In the most unimportant game of the season, the fourth preseason game is usually the least-watched contest for any fanbase. Why would you want to sit down for three hours and watch reserves play other reserves and other players that may never play in the NFL again?
Because you care, if you are one of the maniacs who do watch.
Regardless, the implications of this game for a good portion of the Bengals roster were huge, as this represented the last major opportunity for rookies and young veterans to make their case for the team they’ve been practicing with for the last month. Most of them will end up looking elsewhere for work, but a select few should have proven their case to stay.
So who made the most of the Bengals preseason finale, and who’s luck ran out?
Hardy Nickerson: One of last year’s undrafted rookies to make the final roster has had an inside track to making this year’s team ever since fellow linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s four-game suspension was announced in March.
Nickerson’s preseason has been more promising than what he showed towards the latter half of last season, and he capped an admirable August with a seven tackle performance against the Colts, along with a fumble recovery that gave the offense great field position inside the red zone.
The question isn’t if Nickerson will make the roster, it’s if he’ll be active. And with his continued contributions on special teams, it’s a safe bet he will be in uniform when the Bengals play the Colts again in Week 1.
Christian Westerman: Perhaps the most impressive second-stringer the Bengals have had this preseason, Westerman saw snaps at both guard spots, looked solid at each alignment. Head coach Marvin Lewis expressed discontent with Westerman earlier this week, but the third-year player continues to show out.
We still don’t have a clear answer as to whom is starting at right guard in the season opener, but Westerman will for sure be a reserve at both guard spots. With Trey Hopkins presumably taking over for T.J. Johnson as the backup center, Westerman will potentially be relied on more than ever this year, and he closed out his impressive preseason with a strong performance.
Jeff Driskel: By default, Driskel can be classified as a winner due to the unfortunate injury to quarterback Matt Barkley, who left the game early with a knee injury. Driskel was called upon to play much more than he likely anticipated, and at least looked better than how he started the game. He finished with 116 yards on 14-20 passing and a touchdown to Josh Malone.
Fans have clamored for Driskel to win the backup spot to Andy Dalton, and with Barkley’s injury, they may get their wish.
Malik Jefferson: After a clear missed tackle early in the game, Jefferson rebounded and put together a solid performance in open-field tackling and coverage. He collapsed on a few drive-stopping tackles in zone coverage, and took away a couple more downfield targets in man coverage.
Malik Jefferson pass broken up downfield pic.twitter.com/Y7SELl3Hcq— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) August 31, 2018
Jefferson will still make the roster, but with Nickerson’s solid play, he may not find himself active on gamedays, especially when Burfict returns from his suspension. But the progress we’ve seen from Jefferson is promising. He’s not at the level we want him at yet, but he’s getting there.
Matt Barkley: As we’ve covered with Driskel, Barkley’s stock took a huge downturn tonight as he left the game with a knee injury, and in turn gave Driskel the reps to potentially solidify him as the No. 2 quarterback on the roster.
Barkley was given the reps ahead of Driskel, so his standing with the coaching staff could’ve been higher than Driskel, but if this injury is anything more than a week’s affair, it can’t be good for the journeyman quarterback.
Cethan Carter: Like Barkley, Carter was in a heated battle for a roster spot and potentially saw it slip through his grasp in the case of an injury. Carter also left the game early with a shoulder injury and did not return.
If there was any doubt that Ryan Hewitt’s spot at H-back would get snagged by Carter, this injury all but erases that. The two targets and no receptions for Carter before the injury doesn’t help his case either.
Kent Perkins: The tackle position has been a whirlwind for the Bengals this offseason, and some thought that Perkins would be a surprise to overtake another veteran at one of the backup spots. Perkins continued to get beaten at left tackle against the Colts, and a practice squad spot is the best the second-year player can hope for at this point.