The Bengals should be looking to be aggressive when they return to Paul Brown Stadium this upcoming Sunday. They backed into their bye week by going 1-2 in their last three games, and the team as a whole seems to really need a boost in morale (and performance).
Luckily, the Bengals have some options regarding players that they should consider playing more in the second half of the season.
Trey Hopkins, offensive lineman
Some will point out how Hopkins has been playing center since Week 3 in relief of the injured rookie center Billy Price. It is true that he has played pretty much every snap since then, but with Price soon to return, they should consider moving him to another position on the offensive line.
Hopkins should reprise his role as the right guard for this team. The Bengals will have a week to really examine how the Alex Redmond experiment at right guard hasn’t gone so well. Sure, Redmond has had bright spots, but he has been one of the glaring weaknesses along the offensive linemen all season.
Hopkins and Price starting inside could provide a boost that the team really needs at this point in the season. This may come to fruition this week with Redmond battling a hamstring injury that kept him out of Wednesday’s practice.
Also this is a more realistic scenario since we probably won’t see the just as obvious move of starting Christian Westerman at right guard.
Jordan Willis, defensive end
The season-ending injury to Carl Lawson is awful, and the harsh truth is that someone needs to step up in his place. That someone should be Willis. If the Bengals are serious about their defense being a better unit after the bye week, it is time to see if Willis can compensate for the loss of Lawson on third down.
Through eight games, Willis has played exactly 100 more snaps than Michael Johnson, and that’s with Johnson missing time due to injury. He’s mainly just been rotating with Johnson when the Bengals have been in their base defense, but he’s not been a factor for their third-down defense.
Johnson doesn’t have it as a pass rusher anymore, and maybe Sam Hubbard can surprise us with some production as an edge rusher, but Willis needs to be given a chance to prove himself there.
Willis actually saw most of the defensive snaps against the Buccaneers after Lawson went down, so there is a chance we could see this.
Malik Jefferson, linebacker
Honestly, what do the Bengals have to lose at this point by playing Jefferson? If Nick Vigil and Vontaze Burfict continue to be sidelined with injuries, there’s no point in hiding Jefferson. The current linebackers have proven they can’t cover anyone, which most of the NFL has caught onto. Playing Jefferson couldn’t possibly yield worse results.
This isn’t to say Jefferson should be starting by any means, but he hasn’t even seen the field on defense yet. Hardy Nickerson Jr. has been an absolute train wreck in coverage and shouldn’t see the field anymore asides from special teams.
Jordan Evans has shown he is a very capable run defender, but he still struggles out in pass coverage. As for Vincent Rey, he’s simply on the wrong side of his prime.
The major knock on Jefferson coming out of the draft was his awareness issues, but it doesn’t seem that complicated to carve out a role where you either have him man up against a tight end or running back in coverage, spy the quarterback or just rush the passer. Let the guy just run out there and try and make some plays—because at this point, no one else is.
Do you agree with these suggestions? Who else would you like to see more of in the second half? Let us know in the comments.
Which player should the Bengals give more playing time to during the second half of the season?
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Christian Westerman, guard
Sam Hubbard, defensive lineman