For many, the Labor Day holiday signals the lighting up of barbecues, sipping of adult beverages and spending time away from work. For those who have football on the brain, it points to fantasy drafts and NFL squads finalizing their rosters.
The latter is the case with the Cincinnati Bengals this weekend, as some tough decisions will have to be made. There is almost always a surprise or two this time of year, and with a new coaching staff in place, that possibility seems more prevalent than ever.
On this week’s Orange and Black Insider Bengals podcast, John Sheeran and I discussed the options and possibilities at each spot, as the Bengals crunch the numbers this weekend.
The biggest positional battles
Wide receiver: The injury to A.J. Green is making things interesting here, as are the preseason performances of a number of backup wide receivers. Willis has catapulted himself into a starting role against the Seahawks, while Auden Tate seems to have an inside track on a roster spot, despite suffering a knee injury last week.
Also making things interesting is the battle between Josh Malone and Cody Core, who appear to be jockeying for one coveted spot. The team will probably keep seven guys here, while usually dressing five on game day. That number, as well as the names on the roster, could change once Green is healthy enough to return.
Tight end: For the most part, this group is pretty cut and dry—C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Eifert and Drew Sample are locks. What isn’t known is if they ride with these three and go heavy somewhere else if they feel Sample is versatile enough, or if they’ll carry a fourth. Cethan Carter and Mason Schreck are the front-runners for a final spot in this group, so it may take Darrin Simmons’ pounding of the table to have a spot carved out for one of them.
Offensive line: While things have improved in recent weeks and the team has settled on a couple of new starters at left guard (Michael Jordan) and center (Trey Hopkins), one could argue that it’s still messy. With Jonah Williams out, the tackle depth is paper-thin, while the team has a number of guards under contract.
Christian Westerman seems to be an odd man out, as does Alex Redmond—at least for the first month with his impending suspension. Versatility is the name of the game along the line for the final roster spots, as many of the guys they keep will have the ability to play multiple spots.
Defensive line: Many of the usual suspects will make it here, but the big battles seem to be with Jordan Willis and Kerry Wynn, as well as in how the team values Andrew Brown. Our guess is that Wynn and Willis both make it, as they’ve had solid preseasons, while either Brown or Josh Tupou will get the unfortunate axe.
Cornerbacks: This is one of the most crowded position groups on the team. Darqueze Dennard’s absence throughout the preseason may pave the way for a fringe roster guy, as the former first-round pick is on PUP, but may familiar faces will be here after Labor Day. Newcomer B.W. Webb has looked solid this preseason as well, so that’s a nice boost to a talented group.
Current injuries will impact the names and numbers
Unfortunately, the injury bug has struck the Bengals early on once again in 2019. Williams, their first round pick, is likely going to be a candidate for I.R., who may be called back onto the roster later in the season once his shoulder heals.
Meanwhile, Green had an ankle injury and subsequent scope of the area, causing him to miss at least Week 1 (side note: it’s a little weird that news on his recovery has been so mum, isn’t it?). Dennard is also on the PUP List, muddying the waters at the cornerback spot.
These three injuries are causing the Bengals to get creative, while giving some younger, unproven guys a shot at some big roles early this season. It probably means the team will go heavy at wide receiver, even if temporarily, light at offensive tackle and probably have predictable numbers at corner.
Even so, these position groups could be deemed as having an asterisk, so to speak, as these guys will all probably be making their way back on the final roster and sending someone else packing.
Past draft status may or may not matter
As evidenced by Willis’ meteoric rise from undrafted free agent to Week 1 starter, it’s apparent that Zac Taylor and his staff aren’t playing favorites with veterans. Sure, they have brought in some guys who have ties to some of the coaches, mostly in the form of Lou Anarumo and Jim Turner, but a more open-minded approach has arrived with Taylor.
That’s why we mention Price, Willis and Malone above in the scrums, among others. This staff has a certain player profile they covet and if they don’t fit their scheme, particularly on offense, they aren’t going to have significant roles under this regime. It doesn’t necessarily matter where Marvin Lewis’ group drafted said player—everyone is getting some semblance of a fair shake.
The “final roster” may not be totally final
Simply put, when the Bengals announce their 53-man roster on Saturday afternoon, things could change one day later after the team scours the waiver wire. The numbers and names that John and I proposed as final roster designees on our show could be tweaked a little bit.
The offensive line and linebacker groups seem to be the most likely for a late addition, given the injuries and perceived lack of overall talent at the spots. In fact, Dave Lapham recently tossed out the notion that Cincinnati may go as low as keeping four linebackers, as they would immediately scour the waiver wire for more assistance.
In short, be it from a potential outside addition (waivers, trade), or the returns of injured players, this roster is fluid and is not a finished product. And in a transitional year with coaching upheaval, the constant evaluating of the roster is a good thing.
Our thanks to our live listeners and to those of you who listened/watched after our live recording! We look forward to continuing to bring you Bengals coverage!
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