Although a preseason game, there are certain players who need to have big-time performances to have a shot at getting serious playing when the regular season rolls around.
With a virtually completely different coaching staff, it will be crucial for rookies and veterans alike to prove they understand their new schemes.
Here are five players who need to perform well in the Bengals’ 2019 preseason debut:
It seems odd to say that second-year Bengals linebacker Malik Jefferson only played eleven total snaps in 2018. This comes after much excitement when the organization drafted the speedy linebacker in the third round, leaving many to think he could be a cornerstone for the defense.
Unfortunately, he was quite the opposite, as Marvin Lewis opted for guys like Hardy Nickerson, who struggled heavily whenever his number was called. Even though Jefferson wasn’t given the opportunity to live up to the hype in 2018, he will need to come out firing on all cylinders to get significant playing time this upcoming season.
While the team did draft NC State linebacker Germaine Pratt, the linebacker room is still open for rotation, and Jefferson could quite easily rise on the depth chart with a solid outing against the Chiefs.
Zac Taylor told media on Thursday that All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins will not play in the team’s preseason opener. This comes as no surprise, as Taylor doesn’t want to lose any more of their top players due to injury. This will allow rookie Renell Wren to possibly get starting reps alongside Andrew Billings on Saturday night.
All 6-5, 318 pounds of Wren needs to display his freakish strength and athleticism that scouts loved about him when coming out of Arizona State. While the team seems to have stuck with guys like Andrew Billings to compliment Atkins in the interior of the defensive line, a nice outing for Wren can possibly replace Billings as that guy.
Wren will still have to battle against guys like Andrew Brown and Ryan Glasgow, but just like the linebacker group, there is still plenty of room for rotation.
It seemed that all Bengals fans shared frustration and confusion when the organization took Washington tight end Drew Sample in the second round of the draft. In four seasons at Washington, Sample only produced 487 receiving yards and five scores, but Zac Taylor and the coaching staff believed his superb blocking ability would help in their new offensive scheme.
When talking about Sample, Zac Taylor said “The more you watch the tape on him, he is a physical, does-it-the-way-you-want-it player. You look at his passing stats and say, ‘What’s up with that?’ But he does what you need him to do on first and second down in the passing game.”
While Sample was listed as the third-string tight end behind Tyler Eifert and C.J. Uzomah, he can prove everyone wrong who doubted the organization by picking him and show that he will be a valuable piece of this offense.
The Bengals have impact edge players in Carlos Dunlap, Carl Lawson, and Sam Hubbard, who a lot of fans are very excited about going into this new season. A lesser known player like Jordan Willis, who has only produced three sacks in his first two seasons in the league, needs to step up this preseason to get back into the main rotation of edge rushers.
Willis has provided solid play in the run game but has lacked the ability to get to the passer on a down-to-down basis. A lot of people were very excited about the 2016 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year when the team drafted him in 2017, but with the talent that the team has at the position, it will be an uphill battle for Willis to carve out a significant role in the regular season unless he balls out this preseason.
If you’ve been following training camp, Damion Willis is a name that you’re most likely familiar with. Willis is an UDFA, 6’3 wide receiver who played at the JUCO level before finishing off his collegiate career at Troy University, and he’s been drawing a lot of attention in training camp.
When Andy Dalton was asked about which young receiver has impressed him the most, he didn’t hesitate to tell reporters it was Willis, or “D-Will.” It seems as if everyday Willis is getting praise from either coaches, fans, and media for the big time plays he’s been making on a consistent basis.
With A.J Green set to sit out for the few weeks of the regular season and John Ross not practicing, Willis could step up in the preseason to put him in the main rotation of receivers along with Tyler Boyd, Josh Malone, and Alex Erickson.