It’s the preseason; the process matters more than the results.
Yet, it’s hard to remove that bad taste in your mouth after watching the Bengals fall to the Chiefs 38-17 in Zac Taylor’s first game as head coach. Taylor and his staff have added a lot of young players in the offseason who are fighting for their NFL lives, and there’s still a collection of unproven talent leftover from the Marvin Lewis era.
Tonight was the first night for both groups to start proving themselves under the bright lights. Who stepped up and who stumbled?
Auden Tate: Not only did the big man have the play of the night, he was also one of two receivers with a team-high 42 yards, coming from three catches on four targets.
There’s something to be said about niche players who maximize their strengths so well. Tate wins in few ways, but he just wins when called upon. Games like this make him nearly impossible to give up on.
Andrew Brown: It’s been weird seeing Brown aligned as an edge rusher this training camp, because when he was asked to move inside in the middle of this game following a Christian Ringo injury, it made a WORLD of a difference. Brown was the only defensive lineman among the reserves to create any sense of pressure and accounted for the team’s only sack. He also had three QB hits. He’s an interior guy, period.
Ryan Finley: After Jeff Driskel turned in a forgettable night, Finley was a breath of fresh air. The fourth-round pick completed his first 11 passes and threw his first touchdown on attempt No. 13. The late interception stunk, but Finley can still feel good about his debut.
Stanley Morgan and Jordan Ellis: Finley’s first two drives featured Morgan and Ellis heavily. While it’s been Damion Willis making more noise in camp, it was Morgan getting the targets in the first game. 42 yards on three catches and targets is not bad for a debut.
Ellis had trouble finding room to run (11 yards on three carries) but was relied on as a receiver and finished with 44 yards on five catches and six targets. Trayveon Williams suffered an injury earlier in the game, so Ellis’ opportunities could be increasing here shortly.
Darius Phillips: The first responsibility for a punt returner is to actually field the punt. Phillips muffed not one, but two punts, one of them resulting in a turnover. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons gave Phillips a chance to begin proving himself again in this phase of the game, and he dropped the ball... multiple times.
O’Shea Dugas: Some guys just do not have the required athleticism to pass protect on the edge, and Dugas is one of them. Dugas nearly got Driskel murdered in the second quarter when he nearly pushed the opposing edge rusher into Driskel’s knee. Dugas came back out and put together a relatively better performance, but he’s not looking like a sustainable option—even as a backup—at left tackle.
Christian Westerman and Justin Evans: These two actually did allow Driskel to be sacked in the final minute of the first half. Westerman couldn’t get onto the field until multiple iterations of the offensive line were already used, which isn’t good for his prospects in the battle for the left guard spot. Evans replaced Dugas at left tackle and didn’t exactly look like an upgrade, which isn’t too surprising. Andre Smith looks like the clear third-best tackle right now.
Malik Jefferson: We’re all waiting for it to click with the former third-round pick, and it just hasn’t happened yet. The game continues to be too fast for Jefferson, who was slow reading his keys and failed to find the ball a couple times in man-to-man coverage. It doesn’t look like he’s escaping the third-string any time soon.
Tony Lippett: The newest Bengal almost redeemed himself for an egregious open field missed tackle by deflecting a deep pass that ended up in the arms of safety Brandon Wilson. Unfortunately, Lippett was rightfully called for pass interference, nullifying the turnover. Lippett has had a rough career before arriving in Cincinnati, and things don’t look to be getting much better for him.