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Week 15 Bengals rookie report: Jordan Evans and Hardy Nickerson start side-by-side

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With injuries plaguing multiple positions, two undrafted rookies were called up from the practice squad, one of whom—the son of a former NFL stud—got his first start.

Cincinnati Bengals v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Before the season began, the Bengals vs Vikings game should’ve been circled on the calendar as the only chance to see rookie running backs Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon face-off against one another for the next four years. Unfortunately neither one was healthy on Sunday, but four rookie defenders played more than 40 percent of the Bengals defense’s snaps against the Vikings. Let’s go over them in this week’s Bengals rookie report:

Active:

  • Jordan Willis 31 snaps on defense; 11 snaps on special teams
  • Carl Lawson 19 snaps on defense; six snaps on special teams
  • Josh Malone 25 snaps on offense
  • Ryan Glasgow 33 snaps on defense; 14 snaps on special teams
  • Jordan Evans 55 snaps on defense; 13 snaps on special teams
  • Brian Hill Five snaps on offense; 20 snaps on special teams
  • Hardy Nickerson 35 snaps on defense; 15 snaps on special teams
  • Cethan Carter Five snaps on offense; 17 snaps on special teams
  • Brandon Wilson 19 snaps on special teams
  • Brandon Bell Six snaps on defense; 21 snaps on special teams
  • Jarveon Williams One snap on offense; two snaps on special teams

Inactive:

  • Joe Mixon (concussion)
  • Joshua Tupou (healthy scratch)

Jordan Evans and Hardy Nickerson

As the news of Kevin Minter being placed on injured reserve broke last Friday, all three starting linebackers were officially out against the Vikings. Vincent Rey would start for Vontaze Burfict at WILL linebacker for the second week in a row, Jordan Evans would start for Nick Vigil at SAM linebacker for the third week in a row, and Hardy Nickerson was Minter’s replacement at MIKE linebacker, making his first NFL start.

Evans has looked progressively more comfortable in space, but still has lapses of finding the ball carrier and getting moved easily in zone coverage. He was the lone source of athleticism left in the middle of the field when the Bengals defense went into nickel packages.

Nickerson seems to play with that undrafted chip on his shoulder when he’s tasked with a downhill responsibility, but it’s so hard not to notice his lack of size when taking on blocks, and he doesn’t compensate that with plus athleticism in terms of light feet and sideline-to-sideline speed. Measuring in at just under 6’0”, he’s about two-inches shorter than his dad who spent 16 years in the league at linebacker.

Nickerson and Evans finished the game with three solo tackles each.

Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson

It has now been three games since Lawson’s last sack against the Browns back in Week 12. In this three game stretch, he has averaged less than 21 defensive snaps per game. For perspective, he has averaged almost 40 snaps per game during games in which he has recorded a sack. In these last two games specifically, the Bengals defense has been kept in their base personnel as the Bears and Vikings both achieved early leads and had the luxury of running the ball ahead, keeping Lawson on the bench more often as a result.

The notion that Lawson cannot adequately set an edge as a run defender because he has a small frame is short-sighted. Lawson is too talented as a pass rusher to be kept off the field this much, and if the Bengals have to play him on obvious run-downs, then so be it. We all know who Michael Johnson is, use these last two games as experiments for the future of the roster.

Willis, differently, has been a beneficiary of the last two game and has gotten more extensive playing time as a run defender. It’s been said many times this season in this weekly piece, but Willis still hasn’t managed to create any high quality pressure as a pass-rusher. He continues to look like a project in that area.

Josh Malone

Malone still hasn’t caught a pass since the beginning of the month against the Steelers, but he was part of what may be the most awkward reverse hand-off of the year:

Malone had three targets but none of them were catchable for various reasons. As of this week, he has just six catches for 63 yards and a touchdown on 16 official targets this year.

Ryan Glasgow

There’s not much to report on for the rookie defensive tackle, he had one solo tackle on 33 defensive snaps. We’re still waiting on not just a sack from the backup 3-technique, but any form of pressure.

The Rest

Undrafted rookies Brandon Bell and Jarveon Williams were called up from the practice squad this week as emergency depth at linebacker and running back respectively. Bell was used on most special teams situations and Williams only saw the field three times, despite, reportedly, being the reason second-year receiver Tyler Boyd was a healthy scratch. Brian Hill ran the ball five times for 12 yards and recorded a long of eight yards. Cethan Carter saw snaps on offense for the first time since Week 9, and Brandon Wilson provided what was maybe the only sign of hustle from the Bengals all game:

Coming up

The Bengals welcome the Detroit Lions to Paul Brown Stadium as they play on Christmas eve for the first time since 2011. Expect similar playing time for these rookies as the Bengals continue to add names to the injury report.