Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals released their first depth chart of the 2012 season Aug. 6, and with it came with a few surprises.
However, this depth chart is by no means the end of the story; instead, it reflects the initial findings of one week in pads. There is still plenty of time for players to break out and for those returning from injury to heal up.
This first depth chart of the year may not be the one we see on opening day, but it does provide us with an insight into the direction of the team going forward and what we are likely to see when the Bengals host the New York Jets Aug. 10.
It seems, for now at least, that Jordan Shipley is not ready to play football.
Despite being taken off the PUP list, it appears Shipley will not be stepping back into the first unit as some might have expected.
Shipley has seemed rusty since joining full practices one week ago, and Jay Gruden pulled no punches speaking about the former Longhorn wideout last week (via Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer):
"He's a little behind, not mentally but physically. He has to get in better shape and get more reps. I don't think he's where he was before the injury yet. I'm not saying he won't be in a week or two or three. It takes awhile to have that confidence to explode off of it. The more he works in individual and team it will come."
The removal of Shipley from the PUP list indicates that at some point in the next month (health-providing) he could supplant Andrew Hawkins, but with the Bengals staff skeptical about his recovery, Hawkins has a real opportunity to take the job and run with it.
Hawkins had an impressive year in 2011, and his stats do not do his contribution justice. With a sure pair of hands and an agile frame, Hawkins was invaluable to the Bengals in short yardage and on third down.
It will be interesting to see if Hawkins can be as successful with an expanded role in 2012 since his success in 2011 came because of the change of pace he provided, having often been left out of opponents' game plans.
The NFL media's favorite talking point when it comes to the Bengals has been this offseason's search for a No. 2 WR. With the likes of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones added via the draft, many believed one of the two would line up opposite A.J. Green at the season's commencement.
This doesn't seem to be the case, however, as both Armon Binns and Brandon Tate have garnered the lion's share of praise in Bengals camp, and both look to have a role with the first unit.
Following Sunday night's "mock game," QB Andy Dalton stressed the desire to build depth at WR and not look for one player to step up:
"There's not going to be one guy that's going to be in there," Dalton said. "There's going to be the guy that's going to walk out there for the first snap of the game, but other than that, everybody's done enough here to where they're going to be getting some playing time."
Binns' impressive display of a team-high five receptions for 69 yards and Tate's four catches for 30 yards (including a five-yard TD) on Aug. 5 more than backed up their QB's comments. While the Bengals may be angling for a tandem at the No. 2 spot, there is still time for one of these players to leapfrog the other, with Binns perhaps being the favorite.
If there is one position battle with the potential for change, it is this one.
Vontaze Burfict has gone from a long shot to make the final 53 to a genuine threat to Roddrick Muckelroy's grasp on the back-up MLB job.
Despite predominantly practicing with the second and third units, Burfict has more than impressed his coaching staff and continues to be one of the highlights of Bengals training camp.
Burfict is certainly making an impression in Cincinnati, and head coach Marvin Lewis has taken notice, saying, "He’s out here just trying to make the football team and he's got a great start." Burfict's great start got even greater Aug. 5 when he picked off a tipped pass intended for A.J. Green in an unexpected feat of athleticism.
It has been clear from OTAs through to training camp that Burfict is determined and working hard to change an image shrouded in red flags, and at this point, he's succeeding.
The preseason will give Burfict a chance to show all he has learned over the summer and to build on the wave of positivity surrounding him. Whether he supplants Muckelroy remains to be seen, but regardless, it is hard to see Lewis' personal project getting the chop at this point.
DT Devon Still will back up Geno Atkins in 2012 and couldn't ask for a better learning opportunity behind one of the most formidable men on the defensive line.
Similarly, fellow rookie Brandon Thompson has an opportunity despite finding himself behind Pat Sims and Domata Peko at nose tackle.
Sims continues to struggle with injury and could be on the roster bubble as time goes by, while Peko's veteran leadership over X-factor selling point is beginning to run out of steam.
Thompson could be No. 2 on the depth chart by the time the season begins, and with a strong showing in 2012, he has every chance of taking over for Peko a year or so from now.
Both Still and Thompson embody the Bengals' approach to defense, a notion one understands simply by looking at them. At 6'5" and 305 pounds, and 6'2" and 320 pounds, respectively, these rookie linemen bring real size and strength to an already towering line, but don't compromise on speed and movement.
Regarding additions to the Bengals playbook this offseason, Jay Gruden suggested that he's added a lot of new looks:
"Probably too much. I have always been criticized about having too many plays, but I would rather have too many plays than not enough. But we are going to continue to expand. From a daily, a weekly basis, we are going to add more things."
Unfortunately, though, it looks like Orson Charles' hopes of emulating the New England Patriots will remain just that for the time being.
Charles sits at fourth on the Bengals depth chart behind both Donald Lee and Colin Cochart, although only one is likely to make the final 53. Bleacher Report's own Chris Roling suggests that Cochart could be the favorite in that contest thanks to superior blocking ability.
Whatever the eventuality, it seems as though Charles will have to make the most of his playing time in 2012 and hope that he impresses enough to see a greater emphasis put on him in 2013.
Charles certainly has the potential to be a solid NFL TE, but with Jermaine Gresham and A.J. Green headlining the Bengals offense as well as a plethora of receivers fighting to establish roles for themselves, Charles will have an uphill battle in garnering attention this year.
SS Taylor Mays is set to start ahead of Jeromy Miles. Mays has been working with the first unit since OTAs and is shaping up to be a solid starter on opening day.
Rookie RG Kevin Zeitler will start at right guard as expected. Clint Boling sits behind him and should see improvement working with the 2012 first-round pick.
CB Leon Hall will start after a strong return from his Achilles injury in 2011, which is promising news for a secondary that just lost its first-round pick in Dre Kirkpatrick.
SLB Dan Skuta will make the move to back up Manny Lawson on the strong side. Given the addition of Vontaze Burfict to the MLB conversation, it's a wise move from Skuta, who is talented enough to contribute.