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Bengals rookie report: Jeff Gunter sparks huge momentum swing

The seventh-rounder made the first game-impacting play of his career.

NFL: AUG 27 Preseason - Rams at Bengals Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Mere minutes had passed since Tua Tagovailoa was taken off the field in a stretcher for what appeared to be his second concussion in five days. The Miami Dolphins were looking to take the lead over the Cincinnati Bengals late in the second quarter with a 52-yard field goal from Jason Sanders.

Cincinnati’s field goal block unit had overloaded the right side with six rushers to Miami’s four blockers. Chidobe Awuzie ended up being the free rusher off the edge, which made it five vs. four in-between to the left of the long snapper.

The player who made it through the line was rookie Jeff Gunter.

Upon getting skinny through the gap, Gunter left his feet with both arms raised high above his head right as the ball left Sanders’ right foot. Because Sanders was kicking from the right hash, he had to aim the ball back to the left where Gunter burst onto the scene. Gunter’s fingertips where all that was needed to prevent the ball from even reaching the end zone.

Three plays later, Joe Burrow connected with Tee Higgins to make it a 14-6 game.

A monumental momentum swing sparked by a rookie who’s been almost exclusively a special teamer through four weeks. It’s these moments that separated the Bengals from every other AFC team by the end of the season. And they’ll need plenty more if they’re going to take the AFC North again. Let’s run through how the other rookies played last Thursday night.

Cordell Volson

One play before the Bengals squandered a fourth-and-one with another unsuccessful toss play, Volson was matched up against second-year edge rusher Jaelen Phillips, who was aligned as a 5-technique in the Dolphins’ third-down pressure package. Phillips crossed Volson’s face in his inside rush and helped forced Burrow to escape the pocket and come up short of the first down marker. It was a few minutes into the second quarter, and the first real mistake of the day for Volson.

By all accounts, Volson was entirely clean for the first 15 minutes of action, and the Dolphins’ talented front four got the better of him as the game progressed. One quarter later, Phillips beat Volson cleanly again with quick hands and drew a holding penalty on the rookie as he took down Burrow for the quarterback’s lone sack of the night. These instances sprinkled between elongated stretches of good-enough play that has been the story for Volson through four weeks.

But that’s the nature of rookie linemen, they will indeed look like rookies. Fortunately, communication along the line seems to be improving, so you’re not seeing protection breakdowns as much. That comes with reps as a cohesive unit piling up, and it will be put to the test against the Baltimore Ravens this week.

Baltimore has dialed back on their blitz-happy ways since parting with Wink Martindale, but after last year’s matchups, it wouldn’t be surprising to see an added aggression to their attack. Volson better be ready for anything.

Zach Carter

As expected, Carter essentially became the third defensive tackle in Cincinnati’s DJ Reader-less rotation. His 24 snaps were three fewer than how much he played last week when Reader initially went out. What’s interesting is 22 of those snaps came at the same spot at right 3-technique. This was a change from the previous three weeks when Carter was flip-flopping between both sides of the formation.

Was this specific to their game plan against the Dolphins, or is this a sign of what’s to come while Josh Tupou takes over for Reader? We’ll find out soon enough.

Dax Hill

You know, credit to Lou Anarumo. The Dolphins possess an explosive passing game with two of the league’s fastest receivers. If there was ever a week where Hill’s range and speed would be useful, it was this week.

So naturally, Hill played one snap, and the Bengals’ defense was largely fine.

Where on the field was Dax Hill?

  • Slot corner: one snap