The Bengals took care of business on Sunday, handily. With a game this late in the season the Bengals took caution in giving some of their everyday players some time to heal from their regular season bumps and bruises and allowed a few rookies to see more of the field than usual. Here's a look at how the rookies performed.
For the first time this season, the Bengals first selection from the 2015 draft made it onto the field. The young tackle saw action in an organized game for the first time since he suffered a torn ACL in the Liberty Bowl last year for Texas A&M. While this seemed to be more of a bit of a stress test for the rookie, with the Bengals feeling they should get him some game time with the stakes at their lowest, seeing Ogbuehi in the game was a look at the future. Getting some reps in while he can is great experience. And, it was nice to see on his first play of the year, Jeremy Hill ran the ball into the endzone for a 1-yard touchdown. At the end of the game, Ogbuehi played a few snaps at the left tackle position, filling in for Andrew Whitworth.
Jake Fisher was targeted for a touchdown for the second week in a row and the third time this season. The first time, Tyler Eifert jumped in front of the ball and caught it for the score. The second two times, Fisher got a few fingers on the ball but wasn't able to haul it in. The second round pick reported as an eligible receiver multiple times throughout the game and may end up being one of the most targeted offensive lineman in the league by the end of the season. Fisher also replaced Andre Smith at the end of the fourth quarter in the right tackle position.
Tyler Kroft was among the list of rookies filling in for starters and Kroft did a decent job. Seeing a bump in time due to Tyler Eifert resting his neck, Kroft was able to haul in his second pass of his career for 17 yards. Kroft saw a whopping 40 plays on offense and fit in nicely on blocking formations helping to lead the Bengals to 144 yards on the ground. He also offered up decent pass blocking. The Bengals have been high on Kroft since they drafted him in the third round of the 2015 draft out of Rutgers and he has seen the most time of any rookie this year. Compared to Eifert, he lacks the playmaking ability of a pass catching tight end, but he's earned time with his protection skills.
The impact of P.J. Dawson this season hasn't quite been what was expected. He came in with loads of talent and a very similar style to Vontaze Burfict. In what many still categorize as a thin linebacking core, Dawson hasn't been able to crack significant time and has shuffled on and off the inactive list weekly. While he was active against Cleveland he managed nine plays on defense and recorded one solo tackle, one assisted tackle and one tackle on special teams, too. With the secondary suffering its share of injuries, it wouldn't be wise to wish Dawson more time in what has become a fairly healthy linebacker unit with the return of Burfict. Dawson just might have to wait a season or two before he finds regular time.
Shaw earned the award for most frightening moment of the game after going in for a tackle and meeting the business end of Shawn Williams' helmet. The awkward snapback and immediate lack of movement were a big point of concern. But eventually Shaw was helped to his feet and left under his own power, a good sign for the young USC product. Shaw did end up with his most productive game of the season posting four solo tackles in regular defensive formations and notching another solo tackle on special teams. With Leon Hall inactive on the day it was almost a given that Shaw would see more chances and he didn't waste his time on the field. Shaw has said he may be able to play on Sunday, but whether he does or not, it was great to see him getting in some valuable playing time and making the most of it on Sunday.
More firsts were abound as the Bengals fourth string tight-end saw time on 10 plays from the line of scrimmage and snagged his first grab for a four yard gain. Uzomah has lived on the inactive roster all year with Hewitt, Kroft, and Eifert getting time ahead of him. Again, barring a more significant injury to the top three tight ends, Uzomah's time should remain in practice rather than on the field.
Despite George Iloka's inactive status, Derron Smith was still second fiddle to Shawn Williams who filled in nicely in Iloka's presence. While Smith's time is still limited, he is at least seeing the field on special teams, snagging 55% of the snaps. Smith remains an active competitor and fills in nicely on Cincinnati's more than capable special teams unit. That will continue to be his home barring more injuries in the secondary.
Super Mario Alford was active for the first time this season. He also caught his first pass of his professional career on a short slant for a 15 yard gain. Alford was initially pegged to help out with special teams this season by offering an upgrade to the often lackluster returns from Brandon Tate. But, he hasn't been able to actually utilize his speed on special teams yet, as Sunday was his first time seeing the field. With the game well in hand and the blowout predicated Alford saw the field for the first time this year. It's doubtful this will be a trend going forward, though his catch from AJ McCarron was nice.
The undrafted rookie was promoted from the practice squad on Saturday and played a remarkable 22 snaps, largely due to Shaw's injury. He did an admirable job, especially in his first game, just hours after being added to the roster. Hill recorded 3 tackles, two of which were solo tackles and his name wasn't called out by the announcers for any mistakes, which is always key when discussing defensive backs. It will be interesting to see if Hill sticks on the roster or gets bumped back down to the practice squad.