We’re getting our first look at the 2018 Cincinnati Bengals and the team hits the field for Organized Team Activities (OTAs). Even though these practices are tackle- and pad-free, there are still things to take note of in these workouts.
Whether it’s for backup/rotational roles or the small smattering of starting gigs up for grabs, the 2018 practices have a higher level of interest than usual as new coaches invade Cincinnati and players begin to fight for their roster lives.
Here are five position groups we should be keeping a close eye on during Bengals OTAs.
Tight end: Tyler Eifert is back with the team on a one-year deal, but was limited in the first part of OTAs after having a couple of surgeries last year. Aside from that issue, last year’s No. 1 tight end, Tyler Kroft, was also seen sidelined on Tuesday. It’s early and OTAs aren’t all that important, but you’d hope that this duo would be healthy at the start of the offseason.
That leaves C.J. Uzomah and h-back Ryan Hewitt as the veterans on the field, with others like Cethan Carter getting more looks. It’s a huge offseason for Mason Schreck, who could sneak onto the roster, as well as for a guy like Moritz Boehringer, who is trying to carve out an NFL niche for himself, even if it isn’t for 2018.
Offensive guard: The starting right guard position is currently open and there are a bunch of names clamoring for it. Christian Westerman, Alex Redmond and Trey Hopkins appear to have the inside track on the job, especially since the team didn’t use a high pick on a player at the spot.
However, the Bengals did bring in Rod Taylor in the seventh round to compete at the role. Bobby Hart is another addition on the offensive line who is listed as both a tackle and guard. This position is going to be one of the most scrutinized and important decisions the team will make this offseason.
Linebacker: Pro Bowler Vontaze Burfict continues to giveth and taketh away from the Bengals. He’s going to be missing the first four games of 2018, so the team will need to find someone who can ably step in at the weakside spot and in other packages in Burfict’s absence.
The top candidates seem to be the grouping of Jordan Evans, Vincent Rey and Nick Vigil. Malik Jefferson could also push that group, but Marvin Lewis will need to change his views on playing rookies in high-profile spots early in their careers.
Those aren’t the only interesting names, though. Chris Worley, Brandon Bell and Hardy Nickerson—all undrafted additions from the past two offseasons—will need to prove they belong as well.
Safety: The team may stick with Shawn Williams and George Iloka as the starting safeties this year, but it’s no secret that new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin wants players who can create turnovers. Enter second round pick, Jessie Bates III.
There also seems to be an interesting battle brewing for one of the usual four safety spots between Clayton Fejedelem, Brandon Wilson and swingman Josh Shaw. The team also seemed to be impressed with Trayvon Henderson and recently added him to the roster following the draft. The safeties can’t tackle during OTAs but they can show their playmaking ability, which is something the Bengals desperately need to see this season.
Wide receiver: For the most part, we know who will make up this group in 2018. However, the intriguing aspect of this position group is how the pecking order will be determined.
What kind of on-field strides have John Ross and Josh Malone made? Can Ka’Raun White and/or Auden Tate show enough to push guys like Cody Core and Alex Erickson out the door? Will any of these guys get a chance to return kicks and run with the opportunity? The wide receivers have some of the best opportunities to make plays in OTAs as there’s no tackling allowed.