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Preseason Week 2 Bengals rookie report: Fejedelem emerges; Harris struggles

The Bengals looked very solid in all phases of the game against the Detroit Lions, and some rookies are starting to turn flashes into consistency.

As we enter the middle of the preseason, it’s around this time where rookies start to establish their play as either really positive, or really negative. Last week when the Bengals went up to Detroit and beat the Lions 30-14, a few rookies went out and performed well for the first time on the road in the NFL. Let’s take a look at some players who turned heads in the second matchup of the preseason.

Tyler Boyd

He still hasn’t received a lot of targets, but the rookie out of Pittsburgh is making the most of the balls thrown his way. Boyd finished with 2 receptions for 39 yards and his first touchdown catch, looking sharp and focused coming out of his usual slot alignment. Both of his catches were highlight material with one coming from Andy Dalton, and the other coming from AJ McCarron. The one from McCarron went for an easy touchdown up the seams.

We’ve seen Boyd run go routes, out routes and seam routes with success these first two weeks, and develop solid chemistry with both quarterbacks. Any time you see this connection with a young wide receiver, you know it’s not likely a fluke. He’s still limited as an athlete, but Boyd can play in this offense without question.

Fellow receiver Brandon LaFell is reported to make his Bengal debut this Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but will be playing through a torn ligament in his hand, so his effectiveness is in question. If LaFell can comeback this year looking like his 2014 self while not being held back by his injury, having Boyd as the No. 3 receiver is very comforting. And if not, there’s at least some hope he can fill in as the No. 2 just as well.

Nick Vigil

Both day 2 draft picks have made this piece in the first two weeks, which is very promising, just like Vigil’s play. The second string middle linebacker finished with five tackles including one for a loss. Just like last week, he looked comfortable in space, and powerful making contact.

One thing to note about Vigil’s skill-set is that he’s very versatile. He’s able to maneuver in tight areas and find ball carriers, while also dropping back into zone and making open field tackles. Being the athlete he is while standing at 6’2” and weighing nearly 240 pounds is an ideal blend of speed and power, but the coaches want smart linebackers more than anything else.

Speed and acceleration is useless for a defender if he can’t recognize where the play is going.

Intellect increases a player’s game speed, and Vigil’s is very high for a player his age. Vigil’s production has been good this preseason thus far and if it continues, significant playing time as a role player could be likely if injuries occur.

Clayton Fejedelem

The seventh round selection from this year’s class had a very good game versus the Lions, leading the team with six tackles as an excellent edge setting run defender. Fejedelem’s role this year, should he make the 53-man roster, is looking like it’ll be as an in the box type safety, who’ll be responsible for covering shallow zones and perhaps being apart of delayed blitzes as well.

The more they use Fejedelem’s physicality, the better. Making an impact on special teams never hurts either.

Fejedelem is likely battling with newly signed safety Jimmy Smith for the 4th true safety spot, and while it wasn’t a great game, he’s doing all the right things, he just needs more reps. They have a guy like Smith if Fejedelem starts to slip, but there’s no reason why he would. They could try to stash him on the practice squad as a seventh round pick, but since he brings the ability to play in the box well, he has an advantage over Smith as well as being younger.

He’ll see some time on the field this Sunday, but next Thursday is the real showcase for him to prove he’s worth a spot, and that will also be the case for this next rookie.

Darien Harris

Being an undrafted free agent means there won’t be a whole lot of playing time, and for Harris, who was back in the state where he played college ball on Thursday, it was a rough night.

The Michigan State alum is pretty undersized for a linebacker at 6’0” and 230 pounds, and it showed as he had a difficult time getting off blocks and reading the wrong gaps to collapse into. He was a non-factor in the run game, and got burned in one of his few chances as a targeted pass defender:

The linebacking corps is looking strong when Burfict gets back out there in Week 4 this year, so it was hard to see Harris grabbing a spot as the sixth or seventh guy. Now, it will be intriguing to see if he can get a practice squad spot. He needs strong third and fourth preseason performances to solidify a role with the team in 2016.