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Preseason Week 3 Bengals rookie report: Erickson and Core eye roster spots

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In the exhibition match that mattered the most to the starters, some now very familiar rookies are solidifying their claim on a coveted roster spot.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Training Camp Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

While the Bengals’ first string offense focused on a more power running attack in Jacksonville in the third week of the preseason, the second string featured a couple of receivers who made the most of their limited opportunities. Unfortunately, a couple of running backs did not do as much when given a big chance to prove themselves.

Alex Erickson

We’ve all seen roster cuts happen before, and next year, we’ll see them happen again. The preseason can be such a cruel tease, or the foundation of major misinterpretation for the season. It seems like every year there’s an Alex Erickson making his mark under the August lights. But now, on a team that needs a boost in the return game and diversity in their thin wide receiver corps, a player like Erickson is exactly what the Bengals have needed for a while.

It’s clear that Erickson has the maneuverability to evade open field tacklers and the patience and acceleration to create something out of the nothing. This type of athleticism paired with vision is coveted and the Bengals simply don’t get that with Brandon Tate. The duo of Adam Jones and Erickson as the primary return men is much more appealing in terms of production as both players can create more than what they’re given with.

Erickson found the end zone for the third time as well, this time on a 21-yard slant route from AJ McCarron, stiff arming a helpless defender in the process. Along with being the best returner this preseason, he’s also been the recipient of the second string slot receiver reps, and has been making the most of them. Erickson will make this team primarily because of what he brings as a returner, but he also brings value as the Bengals’ best option after Tyler Boyd playing the slot and running the route tree that comes with the role. If Boyd plays more on the boundary, Erickson could play in the slot, too.

The undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin will play a lot Thursday night against the Colts, but as of now, he seemed to have confirmed his spot on the Bengals’ roster on Sunday night.

Cody Core

Replacing a valuable deep threat like Marvin Jones isn’t easy to do, but when the 2016 NFL Draft concluded, it was obvious that Core was their potential solution to this problem. An offense can always use a receiver who can stretch the field and keep deep safeties and corners honest, and Core’s traits fit the bill for this role very well.

There was Chris Henry, the aforementioned Jones, and now there is Core. The Bengals usually have someone they can lineup on the boundary and take pressure off the middle of the field. In Core’s sole reception on the night, he demonstrates a great understanding of the release with no wasted movement off the snap, and utilizes an effective arm bar against the corner to begin his route. The process of separation isn’t done though, Core’s second gear he uses after tracking the ball so well aided in the ease of this 53 yard strike from McCarron.

The team figures to keep six or maybe seven wide receivers. The final number may depend on how they compensate for the loss of running back and special teams ace Cedric Peerman, and Core definitely looks the part as one of those to make it. For players like Core, currently at the bottom of the depth chart, it’s sometimes not how good you are as a player, but what you bring to the team, and Core brings something unique.

Tra Carson and Bronson Hill

Opportunity can strike at the most unfortunate turn of events and Peerman’s injury was a prime example of this. On a team that almost always has four running backs on their 53-man roster, there is conceivably a chance that that number will be three this year if there isn’t a running back worthy of that fourth spot.

Tra Carson and Bronson Hill are the only healthy running backs left to take that spot behind last year’s three, and neither of them played like they were in a competition for it. The duo combined for 12 carries and amassed one yard. Hill had three receptions out of the backfield for 13 yards, but such simple production in the passing game won’t cover up for the embarrassing lack of it on the ground. Note: Technically, Hill isn’t a rookie, he’s a first year player after bouncing around a bunch of practice squads last year, but, for the sake of this piece, we included him here.

The second string offensive line’s bad blocking is to blame for this as well, maybe even more than the two backs. However, neither Carson or Hill looked elusive, powerful, or capable of creating their own yardage set aside for Hill’s eight yard carry on a basic draw against a 3rd and long defense.

If the Bengals do end up carrying four running backs on the 53-man roster, the fourth will likely be one of these guys, the question is if either one of them deserve a spot. The Bengals typically add another player into a position group if they feel there aren’t enough deserving players at a certain position, so don’t assume they will roll with four backs out of the gate. Luckily for these two, they have the all important annual preseason finale against the Colts to prove that four is the right number for the running back group.