As training camp nears, both optimism and big questions loom for all NFL teams. When it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals, there are a lot of exciting players, both new and old, but fans are still wanting to know how the team could improve their team later this summer and into next offseason.
When we gathered questions from our Cincy Jungle readers and listeners of The Orange and Black Insider this week, familiar themes popped up. When it came to the topic of continuing to improve the roster, the offensive line was predictably on the forefront of the queries.
The center position and Russell Bodine’s future beyond 2017 was discussed. Both Scott Schulze and I believe that he’s the starter for this year and with the team’s inability to admit a mistake on certain players, coupled with marginal improvements since his 2014 arrival, Bodine could continue to be the anchor in the middle for years to come.
We were also asked an interesting question on Jake Fisher and the possibility of him playing center at some point. Though his athleticism and versatility were traits that drew the Bengals to drafting him in the second round of 2017, his height (6’6”) and overall length seems much better suited for tackle or guard.
Also on the last OBI episode, Scott and I kicked around names for possible Marvin Lewis replacements at head coach, should this season spiral out of control. We agreed that a somewhat-unfortunate truth is that the team might look inwardly to replace him, should he not get another contract after this one expires after 2017.
Remember that Lewis’ hire as the Bengals’ head coach was a bit of an outside-of-the-box move from owner Mike Brown, as he was a hire from outside of the franchise after two internal hires (Dick LeBeau and Bruce Coslet). Because of the trust Brown has in Lewis, it’s highly possible he gets a disciple of Lewis’ to replace him, if it comes to that.
Of course, there are some big names in the recycling bin they could sort through, if Lewis’ Bengals underachieve once again in 2017. Mike Shanahan, Jeff Fisher and so many others litter the reclamation pile, if they want to go with the experienced route.
However, if the Bengals end up going the enigmatic route of scouring the college ranks, there are a number of interesting names. Of course, the difficult personality that comes with Jim Harbaugh is one, but his current successor at Stanford, David Shaw, is another.
Intelligent, affable and a director of a successful program since Harbaugh’s departure, Shaw brings a lot to an NFL table. He also has some position coach experience at the NFL level, including a four-year stint as the position coach for both the receivers and quarterbacks with the Baltimore Ravens.
Even so, we’re inclined to think that Lewis has the job in Cincinnati as long as he wants it. Check the above-linked video out for some extended thoughts on these topics.
I think we see at least 1 major surprise who gets cut this year. Do you? If so, thoughts on who it might be? I think MJ might be that guy.— John Plymire (@Plymire98) June 29, 2017
We talked about this topic back in mid-May, but since that was before we saw the 2017 Bengals actually practicing, we thought it was worth re-addressing. OTAs and the team’s mandatory minicamp have come and gone, with a number of young players making a solid impression. It’s tuning the predictions of the final roster harder to pinpoint right now.
We’ve said it a few times so far this offseason, but this is one of the most interesting, and potentially feast-or-famine-like seasons in the Lewis era. The embattled head coach is in the final year of his contract and seems to be deciding his future in Cincinnati with some of his most trusted veterans and a slew of young players with major upside. It’s a bit of a gamble, but one the veteran coach needs to take this year.
As was said a month and a half ago when this question arose, it depends on one’s definition of “surprise”. A name I brought up before these early practices was Derron Smith, and that wasn’t met with reader agreement. I look at “surprise cuts” as players who are expected to make the final roster but don’t.
This year’s roster is going to come down to versatility and which of the deep position groups (defensive tackle, wide receiver, defensive back) the team decides to stack. In fact, the reason that those spots are both crowded and ones the team will be going heavy at is because of the amount of versatile players there.
I still stick by a possible surprise cut being Smith, a guy I’ve personally been high on since his 2015 arrival with the club. Both the arrival of Brandon Wilson, and the subtle emergence of Clayton Fejedelem last year are putting pressure on him to be more readily available. It might be unlikely that Smith is pushed out of a job, but if Wilson shows the versatility he provided the Houston Cougars as a safety, corner and return man, while Fejedelem continues to be a special teams contributor, it could be a close call once September rolls around.
On the defensive line, the only possible big surprise would be Michael Johnson. Even though he’s carrying a somewhat-hefty salary ($5.125 million in 2017), the Bengals aren’t strapped for salary cap space as they hover around $18 million in availability. Though his snaps could lessen with the arrivals of Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis, the expectation is Johnson will still be the starter this season.
So, other veterans could be on the chopping block on the defensive line, be it surprising or not. Wallace Gilberry, Will Clarke and Marcus Hardison are all veterans who could also be in jeopardy of their jobs with an influx of young talent. There are knocks against each, ranging from the recent amassing of young talent, increasing age and inability to see the field because of injury.
Another off-the-wall possibility, and one that wouldn’t take place unless the team finds better possibilities after every teams’ final cuts is Eric Winston. Now, it doesn’t make sense because offensive line—and the tackles positions, in particular—is one of the weakest units on the team. Because the team didn’t invest in another tackle with a high pick this year, Winston has the inside track as a backup at tackle.
However, as they have done a couple of times in recent years, the Bengals might scour the late waiver wire to see if they can find other versatile upgrades. Winston provides veteran experience and a great locker room presence, but there are flaws. In recently re-watching some of the late-season games (the rematch against Cleveland in particular), where Winston was relieving Cedric Ogbuehi at right tackle, I personally noted some of those late-season results weren’t much better.
So, while the Bengals did a lot in the draft to bolster what will become their final roster, don’t be surprised if there is an addition or two from waivers—as well as subsequent “surprise cuts” which could ensue.
The audio clip of this segment is available for downloading on SoundCloud. You can join the OBI podcast live every episode here at Cincy Jungle or on YouTube.
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