The Cincinnati Bengals take the field for their first actual live game action of 2017 on Friday, as they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While the Bengals are relatively healthy going into the matchup, they have gone a bit light on the hitting in camp thus far, making us wonder what some of the output will look like in their debut.
This year’s team has an interesting dichotomy. While they are settled in so many areas, there are a number of spots engaging in a heated battle. Here are some of Cincinnati’s starters and backups who will be engaging in some interesting matchups in Week 1 of the preseason.
Offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi versus defensive end Robert Ayers:
Given the rigors of training camp and the new rule stating teams essentially have one major cutdown day at the end of preseason, we may not see a ton of many starters this summer. However, the Bengals need to see what they have in Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher as starting tackles, making us think they’ll get a little more playing time than some other veteran mainstays.
Ayers, who visited Cincinnati in the 2014 offseason, will be lining up as the right defensive end against Ogbuehi on the Bengals’ left side. After an offseason of intense training, there have been ups and downs from the third-year tackle in training camp. Even though it might be for a very limited stint, Ogbuehi will have his hands full with a savvy veteran. If he fares well, it might bring more confidence that blossomed in the early part of camp.
Defensive end Michael Johnson versus offensive tackle Donovan Smith:
There are a couple of fan favorite whipping boys in the form of Bengals veterans this offseason and Johnson has recently been one of them. After being a steady presence on so many other great Cincinnati defenses, folks are rightfully looking for more from him in the stat column.
While Johnson has other young edge rushers in Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson breathing down his neck for playing time, the Buccaneers are undoubtedly looking for more out of Smith, a former second round pick. He scored a paltry 47.5 overall score from Pro Football Focus last season, so while Johnson isn’t likely to get many snaps on Friday, he could make the most of them against Smith.
Running back Joe Mixon versus linebacker Kendell Beckwith:
Mixon has been tearing up camp, making big runs against many solid Bengals defenders. His skill set has people drooling and he could be someone Cincinnati heavily uses as the year wears on in 2017. However, this is the first time he’ll be facing full contact in a professional game scenario and he’ll be seeing some talented Tampa defenders.
One such Buccaneer is Beckwith, who is making a pretty remarkable comeback from a late-season ACL injury with LSU last year. The Bucs may take it a little easy on Beckwith to preserve him, but he’s been a full-go in practice and has played well. A second round running back against a third round linebacker—should be fun to watch.
Offensive lineman Trey Hopkins versus Tampa’s backup defensive linemen:
Given how the Bengals have been using Hopkins this training camp, not only is he poised to make the final roster, but he might have a say in starting this year. He has lined up at tackle and guard, so it’s likely we’ll see him do the same this Friday against Tampa Bay, thus making it hard to pinpoint one particular lineman he’ll be going against.
It’s been a long road for Hopkins and the Bengals. After joining the club as an undrafted free agent in 2014, he has bounced on and off of various forms of the Bengals’ roster. They have long had high hopes for him and with the departures of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, this might be his best chance to gain a significant role.
Linebacker Nick Vigil versus tight end O.J. Howard:
Much has been made of Vigil’s progress this offseason and how he might have the inside track on the starting strong side linebacker position. The Bengals love his quickness and sideline-to-sideline range, but he’ll have a huge test if and when he’ll be asked to shadow Howard.
There was a time when many thought Cincinnati was thinking hard about taking Howard at No. 9 this year. They went with John Ross instead, while Tampa Bay seemingly got a steal by grabbing the former Crimson Tide pass-catcher at No. 19 overall. Dirk Koetter might try and see if he can exploit something with Howard against Vigil, so the second-year linebacker better be on his toes.
Cornerback William Jackson III versus wide receiver Adam Humphries:
It’s possible that Jackson might sniff a couple of plays against either DeSean Jackson or Mike Evans on Friday, but with his being the No. 2 outside right cornerback behind Adam Jones, we’re inclined to think he’ll see some other Buccaneers receivers. Jackson has looked solid in camp, hence his being bumped up to that backup role, but he has yet to take any kind of significant NFL snap since being drafted in the first round of 2016.
While Jackson has the speed edge against Humphries, the scrappy receiver just knows how to get open and make plays. He had 55 catches for 622 yards last season and he might be lining up often against Jackson on Friday.