Despite significant production at wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals running back Rex Burkhead, a virtual lock for 53-man roster, should be classified as an "athlete" (an old NCAA phrase for someone who plays multiple sports) or a "football player". Restricting his title into a singular role doesn't do his contributions justice - at least for training camp - and you won't find a coach on Cincinnati's roster that cares to offer one.
"I'm mixing it up," Burkhead said via the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I think that's kind of where my role has gone is being in the backfield and split out. That's something I'm getting used to. When I get out there now I am not thinking as much. I am more comfortable with the route I am running and the looks I am getting."
In addition to having his role expanded, he's also adequately, if not confidently, filled a need during training camp. Second-year receiver James Wright was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve with a knee injury on July 29, a day after being placed on waivers with an injury designation - a procedural step that rarely ends with a claim.
Wide receiver Marvin Jones hasn't practiced since Sunday with a sore hamstring, leaving the wide receiver position a bit short-staffed.
"He's a tough tackle," Jackson said. "His 10 times were off the chart. His three cone was off the chart. He's very talented."
Told it sure looked like Burkhead was playing wide receiver, Jackson held the cards close and said, "We're going to put our best players out there."
In many of the first team offenses, Burkhead has teamed up with A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu, while rookies Jake Kumerow and Mario Alford have received received significant looks with veterans Brandon Tate, Denarius Moore and Greg Little. If we're projecting the final wide receiver roster, we're still holding onto Green, Sanu and Jones as our top-three; the competition for the final three spots will come down to Alford, Kumerow, Tate, Moore and Little (Alford and Kumerow are practice squad eligible).
On the other hand, Cincinnati could go heavy at tight end, keeping five wide receivers and taking advantage of the versatile Burkhead, who would give the Bengals their sixth de facto pass catcher. Marvin Lewis and Hue Jackson could contemplate a tight end roster with names like Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah and a breakneck competition between Matt Lengel and Jake Murphy.
Granted, it's a long-shot for the Bengals to take four tight ends on the final roster, and doesn't make too much sense, especially if there's concern that Jones, who's missed 21 of 48 games in his career, fails to stay healthy. Regardless, Burkhead's versatility gives them options.