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Recent occurrences have some pondering Bengals' 2015 roster depth

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A couple of things transpired over the past calendar week which caused some Bengals fans to ask about the quality of depth on the Bengals' roster this year. Are they in better shape than they were in 2014?

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, fans and media members alike felt the 2014 Bengals' roster was one of the strongest that they had built. Some lengthy injuries to critical starters and pushing some of those "depth players" into much larger roles than anybody expected, caused those lauding the depth to question it.

The same thing is already rearing its ugly head one year later. Even though the team specifically addressed the depth issue that plagued certain position groups last season (defensive tackle, linebacker, wide receiver), uneasiness is settling in with the prospect of having depth players given significant playing time.

At last Tuesday's media luncheon, a number of subjects were publicly addressed, especially from owner Mike Brown. "It's a rare team that can fill in fully", Brown told local media members last week. Additionally, he had this little nugget when asked about the specific depth of his team:

Then, on Sunday, when the country was getting its first glimpse of the 2015 Bengals via the NFL Network televising practice, disaster nearly struck. Michael Johnson, fresh off of a four-year, $20 million deal this offseason, crumbled to the ground holding his right knee.The team's prized free agent acquisition this offseason was staring at a season-ending injury during the first day of padded practices. It appears Johnson and the team dodged a bullet to this point, with reports saying big No. 90 has a "grade two MCL sprain", which looks to be about a month-long rehab process.

With a major new defensive starter out for a few weeks, another yet to return from last season in Vontaze Burfict who has not been seen during training camp yet, and general questions surrounding players behind other starters, the depth issue is surfacing again. Granted, it's early, but if you've been following Cincy Jungle's Josh Kirkendall and Brennen Warner for their great Training Camp coverage, you'd be hearing the skinny on how some of these guys are performing early on in camp.

Positive Vibes:

P.J. Dawson, LB: My personal favorite pick of the 2015 Bengals' draft class started to open some eyes yesterday, per reports. Dawson is versatile enough to play any linebacker spot, but might initially be a replacement candidate for Burfict. However, there are still questions at strong side linebacker, and Rey Maualuga has been rehabbing on the side as well. Dawson was on our top-10 breakout players list, as we feel he can make an impact on defense this year and a good early showing is encouraging.

C.J. Uzomah, TE: The tight end position group is one that is ripe with potential, but also with unproven players. That also includes starter Tyler Eifert, who is entering his third NFL season and first as a starter. Uzomah raised eyebrows during minicamp and if the unproven group suddenly becomes deep, that would be great. Though chatter has been quiet on him, Coley Harvey noted that he looked pretty solid on Sunday as well.

Geno Atkins, DT: The sixth-year defensive tackle is the key to what the defense does. While the team was ecstatic to have him back for the  2014 season, he wasn't the same Atkins we saw in years prior, as he rushed back from a knee injury sustained on Halloween 2013. Reports are glowing on Atkins in 2015, tabbing him "the best player at camp", which is good news for the entire team.

Jake Kumerow, WR: The tall, undrafted wideout has exploded onto the scene with a great start to camp. The Bengals will likely keep six wideouts, including one with return ability, so Kumerow will be fighting with Denarius Moore, Brandon Tate, Mario Alford, Greg Little and others for the final three spots behind A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. He's well on his way to helping out a group that was absolutely ravaged by injury last season.

Darqueze Dennard, CB: Because of the faith that the Bengals' coaching staff finally had in their young first round corners, well-liked veteran Terence Newman was allowed to walk. According to Paul Dehner, Jr. and others, Dennard has had a solid showing early in camp. That's good news for a secondary that was excellent last season.

Rex Burkhead, RB/WR: The former Nebraska standout is showing he can do a lot of things that the coaching staff covets from a backup running back. He's played in the slot at practice and made catches, ran the ball and has also been out there for special teams. This will be a run-first offense and having as many capable backs as possible will be needed--plus, the slot ability helps out the receiver corps.

Needing Work:

AJ McCarron: The anti-Dalton contingent has taken a hit through the first few days of camp, as McCarron noticeably struggled--particularly on Sunday. Even so, McCarron has the inside track on the backup quarterback job, but had issues throwing the ball on routes to the sideline. It's early and entirely possible that McCarron shows his progress in preseason games, where he should see extensive time.

Will Clarke, DE: It's not so much that Clarke hasn't looked good, but it's a couple of things. First, he hasn't stood out after so much praise and hype surrounding him and his 20-pound body bulk-up. Second, regardless of the timeline of Johnson's rehab, Clarke will need to show that he's a capable starter in his relief and instill belief that he'll be a solid rotational player when Johnson returns.

Other Defensive Ends: Margus Hunt is still doing side field rehab work and Wallace Gilberry got nicked up on Sunday. Combine those with Johnson's absence and the need for Clarke's rise, and the work done to rebuild the rotational depth up front has taken a hit. It would be nice to see a guy like Marcus Hardison also begin to flash.

What To Expect Going Forward And Here's To Hoping:

It's early. Things can easily change to change minds on the team's depth, and, as we saw on Sunday, injuries unfortunately happen. The young guys will begin to get their feet under them and start to get used to the speed of the pro game. The reality is, the team will have to rely on some unproven players to fill the depth. Will the new crop of rookies and veterans have an easier learning curve than some Bengals players who were thrown into trial-by-fire in 2014?

One other thing to consider: in recent years, the Bengals made moves after final cuts. Brandon Tate, Kelly Jennings, Taylor Mays, Reggie Nelson were some of the 11th-hour additions before the onset of the first week of the regular season. If Brown and the staff still aren't fully-satisfied with the final roster, a waiver claim or trade could be made to help bolster the depth.