The preseason is finally over. Now we can begin looking ahead to the regular season.
First, however, the final rosters must be constructed as teams work their way down to 53 players. That means it's time for one final stab at projecting the Bengals' 53-man roster.
Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron
There will be no surprises here. The only question is if Keith Wenning makes it to the practice squad as an emergency quarterback.
RUNNING BACK/H-BACK (5)
Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Rex Burkhead, Ryan Hewitt (H-back), Cedric Peerman
I believe Cedric Peerman makes the initial 53-man roster, but could quickly go on I.R. and get the designation to come off down the line. It's also possible the Bengals allow him to sit on the roster and rehab if he's able to return within a month of the regular season starting.
Either way, I do not think Peerman goes on I.R. before the final roster is made, so he makes it for the time being.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, James Wright, Alex Erickson
There is no debating who the star of the Bengals preseason has been. Alex Erickson has gone from undrafted afterthought to all but locking up a spot on an NFL roster this year.
You have to assume Erickson, Green, LaFell, Boyd and Core have their spots locked up. Then you've got Jake Kumerow and James Wright fighting for the last spot. Wright looks like he's almost completely back from his knee surgeries and his special teams ability is likely what will win him a spot over Kumerow.
TIGHT END (3)
Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah
The Bengals may need to keep seven receivers active in Week 1 if both Eifert and Kroft cannot play. More four and five-receiver sets could be necessary to slow down that stacked Jets front seven.
For now, I kept the Bengals at six receivers and three tight ends.
There's no real surprise here with Kroft and Uzomah being the lone backups behind Eifert. Even with injuries to Eifert and Kroft, the latter is expected back in time for Week 1.
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN (9)
Tackle (4): Andrew Whitworth, Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, Eric Winston
Guard (3): Kevin Zeitler, Clint Boling, Christian Westerman
Center (2): Russell Bodine, Trey Hopkins
As crowded as the offensive line is, figuring out who makes it is pretty easy. Winston should be returning as insurance behind Ogbuehi and Fisher, both of whom are already injured, while also playing some backup guard.
Westerman has his spot locked up as he has the potential to become a quality starting guard in Cincinnati. He also has the potential to play center, though we've not seen that this preseason.
That leaves Hopkins and T.J. Johnson fighting for the final lineman spots. Johnson's experience and ability to play both guard and center make him attractive, but a concussion that cost him the last preseason game help Hopkins edge him out.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
Defensive End: Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Will Clarke, Margus Hunt*
Defensive Tackle: Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Pat Sims, Marcus Hardison, DeShawn Williams
The Bengals will be able to keep just four 'true' defensive ends because of Hardison doubling as a tackle and end. Hunt has had his ups and downs this preseason, but did just enough to make the Week 1 roster. His ability to play both end and tackle helps his cause, even if he does neither real effectively.
*Brandon Thompson opens the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list and doesn't count toward the 53-man roster for at least the first six games. If he's brought up, Margus Hunt is waived to make room. If Thompson stays on IR, Hunt is safe.
Rey Maualuga, Karlos Dansby, Nick Vigil, P.J. Dawson, Vincent Rey, Marquis Flowers*
With Vontaze Burfict opening the year on the suspended list, the Bengals should look to keep six or seven linebackers to start the year. That's good news for Flowers and Trevor Roach, who are battling for the last one or two spots. Flowers should also make it because of his pass-coverage ability and ability to play special teams. Roach’s preseason finale performance was impressive, but it might be too late to change the Bengals coaches minds.
*Vontaze Burfict opens the season on the suspended list and doesn't count toward the 53-man roster for first three games. Once Burfict is called up, Flowers is waived.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)
Cornerback: Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw, Chris Lewis-Harris, Chykie Brown*
Safety: George Iloka, Shawn Williams, Derron Smith, Clayton Fejedelem
This remains one of the harder groups to project in terms of those final two or three spots. At cornerback, however, the top five spots are locked in, including Shaw as the No. 4 corner, though he will also be playing safety this year as well.
That leaves Chykie Brown and Darius Hillary battle for the sixth spot if the Bengals keep six cornerbacks. I now have Brown making it and Hillary going to the practice squad.
With the top three safety spots locked up, that leaves Jimmy Wilson and seventh-round rookie Clayton Fejedelem to battle for the final backup safety spot. I give Fej the edge, but Wilson's veteran presence and ability to play slot corner could be enough for him to make it.
*The Bengals actually cut Brown on Saturday, but only so Jackson can make it to the 53-man roster before going on I.R., which keeps him eligible for the designation to return later in the year. Once he goes to I.R., Brown is re-signed.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Kicker: Mike Nugent
Punter: Kevin Huber
Long-snapper: Clark Harris
QB Keith Wenning
FB Andrew Bonnet
RB Tra Carson
RB Bronson Hill
WR Rashaun Simonise
WR Jake Kumerow
WR Alonzo Russell
TE Matt Lengel
OL T.J. Johnson
OL John Weidenaar
OL Alex Cooper
OL Aaron Epps
OL Trip Thurman
OL Alex Redmond
LB Trevor Roach
LB Darien Harris
DL David Dean
DL Ryan Brown
CB Darius Hillary
S Jimmy Wilson
PUP or Suspension (Doesn't count against 53-man roster)
Brandon Thompson (PUP)
Vontaze Burfict (suspended 3 games)
CB William Jackson III
DT Andrew Billings
WR Mario Alford