Folks, we got Bengals football happening at the end of this week. And while most teams’ first preseason games don’t mean very much, this one might mean a little more.
It’s all about comparing and contrasting how Zac Taylor operates as a coach to the standards established by Marvin Lewis. For Week 1 of the preseason, the playbook is dryer than a desert and depending on how the first series goes for the offense and defense, we may not see the starters for very long. But a first impression is a first impression, which is what Taylor will end up making in some capacity depending on who you are.
As is tradition, the first depth chart was released to kick off the year’s first game week and per usual, the last time it was updated was around the beginning of summer. A.J. Green’s out for at least another month and he’s still listed as a starter, what more do need to know?
But the depth chart and the information we’ve gathered from the first week of training camp gives us a better sense at how the roster will end up looking. Here’s our latest crack at the projected final 53:
Quarterbacks: Andy Dalton, Jeff Driskel, Ryan Finley
There’s extremely little separating Driskel from Finley from an outsider’s perspective. We’ve maintained the feeling that Finley’s draft status gives him a pass no matter what, but Driskel’s still the No. 2 for now, and that could be the case throughout August.
Running backs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams
Rodney Anderson’s still rehabbing, which has given both Quinton Flowers and Jordan Ellis more opportunities in camp thus far. Ellis specifically has flashed a bit more, but the team won’t fret if they have to stash him on the practice squad. This could be where they go light as long as Bernard’s injury isn’t too bad.
Wide receivers: A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Alex Erickson, Josh Malone, Cody Core, Damion Willis
Green is probably staying on the active roster while he recovers, and Taylor may want to go heavy here to lighten the blow. Malone and Core are both seeing starting snaps while Green and Ross are out, so they’re in for now. The seventh spot, should it be a thing, is probably between Auden Tate and Willis. Both have impressed but Willis is the hot name and we’re rolling with it for now.
Tight ends: C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Eifert, Drew Sample
I don’t think the Bengals want to start the season with just three tight ends. It would be difficult to justify going with four here while seven receivers also make it, so three is the number in this scenario. Jordan Franks and Mason Schreck are the two to watch behind the locked trio of Uzomah, Eifert and Sample.
Offensive tackles: Cordy Glenn, Bobby Hart, Andre Smith
Smith has been splitting second team left tackle reps with O’Shea Dugas, and neither look competent at the moment. Kent Perkins, who’s been at right tackle, is still a name to remember but if they had to choose one, it wouldn’t be surprising to see experience get the nod over youth at a position primed for a meltdown.
Interior offensive linemen: John Jerry, Billy Price, John Miller, Trey Hopkins, Christian Westerman, Michael Jordan
It’s difficult to remove one of these names. Jerry is the starter at left guard as of this moment and if he wasn’t, cutting him would be the simplest move. If Jerry maintains his starting status, six is probably the final number for this group. Who knows, maybe Westerman is fighting for his life?
Edge defenders: Carlos Dunlap, Sam Hubbard, Carl Lawson, Kerry Wynn
Wynn and Jordan Willis have seen second team reps on the edge but Wynn has seen more reps inside with the nickel pass-rushing unit. Lawson’s fierce comeback could justify going with just four, which would also accommodate going heavy inside.
Interior defensive linemen: Geno Atkins, Andrew Billings, Ryan Glasgow, Christian Ringo, Renell Wren
There’s a lot happening with this group right now. Ringo has seen more reps than I expected, and they still like their fourth-round pick in Wren. This may be the position to watch in the preseason, as Josh Tupou and Andrew Brown are still very much in the competition.
Linebackers: Nick Vigil, Preston Brown, Jordan Evans, Germaine Pratt, Hardy Nickerson, Malik Jefferson
Evans has a “starting” spot for now, but Vigil and Brown are the still the top dogs when the team is in nickel for most of the time. Nickerson is still a staple on special teams but there’s still time for a newer face like Noah Dawkins or Deshaun Davis to push him off.
Cornerbacks: William Jackson III, Dre Kirkpatrick, B.W. Webb, Darqueze Dennard, Darius Phillips, Davontae Harris
Dennard is still injured, which has Webb safely in his spot in the slot for now. Phillips is getting more looks as a returner which seems to indicate he’ll be sticking around. Harris is more of an educated guess based off his involvement on special teams, but Tony McRae and Jordan Brown aren’t going to go down easy.
Safeties: Jessie Bates III, Shawn Williams, Clayton Fejedelem, Brandon Wilson
As mentioned in our pre-training camp roster projection, the battle to watch is between Wilson and Trayvon Henderson, who looks fully healed after tearing his ACL last preseason. Wilson is still with the first unit on special teams, which still gives him the edge.
Specialists: Clark Harris, Kevin Huber, Randy Bullock
Harris is back off the NFI list, so there’s nothing to worry about there. Tristan Vizcaino hasn’t exactly been accurate during camp, but it’s not like that has a reliable indicator when remembering Jake Elliott. Regardless, there’s no reason to think boldly here.