Trenton Irwin has been here before, battling to make the 53-man roster.
Irwin signed with the Miami Dolphins as a college free agent in 2019 and did not make the cut. He signed with the Bengals in October of 2019, then spent most of the next two seasons on Cincinnati’s practice squad. So he knows how it goes.
“That’s not my job (to make cuts),” Irwin told Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer after Sunday’s 29-26 loss to those same Dolphins in the preseason finale. “It’s my job to go out there and make plays.”
And that is exactly what he has done throughout the preseason as he finished as the Bengals’ leading receiver in each of the three games. In the preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneer, Irwin had three catches for 35 yards. He had two catches for 24 yards in the loss to the Washington Football Team, and tacked on two more receptions for 39 yards against Miami.
Now, all he can do is wait for the call.
“When that call’s there,” Irwin said, “It’s there.”
A lot of that will depend on how many receivers Cincinnati elects to keep. Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and Auden Tate are sure bets. Mike Thomas is probably safe and Stanley Morgan Jr. has been a steadying influence on special teams. The final spot is probably a battle between Irwin and Trent Taylor, who brings valuable experience as a punt returner.
Another Bengal who staked his claim to a spot on the 53-man roster was rookie Chris Evans, who looked more like a receiver than a running back during his 29-yard touchdown reception Sunday. Evans finished the preseason with 70 yards on 27 carries with one touchdown and contributed 5 receptions for 62 yards and a score.
If the Bengals decide to go with four running backs, look for Jacques Patrick’s name to be called. Patrick was Cincinnati’s leading rusher during the preseason with 31 carries for 156 yards, for an average of just over five yards per carry. At 6-2 and 234 pounds, Patrick is big and elusive and consistently picks up the tough yards.
On the offensive line, where the Bengals are expected to keep either nine or 10. The Billy Price trade threw a wrench in things, and now Michael Jordan could be the next veteran to go.
Tight end Thaddeus Moss may have done enough in the Miami game to earn his spot on the roster. Moss finished with five receptions for 44 yards, with a long of 18 yards and his familiarity with Joe Burrow may be enough to give him that final push. Mitchell Wilcox looked to have the upper hand because of his special teams play, but a concussion suffered against the Dolphins may have cost him a spot.
Rookies Darius Hodge, Cam Sample and Tyler Shelvin all seemed to have earned their spot on the defensive line. The addition of B.J. Hill might signal the end for either Josh Tupou or Mike Daniels, though. Khalid Kareem came on strong at defensive end against Miami and looks to be safe, provided his shoulder injury isn’t still a problem.
Linebacker play was a disappointment Sunday, as way too often we saw running backs and tight ends running free. Reid Sinnett torched the Bengals for 343 yards while completing 22 of 33 passes for two touchdowns, including the 34-yard dagger with just over a minute left that won the game, and an interception.
Keandre Jones had a solid game Sunday and led the Bengals with nine tackles, including seven solo tackles. His effort was commendable, but probably not enough to put Markus Bailey on the bubble.
In the defensive backfield, where Cincinnati is expected to keep 10, look for the battle for the final spot to come down to between Trayvon Henderson, who had an outstanding game against the Dolphins with five tackles, including four solo tackles, a tackle for loss, a pass defensed and an interception; and Brandon Wilson.