Preseason football is all about finding out just how deep the depth chart really is on tape. After a single series for both the first team offense and defense, plenty of rookie Bengals got their feet wet for the first time in an actual game. And fortunately, the results were very pleasing. Here’s a look at a few rookies who caught our attention in the preseason opener.
Alex Erickson - WR
Responsible for 12 of the Bengals’ 16 points, the undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin continued his promising path to the 53 man roster. Erickson saw the majority of his snaps from the slot, where on Friday, he received a good chunk of the work when Tyler Boyd was off the field. After the Bengals failed to score in their first red zone trip, their second time down there ended with a touchdown off a simple out route from Erickson against off coverage. Erickson finished the game with that being his only catch with one other target that was deflected at the line of scrimmage.
One of the most common things you’ll hear from coaches James Urban and Marvin Lewis regarding wide receivers is the importance of special teams for those looking to crack the roster at that position. Erickson must’ve listened as the highlight of the night was his 80 yard punt return for a touchdown that got the Bengals within one point with under three minutes remaining. Erickson showcased decisive quickness and burst during the long return.
The Bengals are actively searching through their skill positions for an alternative at punt returner to take Brandon Tate’s place, and Erickson proved why he should be given more chances this preseason. If he makes the final roster, it will be because of plays like this. But also expect more meaningful snaps on offense as well.
Tyler Boyd - WR
Perhaps the rookie with the most opportunity this year, Boyd got a sliver of what he should expect as the Bengals third receiver on the depth chart. Only taking two snaps with the first team unit, both were with him lined up in the slot. For the rest of the first half, he was primarily used as the flanker in motion to decipher Minnesota’s coverage, and his blocking was tested as well. He was the recipient of a mere two targets, which were both on go routes where he was the X receiver, interestingly enough. After failing to gain separation on the first attempt that went incomplete, Boyd was tested again later in the half, and this time, managed to give himself a chance at the ball, and his ball skills were put on display.
It was nice to see Boyd capitalize on a beautiful throw from quarterback AJ McCarron. Separating himself from boundary corners on deep routes was one of his biggest weaknesses in college, so for him to take advantage of a lesser athlete across from him was at the very least appeasing. Boyd also returned the first punt from the Vikings for a solid 14 yards, but the return was called back due to a penalty by the Bengals. While he only touched the ball twice in the playing time he had, it was a modest performance from Boyd where the roles the offense wants him to produce in were solidified. Like with Erickson, look for more targets to come his way in the next two games.
Nick Vigil - LB
Rookies William Jackson and Andrew Billings won’t see the field as rookies for some time due to their respective injuries, but the other defensive player drafted in-between the two is definitely pushing for it. The third Round selection led the team with six tackles, as he was constantly around the ball. Vigil was the middle linebacker for the second team’s base and nickel defense, and that’s a good sign for him, as the team believes he’s shown to be a three down player who can contribute in space and on pass defense. One of Vigil’s biggest strengths as a second level defender is his ability to stay light on his feet and make plays in space, something that gives him an advantage over other second team linebackers Marquis Flowers and P.J. Dawson.
Dawson and Vigil make for a hyper aggressive nickel unit, as both fly toward the ball with great instincts, but look for Vigil to get more meaningful playing time this year as the first linebacker off the bench in case of injury if his snaps continue to prove his talent.
David Dean - DT
There’s not a more crowded position group on this Bengals team than the defensive line, specifically the interior lineman. But Dean, another undrafted rookie, is making waves of his own. He finished Friday night with two tackles with one for a loss. With Billings shelved for a while, snaps behind veteran Pat Sims at nose tackle have opened up to the Virginia alum, and Dean had some solid reps there next to second team 3-technique Marcus Hardison, including the aforementioned tackle for loss on this stretch run:
It wasn’t all pretty, as Dean struggled at times to get off blocks, but he has a high motor and is very quick off the snap. The ups and downs will come as a player still in development player fighting for more snaps, but Dean is making a good case to be this year’s DeShawn Williams as a practice squad lock. The battle between Dean and Williams for snaps in the next three games should be an interesting one to watch.