For many players around the NFL, this is the time of year where nerves kick in and the fun of banging pads with other pros turns into the harsh reality of a career crossroads. The preseason is bittersweet for many football players, as it gets them oh so close to realizing their dream of playing professional football, but few get enough playing time in four short games to make a bold enough statement to stick with a 53-man roster.
In HBO’s “Hard Knocks”, fans get an up-close look at the heartbreaking process teams go through when cutting players they have brought to their training camp. With the depth the Cincinnati Bengals have amassed over the past handful of years, whittling down the roster is a painful process.
The third week of the preseason is critical for teams on a variety of levels. For entrenched starters, it’s known as a “dress rehearsal” of sorts, as they get their most extensive playing time before the regular season. For the players clamoring for a back end roster spot, it might be one of their final opportunities to make an impression to a coaching staff.
With the Bengals facing the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday night, there are a number of players looking to have a solid game to get past the first round of cuts coming after the contest. Unfortunately for some on the current roster, we have to gleam over a few who seem to be obvious waive as Sunday night looms.
Here are a few players who need to have a quality game to continue to stick around on the Bengals’ roster.
Rashaun Simonise, Wide Receiver: Chances are, the Bengals will keep Simonise around after the third week of the preseason, but while he had a 47-yard reception in the opener, it’s the only play he’s made in game action. It’s not so much his skill set, but the fact that the current roster has 13 players clamoring for a job at the position. Preseason Week 3 likely isn’t about getting past this round of cuts for Simonise, as it is for a practice squad bid.
Darius Hillary, Cornerback: Bengals management has a soft spot for the undrafted free agent because of his father, Ira, and his contributions to the team almost 30 years ago. Regardless, the door to the final roster at the position has been cracked open because of injuries, but Hillary hasn’t made many plays to solidify a final roster position, much less one on the practice squad.
Floyd Raven, Safety: The secondary is in flux because of both injuries and player attrition, so a spot or two might be open this year. Reggie Nelson left via free agency and Taylor Mays, who was signed this offseason, was also promptly released before training camp. Raven had an interception and a 26-yard return against the Lions, but he’ll need to make more plays to get past this round of cuts.
Matt Lengel, Tight End: The tight end position is another one in turmoil because of injury. Tyler Eifert is still recovering from offseason ankle surgery, while Tyler Kroft is nursing a knee injury he suffered in camp. C.J. Uzomah has stepped up as the ad hoc starter, but he hasn’t had a catch in two preseason games, while Lengel has two catches for 27 yards. It’s unlikely he’ll beat out any of the three above-mentioned tight ends from the 2015 final roster, but if Eifert and/or Kroft end up missing regular season time, more solid performances from Lengel could solidify even a temporary spot on the final roster for him come September.
James Wright, Wide Receiver: The coaches love him. The fans seem to like the potential as well, but the production, both from college and the pros, doesn’t add up to a final roster spot to this point. It’s possible that he’ll make it beyond the likes of Alonzo Russell and Antwane Grant, but as mentioned earlier, there are 13 receivers vying for six spots on the final roster. With three spots locked up with A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell, it essentially leaves 10 players for three spots. Even with the coaches’ admiration, Wright still has an uphill battle to prove his worth.
Ryan Brown, Defensive End: On the surface, Brown, the undrafted rookie out of Mississippi State, doesn’t seem to have a chance with the Bengals, other than on the practice squad. However, with Margus Hunt having an inconsistent preseason and Will Clarke not quite proving himself as a capable backup, Brown does have a sliver of an opportunity. He only has one tackle in the first two preseason games, but an eye-opening performance on Sunday with limited snaps could help him immensely.
Chris Lewis-Harris: Personally speaking, with experience in sports as a player, coach and writer, I have a soft spot for Lewis-Harris. He’s one of those “Charlie Hustle” players outsiders tend to root for, and the Bengals coaches seem to feel the same, as evidenced by his sticking around the team since 2012. Lewis-Harris does a lot of the dirty work on special teams, but with injuries to William Jackson III and Darqueze Dennard, he could latch onto the squad once again and play some cornerback. It hasn’t been a good preseason for Lewis-Harris, but the staff trusts him and his special teams ability could sneak him onto the squad.