Summertime is when NFL players, both young and old, have an opportunity to hone their game and bring it to the next level. For the established players who are already expected to have a spot on the roster, that means getting back into football shape and preparing to make a bigger impact in the upcoming season than they have in the past. For a lot of newer and younger players, that means doing everything it takes to get to a point where they can show the coaching staff they deserve one of those final 53 spots on the roster more than the other guys fighting for a spot.
It’s a strategy that Marvin Lewis both agrees with and tries to utilize to foster competition. One player who truly embodies the battle to prove their worth as a newer member of the team is second year tight end C.J. Uzomah. Lewis discussed Uzomah’s bid to make the roster this week, offering some interesting insights on what the process is like for a player of his caliber to fight for a roster spot.
"We don’t have to judge. We don’t get to judge. We don’t need to worry about that, so that’s a mental exercise that would be wasteful.," Lewis said of evaluating Uzomah’s development this summer. "We’ll get to evaluate him when we get to play in the four preseason games."
Uzomah isn’t the only player fighting for a roster position this year. But, as a tight end, he is at a position where the team probably feels pretty comfortable with the top two options, Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft. He seems like a talented enough player so far, but, to make the roster and receive playing time this year he will need to prove he is enough of an asset to the team that they should keep a third pure tight end, especially when fullback/tight end hybrid Ryan Hewitt has proven his ability to step up and play a variety of roles. Like many players, he knows and takes advantage of the importance of training camp, but it's what happens in August that really matters for his bid to make the roster.
"Well, he’s going to go play live football, and that’s where we’re going to see how he’s developed," Lewis said. "Because out here in shorts, nobody looks better. "
However, looking good in training camp doesn’t mean a thing once the season rolls around. You can run route drills and push back sleds with the best of them, but it’s the on field product that really matters. He’s getting there, but he still has a lot of work to do between now and the preseason. That said, Lewis truly believes in the value of hard work and focus when it comes to training camp.
"Those are the real goals of this time here," Lewis said. "To have as much productive work done and finished and move forward, so when we come into training camp, we come in a more knowledgeable group, particularly the new guys and the young guys."
The Bengals did not add any tight ends to the pool this offseason, but they could very easily decide that they would rather use Ryan Hewitt as the third option at the position, keeping a roster spot open for another position with a lot of competition like wide receiver or linebacker. Another possibility is that Uzomah makes the roster if and when Eifert is out due to his ankle injury but then could be cut or sent to the practice squad once Eifert is healthy and ready to play.
Ultimately, earning a roster spot is all about convincing the team that you’re more of an asset to them than the other guys fighting for that spot. Uzomah managed to do it in his rookie season last year, but he will have to battle again to secure the spot this year. Like most players in his situation, expect him to give it his all.