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NFL preseason Week 4 Colts at Bengals game preview: Neighboring auditions

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In an odd schedule twist, Cincinnati and Indianapolis gear up for their first of two matchups in as many weeks. However, the faces featured in preseason Week 4 will be very different than those in the following week.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The emotional roller coaster that has been the Cincinnati Bengals’ offseason continued last week. After everyone was proclaiming them charlatans for their performance in Week 2 of the preseason versus the Cowboys—a game in which they were victorious, by the way—they came out and shellacked the Buffalo Bills on the road.

Why is this significant? Two reasons.

First, it was on the road and in the second contest in unfriendly confines in as many weeks. This somewhat-disproves the notion that the Bengals may only be effective at home this year.

Secondly, it was against a team that made the playoffs last year. Sure, the Bills’ roster looks a bit different than it did in 2017, but the starters looked very impressive nonetheless. Couple the team’s 3-0 preseason start with signing Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap for a combined $110 million on Tuesday this week, and all of a sudden fans are waving their tickets for a ride on the bandwagon as it’s pulling out of the station.

Cincinnati looks to complete its sweep of the summer games, as the Indianapolis Colts come to town this Thursday evening. Oddly enough, the NFL powers-that-be formulated a schedule where the Bengals will take I-74 right back to Indy for the Week 1 regular season kickoff nine days later.

Regardless, this week is about depth. Unfortunately for many fans, we won’t be seeing much of both teams’ biggest stars, if at all. Seeing as how he had a year-plus stint rehabbing his shoulder, we may see a tiny bit of Andrew Luck, but not many other big names.

Instead, both teams will be eyeing their backups and other rotating players as they attempt to finalize their rosters. Thursday night will be the final audition for some of these youngsters and, unfortunately, many of them won’t be realizing their NFL dreams with the franchise that current employs them.

The construction of Cincinnati’s 2018 roster has been a bit of a whirlwind. We know that they like their picks from the past two drafts to contribute this year, but Marvin Lewis has traditionally trusted his veterans.

Yet, in somewhat-surprising fashion, the team has cut ties with many veterans that have contributed and/or have been brought in to help in recent years. Gone are George Iloka, Brandon LaFell, Chris Baker and Adam Jones, as Cincinnati paves the way for its youngsters to take center stage.

Might there be other veterans being shown the door in the same surprising fashion this weekend? If so, it will take strong showings this week from many of these hungry young men to give them a nudge.

For the Bengals, the quarterback position will be under scrutiny. Not at starter, which is being manned by Andy Dalton, as he has looked pretty similar to his stellar 2015 form. But rather, the interest will be targeted to his backups.

Some folks, potentially including the coaching staff, may prefer the veteran steadiness of Matt Barkley to come off of the bench, should something happen with Dalton. After all, he is the only guy among the backups who has NFL starting experience in the regular season.

Others, most notably the majority of the fan base, want the enigmatic Jeff Driskel as the backup. There’s also 7th round pick Logan Woodside, but he appears destined to the practice squad, given his very limited opportunities in the preseason.

Either way, it’s been a relatively even competition between Driskel and Barkley this summer. In three appearances, Driskel is 24-of-38 for 334 yards, one touchdown, one interception and an 89.1 rating.

Barkley, on the other hand, is 17-of-33 for 171 yards, one touchdown and one interception to go with a 71.5 rating. It will be interesting to see which one of the two gets the probable start on Thursday, as this upcoming contest will likely determine who lands on the 53-man roster.

Other position groups to watch against the Colts include the Bengals’ secondary, as well as the defensive and offensive lines. The latter is particularly intriguing and might be one of the few areas we see the guys vying for starting positions get extensive time on Thursday.

Who will end up winning the right guard and right tackle spots? Can Jake Fisher or Cedric Ogbuehi make a last push to give Frank Pollack the impression that they can be effective starters, or has Bobby Hart held them off?

For Indianapolis, it’s the final attempt to put forth a good showing for rookie head coach, Frank Reich. They are also sorting out their receiver group behind T.Y. Hilton and Ryan Grant.

Interestingly enough, a couple of the guys vying for roster spots at that position are familiar faces to Bengals fans. Cobi Hamilton and James Wright are looking to finally find a long-term home and can cement their chances of doing so against their former employer.

Really, though we have to expect a bit of sloppiness and game plans that won’t tip either teams’ hand for the Week 1 clash. It might not be the most exciting game on the yearly NFL calendar, but at least it’s a signal of real football to come.

Colts 23, Bengals 16

AC — Practice squad eligible.