With Week 1 of the preseason as well as training camp in the books, the 2016 preseason rolls on. For their second matchup of the preseason, the Bengals will hit the road to take on Detroit and hope get their first win of the 2016 season. Despite the loss, the Bengals had far more positives coming out of their first game than anything else. Both first team units looked strong, with Geno Atkins in particular decimating the opposition. Atkins came away with a QB hit and a sack on just three snaps before calling it a night. Aside from the star defensive linemen there was plenty to keep Bengals fans interested, including big plays from receivers Tyler Boyd and Alex Erickson. Coming into the second game, here’s who you should be watching tonight.
1) Nick Vigil
This year’s third round pick delivered with a large amount of playing time in the first game, leading the team with 6 combined tackles and just generally playing his position well. The increased snap count could go a long way in letting Marvin Lewis and Paul Guenther vet the Utah State product’s NFL ability. A good showing will almost assuredly find him at the top of the linebacker rotation while Vontaze Burfict is out due to his Weeks 1-3 suspension.
2) Tyler Boyd
I already commented about his big play against the Vikings, but his sideline 40 yard reception was a beauty and set up the team’s first points of the day. That said, his reception came against reserve cornerbacks. We’re going to need to see Boyd get some work against starting corners to be able to properly judge what he’s capable of. Hopefully he can find some targets early and be matched up with a quality starter like Darius Slay. However, aside from Slay the Lions are a bit weak at cornerback. That being the case, look for Boyd and Andy Dalton/AJ McCarron to potentially put on a spectacle.
3) Will Clarke and Margus Hunt
Sure, this might be considered cheating what with putting two players in one spot and all, but I’m doing it. Mostly because Margus Hunt doesn’t deserve his own spot. The reason for me picking these two players is because I want you to look at the huge difference between the two. Where Clarke was raw last season, he has developed into a quality end that blew up the Vikings backfield on multiple occasions. Hunt, on the other hand, is a complete liability who is consistently beat play after play.
Clarke absolutely dominates at the point of attack, stopping Jerick McKinnon for what is almost always a safety. The problem? The end on the other side, Margus Hunt, was completely washed down by the Minnesota right tackle. This gave McKinnon a cutback lane and allowed him to gain yardage. Simply put: Clarke looks like a stud and Hunt is still a dud.
4) Alex Erickson
I can’t let last week’s dynamic punt return go unnoticed. Most Bengals fans will assuredly be trying to pay more attention to him this week as well. What intrigued me the most about Erickson was the different ways he was used on Friday. He was given opportunities to return punts, catch passes, as well as run a jet sweep. This diverse usage is a good sign that the Bengals wanted to see what he could do. Scoring the game’s only two touchdowns will give him more opportunities to prove himself, so it’ll be worth watching if he’s made more of a focal point in future games in order to vet him more thoroughly. I’m excited for the guy and am hoping the Wisconsin Badger finds a way on to the 53 man roster.
5) Jake Fisher
With Cedric Ogbuehi out for the next couple of weeks it’ll be important to see how Fisher performs in relief at right tackle. This was Ced’s job to lose coming into camp, and while extremely promising and athletic, he didn’t look great on Friday night. It was mostly indecisiveness, with Ogbuehi getting to the second level and panicking. The hesitation usually resulted in him being out of position and looking lost with no one to block. This could be attributed to just a lack of snaps, and I truly believe that it’s something that will diminish as Ogbuehi becomes more comfortable and rooted in live NFL action. However, this may open a window for Fisher, who I believe is a more natural right tackle fit anyway. If Fisher can give a performance these next few weeks that is decisively better than what Ogbuehi has shown, Paul Alexander may not be able to deny him the job when Week 1 rolls around. For a first-year starter, the preseason is extremely important and Ogbuehi is now losing out on that important playing time due to a toe injury.