The Cincinnati Bengals play their first preseason game of 2017 on Friday as they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It will be the Bengals’ first in-game action since defeating the Baltimore Ravens 27-10 on January 1. Although preseason games don’t mean anything compared to regular season games, it is still an opportunity for the Bengals to preview how far the team has come in the offseason and take note of important position battles.
Here are three key positions to watch when the Bengals take the field on Friday night
It has been no secret the Bengals’ offensive line has struggled this offseason. After losing Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler in free agency, the Bengals re-tooled some key positions. Some major changes were made in the starting lineup, although it is unlikely the Bengals will see much from the starters in the first preseason game. The backups, however, should provide plenty of insight as they take on the Buccaneers’ deep defensive line.
Buccaneers players like Noah Spence, Clinton McDonald, and Justin Trattou should, at the very least, provide an important litmus test for Bengals like Christian Westerman, Trey Hopkins, T.J. Johnson, and J.J. Dielman. The trenches are likely to be a key source of contention for the two teams, both of which will be testing the waters on a few key players. The Bengals, however, desperately need some positive news from the offensive line. Seeing the backups perform well against the Buccaneers will go a long way toward ensuring a sense of security. And whatever playing time guys like Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher get will be great to see, too.
Andre Smith didn’t practice on Tuesday, so it’s likely he won’t be playing on Friday night while dealing with an elbow issue. If he doesn’t go, look for Hopkins to get time with the starters. How he does will be extremely important as he looks to push Smith out of the starting right guard job.
Unlike the offensive line, the Bengals don’t have many questions in the starting lineup at cornerback. Adam Jones’ increasing age is an issue, but it is unlikely to lead to many changes in 2017. That’s other than in Week 1, for which Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson are competing to take Jones’ spot during his suspension. Their preseason battle will be a great one to follow and important for the home opener against the Baltimore Ravens.
At the back end of the roster the Bengals are going to be very interested to see how players like KeiVarae Russell, Bene Benwikere and Tony McRae perform.
Going up against talented young receivers like Chris Godwin and Josh Huff, as well as career journeyman, former Bengals quarterback and current Buccaneers backup Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, should give the Bengals’ defensive backfield a challenge and, therefore, a look at who most deserves for the final spot at the position.
It will also be interesting to see how Josh Shaw and Dennard perform by contrast, as well as to see who starts in the slot. Shaw primarily manned the slot in 2016 while Dennard’s development has come along slowly. As a former first-round pick, Dennard is expected to eventually climb into a starting role. Dennard may be expected to take back the job this year, but Shaw has performed very well and will not give up the role easily. It is hard to say how much we will see either player on Friday, but we’ll take what we can get.
Part of what comes along with the Buccaneers fielding solid defensive line depth is the impact it can have on the Bengals’ running game. We likely won’t see many touches from Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, who both have plenty to prove as potential starters. Although, we should see something from rookie running back Joe Mixon early on. It will be interesting to see how his prowess in camp translates to the field. But, the majority of the focus will be on the fringe backs.
Cedric Peerman is expected to hold down the Bengals’ fourth running back spot in 2017. But, he will be 31 in October and the Bengals have plenty of backfield talent behind him. Additionally, he’s on the Non-Football Injury list and will not be playing on Friday. That will give guys like Stanley ‘Boom’ Williams, Jarveon Williams, and Tra Carson more time to show what they’re worth against the Buccaneers’ defensive front. Carson, in particular, shined last preseason before earning a practice squad role with the team. However, he will have his hands full holding off the talented Boom Williams, who has flashed a few times in camp. Friday’s game should provide quite a bit of insight at the position.