Training Camp is nearing its end and the Cincinnati Bengals will soon be playing preseason football. With that in mind, it is very important that any players who are fighting for a roster spot or playing time show out well in the coming days and weeks.
The most important time for these players to perform well is during the preseason, but a good series of performances during training camp can lead to more opportunities during the preseason and thus the regular season. With that in mind it is very important for players to give their best performances during this final push of training camp and here are the key things we’ve learned and observed in the last week.
1. Trey Hopkins is coming on strong
A couple of weeks ago, Hopkins was someone many people didn’t think was going to make the 53-man roster. He has made a big jump to get to the point where he was recently called “at least the sixth” best lineman on the team. For a guy that showed promise in his rookie year and then struggled to get on the field after that, Paul Alexander’s praise for him is a big deal. Hopkins is practicing at every interior offensive line spot. Of course his best chance to lock down a starting spot would be at right guard where he really only has to beat out Andre Smith, who hasn’t even been able to stay healthy the last couple of years—or days. Definitely keep an eye on Hopkins in Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
2. Carl Lawson is wowing on a daily basis
Many draft sites had a top 40 grade on Carl Lawson back this winter and some even saw him as a potential first round pick. However, due to some long-term health concerns, Lawson ended up falling to the Bengals in the fourth round. The Bengals eagerly pounced and the early returns look very promising. Lawson has easily been one of the most buzzed about players at training camp and it’s been for all the right reasons. The reports about his dominance when rushing the passer, which is where he specialized in college, should have every Bengals fan hoping desperately for a big rookie year from Lawson to finally get a competent third pass rusher on the team for the first time in a while.
3. Chris Smith is making a push for the roster
In other defensive end news, Chris Smith, who the Bengals acquired from the Jaguars for a conditional pick in 2018 has reportedly been looking very good in practice. Maybe like Reggie Nelson, Smith can become a player the Bengals get decent production out of, despite giving basically nothing to the Jaguars in return. We may not be expecting Smith to be dominant or a Pro Bowler like Nelson, but with how little the Bengals gave up, if Smith can become a decent nickel pass rusher that would be a big help to this year’s roster. That’s especially true with the lumbering towers the Bengals have as their starting defensive ends.
“He understands the competitive part of it,” Marvin Lewis said of Smith. “He’s working his tail off to make the football team, and that’s good. He shows the athleticism and ability that we see, and he gives you some flexibility as a guy who could contribute on special teams. When you can gain a half-man from the defensive line group, that’s a good thing.”
Smith would need to beat out Will Clarke and/or Wallace Gilberry for a roster spot, but it sounds like he’s on his way to doing that and has had numerous sacks and impressive plays in camp.
4. The Andy Dalton/Tyler Eifert connection is back in full effect
Andy Dalton had a career worst touchdown percentage in 2016, which if it had even been average could have completely changed the outlook of the season. Now with Eifert healthy and looking to make a big impact again this season, that percentage should go back up. It’s not even unrealistic to predict Eifert to average one touchdown per game. Eifert completely changes the Bengals’ outlook when the team gets to the redzone and if he plays 12+ games, he is a virtual lock for double digit touchdowns.
Tyler Eifert with the same reaction the very next play! pic.twitter.com/jTNR2YeJvJ— Kyle Phelps (@KylePhelps92) August 4, 2017
Eifert has been doing great in training camp and has been catching plenty of touchdowns from Dalton.
5. Randy Bullock has been near flawless through two weeks
Randy Bullock is doing his very best to keep this kicking competition interesting. After it being widely assumed Jake Elliott was guaranteed the starting job, Bullock has done his best to be close to perfect and put the pressure on Elliott. He’s missed just one field goal in training camp and was perfect at the team scrimmage on Saturday, including a 52-yard field goal, the same distance from which Elliott missed. The real test will come in the preseason games when we see if Elliott can handle the pressure of kicking in a live NFL game. But in the meantime, Bullock has added a wrinkle to a storyline that seemed to have not much going for it after the draft.
The preseason is going to be here extremely soon and it’s going to be exciting to watch and see which talented, young players can take the next step forward and play well in live game action. Hopefully, we are talking about how well these guys played in real game at this time next week.