It's a crowded receiving corps for the Bengals this year; could Brandon Tate be the odd man out?
We're one month away from the start of NFL training camps, when the view of which players who are fighting on the bubbles of their respective rosters becomes painfully clear.
However, with minicamps and OTAs wrapped up, it's not hard to tell which players are already on the dreaded bubble. The work will be twice as hard, and the impressions they make will need to be twice as big if they are to secure themselves a coveted spot on the 53-man active roster.
With that in mind, here are four players on the Cincinnati Bengals' roster bubble as we head toward camp.
The Bengals don't need three slot receivers on their active roster, which could spell doom for Andrew Hawkins.
Right now, the Bengals have a ton of receivers on their roster and likely just six spots available on the active roster. Though Brandon Tate has been working a lot with the first team offense in minicamp and OTAs, that doesn't make him safe.
Tate is primarily a kick and punt returner—he had no receptions for the Bengals last season—and with so much depth at cornerback, he may not be needed to fill that role if Adam Jones reassumes those duties.
Chances are, the Bengals coaching staff had Tate with the first team for reasons of seniority and to see if there is any reason to keep him around as a receiver. If others step up in camp, Tate's spot could very much be in jeopardy.
For Andrew Hawkins and Ryan Whalen, it's simply about the glut of receiving talent currently on the roster that may force at least one of them out of Cincy this summer. Whalen, who caught four passes for 27 yards in his rookie 2011 season, could at least land on the practice squad.
Hawkins, on the other hand, is in more trouble. Hawkins was brought onto the active roster last season after slot receiver Jordan Shipley tore his ACL and caught 23 passes for 263 yards. With Shipley likely back at full health and Marvin Jones also looking for time in the slot, the undersized (5'7", 175 pounds) Hawkins might not have a use to the Bengals this year.
Dan Herron was able to participate in Bengals' rookie minicamp, but not the full-team affair, nor OTAs.
Sixth-round 2012 draft pick Dan Herron sat out OTAs and minicamp with a foot injury, and though he should be ready for next month's training camp, that may not be enough time for him to make an impression.
The Bengals are approaching the running back position by committee this year, but Herron's not likely to be a part of it. He's on the depth chart behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman and doesn't possess the most dynamic running talents.
What Herron can do, however, is block. If that's enough for the Bengals to keep Herron around this year, then he'll likely spend his rookie season on the practice squad.
DT Pat Sims could be a victim of circumstance.
Though the Bengals re-signed defensive tackle Pat Sims in March after he tested the free-agent market, that's not necessarily the greatest vote of confidence for the fifth-year veteran.
Sims missed time last season with an ankle injury, and the month after signing him to a new deal, picked up two more defensive tackles in the draft, Devon Still and Brandon Thompson.
Sims could stay on as depth, of course, as he may have already lost his starting nose tackle job permanently to Domata Peko. If the two rookies look sharp in camp, the Bengals might ultimately choose to part ways with Sims before the season begins.
Here's a surefire recipe for a player to end up on his team's roster bubble: Miss your rookie season with injury, not pick up the defense fast enough when you're ready to get back on the field, to the point that your defensive coordinator calls you out publicly, get suspended for the first four games of the upcoming season.
That's the exact situation that Bengals linebacker Dontay Moch is in right now. Add in a dash of very real competition going on for starting jobs at the position, and it doesn't look good for Moch's chances as we head toward training camp.
At this point, Moch has so much catching up to do while also proving that he's worth the Bengals' time and money (and a valuable roster spot), though he won't be available to play for the first quarter of the season. Those are a lot of hurdles to leap, and unless Moch does so quickly and flawlessly, he's in danger of being released.