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Special teams impact to weigh heavily on Bengals’ WR decision

The Bengals coaches are pleased with what they’ve seen from the wide receivers looking to make an impact on the roster this year. Of course, Brandon Tate is someone who has caught their eye.

Cincinnati Bengals v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

As the 2016 season begins to inch closer, the Bengals’ wide receiver battle is gaining clarity.

While A.J. Green will look to dominate like he has in each of his first five seasons with the Bengals, the rest of the depth chart at the receiver position was wide open heading into the summer with a dozen players seeking to prove their worth for the No. 2 through No. 6 spots. After two preseason games, it seems like Tyler Boyd is now not just expected to be the Bengals’ slot receiver, but could be starting opposite. Green.

Per, “Boyd is the unquestioned leader in the clubhouse” to replace the production lost with Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu’s departures.

“He catches the ball well,” Bengals offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said of Boyd. “He has very good instincts. He does a nice job inside feeling holes in zones.”

James Wright is another receiver who is impressing coaches. The 2014 seventh round draft pick has missed quite a bit of time, about 20 months in fact, due to two knee surgeries, including microfracture surgery, but now he’s back and looking to make the roster. The hope is, Wright’s knee can hold up and not restrain him from reaching his potential. As’s Geoff Hobson writes:

They fear “the clock,” that is on the knee now and wonder how long it can hold up. But so far, so good. It may not be high noon when it comes to his rookie explosion, but he looks to be at about 10:45 and he has been catching everything he gets his hands on.

Against the Lions, Wright had only two receptions on five targets for 16 yards. But, he seems to be making plays in practice that are impressing Zampese on a daily basis.

“Every day,” Zampese said. “He does something to get me excited about what he’s doing.” It seems that between Wright’s special teams ability and how he’s impressing Zampese, he will be on the 53-man roster this year.

Brandon Tate is one of the players Bengals fans simply can't seem to get behind. Margus Hunt may be the only player fans would like to see cut more than Tate. Tate’s lack of big plays on special teams and inability to make an impact on offense after five years with the team leaves much to be desired. Still, year after year, he makes the roster and earns the coaches’ support. It would be quite surprising if that changed this year.

“When Brandon got out of North Carolina he had more return yards than anyone in the history of college football,” Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said. “Alex (returned) for about a year at Wisconsin and now he comes in and has the hot hand.”

Unfortunately, Tate’s college success hasn’t really translated to him dominating at the NFL level. The only chance for Tate to get bumped from the roster seems to be if undrafted rookie receiver Alex Erickson (who Simmons referenced as having a hot hand) can continue to take advantage of the opportunities presented to him during the next two weeks. And, he’d need to really thrive and prove he can be a consistent option for the Bengals at the returner position. Tate doesn’t plan to let that happen.

“I try to outwork the younger guys. I try to keep up with them,” Tate said. “The young guys keep me going. I just go in with the attitude I’m not going to get beat out.”

So far, through five seasons with the Bengals, that attitude has worked well for Tate, though, he acknowledges that his competition is doing well, too.

“Erickson is doing great,” Tate said. “I want to help all my guys, but about the only thing you can help with is catching it. After that, everyone pretty much does their own thing.”

Return ability will play a big factor in which receiver is chosen for the final spot on the roster. In the first week of the preseason, Erickson took a punt return to the house for 80 yards while Boyd only ran his punt return out for a six yard gain. Tate had one kick return for 24 yards against the Vikings. In the second week of the preseason, Erickson and Boyd each got a chance at one punt return against the Lions. Erickson’s went for a 30-yard gain while Boyd’s was for 24 yards. Tate fielded one for a fair catch and took out two kick returns, one for 36 yards and the other for 16. While Erickson’s big play was a boost to his stock, it’s not like Tate has been failing in the return game this preseason. And the Bengals know what they get from him in the regular-season, which they’ve seemingly been pleased with and is why he was re-signed this offseason.

“It’s a huge factor,” Simmons said of the impact the return game has on who makes the roster. “All the good groups we’ve had here there’s been a receiver that has been a part of it. You kind of steal a position. When you get a coverage player out of a receiver it’s a huge thing because it counts like an extra defensive back.”

The Bengals will trim their roster from 90 to 75 men by August 30th and then will cut it down further to 53 men by September 3rd.