With training camp less than one week away, we take a look at some of the biggest battles on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball and big decisions, which the Bengals coaching staff will ultimately need to make by early September.
The Bengals' offensive depth chart entering 2015 training camp looks something like this*.
Here, we take a look at which players have the best shot at winning their respective position battles and which fringe players have the best shot at making the final roster.
A.J. McCarron vs. Josh Johnson vs. Keith Wenning.
McCarron has the initial edge of being an original Bengals draft pick, and there are positive reports about his throwing and mechanics in offseason workouts.
- Early prediction: A.J. McCarron is the most accurate of the three backups, and makes the team as the lone backup QB. Wenning also shows decent accuracy and makes the practice squad.
C.J. Uzomah vs. Jake Murphy vs. Matt Lengel vs. John Peters.
The Bengals released Kevin Brock, giving fifth-rounder Uzomah an inside track to make the roster as the final TE. He will have to beat out Murphy (a 2014 practice squad member) and two undrafted rookies who, like Uzomah, are physical freaks. Uzomah is 6'5" 265 lb, Lengel is 6'7" 270 lb, and Peters is 6'8" 265 lb.
With Tyler Eifert coming off injury, Ryan Hewitt almost exclusively devoted to fullback, and looking at the history of Marvin Lewis' rosters, it's very likely the Bengals will carry a third TE for depth.
- Early prediction: C.J. Uzomah shows off his athletic ability during the preseason and makes the roster. Either Lengel or Peters lands on the practice squad because of their physical upside.
Returner and sixth WR:
Brandon Tate vs. Mario Alford vs. Tevin Reese vs. Onterio McCalebb.
Alford is the fastest player on the roster, but has an uphill battle against Tate, who is a longtime favorite of this coaching staff. Hopefully Alford can shine in training camp and compel the Bengals to cut Tate. James Wright and Denarius Moore might have been on the roster bubble before the draft -- but now, it's hard to not see those two making the team.
- Early prediction: Brandon Tate has his annual mirage preseason performance, enticing the Bengals to keep him yet again as the sixth WR and returner. This prediction is not my personal preference, but rather based on how the Bengals have repeatedly held on to Tate. Alford would then make the practice squad.
T.J. Johnson vs. Chris Jasperse vs. Jake Smith.
Johnson, a 2013 seventh-round pick, has been exclusively an OG in his limited snaps with the Bengals and hasn't played a real game at C since college. He has to beat out two undrafted rookies to make the roster, particularly Jasperse, who started every game of his Marshall career and led all 2014 active FBS offensive linemen in career snap count. The Bengals carry at least one undrafted rookie in most years.
- Early prediction: Chris Jasperse is the lone UDFA to make the Bengals 53-man roster, outperforming the somewhat rusty Johnson to do so. Jasperse has versatility to be an OG as well. Johnson lands on the practice squad under the new PS rule allowing for two players with no more than two accrued NFL seasons.
Only eight OL?:
If Cedric Ogbuehi is healthy, and the Bengals are confident in his and Jake Fisher's ability to back up at OG as well as OT, the team might go with only eight OL -- quality over quantity. If so, then OG-only Trey Hopkins could be cut. The Bengals have gone with eight OL once before under Marvin Lewis, in 2005, so it is possible but very unlikely.
- Early prediction: Ogbuehi goes on PUP (physically-unable-to-perform list), and the Bengals keep nine OL as usual, including Trey Hopkins.
Eric Winston and Tanner Hawkinson can make it if Cedric Ogbuehi gets placed on PUP or if the Bengals carry five OT. Ogbuehi has said he'll be ready for training camp, but Marvin Lewis would be wise to take a more cautious approach.
- Early prediction: Ogbuehi gets placed on PUP, which allows Eric Winston to make the roster. Hawkinson is cut. Winston's status on the roster will depend on whether Ogbuehi is activated.
Terrell Watson vs. James Wilder Jr.
The top four running backs are safe. Terrell Watson and James Wilder are unlikely to make it unless the Bengals carry five RB.
- Early prediction: Both Watson and Wilder are cut, and one lands on the practice squad.
The 2015 defensive depth chart looks something like this:
Eighth and ninth DL:
Pat Sims vs. Margus Hunt vs. Will Clarke vs. Devon Still.
