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3 things to watch for in first phase of Bengals OTAs

Several Bengals are recovering from injuries of varying degrees, while new starters must step up to replace departed veterans.

Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals will officially open Organized Team Activities (OTAs) on Tuesday.

There, we’ll see the majority of the 90-man roster in town as they work to get into football shape and stay sharp for the 2017 season. But, don’t expect to see or hear from rookie first round pick John Ross as NFL rules require rookies whose colleges operate on a quarter system to graduate (or have their schools’ graduation occur — even if they’re not graduating) before they can take part in NFL OTAs. As such, Ross will be back in Cincinnati in mid-June, but not before.

Here’s a look at three storylines surrounding the team as we head into summer.

Joe Mixon’s emergence

Perhaps the most interesting player in Bengals offseason workouts will be Joe Mixon. The rookie running back was drafted in the second round in hopes of becoming the featured back in this offense, but he has more than his fair share of baggage.

Everyone knows about his 2014 assault case, which alone will have him strongly under the microscope. If Mixon can keep his head on straight and work his tail off, he’ll not only be the top back in this offense, but he has the potential to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Mixon possesses that kind of talent. Now, it’s just a matter of properly harnessing it and becoming a good guy off the field and in the community.

Injury Updates

The Bengals have a host of players coming off major injuries and/or surgeries, but most of them are expected to be back by training camp.

A.J. Green is coming off his partially-torn hamstring that cost him the final six games of 2016. He is fully cleared for OTAs without restriction.

Giovani Bernard is coming off a torn ACL, a procedure that could sideline him through training camp. It’s possible he gets some limited work in during OTAs since it’s mostly light conditioning and drills.

Tyler Eifert is coming off back surgery that could sideline him right up until training camp. The expectation is he’ll be back soon, and that could include some OTA work.

Jeremy Hill was banged up throughout last season with shoulder and knee injuries. It’s unclear if he’ll get a big workload in OTAs, but he should be good to go by training camp, if not.

William Jackson III missed his rookie season with a torn pectoral muscle, though he was healthy enough to return late in the season. He should get a big workload in OTAs, though it remains to be seen how big of a role he’ll have in 2017 with a deep cornerback group making snaps hard to come by.

Andrew Billings is coming off a torn meniscus, but he’s fully healthy and ready to go. The Bengals might take it easy with him until training camp opens, but, defensive lineman don’t really do much in OTAs anyway. He’s expected to compete for the starting defensive tackle spot vacated by Domata Peko.

George Iloka had offseason shoulder surgery. He’s expected to be ready for training camp, though it’s unclear if he’ll get much, if any work in OTAs.

Clint Boling also had offseason shoulder surgery. He’s not going to be ready for OTAs but should be ready by training camp. Boling being off the field will hand more practice time and reps to the young players vying for the right guard and backup guard spots.

Who Fills In For Departed Starters?

The Bengals have a good portion of their 2016 roster still intact, but several starters departed this offseason. That includes Kevin Zeitler, Andrew Whitworth, Domata Peko, Karlos Dansby and Rey Maualuga. Who replaces these guys will be interesting to see in OTAs and training camp.

At linebacker, the early expectation is Kevin Minter will start at middle linebacker, while Nick Vigil starts at strongside linebacker. Minter is being paid nearly $5 million this year, and he’s an upgrade over Maualuga, so he should be starting. Vigil showed enough flashes last year to think he’ll develop into a decent starter.

At defensive tackle, Andrew Billings has been penciled in as the starter ever since Peko left. Billings has a world of potential, but after missing all of his rookie season with a knee injury, he’s still a big unknown at this point.

With Zeitler out at right guard, Andre Smith is expected to start there after re-joining the Bengals this offseason. However, Smith’s one-year stint in Minnesota was a disaster at right tackle, and he’s never played right guard in his NFL career.

As for left tackle, Cedric Ogbuehi is expected to replace Whitworth there. Ogbuehi was far from a starting-caliber player at right tackle last season, but the team thinks he’ll develop into a nice left tackle.

What are you looking forward to most as offseason workouts continue?