The Bengals entered training camp this year with one of the youngest rosters in recent history for the franchise. About two-thirds of the 90 man roster had three years or less of NFL experience under their belt, and some positions saw those players assert themselves as starters on both sides of the ball. Others simply didn’t do much to show if they’ve progressed as players yet.
Here are our winners and losers from Bengals training camp:
Some people say there’s no such thing as momentum in sports. Those people may not have an explanation for Tyler Boyd’s offseason resurgence since finishing the 2017 season strong.
tyler boyd continues his great camp pic.twitter.com/ui4fdzstdc— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) August 1, 2018
While 2017 first-round pick John Ross has had his share of highlights at wide receiver, it’s been Boyd who’s brought consistency from both the flanker and slot alignments on offense. His breaks on his routes have been just as flawless as his hands, and is starting to look like the weapon that we expected to see last year. A touchdown in the preseason opener against the Chicago Bears topped off a strong camp for the third-year player.
A little further down the wide receiver depth chart from Boyd, Tate showed out nearly every time he was on the practice field. He hasn’t let the minimal reps stop him from showing why he was a productive red zone and jump ball specialist for the past two years at Florida State.
For the veteran receivers like Boyd, and Tate specifically, the release of Brandon LaFell early in camp made them all de facto winners in terms of increased reps. Boyd is now locked in as one of the starting three receivers, but Tate receives the greater potential benefit in comparison as his chances of making the roster increased tremendously with LaFell gone.
Like Boyd, Tate also scored in the first preseason game, which only validated the skill set he’s shown in practice. With news concerning Tate taking reps with the first-unit emerging recently, his stock has only been going up.
2018 has been a roller coaster for Hart so far.
Late last season he was on his way out of East Rutherford after three underwhelming years with the New York Giants. Several weeks later, his representatives reached out to the Bengals about bringing him in, and the team signed him soon thereafter.
With just a meager one-year deal with essentially no guaranteed money, Hart was initially seen more as a camp body to most rather than a contender to start at right tackle. Yet after getting equal opportunity at the position with Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, it was Hart’s name which was listed as the starter on the first official depth chart released by the team.
Hart’s starting distinction is not set in stone for the regular season, and he’ll have to continue fending off Ogbuehi and Fisher until then. But he’s ultimately gotten the chance to start because he’s had the most stable play in comparison. If he maintains that relative stability, he won’t be bumped down.
The defender who’s had an equivalent rise to Boyd on offense has been Billings at nose tackle.
In year three, Billings made it through his first camp fully healthy. Coming off of a torn meniscus he suffered now just over two years ago that sidelined him for his entire rookie season, Billings didn’t appear to be 100% in 2017, and his play suffered because of it. Nothing is hindering Billings now, and he has not looked back since taking reps over veteran and newly-acquired Chris Baker at nose tackle.
andrew billings backside disruption pic.twitter.com/sqsY27N5vf— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) August 3, 2018
Billings has always been talented. His lack of ideal height and frame is what dropped him to the fourth-round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and injury is what has delayed his positive impact on the field. Now that he’s past all of that, talent is very much taking over.
Aside from Jeff Driskel’s efficient performance in the first preseason game, the quarterback play behind Andy Dalton has been very lackluster. Matt Barkley and Driskel have been taking second and third-team reps, respectively, while Woodside has only been a participant in just a couple of practices.
As far as we know, Woodside was not injured; but nevertheless, he was not dressed for the majority of camp. Only in the last handful of practices was he in pads and threw in pads for the first time in Saturday’s practice.
The practice squad was always Woodside’s likely destination following camp and the preseason, but with how underwhelming Barkley and Driskel have been in practice, it would’ve been nice to see if he could legitimately challenge for the backup quarterback spot. He needs to really show out in the remainder of the preseason to make up for lost reps in camp.
With Hart being one of the winners, Fisher is left with having made the opposite impression.
In the three-way battle for right tackle, Fisher ended up being delegated to backup left tackle on the depth chart and took all of his reps there against the Bears. Fisher has had his moments in camp, but inconsistency remains his biggest nemesis.
You can also include Ogbeuhi in here for the same reasons, but Fisher seemed like the favorite all offseason to grab hold of the spot from the beginning. Now, it’s a wonder how far away he is from the other two in the eyes of the coaching staff.
Similar to Fisher, Westerman was the three-way battle for the starting right guard spot, and was officially listed as a backup on the other side of the center.
Common sense would point to Westerman’s food illness that earned him a spot on the Non-Football Injury list to begin camp that put him behind Trey Hopkins and Alex Redmond in the competition from the start. Westerman lost 10 pounds during his ailment, and missed a handful of practices in the process.
Westerman is on the outside looking in right now, but he’s not completely removed from the competition at right guard. If he puts together a few more games like he did against Chicago, he’ll make a great case to start.
The Bengals defensive line was one of the highlights from camp, and nearly every player on the first and second-team line had flashes and stood out in there own way.
All except Willis.
Willis’ competence as a run defender is well known, and that ability has not gone away in just his second year. The jump from being just a one dimensional edge-setter to a more refined edge rusher is what Willis still needs to make, and he did not look like he progressed with his hands or process as a pass rusher, even when going up against the uninspiring rotation at right tackle.
Last year, the preseason was where Willis shined off the edge. We need to see that again from him to believe he’s ready to become effective in both phases of the game.