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The Chronicle: Position Battles and OTA storylines

The Cincinnati Bengals have their first Offseason Training Activity (even though they've been actively training in the offseason) practice this Tuesday. We take a look at some storylines and position battles.

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Don't get us wrong, there is value in contemplating life's greatest questions: Is there a god? What is the meaning of life? If Zooey Deschanel and Katy Perry had a love child, would it look like Zooey Deschanel or Katy Perry? ... wait, what? Part of what makes life so great are the unknown variables that exist, complicating or assisting our path toward something disastrous or something great. We are where we are for a reason.

We take a glance at some of the position battles, as well as storylines, as the Bengals head into their first OTA session this Tuesday.


Four will enter; three will leave. False. The role of third-string cornerback and/or nickel cornerback isn't necessarily a numbered role. For all intents and purposes, today's nickel cornerback is also largely a starter. Seriously: Starter is such an outdated and overrated term anyway... you define one player by one play. Cornerback Adam Jones started three games in 2014, which isn't much. When you factor that he played 73.9 percent of the team's defensive snaps, it highlights a greater example toward his contributions.

That being said, Leon Hall is fending off two challengers in Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard, while Jones, still trying to figure out this golf thing, making for a quadruplet of position players vying for three vacancies as the team's significant cornerback contributors. Kirkpatrick and Dennard have a shark's mentality, designing their Mr. Burns-like selfishness when Cincinnati decided not to re-sign Terence Newman. This could be one of the great on-field offseason storylines this summer.

While that's happening, fourth-round pick Josh Shaw initiates: Mission: "Biding my time."


During the lockout summer of 2011, the NFL made a minor rule change that redefined Cincinnati's approach to roster-building. The NFL dropped the inactive emergency quarterback rule and expanded the gameday roster from 45 players to 46. Since that point, the Bengals stopped carrying a third-string quarterback -- until they surprisingly activated A.J. McCarron off the Physically Unable to Perform list last December.

NOTE: The last time that Cincinnati entered the regular season with three quarterbacks was 2010 -- Carson Palmer, J.T. O'Sullivan and Jordan Palmer.

Cincinnati enters OTA with four quarterbacks, fighting for three positions... or maybe two. Deciphering Cincinnati's intentions at quarterback isn't easy. The general belief is that A.J. McCarron has managed to solidify himself as the team's primary backup behind Andy Dalton. If the Bengals stick with three quarterbacks on the roster -- that leaves Josh Johnson and Terrelle Pryor in a gladiator-sized dual between two quarterback prodigies who developed under Cincinnati's previous two offensive coordinators... OK, that's not much of a setup.

This is McCarron's job to lose and I don't believe that the Bengals will carry three quarterbacks... unless Pryor destroys expectations and forces the Bengals to keep him out of sheer brilliance during the preseason. It's a fluid situation (which won't be determined in May) and anything could happen. I just don't think it will.


Just because Tyler Kroft was selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft, he isn't automatically planted as the team's second tight end for those promising two-tight sets with Tyler Eifert on the opposite side.

1) The Bengals use of third-round picks have generally always led to disappointment. 
2) Fourth and fifth round picks generally have more productive careers in Cincinnati.

Of course none of the above matters in this situation; if history repeated itself, I'd have my old jet black curly locks flowing down the side of my shoulders every 20 years. Despite not having the glorious numbers on your run-of-the-mill statistical player page, C.J. Uzomah has enough talent for the Bengals to bring him to Cincinnati. And we're not even including Matt Lengel, Jake Murphy, or John Peters in the conversation -- the latter of whom appears to be set as a project-sized player, just now learning how to block.

People can project all they want with a speculative gene that would insult the scientific work of Nostradamus or common-sense approach of John the Apostle. Dictating a college player's success in the NFL is not unlike a roulette table that the eyes of an obsessive Danny Ocean can't look away from.


Reggie Nelson could be the most underrated player during the Marvin Lewis era. It's not that people ignore him; that would be dumb. It's that when people focus on Bengals players it's usually about the 1) offense and 2) top-tier players. Nelson has spent a majority of his career in Cincinnati making plays. Hall of Famer? Don't be stupid. That being said, Nelson will turn 32-years-old as he enters his final year under contract.

Will he be re-signed?

