clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Preseason Week 1 Bengals vs Vikings: 5 storylines to follow as preseason kicks off

A quick guide on how get the most out of tonight’s preseason opener against the Vikings.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Minnesota Vikings v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Bengals football is finally upon us, my fellow fans! Even though tonight’s preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings won’t matter a bit to the playoff race or any other standings this season, it’s an incredibly important event for fringe roster players trying to make their marks and secure a spot on the final roster. Expect to see brief appearances by the starters in the first quarter and then a significant amount of time from backup and reserve players.

The preseason opener is probably going to be filled with lots of players looking rusty and some generally bad looking football all around, as is typical for preseason games. Therefore, to really get the full enjoyment out of watching the game, you’re going to want to know what to watch for. And most importantly, you’re going to be hoping for no injuries. Here’s a quick guide to watching tonight’s Bengals vs Vikings game.

1) Who emerges in the wide receiver pool

Based on the first official depth chart of the season released on Monday, here’s a list of wide receivers who will almost definitely make the team: A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell, Brandon Tate.

Those four players are virtual locks to make the team based on their talent level, investment from the team, and performances so far in the offseason. Green and Boyd are dead locks.

That leaves two or three spots on the team for James Wright, Jake Kumerow, Michael Bennett, Alex Erickson, Rashaun Simonise, Mario Alford, Cody Core, Alonzo Russell, and Antwane Grant to fight for. As of right now, Wright and Alford seem likely to land the last two spots with Kumerow in contention as well.

The bubble receivers will really be the guys that you will want to watch for tonight, just to see who steps up and consistently makes plays. Consistency is the key as there is just too much talent on the depth chart for the Bengals to take a chance on a player who doesn’t produce consistently but manages to put up a few highlight reel plays.

2) Performance of the draft picks

Tonight will be the very first time that Bengals fans will get to see Boyd, Nick Vigil, Christian Westerman, Core, and Clayton Fejedelem suit up in full gear and play against another NFL team. Unfortunately, William Jackson III and Andrew Billings went down with injuries in camp and will not play tonight.

But, it will still be incredibly interesting to see how the other rookies perform. I’ve already discussed the state of the wide receivers, but there are some very interesting storylines going on with the other rookies as well.

Vigil will be looking to prove that the Bengals didn’t reach on him in the third round when he was originally projected to be taken as late as the sixth round. Westerman comes into the season with a lot more hype than is typically afforded to fifth round rookie linemen due to his outstanding athleticism, versatility, and mastery of the technical side of the game. So, watching how they both perform will help determine just how high on the depth chart they can rise.

Fejedelem doesn’t come into the season with nearly as much hype as the other rookies. But, the backup safety positions are wide open. So, some solid performances from him could very well lead to him securing a roster spot.

3) The battle for the final defensive tackle spot

Depending on the news that comes from Billings’ MRI, there could potentially be two spots for the taking at defensive tackle. Technically, according to the first official depth chart, Billings is listed as the No. 3 nose tackle behind Pat Sims. It would have been a shock if Billings didn’t make the roster given his talent and hype since the draft. But, if his injury is season-threatening, it will open up room for Marcus Hardison, DeShawn Williams or David Dean to make the roster. Realistically, Sims could very well be beaten out by Williams or Hardison for one of the final roster spots by the time the season starts.

“Really, the whole deal is going to come out in the wash,” Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney told Jim Owczarski of “That’s why I like to say that I may be thinking one thing and what comes out in the wash is something different. There are so many factors. So many factors. The physicality of it, whatever it is. Those guys have ability.”

Williams, an undrafted player out of Clemson last year, and Hardison, a fourth round draft pick out of Arizona State, impressed quite a bit as rookies in training camp last year. Hardison was on the roster but never played a down while Williams was stashed on the practice squad for all of 2015.

“(Last preseason) was the last time I was able to play true ball,” Williams said. “Just go out there and just play because now I know I’ve got a sense of urgency.”

Hardison is also ready to get back on the field in real game action.

“I’m sure everybody is waiting to see, well, can he play against the ones? To have that opportunity, and then play against the twos and go against the threes as well,” Hardison said. “It’s pretty much just having more snaps this year and making more plays and more execution for my teammates and just show the coaches that no matter how deep in the game, no matter who I’m going against, I’m going to give it my all to make plays.”

If it’s not yet obvious, look for these two to play their hearts out when their numbers are called against the Vikings.

4) Battle for kick/punt returner

As we’ve already explored, the Bengals’ have plenty of kick/punt returning options on the roster this year. Adam Jones and Brandon Tate are the go-to options according to the depth chart, as they have been for the last few years. But, Jones is going to be 33 in September and Tate is consistently lackluster.

Given the fact that the Bengals almost definitely won’t want to give too much special teams playing time to Jones, their starting cornerback, look for a multitude of rarely-used options at kick/punt returner being given opportunities. The bulk of the opportunities will probably be given to fringe players like Erickson and Alford. But, there very well might be an appearance or two from guys like Boyd and Giovani Bernard to test the options at the team’s disposal.

5) Cedric Ogbuehi

It’s hard to say exactly how much playing time Ogbuehi will receive tonight, given his current status as the team’s starting right tackle. But, giving him some real in-game starting experience will be good for his development. Even if he doesn’t play very long, watching how he performs in the time that he does get will give fans a great preview on one of the more important additions to the starting lineup.