Today marks the first time in 221 days that we get to see the Bengals play. If that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what to tell you. Yes, it is preseason, thus ultimately meaningless. However there are plenty of things that will be happening on the field that are more important than the Bengals getting a win. The preseason --especially the first couple weeks of it-- is where bubble players, journeymen, and not-so-highly-touted rookies have a chance to earn a living for at least the next year. You can bet that these guys know the stakes at hand, and will be doing everything possible to catch the attention of the Bengals coaches for all of the right reasons.
1) Margus Hunt
As per the Bengals depth chart, Hunt is listed as the first backup behind Carlos Dunlap at left defensive end. This came as a surprise to me considering his lack of production during his entire career coupled with his injury-plagued 2014 campaign.
There’s no question that Hunt has all of the physical tools needed to play in the NFL. His relative newness to the game has hampered his development throughout his career, and at 28-years-old, he isn’t getting any younger. Depending on his preseason performance, his days in Cincinnati could be numbered. He is surely aware of this. It may be time for him to stand out or fall out.
2) Derron Smith
After flashing with a spectacular one-handed interception, Smith has become a favorite among this year’s rookie class. He will most likely be competing with Shiloh Keo for the fourth and final safety spot unless someone emerges out of nowhere or the Bengals keep five safeties. Right now, Keo is the safer of the two options having starting NFL experience while also being a solid special teams contributor. In order for Smith to make the final 53, he will need to show he is definitely the better player between he and Keo.
3) Devon Still
After enduring one of the toughest battles a father could go through, Still has been able to focus more on football this year. Still will have some work to do to make the Bengals’ 53-man roster. The depth chart behind Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, and Brandon Thompson is murky at best. Still will be battling Pat Sims, Marcus Hardison, Deshawn Williams, Kalafitoni Pole, and Kwame Geathers for one out of likely two remaining DT spots. While Still’s familiarity probably helps in the eyes of the Bengals’ coaching staff, he hasn’t produced much of anything on the field in his time in Cincinnati. With many competitors vying for a spot, Still will need to set himself apart.
4) Marquis Flowers
With the Bengals LB corps being the weakest position group on the team, the opportunity is there for players to not only make the final roster, but to possibly even secure a starting gig for a few games or more. Barring catastrophe, you can just about count on Flowers making the final roster. However, with injuries and his position backing up Emmanuel Lamur, the Bengals weakest starting LB, Flowers may have the chance to assert himself and find more playing time in the regular season. The second year man out of Arizona has the same build and similar athletic traits as Lamur. With a year of experience under his belt, Flowers may be able to do even more than simply make the roster.
5) Bottom half of the WR depth chart
At this point in time, the top 4 wide receivers are probably set. I can hear all of you groaning from here, but Brandon Tate is a part of that group. Behind him, Denarius Moore, Greg Little, and Mario Alford are the most likely candidates for the last two depth chart spots. Surprisingly, Little and Alford seem to have the upper hand right now, despite Moore’s connection with Hue Jackson. However, they haven’t exactly set the world on fire either. Alford was expected to possibly contribute in the return game, but reports from camp have not been glowing in that regard. That opens up an opportunity for Jake Kumerow to make some noise. He has been solid in camp and seemingly has the physical tools to possibly be a contributor. This will be the group to watch through the preseason as it is the most prone to change leading up to final roster cuts.