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Zac Taylor names Damion Willis, Michael Jordan starters for Week 1; Billy Price benched

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John Ross also made his return to practice, but it sounds like he may lose his starting spot as well.

NFL: Preseason-New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

If you didn’t think things have really changed for the Cincinnati Bengals, head coach Zac Taylor is here to prove you wrong.

Taylor announced today that Damion Willis and Michael Jordan will be starting at wide receiver and left guard, respectively, against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1. Starting next to Jordan at center will not be Billy Price, it will be Trey Hopkins.

Willis has been the breakout story of the offseason, and he’s only been trending upwards since May. An undrafted wide receiver out of Troy, Willis was supposed to go to the University of Cincinnati. Not only will he now play for the city’s professional squad, he’ll be the guy playing for A.J. Green of all people.

There’s no doubt that Willis earned this opportunity, and the same can be said for both Jordan and Hopkins. Both players were vying for the left guard spot after Clint Boling announced his retirement and Cordy Glenn was moved back to left tackle when Jonah Williams injured his shoulder. Newly-signed free agent John Jerry ended up at the top of the depth chart, but it didn’t take long for the coaching staff to look at the rest of the competition.

Jordan emerged as the favorite to beat out Jerry early on in the preseason and ended up starting in Week 2 against the Redskins. Coincidentally, that was the same week that Hopkins started over Price for the first time this year.

Hopkins replaced Price at center for seven games last year when Price was dealing with a foot injury and did an admirable job, earning him a one-year contract to come back and backup Price again. When Price was healthy last season, his level of play did not exceed Hopkins’. This didn’t mean much since Price was the team’s first-round pick; he wasn’t going to get benched.

That was last year, under a different head coach and offensive line coach. When Price’s struggles persisted this preseason, Hopkins took over and continued to play like an upgrade. This time, his work has paid off in the form of starting job.

In year’s past, it was normal for veterans or high-round draft picks in Cincinnati to hold onto starting roles for far too long despite younger or better options existing behind them. At the beginning of training camp, all three of these players were no higher than second on the depth chart, with Willis and Jordan being essentially third-string members.

To see them rewarded with starting spots they clearly earned and the head coach being adamant about playing the best players, and then following through on that attitude, is a level of refreshing that almost seems foreign.

This wasn’t the only bit of good news from today. John Ross also practiced for the first time this preseason.

The plan is to have Ross out on the field with Willis and Tyler Boyd in two weeks, and Ross rejoining the team on the practice is the first step to making that happen. Taylor did not say if Ross will be ready to play that week, though.