Last week, I wrote about why I believe Terrell Pryor will makes the Bengals roster and Josh Kirkendall brought up some good counterpoints. Regardless of what we think, one thing is certain, if Pryor is to make the team, he will have an uphill battle. His roster spot would likely be as the third string quarterback – something the Bengals have not had since 2010. If the Bengals are going to keep Pryor as I predicted, the question boils down to "How?" Where do they trim a roster spot? Can they trim a roster spot without weakening their roster? Since drafting Andy Dalton in the second round of the 2011 draft, the Bengals roster has been constructed in a multitude of ways (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014), but one thing has been constant – only two quarterbacks . What follows are the ways in which I believe the roster could be constructed to make room for Pryor on the 53-Man roster come September (in order of most likely to least likely):
1. Six Linebackers
In two of the last four years, the Bengals have broken camp with seven linebackers. For a 4-3 defense, that is a bit surprising, but generally it has been the result of a weak depth chart. That shouldn’t be the case in 2015. If healthy, this should be the best – and most proven –linebacking corps in some time. In my opinion, the top five positions are a lock (Vontaze Burfict, Rey Maualuga, Emmanuel Lamur, A.J. Hawk and Paul Dawson), the battle is for the sixth position (seventh if Burfict starts on the PUP list). Unlike in years past, the battle for the last linebacker spot in 2015 will be between a highly touted fourth round pick from 2013 (Sean Porter) and a couple linebackers with a year or two of experience in the Bengals’ defense (Jayson DiManche and Marquis Flowers). Regardless, if the Bengals want to make room for Pryor as a third quarterback, I believe this is the most likely spot where they make room.
2. Eight Offensive Lineman
Normally this would be crazy talk, but the Bengals don’t typically have two Pro-Bowl caliber tackles on the roster, backed up by two first round talents – who can also play guard. In three of the last four years, the Bengals have kept four tackles and four guards, but Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher can both play both tackle and both guard positions, and as a result, Bengals have line versatility (and talent) that could provide them with an opportunity to keep one less lineman than they normally would.
3. Eight Defensive Linemen
The last two seasons, the Bengals have kept nine defensive linemen, but the two years prior, they went with just eight – and remember 2011 where they kept only three defensive tackles? Due to the uncertainty along the defensive line, I doubt the Bengals go with just eight linemen, but they do have three defensive ends who can (and have) played inside (Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt and Marcus Hardison). However, going this route would mean parting ways with Domata Peko, something I find unlikely. The other option would be cutting Hunt and going with four defensive ends and four defensive tackles. Hunt, injured yet again, has been disappointing thus far in his career and with the signing of Michael Johnson and the development of Will Clarke, this might be a legitimate possibility.
4. Two Tight Ends
For the past four years (and probably much longer), the Bengals have kept at least three tightends. I don’t see the Bengals changing that in 2015. However, Ryan Hewitt can play tight end, and in fact, is an effective tight end. Therefore, if they wanted to open up a spot on the roster, they could go with two tight ends (Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft) and use Hewitt as the third tight end. The reason I don’t see this happening is fifth round pick C.J. Uzomah. Uzomah is a bit of a project, but at 6’5", 264 pounds, he is the type of athlete who won’t stick around long on the practice squad. As a result, if the Bengals don’t want to risk losing Uzomah, they will need to put him on the 53-Man roster, something they can afford to do as a result of Hewitt’s versatility.
5. Three Safeties
Since they drafted Dalton in 2011, the Bengals have never kept less than four safeties, and in fact, have kept more than four safeties in two of the last four years (including six in 2011). Therefore, I doubt they would roll the dice with three safeties in 2015 – especially if one is an inexperienced rookie -- Derron Smith. However, Shawn Williams has not been able to earn any playing time since being taken in the fourth round of the 2013 draft and the Bengals current fourth round draft pick (Josh Shaw), is a highly touted cornerback with experience at safety. If the Bengals like Shaw at safety better than corner, it is possible – unlikely, but possible – that they only keep three safeties (Smith, Reggie Nelson and George Iloka) and use Shaw as their emergency fourth safety.