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Preseason Week 1 Giants vs Bengals: Position battles to watch

The backups will be getting ample time in the first preseason game on Friday night, and we take a look at some of the Bengals' position battles to keep an eye on in the first game action of 2015.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

If you're expecting something pretty on Friday night for the first game action between the Bengals and Giants, you're likely to be disappointed. The starters rarely play more than a couple of series and one key in the early preseason games is to knock some rust off which might have collected in the offseason.

Still, it isn't to say the game will be unwatchable. For ardent fans, eyes will be on some crowded position groups, of which the Bengals have plenty. Here are some groups and players to keep an eye on during Friday night's game.

Cornerback:

Guys to watch: Josh Shaw, Troy Hill, Chris Lewis-Harris, Brandon Ghee: It's likely that the Bengals keep five corners on the final roster and we're pretty certain we know who the top-four will be: Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard. It's possible they keep six because of Shaw's ability to also play safety, but that might cut another position group short.

You would think Shaw has the upper hand here because of his draft stock, physical abilities and the fact that he has the coaches' eyes. Still, Lewis-Harris has been a guy who has done everything asked of him the past three seasons and Ghee is a guy they obviously trust as part of the 2012 reunion tour they've created this offseason. Hill is small, but is scrappy and could also vie for one of the last spots.

Safety:

Guys to watch: Shawn Williams, Derron Smith, Shiloh Keo, Erick Dargan, Floyd Raven: Like cornerback, we know what the top of the depth chart will look like as Reggie Nelson and George Iloka are the incumbents. Williams has been a solid special teams guy in his first two seasons, but concerns still linger if he'll be able to truly be an all-around reliable safety--not just one who defends the run.

Keo was an early offseason addition who has some experience under defensive backs coach Vance Joseph from their days together in Houston, but will that be enough to secure a spot for him? Most felt that Smith was a steal and could be a future starter for the club, but will they use a roster spot for a developmental guy? Dargan and Raven will grind, but it's likely they have an uphill battle to make the final roster with the guys in front of them.

Kick/Punt Returner:

Guys to watch: Brandon Tate, Adam Jones, Giovani Bernard, Mario Alford: We shouldn't expect to see much of Jones returning kicks in the preseason, as he's a known, big-play commodity and they'll want him as healthy as possible to play corner. Tate is the incumbent and every year it seems that his job might be in jeopardy, yet somehow he emerges from the pack to claim the job.

It's the first year the Bengals have given an extensive look to Bernard as a return man and some think it's long overdue. Though he lost the "starting" running back job to Jeremy Hill, he could find a nice additional niche as a return man, should he prove reliable. He'll be on the roster though and the true battle seems to come down to Tate and Alford. The seventh-round pick has speed, but has had his share of ups and downs so far in camp. if he explodes in the preseason, he could beat out Tate as a return man and a receiver.

Wide Receiver:

Guys to watch: Brandon Tate, Mario Alford, Denarius Moore, Jake Kumerow, Greg Little, Onterio McCalebb: Speaking of receiver, it's in this position that Alford and Tate will also be vying for a spot. Tate seems to be a preseason champ with the Bengals, complete with highlight catches and touchdowns. He'll need more of the same to keep his job. If not, Nick Seuberling will have to do away with his favorite segment on the Inside the Jungle podcast.

Kumerow was the early star of Training Camp, but the buzz has quieted a little since. Still, he seems to have good size and hands, which is something the coaches covet after losing so many receivers to injury last season. You have to think that Hue Jackson is secretly hoping for Moore to have a renaissance to harken back to his productive days as a Raider when the two were there.

Will familiarity gain Little a second chance with the club? He has all of the physical tools, but struggles with drops and consistency. The wild card could be McCalebb. They have tinkered around with him at three different positions and he still doesn't seem to fit. His speed can't be denied and if he can show solid hands in the preseason, they might find a place for him.

Linebacker:

Guys to watch: P.J. Dawson, Chris Carter, Vincent Rey, Jayson DiManche, Marquis Flowers, Sean Porter, Nico Johnson: Dawson will make the team, it's just a matter of if he'll have a Burfict-esque meteoric rise in the preseason and push to start. Chris Carter has been a training camp favorite of Paul Guenther's, but will his edge rushing prowess be enough to have him hang on past final cuts?

Rey is safe, as he has proven to be a pretty reliable backup and decent starter in an absolute pinch. He's also a special teams ace, which is what Marvin Lewis loves out of back-end positional roster guys. Flowers is athletic and flashed in very limited time last year, but the group is crowded. It's a gigantic year for DiManche and Porter. The former will need to prove he's a solid all-around player at the position and the latter will simply need to stay healthy to have a shot. Johnson, like Flowers, filled in admirably in the wake of injuries last season as well.

Defensive Tackle:

Guys to watch: Devon Still, Brandon Thompson, Pat Sims, DeShawn Williams, Kalafitoni Pole, Marcus Hardison: You would think Hardison and Thompson are safe for two very different reasons. Thompson is the stocky run-stopper, while Hardison provides versatility on the line. Sims and Still will likely be gunning for the final spot, depending on how other spots shake up after final cuts.

Still seems to be in the best shape of his life, while the defense had some of it's best seasons when Sims was on the roster. Keep an eye on Pole and Williams, though. Both appear to be more of the practice squad ilk, but they could be future NFL contributors over time.

Defensive End:

Guys to watch: Margus Hunt, Sam Montgomery, Will Clarke, Wallace Gilberry: No more than three of these four will be kept, with a chance of it only being two. This position battle will mostly be about who can contribute in the regular season as productive rotation guys.

Clarke will be the likely starter since Johnson hurt his knee, so this preseason could be hug in his development. Gilberry has been a productive Bengal in two of his three seasons with the club--the last being when Johnson was still in stripes. Montgomery keeps grinding and hanging around, but he'll really need to shine to beat out other veterans.

Like a few others we've listed, it's an enormous year for Hunt. When you look at him, he's the prototypical NFL defensive end, but he hasn't put it together yet. He's raw and has battled injuries, though he tore up last preseason. If he is able to do that again, he might be able to stick past final cuts.

Running Back:

Guys to watch: James Wilder, Jr., Terrell Watson, Rex Burkhead, Cedric Peerman: Our own Scott Bantel is getting the feeling that Peerman's job might be jeopardy with the glut of talented backs the Bengals keep turning away every year. Still, he's a special teams captain and has proven to be productive at times when other backs were out.

Burkhead will likely make, so watching him really centers around his ability to play slot receiver and running back. Wilder is a big guy who they have been attempting to also use as a fullback, but does he fit wither position at the NFL level? Some think he might sneak on the final roster.

One guy you'll be impressed with, in terms of size and skill set is the undrafted Watson out of tiny Azusa Pacific University in Southern California. At 6-1, 242 pounds, Watson was insanely productive in college and showed some versatility as a receiver on his way to win the MVP of the NFLPA Bowl game this January.