Much of the NFL preseason is learning about the league’s newest players. Rookies need the preseason, no matter how talented or valuable they are to their respective organizations. And in just a month’s time, their career trajectories can alter dramatically.
This month, the Bengals rookie report will reflect that reality. Rookies will prosper, dwindle, or stay their normal course on the road to the regular season much like companies rise, fall, or stagnate on the stock market. Before we learn which rookies will be contributors for the Bengals this year, we’ll do weekly updates to see how the entire group is handling their first taste of NFL game days.
Fortunately, there was plenty more good to write about after the team’s 19-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The conversation has to start with Joseph Ossai. From the very first drive up until midway through the third quarter, Ossai was wreaking havoc off the edge. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and his staff seem to have the right idea on how to use him. Whether he was in a two-point stance, one hand, or two hands in the grass, Ossai pinned his ears back and got busy.
By the start of the second half, Ossai had a sack and a half-dozen pressures to his name. But he wasn’t just showing up on passing downs. He was Cincinnati’s highest-graded run defender (79.8) per Pro Football Focus and was credited with three defensive stops.
It was an incredible debut performance from the team’s third-round pick, and it has now been overshadowed by how it ended. On a third-and-10, Ossai met Darius Hodge at quarterback Kyle Trask and forced an incompletion. While the rest of the defense got up and celebrated, Ossai stayed on the ground holding his wrist.
Lucky for the Bengals, they still had Hodge in the game. The undrafted free agent out of Marshall had arguably a better pass-rushing performance than Ossai. In just as many pass-rushing snaps (23), Hodge recorded two sacks and three quarterback hits. His second sack was all hustle, chasing down Trask and tripping him well behind the line of scrimmage. Hodge’s maximum effort forced the Buccaneers to punt with less than three minutes remaining in the game, giving the Bengals time to put the final three points on the board.
Hodge’s sack was indeed clutch, but Cameron Sample got the final QB takedown of the night. He was credited with four total pressures as well. Only Jalen Davis played as many snaps for Cincinnati’s defense as Sample (49), and with Ossai presumably out for the remainder of the preseason, you can bet Hodge and Sample won’t see a decrease in snaps going forward.
On offense, D’Ante Smith definitely looked the part of a training camp riser. He came in for Quinton Spain at left guard for the second drive and proceeded to have a clean performance in pass protection. There was a moment or two where he was a bit off in the run game, but nothing that can’t be fixed with reps.
The stats don’t reflect how fun it was to watch Chris Evans run the ball. It took him precisely one touch to make a statement. On a third-and-one to open the second quarter, he had no business gaining six yards with three Tampa Bay defenders crashing the mesh-point in the backfield.
Evans’ sheer elusiveness was reminiscent of Giovani Bernard when the former Bengal dazzled everyone as a rookie back in 2013. Maybe it’s the No. 25, or maybe Evans just has the juice. He had the same number of yards on the ground as his new jersey number and added 33 yards through the air on four receptions. He also scored the Bengals’ lone touchdown on one of his 12 carries.
Last but certainly not least, Evan McPherson has a damn cannon attached to his leg. He nailed both of his field goal tries, including one from 40 yards that would’ve also been good from 60. Austin Siebert is only boosting his resume for his next employer at this point.
Ja’Marr Chase probably isn’t going to play much this preseason. Despite his rookie status, the fifth-overall pick is entrenched as a starting receiver and got the starter treatment Saturday night. He took his one target, a receiver screen, for 16 yards and soon found himself without a helmet on the sideline for the rest of the game. He may get more reps next week, but we should feel comfortable with where he’s at, even if his workload is low.
The same cannot be said for Jackson Carman. Though he’s listed as the third-string right guard, Carman came in at that spot on the third drive of the game with the second unit o-line. He needed every rep he got and then some, and he played very much okay, particularly in pass protection. There were no glaring mistakes, aside from a holding penalty out of the gate, but it’s hard to fault him for being too aggressive on his very first play.
It was an unspectacular debut, but not damaging in his quest to eventually break into the starting lineup. You have to figure he’s going to get the most reps at the position this month, but until he looks considerably better than Michael Jordan, he may not advance his standing.
Trey Hill’s primary concern is to simply make the roster. He came in at center after Billy Price played most of the game. There’s only so much he can do as the team’s third-string center, since Trey Hopkins is technically the starter. That said, he played alright in his 18 snaps.
I thought it was interesting to see Josh Tupou get the start at 3-technique, because it allowed Tyler Shelvin to handle backup nose tackle duties behind D.J. Reader. Shelvin didn’t necessarily stand out like the other d-line rookies, but he’s clearly in a good spot within the rotation.
Aside from Kyle Shurmur’s play at quarterback, Gunnar Vogel was the worst Cincinnati had to offer in Tampa. The backup right tackle was abused on multiple occasions in pass protection and simply did not look the part of an NFL tackle. The team needs Fred Johnson fully healthy, plain and simple.
The cornerback room was without Eli Apple, which gave way for Antonio Phillips to play 18 snaps behind Darius Phillips and Tony Brown. Phillips entered the game in the third quarter and was penalized for pass interference on his first snap. He’ll get more snaps in the next two weeks, but obviously not an ideal start for an undrafted rookie. Jalen Davis’ emergence doesn’t help Phillips’ case either.
Riley Lees played 18 snaps but was waived Monday morning. His stock has officially crashed.
Did not play
- Drue Chrisman (injured)
- Pooka Williams Jr.
- Pro Wells (was also waived Monday)
- Wyatt Hubert (injured)