Sims was OK as a Bengal from 2008 through 2012, and would be helpful at nose tackle since Domata Peko is declining and the Bengals didn't draft an NT. Despite it being a down year for him in 2014, Sims still had better pass-rush and run-stop percentages than Peko in 2014.
Meanwhile, Hunt would be less useful as a backup to Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, who are high-caliber starters in their prime and will receive the vast majority of DE snaps along with Wallace Gilberry. Also, Hunt has practice squad eligibility. As demonstrated with Still last year, the Bengals are willing to cut and demote an underwhelming former second-round pick to the PS if it makes sense.
- Early prediction: Pat Sims makes the roster because the Bengals didn't draft a nose tackle and need depth behind the regressing Peko. Brandon Thompson is primarily suited as a 3-tech DT rotating with Geno Atkins. Hunt lands on the practice squad under the new PS rule allowing for two players with no more than two accrued NFL seasons. After looking decent in 2014 in limited snaps, Will Clarke makes the roster again. The Bengals also carry extra depth for Peko on the practice squad, such as Kwame Geathers. Still isn't PS-eligible anymore.
Marquis Flowers vs. Nico Johnson vs. Jayson DiManche vs. Sean Porter.
All of these players can contribute on special teams, but Flowers has shown the best ability at linebacker. It doesn't look like Vontaze Burfict will be ready to start the season, and Flowers provides depth at WILL.
- Early prediction: Burfict goes to PUP. Marquis Flowers makes the roster because he is the best linebacker among those on the bubble. When Burfict returns, then the Bengals will probably retain Flowers and make a cut elsewhere.
Derron Smith vs. Shiloh Keo vs. Floyd Raven vs. Erick Dargan.
Smith was one of the Bengals' biggest steals of the draft.
- Early prediction: Derron Smith shows that he is easily better than his competitors.
Seventh LB, fifth S, or sixth CB?:
There will be an interesting battle for the final defensive roster spot. Johnson, DiManche, and Porter are the options at LB; Keo, Raven, and Dargan are the options at S. The top five CB are safe, so the sixth CB would be Chris Lewis-Harris, Brandon Ghee, or Troy Hill. Right now, the linebacker position is clearly in worse shape than the cornerbacks and safeties.
- Early prediction: Nico Johnson makes it as the seventh LB -- a serviceable player who provides depth for a shaky positional group -- though he may be released when Burfict returns. Porter, Raven, and Hill land on the practice squad.
Mike Nugent vs. Tom Obarski.
Quinn Sharp was perfect in the 2013 and 2014 pre-seasons on field goals and also outperformed Nugent on touchback rate, but Sharp was cut anyway. Obarski might have the same fate.
- Early prediction: Mike Nugent doesn't screw up in the preseason, and the Bengals allow him to keep his job.
If these predictions play out correctly, this could be the 2015 Bengals opening-day roster:
|Position||# of players (25 O, 25 D, 3 ST, 10 PS, 2 PUP)||Depth of players (opening-day starters in bold)|
|Running back||4||J. Hill, Bernard, Burkhead, Peerman|
|Tight end||3||Eifert, Kroft, Uzomah|
|Wide receiver||6||Green, M. Jones, Sanu, Wright, Moore, Tate|
|Offensive tackle||4 + PUP||Whitworth, A. Smith, Fisher, Winston (Ogbuehi on PUP)|
|Offensive guard and Center||5||Zeitler, Boling, Bodine, Hopkins, Jasperse|
|Defensive end||4||Dunlap, M. Johnson, Gilberry, Clarke|
|Defensive tackle||5||Atkins, Peko, Thompson, Sims, Hardison|
|Linebacker||7 + PUP||V. Rey, Maualuga, Lamur, Hawk, Dawson, Flowers, N. Johnson (Burfict on PUP)|
|Cornerback||5||Kirkpatrick, Hall, A. Jones, Dennard, Shaw|
|Safety||4||Nelson, Iloka, Williams, D. Smith|
|Special teams||3||Harris, Huber, Nugent|
|Practice squad||10||Hunt, Porter, K. Geathers, T. Hill, Raven, Wenning, Alford, T.J. Johnson, Peters, Watson|
This prediction will likely not be 100 percent correct. Unfortunately, someone might have an unforeseen injury. Also, one of the players predicted as released might knock off a player listed on the roster above. Let's hope the Bengals not only stay healthy, but also allow for fair competition to improve the team.