined up at fullback and helped to open up some decent holes for the backs. He added two catches for 16 yards (a couple of others were wiped out by penalties) and proved to be versatile. The most telling sign? Charles didn't appear on the inactive list, but didn't play a snap, while Hewitt had the most of the tight end group with 28 (39%).
Jury Is Still Out:
Trey Hopkins, OG: Hopkins stepped in to start because Mike Pollak and Clint Boling both sat and he played well at times. Running lanes were open for Bernard and Hill early on and he played the most snaps of any offensive lineman with 56 (78%). The thing that bothered me was the pressure that came from the middle on Thursday night. Not all of that can and should be laid at Hopkins' feet, as his rookie line mate Russell Bodine also struggled, but it is worth noting. The Bengals have had inconsistent play at left guard for the past few years for a number of different reasons, but many believe that Hopkins could become a long-term answer. Our own Cody Tewmey did a nice tape breakdown on the undrafted rookie free agent recently.
Jasper Collins, WR: Let's say it was the little things that caught my eye with Collins. He had one catch for 11 yards and nearly had a punt return for a touchdown. It was called back as he ended up being touched by a Chiefs player, but it was a heads-up play that a guy fresh out of college usually forgets. He also made it past the first round of waiver moves, leapfrogging Conner Vernon, who had a touchdown reception in the game.
James Wilder, Jr., RB: He's huge and was a productive player at Florida State. Wilder got some time towards the end of the game, had two rushes for seven yards (including a six-yard scamper) and another catch for four yards. There just wasn't enough to get fully excited about, but Wilder showing the ability to run and catch a little bit at his size makes him one to watch in the coming weeks.
Need To See Improvement:
Will Clarke, DE: Most believe that Clarke will be a developmental guy this year, but he looked a bit lost at times with the backup units. Though he is big in stature, there was a particular play that was disturbing to watch. Chiefs running back Cyrus Gray mowed over two Bengals on his way to a two-yard touchdown run and the much larger Clarke was one of them. He finished with two tackles on the night and was part of the defensive units that were sieve-like, allowing the Chiefs to move the ball throughout the middle and later parts of the game.
Marquis Flowers, LB: If we are calling out Clarke for the play in the video above, we have to bring Flowers into the conversation as he also got stood up and then run over. He finished with two tackles on the night and didn't show the speed/athleticism combination that made him a sixth-round pick this year. The linebacker group is deep in potential, but doesn't necessarily have a lot of proven guys behind the starters. Flowers will need to step up if he wants to supplant the recently-injured Sean Porter for a spot on the final 53-man roster.
Russell Bodine, C: It was a rough night for the fourth round pick. As I mentioned earlier with Hopkins, pressure came from the middle, particularly when Jason Campbell was in the game, and Bodine was one of the culprits. He also had a high snap, which has been a little bit of an issue at practice as well. I will be optimistic and chalk it up to jitters and wet conditions, but improvement needs to be seen for a guy that might be vying for a starting gig. On the plus side, he did play 33 snaps (46%) and was in the lineup on scoring drives.