1) The backup quarterback gig
By all accounts, AJ McCarron is pulling away as the primary back up to quarterback Andy Dalton. If this speculative trend (based on the media attending three of 10 voluntary practice sessions) continues, the training camp storyline will downgrade to the less interesting question of whether or not the Bengals will keep three quarterbacks. And if so, who claims the third-string role? Josh Johnson or Terrelle Pryor. A speculative Geoff Hobson believes the Bengals will only keep two.
"McCarron is showing the strengths he had at Alabama, awareness and command of the offense, and looks to be getting more work than
We shouldn't expect players like linebacker Vontaze Burfict, offensive tackles Andre Smith and Cedric Ogbuehi, and defensive end Margus Hunt to practice this week. Safety George Iloka probably won't offer much either but he should be observable enough to halt needless speculation -- Iloka is in Cincinnati with the Bengals, despite not being seen by the media.
Players who won't practice, won't practice. It shouldn't be cause for alarm. It's still June.
Conservative teams like the Bengals apply a cautious approach when dealing with players who require rest as their primary rehabilitation. In fact, the only players who we're persistently worried about are Burfict and Ogbuehi... there's a contingency in each case -- Ogbuehi wasn't going to play much anyway.
How much will Cincinnati see from wide receiver Marvin Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert? Cincinnati has applied the "bring them along slowly" model during the three week of voluntary practices. James Wright is recovering from a PCL injury from last year; how much will he work, if at all?
3) The most epic cornerback battle in NFL history
If you're not craving more stories about the Dre Kirkpatrick vs Darqueze Dennard battle, you're inhuman. With Terence Newman leaving for Minnesota during free agency, a vacancy was opened for Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard -- both of whom are buried behind Leon Hall and Adam Jones on the team's cornerback depth chart.
Hall and Jones are early candidates as the team's starting cornerbacks. The first backup behind them figures to play 600-800 snaps on defense this season, thus creating a fantastic competition for playing time. Those battles are taking place this week and will continue through training camp... Don't expect them to be won during mandatory minicamp.
4) Rookies o' Rookies
There are positions where rookies will benefit by stepping up. Tyler Kroft is expected to bolster Cincinnati's tight end depth while adding variety to the position -- will C.J. Uzomah initiate Mission: Make a name for himself? P.J. Dawson is (at least momentary) a bandaid to the worrisome Vontaze Burfict situation.
Jake Fisher needs to continue development at four offensive line positions (excluding center). Why? Well, he's expected to be the primary backup on the offensive line (not just for one position) -- though if we're figuring a home for him, let's focus more on right tackle.
Safety Derron Smith could see significant time with Iloka hurt. Cornerback Josh Shaw, defensive tackle Marcus Hardison and wide receiver Mario Alford should receive their share of work as well.
5) Backups with opportunities
Because George Iloka is hurt, Shawn Williams has primarily worked with the first-team defense. Will Clarke, who has notoriously gained 20 pounds of mass since he was drafted last year, consumed most of Margus Hunt's snaps during OTA. Both players were selected in the third round in the 2013 and 2014 NFL drafts respectively (I smell storyline!).
Let's be realistic here... we shouldn't expect either player to become starters -- or even significant contributors on defense with the mountain of depth they have to climb. That being said, players like Williams and Clark will find invaluable practice time this week. Linebacker A.J. Hawk should receive significant work, squaring off against challengers to become the team's weakside linebacker with Burfict focusing on rehabilitation.
This is the storm before the calm... that sounds about right. Right?