The Cincinnati Bengals always have a tough competition for the final roster spots and this year will be no different. That is why the final preseason game is always key to the decision of which 53 players make the team. A player’s roster hopes could live or die depending on one series in the final preseason game, so they have to fully step it up in order to secure their spot. There are several open spots on the Bengals’ roster up for grabs and it will all come down to this.
Here are five players trying their hardest to earn a spot on the roster in the upcoming game, none of whom have yet to secure their spot.
5. Hardy Nickerson Jr.
Nickerson is a player who generated a lot of excitement when the Bengals signed him after the draft. A big part of whether Nickerson will make the team’s roster will depend on how well he can perform on special teams. Since Vincent Rey will probably be starting in place of Vontaze Burfict during his suspension, there needs to be someone to replace Rey's special teams play and that could be Nickerson. He has to show well on coverage teams and as a blocker for punts and kickoffs to earn a roster spot. He also needs to stay healthy and stay on the field as much as possible. Nickerson didn’t play in the last preseason game after getting injured in the second, so hopefully he is able to play (and play well) on Thursday.
4. Tra Carson
Carson is a player who seemed destined to earn a spot on the practice squad this season. The combination of good play in the preseason and Cedric Peerman being put on Injured Reserve adds up to Carson having a good shot at the roster. Special teams play is so important for players at the tail end of the roster and Carson seems to be performing well in that area so far this preseason. The question will come down to whether the Bengals will want to keep a fourth running back or get an extra player at another position. The fourth preseason game could be key for Carson's roster chances.
3. P.J. Dawson
Bengals fans had high expectations for Dawson before his rookie season, but he has failed to make an impact so far in his career. He failed to even make the team last year, ending up on the practice squad instead. He hasn't played much this preseason due to a hand injury, but if he can get on the field this week, he has a chance at making the roster. With the Marquis Flowers trade and Vontaze Burfict possibly being suspended to start the year, there is a spot open for him to reprieve his dedication to football. A good final performance in Indianapolis could end up putting him over the top and giving the former third round pick a chance to live up to his draft spot.
2. Deshawn Williams
Williams is a guy the Bengals seemed to like early on when he was brought on as an undrafted free agent. It took some time and some injuries for him to finally see the field, but he has played well when given the opportunity. It seems likely that at least four defensive tackles have already secured their roster spots. Williams needs to play well enough to convince the team to keep five tackles over some other position. He is competing for nickel defensive tackle snaps, which in the Bengals’ system typically go to a defensive end who kicks inside.
1. Wallace Gilberry
Gilberry has been on the Bengals roster for a long time now with a brief period on the Lions’ roster early in the 2016 season. However he eventually came back to the team and that happened to also coincide with the Bengals’ best stretch of defense of the season. Now, there is a lot more competition for him so he has a lot to prove he still has what it takes to make a difference. His ability to move inside and take snaps at nickel defensive tackle is key for him to make the roster. If a defensive tackle shows good pass rushing abilities or another defensive end steps up his ability to play at tackle on passing downs, it would be tough for Gilberry to make the roster. It already seems tough already as the Bengals may feel set at the position regardless of how well Gilberry plays this week. The first thing he has to do well to convince the Bengals to keep him is play well in the final preseason game.
At this time next week, the Bengals’ initial 53-man roster will be set as we gear up for the first regular season game against the Baltimore Ravens. Of course, there will be more intrigue when Adam Jones is brought back from suspension. And if Vontaze Burfict is in fact suspended, his return (and the coinciding roster move) will be highly anticipated, too.