Teams are gaining some semblance of the first taste of actual football in 2016 with OTAs officially underway. Though final rosters won't be set for three months, first impressions are being made for a number of new players with their respective teams, while other veterans are attempting to continue to prove their value.
The Cincinnati Bengals are in the envious state of having to make tough decisions at a number of different positions on their team because of great roster depth. Solid drafting and subsequent player development, coupled with few, but effective outside free agent signings, has the team being one of the more talented squads in the league. With the talent level unfortunately comes the releasing of good players, which will inevitably be part of the preseason process for the Bengals.
Some Possible Surprise Cuts:
Pat Sims, DT: I've personally been a big Sims guy since he landed in Cincinnati, but he has an uphill battle this offseason--even as an incumbent veteran on a new deal. The Bengals drafted Baylor's Andrew Billings in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, while also seeming to like 2015 undrafted free agent, DeShawn Williams. It's also likely too early to give up on Marcus Hardison, as they want to see what his versatility can bring. Sims staying on the final roster resides in Brandon Thompson's expected stint on the PUP List, as well as the coaches' opinion on if Billings can do the same things as the veteran.
Marcus Hardison, DT: Then again, maybe it isn't too early for the second-year guy to be released. The team wants to find somebody to replace Wallace Gilberry's role as a nickel inside rusher, and while Hardison has a completely different body build than Gilberry, the hope is he can move around on the defensive line to create pressure. But, with the coaches' penchant for preferring proven veterans and with the addition of Billings, Hardison might be feeling the heat--especially if a couple of embattled defensive ends who can rush inside begin to step up.
Will Clarke, DE: The Bengals may have sent a message in the Draft by not taking a defensive end with any of their seven picks, showing that they like who they have, but Clarke has largely unimpressed since the team used a third round pick on him in 2014. So much so, the Bengals jumped at the chance to bring back the player Clarke was supposed to replace at end a year later in Michael Johnson. Clarke also is a big-bodied guy who they think can rush from the tackle spot in passing situations, but he needs to have a good summer to ensure he still has a job.
Margus Hunt, DE: It may not come as a total shock if Hunt doesn't make it, as he's been hanging on by a thin thread the past couple of seasons. He's changed up his workout regimen to bulk up, but it's put up or shut up for the former second round pick this year. Aside from the team not taking an end in the draft being in his corner, so is the fact that his contract just has a year left, so the team might just be inclined to keep him around in a "prove it year".
Cody Core, WR: When talking about surprise cuts, you need to note the lowered risk with the Draft because of the rookie wage scale. The Bengals have given up on late-round picks early on at times in Marvin Lewis' tenure, so Core might have a tough time making it. Initially, it would have seemed he'd be on the final roster, but with the adding of Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell, any open spots from last year seem to be sewn up. It's going to depend on Core's performance, as well as those of some other recent late-round picks.
Mario Alford, WR: If the coaches prefer Core's size, Alford's immense speed could be sacrificed. Reports had him having a rough day of practice on Tuesday, which he can't have many of with Jake Kumerow, James Wright and Core all gunning for the same roster spots with Alford. Something to help his chances would be some consistency with returning kicks in an effort to unseat a certain veteran many fans would like to see his way out of town.
Brandon Tate, WR/KR: Could this finally be the year he doesn't hang on to a spot? The coaches love his consistency and stability, while also providing a bit of a veteran presence to a suddenly-younger wide receiver group. Aside from what they like from him as a returner, Tate often shines as one of the team's best wideouts during the preseason, so we could expect him to do it again this year. It's likely going to take an outstanding summer from someone returning kicks to show him the door.
Marquis Flowers, LB: The former Arizona Wildcat had some nice moments as a rookie in 2014, but injuries and other additions over the past couple of seasons have his future in a bit of doubt. P.J. Dawson and Nick Vigil have been third round selections the past two seasons, and the team brought in the versatile veteran, Karlos Dansby, in free agency. That room is filled with talent, so Flowers needs to play well, but more importantly, stay healthy.
Derron Smith, S: I think most fans are in the camp of liking this kid far more than his sixth round draft designation would suggest, but he's also becoming a victim of a crowded position group. What if the Bengals fall back in love with Taylor Mays? What if Josh Shaw proves to be an able swing guy in the secondary? What about Clayton Fejedelem standing out as a possible special teams stud? My gut tells me Smith sticks around come final cuts, but it could be a close call.
Who do you think could be a surprise cut in August or early September?