The preseason finale is all about backup players impressing enough to make the roster, or falling short and ending up on the cut list come Saturday.
The Bengals still have tough decisions to make as they trim the roster down at 53 players by Saturday at 4 p.m. Among those decisions are who the team’s No. 2 quarterback will be, which linebacker (if any) makes the roster during Vontaze Burfict’s four-game suspension and whether the Bengals keep a fullback (cough, Ryan Hewitt) on the roster.
Here are the 13 Bengals with the most to gain — or lose — in the preseason finale against the Colts.
1) Brandon Bell and 2) Hardy Nickerson
If the Bengals keep six linebackers on the roster during Burfict’s suspension, Nickerson and Bell have the best chance to be that guy. Nickerson seems to have impressed the coaching staff more to this point, but it’s still possible Bell takes the spot.
3) Brandon Wilson
Wilson’s roster chances improved a great deal when the Bengals cut George Iloka. He still needs to cement his role on Thursday night. He spent most of last year on the practice squad but did make an appearance on the roster toward the end of the year.
4) Brian Hill
How many running backs will the Bengals keep? Tra Carson seems to have the edge right now over Hill, but Hill has looked impressive during the preseason. This could also be an audition for other teams for Hill if the Bengals are able to trade him before Saturday.
5) Cethan Carter and 6) Ryan Hewitt
Marvin Lewis said he wanted to get Hewitt on the field more in the third preseason game but the h-back was cramping up. Carter did play quite a bit though and had an up-and-down performance. It’s possible neither make the roster or it’s possible one of the two make the cut. It’s highly unlikely both make it. They’re fighting for their roster lives tonight.
7) Jake Fisher
It’s a near certainty that Jake Fisher makes the 53-man roster. But what if he doesn’t? What if the Bengals go find an offensive lineman over the weekend who was cut by another team? Or, what if they trade for one? Fisher is currently the No. 4 offensive tackle on the team if you disregard left/right and just consider it as: Cordy Glenn, Bobby Hart, Cedric Ogbuehi and then Fisher, in that order. He needs a solid performance in the preseason finale.
8) Jeff Driskel and 9) Matt Barkley
All indications point to the Bengals going back to rostering just two quarterbacks and the options for the No. 2 job behind Andy Dalton are Driskel and Barkley. There’s also a chance the Bengals find their No. 2 QB from the players who are cut by their current team this weekend. Robert Griffin III, maybe? Either way, one of these guys will likely end up on the initial 53-man roster. The competition is ongoing and tonight will determine the winner.
10) Junior Joseph and 11) Chris Worley
Jospeh and Worley aren’t likely to make the roster but one is destined for the practice squad. The coaches seem to be more impressed with Joseph than Worley to this point, but they’ll both get a lot more playing time tonight than they’ve seen so far in live game action and more concrete opinions will be formed.
12) Tony McRae
McRae’s opportunities mostly slipped him by as he was injured for much of training camp and the preseason. He made his preseason debut last week and impressed. But, will it be enough? He still has practice squad eligibility but the injury may have cost him a roster spot. Last year he signed with the Ravens when the Bengals tried to get him on the practice squad, but he didn’t last long in Baltimore and landed back in Cincinnati. Will another team take a shot on him this year? Can he sneak onto the Bengals’ 53-man roster? We’ll soon see.
13) Trayvon Henderson
Henderson is another defensive back who impressed this offseason in Cincinnati. But his path to the roster isn’t all that clear. He’ll need to beat out Wilson or Josh Shaw for the final safety spot. Tonight will go a long way in determining whether he has what it takes to make the 53-man roster in his rookie year. If not, he’s a strong practice squad candidate.