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5 things we learned from the Bengals’ preseason finale loss to the Colts

The Colts played spoiler to the Bengals’ perfect preseason, but some important position battles were decided along the way.

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

The Bengals were only 72 seconds away from a perfect preseason.

While it would be cool to boast a perfect record before entering the regular season, preseason records are no indication of regular season success. After all, the Browns went 4-0 in the preseason last year and ended up losing every single regular season game in 2017.

But still, a .750 is nothing to be ashamed of, and the Bengals would love it if they carried their winning percentage over to the regular season.

So as the Bengals prepare to make final cuts by 4:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, Thursday’s game will provide important footage for the coaching staff to use in making their decisions.

While we can only speculate who will get cut and who will make the practice squad, we still learned some things from one final preseason game.

Mark Walton should be on the outside looking in

When the Bengals drafted a running back out of the U in the fourth round, many thought he would be a late-round steal. Primarily a special teams player, it wasn’t out of the question that he might get more and more carries out of the backfield as the season wore on.

But during the preseason, Mark Walton looked anything but convincing. Struggling to find running room, his yards-per-carry were well below NFL standards. Instead of being the third-string running back, Walton was outperformed by both Tra Carson and Brian Hill. Then he got hurt on Thursday, though he’s said to be fine.

Brian Hill’s stock skyrocketed

Meanwhile, Hill has looked nearly unstoppable.

In Thursday’s game against the Colts, Hill led the team in rushing attempts (eight), rushing yards (38) and had more yards per carry (4.8) than anyone else who had two or more attempts.

Statically, Hill has been the best running back for the Bengals this preseason with 87 yards on 17 carries, averaging 5.12 yards an attempt. He also has 70 receiving yards on six catches with a receiving touchdown to boot.

With the final spots coming down to Carson, Walton, and Hill, the latter looks to be in good shape.

While Carson only gained five yards on four carries, his early exit from the preseason finale indicates that he is in good standing. He seems to own his spot on the final roster. So the battle for the final spot might come down to Walton and Hill. The Bengals typically keep four running backs and an H-back (which has been Ryan Hewitt for the last four years), though last year they only took three of the former. There is probably only one spot left for either Walton or Hill.

If the Bengals looked at merit alone, they would have to chose Hill. The undrafted sophomore out of Wyoming has had greater success playing behind the same offensive lines and against the same defenses. But the fact that Walton was drafted in the fourth round (rather than being signed off of another team’s practice squad) presents a economic dilemma. The cost to attain Walton was higher, so relegating him to the practice squad seems unwise.

Whatever Marvin Lewis ends up doing, one things seems clear: Mark Walton has yet to look like an NFL running back.

Hardy Nickerson earned a spot

Brandon Bell and Hardy Nickerson have been competing for the sixth linebacker spot during Vontaze Burfict’s suspension. Both were undrafted free agents out of Big Ten schools last season, and both had been used sparingly during regular season play. However, Nickerson initially beat out Bell last year (and Bell was sent to the practice squad); he looks to do the same this year.

Nickerson led the team in tackles with seven, despite missing action in the second half. His seven tackles (all of which came in the first half) were enough to tie for most on the team with Malik Jefferson, who had himself a day as well. Nickerson’s fumble recovery in the first quarter helped set up a short red zone touchdown that put the Bengals ahead 13-7.

When Burfict returns from suspension, then Nickerson will have to worry about his roster spot again. But for now, he deserves to be among the final 53 players on the team.

Auden Tate may have saved his job

Rookie receiver Auden Tate had a spectacular catch in Week 1 of the preseason to clinch a victory against the Bears. But other than that, we didn’t hear from him for a couple weeks.

Against the Colts, Tate had two catches for 33 yards; while these numbers don’t jump off the screen, they are actually pretty solid considering how few catches there were to go around. Throw in the fact that both catches moved the sticks on third down and you have a pretty successful game.

It would have been nice to see Tate come down with a score when given the opportunity, but he came up just short on a fade from Logan Woodside. Even so, he showed strong hands and great body control—two things that the coaching staff love about him.

Tate showed the Bengals everything he can. Now they just have to decide if it is enough. But right now, Tate is more likely than not to be on the 53-man roster next week.

The starting offensive line has already been decided

The offensive line did a lot of shuffling around on Thursday, which means that they are trying to get some guys practice reps.

Bobby Hart started at right tackle as the coaching staff just wanted him to get some more reps in what is a brand new offense for him, the same goes for Alex Redmond who started at right guard. Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher played at each tackle position, switching places between drives. Trey Hopkins floated around several places and guard Christian Westerman finally played on the right side of the line at guard.

There are two reasons for doing this in the preseason finale. First of all, they want to get players comfortable playing any position so they can be versatile backups. Secondly, they want to see who would be the most flexible for when it is time to make cuts and decide who stays and who goes. Either way, the starting line has likely been decided.

Get ready for a season of Cordy Glenn at left tackle, Clint Boling at left guard, Billy Price at center, Hopkins or Alex Redmond at right guard and Hart at right tackle. The right guard spot is the only one we’re not 100 percent sure on, but the coaches likely are and it seems Redmond is the more likely starer in Week 1.

It’s a step up from last year, but the Bengals’ offensive line is by no means perfect.