QUARTERBACK (2): Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron
The idea Cincinnati would keep a third-string quarterback was alive with Terrelle Pryor, due to the historical connection he shared with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson; and the righteous belief he could do more than be a status-quo quarterback. This doesn't appear like a solid application in regards to Josh Johnson; more of a body for camp, as opposed to realistic competition for AJ McCarron.
RUNNING BACK (5): Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead, Ryan Hewitt (H-back)
James Wilder Jr. developing as a fullback was an intriguing development -- it gave Cincinnati a running back and fullback packaged into one; almost like a reincarnation of Fui Vakapuna. Versatility is a coveted attribute. Perhaps college free agent Terrell Watson dominates training camp and shoves Cedric Peerman out? Probably not. If any position on Cincinnati's roster defines stability and consistency, it's running back. Save for injury possibilities, Cincinnati's running back roster from last year will make an encore in 2015.
WIDE RECEIVER (6): A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Mario Alford, James Wright, Denarius Moore
To me, Green, Jones, Sanu and Alford are locks, leaving Brandon Tate, James Wright, Denarius Moore, Cobi Hamilton, Tevin Reese, and Jake Kumerow to battle for two open spots. Wright has shown flashes prior to his PCL injury (though I wonder how much outside interest in him is based on one game). Let's include the second-year receiver anyway. Hamilton has had his issues with drops (and the lack of contributions on special teams), which hurts his stock. Alford would replace Tate's role. Moore? Sure. Why not. If we're projecting the top-five, Green, Jones, Sanu, Alford and Wright are safe bets. Beyond this scenario, we're not sure if it matters. (Bengals usually only keep five on the gameday roster).
TIGHT END (3): Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah
Sure, it's possible Cincinnati keeps John Peters, Matt Lengel or Jake Murphy on the 53-man roster, especially with the struggles Uzomah has had catching the football with any consistency during spring practices. And if the Indominus Rex fears anything bigger than himself, it's John Peters (though he seems destined for the practice squad, if he makes enough progress).
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN (9):
Tackle (4)*: Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Jake Fisher, Eric Winston
Guard (3): Kevin Zeitler, Clint Boling, Trey Hopkins
Center (2): Russell Bodine, T.J. Johnson
*If Cedric Ogbuehi opens the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, as is expected, then he wouldn't count toward the 53-man roster when the season starts.
There's the issue of Trey Hopkins, who became the new Mike Pollak when the actual Mike Pollak was released in February. However, is Hopkins worth keeping? Developing players isn't an issue of resources; Cincinnati has enough talent on the offensive line to apply contingencies when necessary. In other words, is there room and a need?
Zeitler and Boling are here for the long-run and Fisher is developing as a backup for every spot on the offensive line, save for center. T.J. Johnson is the only legitimate backup center with a competent disposition at guard. Then again, if Bodine is hurt, Boling could slide to center and allow someone like Hopkins or Fisher to replace him at left guard. There's a lot of fluidity on the offensive line.
DEFENSIVE END (4): Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry, Will Clarke
Considering how difficult playing time will be at defensive end, the Bengals may only keep four. Consider this, the Bengals defense played 1,042 snaps in 2013. Carlos Dunlap (949) and Michael Johnson (922) played during 91.1 percent and 88.5 percent of those snaps respectively. Save for injury, why keep more? Gilberry will rotate at defensive end and become an interior pass rusher from the defensive tackle position while Clarke, having gained nearly 20 pounds of mass over the last year, will develop as a primary backup defensive end. Does Margus Hunt make the squad? Maybe. Right now, I'm not entirely convinced.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (5): Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Brandon Thompson, Pat Sims, Marcus Hardison
Devon Still's chances of making the 53-man roster is a bit precarious. Workout videos detail ambitious goals to redefine his body, dropping below 300 pounds and hitting five repetitions at 405 pounds on the bench press (a personal best). This ultimately suggests he's aware of those fading opportunities. If we're factoring Thompson and Hardison as locks, Still v Sims seems like a realistic camp battle (Sims was signed to the veteran minimum so he's, by no means, a lock).
Alternatively, people favor hope that Cincinnati releases Domata Peko -- there wouldn't be a cap hit if they went that direction. However, those same people underestimate the impact Peko provides in the locker room -- and how much the coaching staff craves this impact (players that act like coaches and mentors are rare).
LINEBACKER (6)*: Rey Maualuga, Emmanuel Lamur, A.J. Hawk, P.J. Dawson, Vincent Rey, Marquise Flowers
*Much like Ogbuehi, conservative estimates tend to suggest Vontaze Burfict will open the season on PUP -- thus not counting toward the 53-man roster until he's activated.
Based on his durability issues, it would seem like a long-shot for Sean Porter to make the roster; talent-wise, he could make a strong argument, but it avoids the narrative. Vincent Rey can play all three linebacker spots and special teams; his versatility is valuable. Flowers, to me, is a bubble player, but makes the squad for the time being. Cincinnati could take seven linebackers, adding Jayson DiManche to the mix (which isn't a bad idea). However, players specific to special teams tend to phase out for younger developmental players.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)
Cornerbacks: Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw, Brandon Ghee
Safety: Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Derron Smith, Shawn Williams
Safety is a bit thin this year. Behind Reggie Nelson and George Iloka is a battalion of inexperience with rookies Derron Smith, Floyd Raven, and Erick Dargan joining veterans Shiloh Keo and Shawn Williams; vastly experienced on special teams with limited exposure on defense. My opinion: Cincinnati keeps six cornerbacks. Shaw is capable of playing cornerback and safety, making his versatility invaluable. Hall took snaps at safety during OTAs and minicamp, providing experience (though limited) for an eventual shift if there's any "issues" (aka, injuries).
Obvious talking-points hint to where Cincinnati's top-four cornerbacks play. Those battles will be discussed and resolved during training camp; however all four of those cornerbacks, along with rookie Josh Shaw, make the squad. Brandon Ghee and/or Chris Lewis-Harris will:
- Provide insurance in case there's an injury.
- Allow for the release of someone when Cincinnati activates Ogbuehi or Burfict.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Placekicker: Mike Nugent
Punter: Kevin Huber
Long-snapper: Clark Harris
You've already fallen asleep, haven't you?