It seems like every year, the Bengals have an undrafted rookie or two who essentially comes out of nowhere to make a meaningful impression and have a legitimate shot to make the final roster. In 2012, it was Vontaze Burfict and Emmanuel Lamur. In 2013, it was Jayson Dimanche. In 2014, it was Ryan Hewitt. Last year, Jake Kumerow and Trevor Roach looked to be on pace to join that group after putting up great performances in training camp and the preseason. But, ultimately, both were relegated to the practice squad after final cuts. But, let’s talk about Roach, the impressive linebacker out of Nebraska who was activated to the 53-man roster for the Bengals’ Wild Card loss back in January.
In 2016, Roach was brought back for another chance to compete at a tight linebacker position. Throughout training camp and the first two weeks of preseason, he didn’t get much of a chance to prove himself, partially due to a hamstring injury suffered in training camp, ironically, the same is true of Kumerow.
Roach finally got a chance to play against the Jaguars, but he only recorded two tackles. He absolutely exploded in the final preseason game against the Colts, leading the team with 11 combined tackles and a few key stops. In the process, he looked to have finally shaken off the hamstring injury and may have caught the coaches’ eyes as someone who might potentially deserve one of the last roster spots. This offseason has been a tough process for him, but he noted that everything is starting to come around after the game.
“Being hurt is tough. You’re not out there getting reps, which his huge,” Roach said. “You need reps to visualize and get acclimated to speed. The last game I just felt slow reacting. I felt good in this game.”
It was the kind of performance that made a lot of people think that he could end up with a spot on the 2016 final roster. But, the Bengals don’t have very many spots to give at the linebacker position right now. If the coaches feel like Roach did enough to make the team, it probably means that the ultra-motivated and explosive Marquis Flowers will not make the cut.
The case for Roach making the final roster
If you want to talk about a guy who has battled through adversity and still has the ability to go out and lead a team in tackles, Roach is your guy. We’ve already discussed the fact that he didn’t get drafted, didn’t make the team last year, and injured his hamstring in camp this year.
He also avoided the easy road in college. Despite numerous scholarship offers from DII schools, Roach elected to walk on at Nebraska and earn a spot on a college team the hard way. He is even playing at middle linebacker in the NFL, despite making his mark as an outside linebacker in college.
Tough, resilient, productive, well-built, and smart are all good adjectives to use for the Bengals’ current eighth-man at linebacker. 13 combined tackles through two preseason games, a ton of heart, and a fantastic performance fresh in the memory banks of the Bengals’ front office makes for a great argument that Roach at least deserves a significant amount of consideration for a roster spot.
The case for Roach not making the final roster
Let’s go ahead and make this clear before we go any further: Roach’s primary competition for a roster spot is Marquis Flowers. Although Flowers didn’t have any particularly notable standout performances in the preseason so far, he has been the mark of consistency.
Granted, he had a bit of a down game against the Jaguars, recording only two combined tackles on the day. But, who among the defensive backups didn’t have a bad game against the Jaguars? By contrast, he has recorded four solo tackles in every other preseason game, leading the team against both the Lions and Vikings.
Roach didn’t play in either of the first two preseason games, so you can’t knock him for being silent. But, it is true that Roach has not displayed consistency at all this preseason. As discussed, he only recorded two tackles against the Jaguars.
In the Bengals’ game against the Colts on Thursday, almost all of Roach’s tackles came in the first half. He disappeared a bit in the third quarter and only made a single tackle in the fourth quarter. That was a tackle on Colts’ tight end Erik Erik Swoope after allowing a 13-yard catch. But, he finished the game with an outstanding 11 tackles, more than double that of everyone else on the team.
Roach appears to be the kind of player the coaches really like: tough and resilient with a chip on his shoulder. But, they love consistency, which is a trait that Roach has simply not displayed yet. Marquis Flowers is more experienced than Roach, much more consistent, and less mistake-prone. Roach’s commendable performance against the Colts will likely net him either a roster spot with another team or on the Bengals’ practice squad. But, I think he has yet to show enough to oust someone like Flowers for a roster spot.