Get a good look at the Bengals roster, because we’re a handful of days until about three dozen rookies and veterans are cut nearly all at once as the team gets down to 53 deserving players.
Maybe a third will get called back to the team in the form of a practice squad invite if they clear waivers, but most of them are looking at a future someplace else. Head coach Marvin Lewis and his staff have a pretty good idea who’s staying and who’s going, but the cuts aren’t finalized yet.
We have one more preseason game to get through, and by the end of the annual Bengals vs. Colts exhibition, we’ll have a decent outlook on a few players fighting for their jobs. Perhaps the most talked about competition is between quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Matt Barkley for the backup spot to Andy Dalton, but here’s the five I’ll have my eyes on:
Amongst the seven running backs remaining the Bengals backfield, Hill is the leader in yards per carry and yards per touch. The second-year dual-threat has made numerous big plays in his limited opportunities, but still appears to be on the outside looking in and right behind Tra Carson, who has out-snapped Hill every week this preseason.
If production decided the roster above all else, Hill would be one of the top four running backs on the roster without question. The fifth-round pick from last year has provided a spark to the Bengals offense every chance he’s gotten since the team picked up off waivers late last season.
How much they play him against Indianapolis will tell us if they’re serious about keeping him, or potentially stashing him on the practice squad. Either option is better than watching him help out another team, which he absolutely would.
It figures Schreck has his first decent professional game in the city where he played college ball. 58 yards coming from three second-half receptions against Buffalo gave us a piece of Schreck’s athleticism to work down the field, and a wake-up call that he has a case to make for not only this year, but the years to come.
The three tight ends that are roster-locks are still free agents at this moment. An extension for Tyler Kroft or even C.J. Uzomah happening before the regular season begins is plausible, but Schreck represents the only drafted tight end on the roster under contract beyond 2018. Not ideal!
He’s much more likely to come back on the practice squad than survive the cuts, but the Bengals may not want to take that chance he doesn’t clear waivers with the uncertainty at the position going forward.
Speaking of positions with uncertainty, three of the four offensive tackles with significant playing experience are also free agents after this year: Bobby Hart, Cedric Ogbuehi, and Fisher.
Entering Sunday’s game, Fisher and Ogbuehi figured to have equal chances at making the roster as backups at left and right tackle respectively. When starting left tackle Cordy Glenn left the game with a minor shoulder injury, it was Ogbuehi who filled his spot and nearly finished the game there. Fisher eventually entered the game at right tackle, taking his first snaps there all preseason.
Last week, we pondered the possibility of Ogbuehi getting cut for poor performance. Now, we have to wonder if Ogbuehi is still viewed as the better backup in the eyes of the coaches over Fisher. If they only keep three tackles, the former second-round pick is looking like the odd man out.
Fisher figures to play a ton against the Colts, and in what could be his last game in Cincinnati, he better make his snaps count.
The injury to Vincent Rey has benefitted Bell more than any linebacker. The second-year player has seen the most snaps out of any linebacker, and has been heavily involved in special teams as well.
The final roster could carry as little five linebackers and as many as seven with Vontaze Burfict suspended, but six is the number being floated around the most. Rey’s injury has kept him out for nearly the entire preseason, and he just started doing rehab work in yesterday’s practice. It’s hard to see Rey getting cut if he’s healthy, but it’s even harder to see him and Bell make the roster.
Bell’s easiest path figures to go through Hardy Nickerson, who’s played just as much as Bell in base and nickel for the second-team. Nickerson would seem to be the favorite due to his experience last year, but Bell can eliminate the gap on Thursday.
The impact of George Iloka’s release could mean more than Jessie Bates III moving into the starting lineup. The common consensus is that the Bengals will keep 10 defensive backs, and five of them will be safeties. Heading into the last week, there looks to be a three-way battle for two spots, and Henderson has as good of chance as his competition in Josh Shaw and Brandon Wilson.
It’s customary under Lewis that at least one undrafted rookie makes the final roster, and the favorite this year is probably Henderson. He’s seen plenty of time on special teams, and got an extensive look on defense over the veteran Shaw last week against Buffalo. A solid performance against Indianapolis could solidify his case over one of the two, and join what’s now one of the youngest position groups on the team.
Who are the players you’re giving attention to on Thursday?