When spring practices concluded last month, we unleashed the (add reverb and echo effects to the amplifier please): The Josh Kirkendall post-minicamp 53-man roster prediction (nnnnn). There were disputes, mailbags and explanations; some cried tears of joy, others were treated for sleep deprivation due to their anguished betrayal. Sorry, bros and brahs. We had initially planned to release a 53-man roster prediction every week... then it occurred to me, why? What the hell would change over the five weeks that necessitated a weekly prediction? Maybe while living in Cleveland, someone getting shot in the face, would precipitate change... but you don't live in Cleveland!
July 27 list predictions:
QUARTERBACK (2): Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron
Unless something catastrophic happens, this will be Cincinnati's 1-2 punch at quarterback. Will there be a third? The open-minded angel, perched on my right shoulder, offers a centralist "anything can happen" view. The red-suited pessimist on my left shoulder punches the angel and laughs at this proposition. Also ask yourself this: Do you see Josh Johnson or Keith Wenning unseating McCarron?
RUNNING BACK (5): Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead, Ryan Hewitt (H-back)
If there's a rival in this scenario, it will involve rookie running back Terrell Watson (a bruising feature back out of Azusa Pacific) or James Wilder Jr., who spent the offseason upgrading his resume by providing impressive versatility at fullback. Unfortunately, the only scenario worth a damn for Watson and Wilder involve injuries. If they dominate training camp, it's possible but with the Marvin Lewis veterans loyalty program, it's unlikely.
WIDE RECEIVER (6): A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Mario Alford, James Wright, Denarius Moore
A bold statement would say this: Green, Jones and Sanu are locked into the 53-man roster, while eight receivers compete for three spots. Alford appears to have an advantage as a possible returner on special teams, whereas Moore has experience in the NFL and Wright has experience in Hue Jackson's offense. Maybe Cobi Hamilton makes a run, or Cincinnati's illogical infatuation with veterans saves Brandon Tate. Regardless, my top-six remains unchanged at this stage.
TIGHT END (3): Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah
John Peters and Matt Lengel are ideal for the practice squad; they're big but raw and need experience. If anyone on Cincinnati's roster mounts a challenge to 1) replace Eifert, Kroft and Uzomah or 2) adds a fourth tight end on the depth chart, it'll be Jake Murphy. Most reports this spring favored his hands as a receiver. As it stands, I don't see the trio of Eifert, Kroft and Uzomah being upset. NOTE: Doesn't Eifert, Kroft and Uzomah sound like a law firm on Archer?
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN (9):
Tackle (4)*: Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Jake Fisher, Eric Winston
Guard (3): Kevin Zeitler, Clint Boling, Trey Hopkins
Center (2): Russell Bodine, T.J. Johnson
*If Cedric Ogbuehi opens the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, as is expected, he wouldn't count toward the 53-man roster when the season starts.
Johnson could be ditched for another versatile interior lineman; however those arguments will require patience on our part, watching the rise of younger players ready to become NFL superstars.
DEFENSIVE END (5): Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry, Will Clarke, Margus Hunt
Hunt should be viewed as a "bubble player"; in addition to dealing with a back injury, he's near the bottom at his position's depth chart. If Cincinnati wanted to overload a position, like linebacker or cornerback, Hunt faces a challenge (maybe he makes the practice squad if there's no room for him on the 53-man roster). Originally I had scratched Hunt's name, favoring Brandon Ghee -- figuring that Cincinnati would go heavy in the secondary in a division with Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco
and Johnny Manziel. You've all talked me out of that during the past last month.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (5): Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Brandon Thompson, Pat Sims, Marcus Hardison
How about Devon Still. Does he make the roster?
LINEBACKER (6)*: Rey Maualuga, Emmanuel Lamur, A.J. Hawk, P.J. Dawson, Vincent Rey, Marquis Flowers
*Much like Ogbuehi, conservative estimates tend to suggest Vontaze Burfict will open the season on PUP -- thus not counting toward the 53-man roster until he's activated.
It's easy to write the starting lineup -- Rey Maualuga will start in the middle, flanked by Emmanuel Lamur and A.J. Hawk. P.J. Dawson could be a candidate as one of the few starting rookies in 2015, but the experienced Hawk and the athletically-gifted Lamur have advantages. Vincent Rey (aka, Mr. Do Everything), is also a lock. Sean Porter is an interesting scenario; his biggest rival is injury otherwise he has talent and gifts beneficial to Cincinnati. Yet, significant injuries keep wiping out his limited opportunities. If he brings hell during training camp, maybe he dethrones Flowers for the sixth spot.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (9)
Cornerbacks: Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw
Safety: Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Derron Smith, Shawn Williams
Truth be told, I don't feel comfortable with the Bengals keeping nine defensive backs. Yet, honestly, it's not a big deal... teams are allowed to make transactions during the season; they're not locked into this 53-man roster. Remember when David Jones stuck around in '10? I went off. Then they used Jones to acquire Reggie Nelson. Sometimes you can't breech the wonderful mind of Mike Brown.
Initially, I had Ghee making the roster but removed him for Hunt. Personally, neither player really has earned a spot as of now; training camp will feature the obvious argument. In addition to that, Ghee and Hunt are bottom-dwellers for arguments concerning unexpected risers. Maybe Troy Hill?
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Placekicker: Mike Nugent
Punter: Kevin Huber
Long-snapper: Clark Harris