The Cincinnati Bengals have a plethora of young players who are itching to get on the field and make an impact. It would be a big boost to the team if they do. The problem is, many of these young guys have been dominating against backups in the preseason. Now, it’s time for them to play against the other team’s starters to see if they look equally as good against them. If they do, it would be highly encouraging. Here are five guys we would like to see playing against starters and better competition next week to see if they deserve to see significant playing time during the regular season.
1. Chris Smith
Chris Smith has been the surprise of the preseason for many Bengals fans.
Smith has looked utterly dominant against backups so far and with a lack of pass rush from the starters it would be interesting to see him against starting tackles. Before the first preseason game, there was a good chance he didn’t even make the roster and now he seems like a virtual lock. He followed up his dominant performance in the first preseason game with another dominant performance in the team’s second outing. With the starters failing to generate much pressure from the defensive end spots it would be interesting to see Smith work against starters. If he can perform as well against starters or even close to as well as he did against backups, then he may be worthy of stealing away Michael Johnson’s starting role, or at least being used heavily.
2. Jordan Willis
Willis was the forgotten man with Carl Lawson dominating in camp but Willis has been the star of the preseason, showing an ability to rush the edge unlike any other Bengals pass rusher:
With how well Carl Lawson was doing in camp everyone seemed to forget about the Bengals third round pick, defensive end Jordan Willis. That is certainly no longer the case after the first two preseason games. Willis has played both sides of the line and has shown a talent for getting after the quarterback. He is utilizing his speed, explosion, and bend much better than he did in college. He certainly deserves a look as a designated pass rusher against the starters to see how well he can do. If he can add a counter move to his dangerous ability to run around the edge, he has the potential to become an elite pass rusher. For now, he could add value as a third down pass rusher forcing the quarterback to step up the pocket into Geno Atkins’ waiting arms.
3. John Ross
Ross is hopefully going to make his NFL debut in the third preseason game and ideally show how he changes the offense with Andy Dalton and company.
We haven’t even seen Ross play yet, but it seems fair to say it would be nice to see the Bengals’ first round pick play with the starters in the third preseason game. When he is on the field, Ross should completely change how opposing defenses play. Ross is a player who should get lots of playing time and completely change the way the Bengals’ offense functions—which is why he was drafted No. 9 overall—so seeing how the offense looks with him in the fold will certainly be exciting.
4. Christian Westerman
Westerman is another guy some people thought was a potential cut down candidate during training camp, but he has played well through the first two preseason games. It may be interesting to see how he can do against starters as a guard and center. He doesn’t really have a spot in the starting lineup due to Trey Hopkins playing well, but it would be nice to see him against some starters to judge how good of a backup he is and whether he can be relied on as a starter if he is needed. It would also be a good idea to see him at center as he could be a potential insurance policy for Russell Bodine if Bodine does not perform well in the season or if he leaves next year in free agency.
5. Josh Tupou
Tupou is an undrafted free agent with a decent chance to make the roster if he can show a better ability to plug holes in the run game than veteran presences like Pat Sims.
Although he has a low chance of making the roster, there’s still a chance he can do it. He is basically only a nose tackle considering his behemoth size, which also means he is very difficult to move and through the first two preseason games has looked good at plugging gaps in the line. His biggest competition is most Sims and also includes Marcus Hardison and DeShawn Williams. If he can latch onto the roster, he could end up being a hidden gem at nose tackle, especially with a new potential starter in Andrew Billings this season. He has more youth and upside than Sims as a second nose tackle, but the coaching staff may choose to go with the veteran experience over Tupou. If he got a chance against starters and performed well that could be enough to earn him a roster spot. If not, he is heading toward a practice squad role.
The Bengals have a lot of young talent this year and we have already gotten to see some of those players against the starters, like William Jackson III and Billings. However, there are still a few players who may be able to help the Bengals this season but need to get more time in the preseason first. These players could be the difference between making the playoffs or not and could help decide the success of the season.