The Cincinnati Bengals saw quite a bit of turnover this offseason, freeing up opportunities for new, young faces to make their marks in 2017. Training camp is the time for these players to hone their skills and set the stage for their bid to win the trust of the Bengals’ coaching staff.
A few of the Bengals’ potential starters are well liked by the coaching staff, but still have plenty left to prove due to a lack of experience on the field. When push comes to shove this year in camp, these players will need to show they have what it takes to find success at the NFL level:
Nick Vigil, linebacker
Only a second-year player in 2017, Vigil is expected to take over the vacated outside linebacker role previously occupied by Karlos Dansby. In 2016, he didn’t see a single start, and only recorded 14 total tackles and a pass deflection in the limited playing time he did see. His lack of opportunity to get on the field makes him a relative unknown going into the Bengals’ 2017 starting lineup.
However, he has been the talk of the coaching staff since arriving last year. He did find a fair amount of playing time last year, particularly in the Bengals’ Week 16 game against the Houston Texans, a game in which he performed very well. In the offseason, Vigil has been preparing to make the jump to a starting role, and he has received a lot of praise for his efforts from defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. However, that is all speculation until we see how he performs in a more organized setting. Training camp and the preseason will be a great litmus test for how ready he is for a chance at starting.
Andrew Billings, defensive tackle
Another second-year player who could be up for a starting position—but has even less tape to show for it—Billings will need to use training camp to solidify his presence on the defensive line. After tearing his meniscus in last year’s joint practices with the Vikings, he missed his entire rookie season on Injured Reserve.
However, before the injury, Billings was seen as one of the biggest steals of the 2016 NFL Draft. His unique power, explosion, leverage, and technique made some draft analysts consider him a potential first-round pick. But, questions about his ability to fit into an NFL system as a two-down player scared NFL teams off in the first three rounds. If he can stay healthy this year and use training camp to re-establish the potential the Bengals saw in him last year, he will easily earn the starting spot next to Geno Atkins, a spot for which he already seems to be the favorites to win. A great training camp will solidify that.
Joe Mixon, running back
The Bengals picked Mixon up in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, despite possessing potential top-10 talent. Many criticized the Bengals for making the pick, as his history and checkered past have been well documented. Even local broadcast station WCPO joined in on the outrage, calling for a boycott against the Bengals for allowing such an individual to join the team.
All that aside, Mixon possesses mind-boggling talent, which was already on display in OTAs. He will need to prove the Bengals were right to trust him, both on- and off-the-field and hopefully beat out both incumbent starter Jeremy Hill and established rotational back Giovani Bernard for a spot in the starting lineup. Still, it would be foolish to deny he has the talent to accomplish the feat. Even if a strong performance in training camp isn’t enough to put him in the starting spot by Week 1, it would lay the groundwork for a very successful career and bid for the starting spot down the line.