Cincinnati's core at safety is weak and understaffed. There will be an effort to sign him; though I'm not seeing an extension before the season starts. George Iloka should be in the team's sights for an extension this summer. He's young, talented and has swagger/attitude. He's the type of player who can beautifully develop into a leader... or maybe football's version of an enforcer.

After that, the position is in a state of weakness.

Derron Smith is a promising sixth-rounder who slid in the NFL draft due to a knee. Shawn Williams has spent two full seasons on special teams... and while you hope that he's being groomed into an eventual defensive contributor, that perspective has been shockingly quiet. Maybe someone like Shaw develops into a safety... though defensive backs coach Vance Joseph preferred cornerback first:

"Well, he’s going to be a corner," Joseph said earlier this month. "He’s going to be a press corner. That’s what we do here with the Bengals. He’s going to be a corner with the ability to play nickel; that’s a huge thing for us. And obviously in a pinch he could play safety. You can see it on tape. It won’t be a projection. He’s doing those things on college tape. He’s playing all three positions and he’s a very, very, very smart guy. So that’s exciting for me."

TRANSLATION: "Exciting for me for the next eight months before I'm a defensive coordinator next year..."


You're sitting at the dimly-lit bar on Saturday night, watching the world fade away. After all, Vontaze Burfict is a complete unknown. The Bengals signed A.J. Hawk during the offseason and drafted TCU linebacker Paul Dawson, who draws style comparisons to Burfict.

It's questionable-to-doubtful that Burfict will be green-lit for training camp and he might be on the Physically Unable to Perform list when the season starts. It's also possible that Burfict starts training camp and dominates the world like he did in 2012 and 2013. His status for late July is a complete unknown and speculating on that is a waste of everyone's time.

We know that he won't be at OTA.

Rey Maualuga will "start" at inside linebacker and Emmanuel Lamur is designated as the strongside backer that also plays in nickel situations. As for the vacant weakside backer, figure that's where Dawson will work, alongside the oft-injured Sean Porter and A.J. Hawk (they will find a spot for him). Vincent Rey is still around too.


The Bengals second-round draft pick, Oregon offensive tackle Jake Fisher, will practice this week and it could be anywhere. Left guard, right guard, left tackle or right tackle. If he snaps footballs, then we'll know that offensive line coach Paul Alexander snapped... see what I did there?

Cincinnati needs to develop Fisher at all four positions on the offensive line, but with Andre Smith out this week (and probably until training camp), it might benefit everyone to anchor Fisher at right tackle and let him develop at a position that he'll probably occupy if/when the team doesn't re-sign Smith. It sadly wouldn't surprise anyone if Eric Winston starts over Fisher at right tackle.


+ Margus Hunt might (or should) be in far more trouble, especially if Will Clarke (who gained 20 pounds of muscle this offseason) shows improvement. Cincinnati had one of their worst pass rushes in recent memory last season. Hunt only played 187 snaps and only generated eight quarterback pressures. If he can't show a significant improvement this year, there's simply no room for Hunt. Michael Johnson is back and playing time has not become an expensive luxury. His chance may have already passed him up.

+ OUT: It's believed that Tyler Eifert and Andre Smith won't practice this week, joining Burfict on the sidelines. Other players, like wide receiver Jake Kumerow, are dealing with their own injuries from rookie minicamp.

+ Welcome back, Marvin Jones.

+ The Bengals released Mike Pollak due to a knee injury. Many believe that Trey Hopkins -- signed as a college free agent last year because no one drafted him -- is the real deal. There are even some folks on Twitter throwing around the "I watched film of him" argument that makes zero sense -- I go back to the undrafted part. Regardless, now is the time when everyone can put their money where their mouth is with Hopkins. Is he the real deal or are people just blowing smoke?

+ Another position battle? Adam Jones v Mario Alford as primary returners -- g'night Brandon Tate? Hopefully? Either way, this battle will obviously include other players. But these two are your headliners.

+ Is Rex Burkhead now the team's third-string running back and will Terrell Watson power his way into more participation later? Everyone loves Rex but I'd be shocked if he was a roster lock in May -- there are other players on the running back roster who could make life difficult and the Bengals have a good running backs coach in Kyle Caskey, who has already done tremendous work with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill.