The NFL preseason has a number of different goals for teams. Between the balancing of the scales when experimenting with new plays, to playing vanilla football while introducing newcomers, each club uses the first handful of August games to get the respective feet set under them.
However, every so often, the league throws a curveball at the coaching staffs of each of its 32 teams. In the case of 2015, the competition committee, which is comprised of many coaches and other NFL mainstays, is the culprit of certain changes affecting the landscape of the NFL. This offseason, they voted the ball be moved from the two-yard-line to the 15-yard line on extra point kick attempts.
Doing so results in a 33-yard field goal attempt, and though it still had an over-90 percent conversion rate in 2014, it definitely makes the PAT more interesting. Furthermore, creative coaches will likely get gutsy and go for the two points far more frequently than in years past. Like it or not, it's why there is much discussion of Tim Tebow making an NFL comeback as a niche player in Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles offense.
Aside from Tebow Time in the City of Brotherly Love, The Queen City might have some interesting roster debates of their own--especially when it comes to the new rules. Heavier at offensive skill positions? Load up on defenders who can guard against those more aggressive opponents?
Offensive "Flex" Position Players:
Two guys who seem to be roster locks and could play multiple positions in different schemes are Rex Burkhead and Ryan Hewitt. The former will likely get looks as a slot guy from time-to-time, while the latter will be the primary fullback and an emergency tight end. Will this flexibility provide openings elsewhere?
Wide receiver, running back and tight end all could get a little more loaded on offense and provide more weapons on the potential increase in two-point conversion attempts. Let's also not forget the possibility of seeing the offensive line in jumbo packages if the Bengals stay true to their word of being a run-first offense. All of a sudden, the decision to take two tackles in the first two rounds of the 2015 Draft doesn't look so crazy, does it?
Running Back and Tight End:
Now that Josh Johnson has been released, the team might go heavier at other offensive positions. On Monday night, one of the lone bright spots at running back was James Wilder, Jr. He proved to be especially effective in short-yardage situations, getting a four-yard touchdown run and a hard-nosed two-point conversion. Might the Bengals go with five running backs along with Hewitt as the fullback?
We talked about Hewitt above, but what if the Bengals want to go heavy at running back because of the talent there, and inexperience at tight end? If the traditionally-conservative Marvin Lewis decides to become a little more aggressive in the regular season, having able players at both of these positions could be a must for two-point conversion attempts.
Sure, it's an almost-certainty the Bengals will mostly utilize Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Tyler Eifert and the rookie tight ends in this capacity, but you can't ignore the productivity of other players through the preseason. Wilder, like Hill, is a load in the backfield, and has even been partially groomed as a fullback.
What About Defense?:
The other side of the coin is prepping against other teams who might be a bit more aggressive than Lewis' Bengals. If Cincinnati decides to play offense with a good defense, other position groups on that side could be affected. There are swing guys on defense who could help in a variety of capacities in a shortened area with extra points on the line.
Is Leon Hall's quasi-transition to safety part of the plan to defend more two-point conversion attempts? Were teams foolish to pass on Josh Shaw for over three rounds because of his versatility? What about the slew of able linebackers the team seems to have? Vontaze Burfict is still rehabbing, so the beginning of the season could bring a group of new faces to the group.
These are the types of players who could negate creative offenses because of their athleticism and versatility. Sure, Lewis and Co. has a penchant for not trusting rookies, but P.J. Dawson and Shaw could prove to be valuable youngsters in the two-point try capacity. Too much? Fine--the athletic Emmanuel Lamur, stout Pat Sims and others might be safer bets.
Here's the deal: Obarski has a huge hill to climb to have a chance to unseat the trusted incumbent, Mike Nugent. Though he's battled injuries and had some critical misses while with the Bengals, Nugent has hit a number of game-clinching kicks.
Concordia-St. Paul's Obarski has two NFL preseason game under his belt, but has been impressing. He has a big leg and hit four-of-five field goal attempts in the first two games, including a 46-yarder against the Giants. Knocks on Nugent, aside from the depressing ending to the 2014 overtime extravaganza against the Panthers, range from his weak leg on kickoffs to his penchant to miss time due to injury. Save for one attempt in the preseason opener, Obarski showed his boot in that respect.
Look, the chips are heavily stacked against the undrafted rookie from a small school, but a penchant for kicking long field goals and deep kickoffs could raise eyebrows. Again, it would take an unprecedented trust from this coaching staff in an unproven rookie, as well as an uncharacteristic aggressive nature with taking offensive chances in two-point conversion attempts, but it's something to keep in the back of your mind.