Is it September yet? No? What do you mean it’s just early June? Oh god, it’s so hot outside (“milk was a bad choice”)!
That’s me every morning. I just want football to be back. I know you do too. Training camp begins soon(ish), and, below are some of the Cincinnati Bengals’ position battles we could see heading into the preseason.
Contenders: Jonah Williams, La’el Collins, Jackson Carman
Williams was moved to right tackle after the Bengals signed Orlando Brown Jr. in free agency to be the team’s new blind-side protector at left tackle. Williams likely has the upper hand on the position right now because of his experience in the NFL and because Collins is still battling back from a torn ACL he had surgically repaired late last season, which will likely land him on the PUP list when the season starts.
Williams isn’t 100 percent healthy either after dealing with a dislocated knee cap, also suffered late last season. This opens the door for Carman.
Who wins?: This is tough because we can’t know who’s healthy and who isn’t, but I assume Williams will be the starting right tackle in Week 1.
Contenders: Nick Scott, Jordan Battle
The Bengals lost both Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell in free agency. They had drafted Dax Hill in the first round in 2022 in preparation for losing Bates, but they may have counted on retaining Bell. To replace him, they signed former Rams safety Nick Scott. It seemed like Scott would be the guy, but in the third round of the 2023 draft, Alabama safety Battle fell right into their laps. Battle isn’t as athletic as Scott, according to their RAS scores, but Scott only has one real year of starting safety experience in the NFL. Battle has three years starting in a Nick Saban defense.
Those two things aren’t the same, I know that, but Battle’s experience can’t be just shoved aside either.
Who wins?: I expect Scott to be the starting safety in Week 1. Whether he holds that position for the entire season is another question entirely.
Backup Running Back
Contenders: Trayveon Williams, Chase Brown
It’s clear the Bengals plan on keeping Joe Mixon. If they weren’t, they likely would have released him by now as they could potentially save some money after June 1. Well, June 1 has come and gone, and Mixon’s still here.
I think the most that happens with Mixon is he’s cut and then re-signed to a more team-friendly deal. Mixon will be the starting running back in 2023.
The Bengals lost Samaje Perine in free agency, though, and he played a large part in the Bengals offense last season. Williams has more experience in the offense and could cut himself out a larger role this season. The Bengals selected Brown in the fifth round of this year’s draft. Even though he’s a rookie, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan says Brown is already a pro.
Who wins?: I think Brown takes the backup running back role. A Mixon replacement didn’t fall to them in the draft, but a Perine replacement did. I don’t know if Brown will be able to fill Perine’s shoes effectively in Week 1, but I think he’s got the best shot.
Fourth Wide Receiver
Contenders: Trent Irwin, Trent Taylor, Charlie Jones, Andrei Iosivas, Stanley Morgan
Nobody is going to touch the big three of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd, but it’s kinda muddy as far as which wide receivers will make the final 53-man roster and who will be the fourth receiver in empty sets. Irwin has the most success with the Bengals. He caught four touchdowns last year. Taylor didn’t have as much work in the offense as Irwin, and Morgan only had one target last year, but he does so much work on special teams.
And then you have the rookies in Jones and Iosivas. Jones seems to be Boyd’s replacement in the slot after the 2023 season when Boyd is a free agent, and Iosivas could be Higgins’ replacement if the Bengals can’t extend the talented outside receiver, who is entering the last year of his contract.
Who wins?: Chuck Sizzle wins here. I think he’ll get the most playing time in the offense. There are still a lot of mouths to feed on that side of the ball, but Jones should be able to get some work his rookie year.
Contenders: Sidney Jones IV, DJ Turner II, DJ Ivey
If Chidobe Awuzie is healthy, he’ll start opposite of Cam Taylor-Britt as one of the team’s outside cornerbacks. Let’s assume that’s the case in 2023. Awuzie is heading into the final year of his deal with the Bengals, and whoever his backup is in 2023, will probably be the starter in 2024. The Bengals signed Jones in free agency, and he has the experience to take that job, for sure. However, he doesn’t have the speed and athleticism of Turner, the Bengals’ second-round pick from 2023. Ivey was the Bengals seventh-round pick this past draft. Turner has elite speed, which is something the Bengals obviously like a lot.
Who wins?: Depth at the cornerback position was a big concern heading into the 2023 season, and the Bengals not only signed Jones in free agency, but they selected two corners in the draft. While Turner hasn’t taken any snaps in the NFL, you can’t teach other players to be faster or more athletic. Turner will be Awuzie’s backup.
Contenders: Brad Robbins, Drue Chrisman
Chrisman usurped long-time punter Kevin Huber a little past halfway through the 2023 season, and while he did some things better than Huber, he wasn’t anything to write home about. He had such a bad line-drive punt that had no hang time in the AFC Championship game against the Chiefs, that it helped Kansas City set themselves up for a game-winning field goal to go to the Super Bowl.
The Bengals selected Robbins in the sixth round of the 2023 draft out of Michigan. He had the highest hang time of any punter in this year’s draft class, and unless he’s injured, you’d think if the Bengals drafted him, he’ll be the starter. That’s not always the case, though. The Bengals selected kicker Jake Elliot in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. They then cut him in favor of Randy Bullock. Elliot was signed by the Eagles, and he’s been there ever since.
Who wins?: I don’t think the Bengals draft a special teamer just to cut him again. I expect Robbins to be the Bengals punter as long as he’s healthy.