The Bengals’ season may not yet be over despite the bad start to the year. At 5-6, the Bengals are only one game out of an AFC playoff spot and have an important game against the Steelers this week. No matter what happens against the Steelers, the Bengals need to continue planning for the future of the team. Most of the time that means swapping in younger players to see what they offer at a position of need. This is a time of the year the Bengals need to use to figure out what their biggest needs will be heading into free agency and the draft. None of these changes are necessarily drastic, but they could pay big dividends.
1. Start Jordan Evans at linebacker
When the Bengals drafted Evans in the sixth round of the 2017 draft, he immediately became the most athletic linebacker on the Bengals’ roster. You can see this when he plays, especially if you’re used to watching the Bengals’ slower linebackers. Nick Vigil has not played up to expectations this season and now looks to potentially be sidelined with an ankle injury. This is the perfect time to see what the Bengals have in Evans. He may be able to help fix some of the Bengals’ issues with covering tight ends and running backs as he actually has the speed to keep up with them.
2. Start playing John Ross
The desire and requested change with Ross is not even for him to be starting, the desire is for him to play. Get him on the field. That’s all we’re asking. For the past two weeks, Ross has been a healthy scratch after being a non factor for various reasons in the first half of the season. The Bengals drafted Ross with a top 10 pick. Those are picks that are normally reserved for blue chip players. The Bengals need to get Ross on the field and use him to their advantage as he is a mismatch against every cornerback in the NFL. Also, with a potential out in Brandon LaFell’s contract after this season, the Bengals need to find out if Ross has what it takes to ascend to the wide receiver 2 role.
3. Increase snaps for the young cornerbacks
The Bengals have handled the cornerback rotation better than many expected they would before the season started. However, they still need to get their younger corners on the field to discover how much of a need there is at the position, if any. William Jackson has been fantastic in limited work this season, but the Bengals need to figure out if he can be relied on to be a starter next season. Darqueze Dennard has been improved this season as well so the Bengals need to decide what to do with their plethora of cornerbacks. It wouldn’t hurt to see if KeiVarae Russell can play as well considering he has hardly seen the field at this point in his career and was a third round pick for a reason.
4. Experiment with the offensive line
Russell Bodine’s contract is up after this season and the Bengals need to figure out a plan for the center, a role they’ve often neglected. The team has several players that could potentially play center on the roster and they need to learn who among those candidates has what it takes to win the job. Players like Christian Westerman and Alex Redmond should be given shots at the center position. Otherwise the Bengals will have no choice but to either re-sign Bodine or trust a drafted player to take over on day one next season. Wouldn’t it be nice to figure out if Westerman has deserved his spot on the bench while not playing—at all—for the last two years?
What other changes would you like to see the Bengals make in these last few weeks of the regular season?