Week 1 of the preseason is a time for veterans to get back into the groove of the NFL game and for rookies to adjust to life in the pros. The starters for each team will probably only play for one series, maybe two. Then, it will be players fighting for spots on the depth chart and roster battles coming to life. That is mostly what the preseason is all about, which will come across in our list of six players to watch when the Bengals take on the Bears for Cincinnati’s first preseason game of the year.
1) Cedric Ogbuehi, offensive tackle
The first thing we’ll be looking for is who is starting along the offensive line. Ogbuehi likely will not be out there to start the game, but he should get plenty of run when he does get in there. He was the Bengals’ first round pick in 2015, and he has never come close to being worth the selection. Bobby Hart is currently listed as the first team right tackle on the depth chart, so expect him to start the game but Ogbuehi to get plenty of play, too.
This is Ogbuehi’s first in-game opportunity to show what Frank Pollack’s coaching has done, along with the motivation of a contract season. Plus, he’s fighting for the right to start in the final year of his rookie deal.
2) Bill Price, center
Price was the Bengals’ first round pick in this year’s draft, and he’s preparing to start right out of the gate. He is replacing Russell Bodine, who started for four years without missing a game. Bodine was far from a fan favorite so getting our first look at his replacement is exciting.
Price (as well as T.J. Johnson) have recently had some trouble getting the snap to the quarterbacks during training camp. It probably isn’t worth sounding the alarms over, but it is something that will be worth watching for during the preseason.
3) Jessie Bates, safety
Bates was the second round pick for the Bengals this year, and we could end up seeing plenty of him as the Bengals look to include more three-safety sets. We should get an extended look at Bates as he will likely be part of the second unit.
He is very adept at playing center field as well as matching up with receivers in the slot, so we could see a little bit of everything when it comes to Bates’ skillset on Thursday night.
4) Andrew Billings, defensive tackle
Billings was a viewed as a steal for the Bengals in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, but he missed his rookie season and was very inconsistent last year. This made the Bengals go out and add players like Chris Baker in free agency as well as draft Andrew Brown in the fifth round to push for spots on the depth chart.
Billings may be viewed as a starter right now, but he has to continually earn that role throughout the preseason.
5) Jordan Evans, linebacker
Evans is expected to fill in for Vontaze Burfict during his four-game suspension to start the season. Along with Evans, Nick Vigil and Preston Brown seem to be the other starters who are preparing to go out there in Week 1 of the regular season. Evans will need to prove more reliable than Vincent Rey to get the nod in Week 1, so his preseason play is important. In past seasons there wouldn’t have been a doubt that Rey would be starting, but Evans played quite a bit last season, and he is looking to build off of that. Meanwhile, Rey showed signs of aging last season and will likely be relegated to more of a backup role this year. This is Evans’ shot at earning the spot of the first linebacker off the bench.
6) John Ross, wide receiver
What kind of list would this be if we didn’t include the man who most fans are watching for? After failing to record a catch during his rookie season, Ross has spent this offseason regaining his confidence as well as working on his game. We won’t see too much from him in the first preseason game, but it would be surprising if the team didn’t look to get him and Andy Dalton into a a rhythm early on.