25 of the 90 players currently rostered by the Bengals are rookies. While only two of them couldn’t have played on Saturday night (sorry Jonah Williams and Rodney Anderson), 21 of the 23 first-year players who dressed got to see the field against the Chiefs in Week 1 of the preseason.
We don’t have to go over all 21 performances, unless you’re really curious about long snapper Dan Godsil’s four snaps. Let’s go ahead and tackle the big storylines.
Ryan Finley’s very smooth and collected first appearance
Calm and cool is about as accurate of a description for Finley’s preseason debut. The 24-year-old rookie only gotten significantly better since OTAs and his exposure with the third-string offense is a testament of his progress.
With that said, there’s the danger of making this into more than it actually is. Zac Taylor drew up a simple script for the fourth-round pick to execute and Finley only threw the ball beyond 10 yards just five times in his 18 attempts, with one of them being intercepted.
Finley finished the game with 109 yards on 13 for 18 passing (72.2% completion rate) and a touchdown and interception each. 4.67 adjusted yards per attempt isn’t by any means special, but missing context sheds positive light for Finley.
Predictably, the Bengals’ offensive line was a hot mess throughout the game. Constant rotation of subpar talent made Finley and second-string quarterback Jeff Driskel’s life a living Hell most of the time. Finley not only saw pressure, he handled it well. On the touchdown to fellow rookie Jordan Ellis, he escaped a collapsing pocket and found an open Ellis with space to scamper for six. Finley is showing he’s not a statue, especially when the heat is on.
Speaking of Ellis, the undrafted running back out of Virginia got the bulk of work for the running backs after sixth-round pick Trayveon Williams left the game with bruised ribs. As the game got more out of hand for Cincinnati, the game script favored the passing game; which resulted in 25 of Ellis’ 31 snaps to come on passing plays.
Williams ended up with two more carries than Ellis despite playing in 10 less snaps, but Ellis ended with 31 more total yards thanks to his involvement in the passing game. Ellis has been the second-string back behind Williams due to the multitude of injuries at the position, and he’s earned that distinction.
Stanley Morgan ran with his opportunity
Undrafted wide receiver Damion Willis has been the talk of training camp, and rightfully so. Willis ended up with the third-most snaps on offense (34), but only saw one target come his way.
It was a pleasant surprise to see fellow Morgan, a fellow undrafted stud, lead the team in targets with six despite only playing 13 snaps. That target-to-snap ratio is rare, even for a preseason game.
With his six targets, Morgan hauled in three of them for 42 yards, which tied the team lead for receivers with Auden Tate. Two of those receptions and 33 of those yards came on back to back plays to close the third quarter and open the fourth.
Morgan even took back three of the five kick returns in this game as well. He won’t be doing that when they allow Alex Erickson to do so, but his ability to contribute on special teams will bode well for his roster chances.
It was a much rougher day for the pass-catcher the Bengals actually drafted this year. Second-round pick Drew Sample caught just one of his three targets and was faulted with two first-half penalties, including what was perhaps the worst rub route of all time.
We knew Sample the receiver was not as ready as Sample the blocker was going to be. On a night where C.J. Uzomah played only 11 snaps, and Tyler Eifert didn’t play at all, Sample was relied on as a receiver more to get him reps in the passing game. It’s the preseason; exposure matters more than anything for guys like him.
Rookie O-Linemen lead the offense in snaps
The good news for undrafted lineman O’Shea Dugas is that there’s no other team in the NFL that needs offensive tackles like the Bengals. The bad news for O’Shea Dugas is that he’s just not very good at playing tackle.
Dugas had a rough first outing playing behind Cordy Glenn at left tackle and was eventually replaced by Justin Evans before coming back out and finishing the game. The rep that stands out the most came on a third down where Dugas nearly pushed edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu into Driskel’s kneecaps.
To be fair, Dugas put together a decent game after this disaster, but it’s plays like this that have to give the coaching staff pause when trotting him out to the most important position on the line.
Dugas finished the game with a team-high 36 offensive snaps. Fourth-round pick Michael Jordan was the other player with 36 offensive snaps. The former Ohio State Buckeye almost achieved equality with his left and right guard snaps (19 and 17, respectively) and was the guy to replace John Jerry at left guard when the entire second team came on the field with him, which tells us a little about how that competition is going right now.
What’s going on with the linebackers
Half of the Bengals’ linebacking corps are rookies (five out of 10), and all five saw action on Saturday with the defense. Germaine Pratt lead the rookies with 28 snaps and had an up-and-down game, which isn’t too surprising. What’s working for him is the fact that no one else in front of him is playing too much better. The same can be said for those playing behind him.
Sixth-round pick Deshaun Davis and undrafted free agent Curtis Akins finished with 13 snaps each, while other undrafted linebackers Sterling Sheffield and Noah Dawkins finished with 10 and eight snaps each. Pratt, Davis and Sheffield all took 13 special teams snaps, which tied for the team lead.