No Geno Atkins. No Carl Lawson. No problem.
The Bengals’ defensive line ran 10 deep last night against the Washington Redskins and played with a welcomed intensity for all four quarters. Four sacks, five quarterback hits and eight tackles for loss later and Zac Taylor’s squad came away with a 23-13 victory to close their two-game preseason road stretch.
Not all 10 players will make the final roster, but the cuts are going to be pretty damn difficult to make based off Thursday evening’s showing.
After not playing at all against the Chiefs last week, defensive end Kerry Wynn ran with the first-team early on and got the sack party started late in the second quarter to stifle a Dwayne Haskins’ two-minute drill. Playing on the edge and inside, Wynn looked fresh and explosive in his first time in stripes and tacked on a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits in addition to his takedown of Haskins.
The guy he’s likely competing with, Jordan Willis, would not let Wynn hog all the limelight. On the Redskins’ second drive of the second half, Willis came of the right edge and strip-sacked Haskins. The guy who rushed down the field to recover the loose ball?
Willis owning in the preseason is usual business at this point, and translating that production into the regular season is still something we’re waiting to see.
Thinking big picture, keeping both Wynn and Willis would give the roster five true defensive ends. Andrew Brown should not be considered a true edge player, but it may not matter, as his fire is far from extinguished.
Along with Wynn, Brown was on the line for the defense’s first nickel pass-rushing package as the 3-technique opposite of Wynn with Carlos Dunlap and Sam Hubbard on the exterior. He got too aggressive on his first snap and was rightfully penalized for encroachment, but came back the very next play and drew a holding penalty after breaking through a double-team. Talk about a next play mentality.
Wynn wasn’t the only lineman to make his debut. One of this year’s fourth-round picks Renell Wren suited up for the first time and played significant snaps at both defensive tackle spots. A few plays before Alex Erickson took back a punt for 75 yards and a score, Wren batted down a Haskins pass to fellow rookie Kelvin Harmon.
Wren’s draft status has to take precedent over nose tackle Josh Tupou’s veteran experience, but you could still classify their situation as a competition. Tupou still got his fair share of reps in this game, so Wren is just playing catch up.
What the coaches will love seeing from Wren in this game that they’ll never see from Tupou is his athleticism on effort plays when he ends up away from the ball. For his size, Wren is just a different animal when he becomes a run-and-chase defender.
The 10th man, if you will, in this game was Immanuel Turner, and even he got a sack before the clock showed three zeros. Turner is ultimately going to be practice squad or bust, but a sack on a broken play is still a sack for an undrafted rookie signed late in the offseason.
The team’s caution to play Atkins and Lawson through the first two weeks of preseason action has given the rest of the defensive line room opportunities to prove why they’re worthy of the final roster. The mainstays in Dunlap, Hubbard, Andrew Billings and Ryan Glasgow have all played well through two weeks as well, and having the guys who’re fighting for a roster spot complementing them well has made the entire group a clear strength thus far.
Two more games like this and Taylor’s staff is going to have a tough time whittling this group down to whatever the final number is.