For tenured veterans, the preseason is little more than a simple tune-up and beginning the process of getting back into “game shape”. For younger players and ones who have failed to land a steady job in the NFL, the four summer games are job interviews—both for their current team and other ones who may be scouring the waiver wire after cuts.
Though they lost the 2016 preseason opener to the Vikings, the Bengals played relatively well, as a whole. There were a number of players who were under the microscope going into the week, but not all did enough to impress Cincinnati’s coaching staff.
Weeks 2 is more important than Week 1 of the preseason and Week 3 is the most important week of preseason action, deemed as the “dress rehearsal”. And while the starters will get more time playing this week and next week, it’s the backup players who will need to step up in these games to make the roster.
Be it because of amassed injuries, higher expectations or a subpar performance in Week 1 of the preseason, here are some of the back end roster players for Cincinnati who need to start impressing this week to help their final roster chances.
Margus Hunt, Defensive End: Hunt is a guy you want to pull for to see the team be able to see a project through, but even a practical tweak in offseason workouts and working with a Hall of Famer doesn’t seem to have done much for him. While playing through the second and third quarters, Hunt only recorded one tackle and lost contain on a play in which the Bengals could have had a safety.
Obviously, he was following the play as it went to the right, but he was significantly pushed off of the line, mostly by a tight end and if he had kept his wits about him, a safety could have been had. By the way, No. 71 chipping in on the block on Hunt is former Bengals offensive tackle, Andre Smith.
Because of a true lack of competition at defensive end, Hunt still has a good shot to make the roster. However, if he keeps playing at a level unworthy of a job in the NFL during the next couple of weeks, he might find himself looking for a new job.
Josh Shaw, Defensive Back: With injuries to Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson III, Shaw is having to step up at cornerback, while also rotating in at safety. He had two tackles on Friday against Minnesota, but Shaw was part of a duo, including Chykie Brown, that gave up a long touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater on a blown coverage.
Again, with the injuries piling up everywhere, Shaw is another guy who needs to grow up quickly to ensure that the much-touted Bengals depth is what it is cracked up to be. His roster spot doesn’t seem to be in jeopardy, but he’s around the bottom of both position groups. He’ll be going up against a Lions team who can wing the ball around the field, even without Calvin Johnson, so he’ll need to put up a solid performance, even coming off a short week.
Chykie Brown, Cornerback: Speaking of Brown, a door may have opened for him to make the team with Jackson’s injury, but he didn’t step up on Friday. He’s also struggled in practice, though that isn’t as strong of a barometer as the preseason games. Jackson is a strong candidate for Injured Reserve—Designation to Return, so Brown is likely fighting Chris Lewis-Harris for a final spot on the roster.
C.J. Uzomah, Tight End: The second-year tight end is a guy who has unfortunately been pressed into a larger-than-expected role this training camp and preseason because of injury issues to Tyler Kroft and Tyler Eifert. He has looked good in camp, but didn’t record a catch on Friday. He had an opportunity to make a really nice reception from AJ McCarron, but dropped it in tight coverage.
With the tight ends, particularly Eifert, being such weapons in the passing game in 2015, Uzomah needs to start making plays this week to instill overall confidence. With his overall athleticism, there isn’t reason to believe he won’t start shaking off the jitters this week.
Marquis Flowers, Linebacker: For the most part, Flowers had a pretty good evening against the Vikings. He was second to Nick Vigil in total tackles with five, and was in position for most of the plays he was involved in. However, one big gaffe of his at the end of the game was jumping offsides, as the Bengals were trying to get the ball back.
It’s a big preseason for Flowers, who is talented and versatile, but his past struggles with injuries likely make the coaching staff wary of relying on him. With Vontaze Burfict missing the first three games of the season, a linebacker spot should be open, even if for that brief amount of time, so Flowers will need to match reliability with his skill set in the three preseason games going forward.
Jake Kumerow, Wide Receiver: Fans love this guy, but his practices over two years have yet to match preseason production. Over the past two offseasons, the media and the coaching staff have both gushed over what Kumerow has shown in practice, but the undrafted designation seems to follow him when in-game action hits.
On Friday night, Kumerow had one catch for seven yards, while also losing a deep ball in the lights after breaking free from the defender. Mario Alford was in a walking boot Monday, while Brandon LaFell is nursing a hand injury, so the door might be open to grab a receiver spot at this point. And though Brandon Tate is stepping up, as he often does in preseason play, Kumerow needs to start matching the practice hype to actual game play in year two.
James Wright, Wide Receiver: Wright is another player a lot of people like, but some of the reasons are unfounded. He can play special teams and made a couple of plays as a rookie, but injury concerns and a lack of college production need to breed caution going forward.
With the receivers catching the injury bug, Wright has an opportunity to regain the coaching staff’s trust. He only had one catch for eight yards against Minnesota, so he’ll need to make more plays as his reps undoubtedly increase because of injuries at the position.