One week into the preseason and the Cincinnati Bengals face a lot of tough questions.
The injury bug bit the Bengals hard in Week 1. Starting left guard Travelle Wharton is done for the year, while Carlos Dunlap is likely to miss the season opener. With a number of other starters banged up, the Bengals are already preparing for the worst.
It's not all doom and gloom however, with the team's rookies and younger players putting on impressive displays in Week 1 as they compete for a roster spot.
The injuries may have forced the Bengals to look to their youth faster than they had hoped, but they have given us great insight into the both the good and bad realities of the 2012 Bengals roster.
Andy Dalton put in a confident if unimpressive display in the opening preseason game.
The second year QB's comments during camp foretold what we were to see on Friday night;
“It hasn’t been perfect but that’s what camp is for, trying to find the mistakes and correct them,” Dalton said.
Dalton completed 4 of 9 pass attempts for 54 yards. The performance will be remembered for A.J. Green's dreadful endzone drop that robbed Dalton and the Bengals of a touchdown.
The main positive here for Bengals fans is that one year removed from a mauling at the hands of the Detroit Lions, Andy Dalton is playing with the confidence and intelligence of someone with twice his experience.
Bruce Gradkowski put in a characteristically scrappy yet competent performance on Friday night. He connected with Marvin Jones for two catches that will immediately boost the young receivers credibility going forward.
Zac Robinson has had a steady preseason thus far, and should see more extensive work throughout the rest of the preseason.
Bad news for rookie RB Dan Herron.
Cedric Peerman put in a dominant display on Friday, stating his case for the likely fourth and final spot at running back.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard figure to have their roster spots assured, while Peerman's heroics on special teams and ground and pound running style won him new fans on Friday night.
Green-Ellis had seven carries for 22 yards against the Jets. The Law Firm impressed in his short runout, making something of nothing on more than one occasion. He may not be a flashy presence in the backfield, but he gets positive yardage, consistently.
The fifth spot will go to Chris Pressley who has been unchallenged as the Bengals starting full back. Brian Leonard may see some time at FB but the job is well and truly Pressley's at this point.
One other name to consider is Aaron Brown. He has shown real potential in camp, but is it enough to overcome the numbers game when cuts begin?
The Bengals are well and truly stockpiled at WR.
Both Brandon Tate and Armon Binns had strong training camps, bolstered by matching performances in Week 1.
They remain neck and neck in the race for the No. 2 spot, while Marvin Jones threw his hat in the ring with a team-leading performance of his own.
Mohamed Sanu didn't get a chance to contribute in the opener which says more about the sheer volume of receivers on the Bengals roster than it does about his talent. Sanu should get a better opportunity to make an impression in Atlanta on Thursday.
Andrew Hawkins had a slow start against the Jets, but Jordan Shipley is a long way off challenging him for the job. Shipley surfaced in garbage time against the Jets which suggests he is some way off from starting, if he even makes the final roster.
Ryan Whalen looks to miss out on making the final roster, despite having one of the safest pairs of hands in the receiving corps. The smart money would be on a Luck-Whalen reunion in Indianapolis before long.
Jermaine Gresham has been his own biggest critic this offseason;
"I'm very, very average, below average right now. I need to excel at things so I can be on the top-level tier with those guys. It's just that simple." said Gresham.
His performance on Friday did little to dismiss these comments, with the towering TE only pulling in one reception for 19 yards.
There is no reason to worry just yet, Gresham is still expected to be Andy Dalton's top target after Green in 2012, and he should start to show us why in the coming weeks.
Donald Lee and Orson Charles will duke it out for the back-up job beginning in Atlanta on Thursday. Lee brought veteran consistency when called upon in 2011, while Charles carries a boatload of promise.
Colin Cochart appears to be the weak link and has done little to suggest he will make the team thus far.
Bengals fans and coaches have been holding their collective breath since the moment Travelle Wharton went down on Friday night.
With Wharton out for the year, the job falls to Clint Boling who appeared out as depth in 2011.
The good news is Boling has come on leaps and bounds since then, and had been pushing for playing time even before Wharton went down.
The real concern here is depth. Boling was intended as the back-up for right guard Kevin Zeitler with the capability of playing back-up to center Kyle Cook also.
Andre Smith has had a strong camp and looks set to take another step in 2012, while Andrew Whitworth is eager to bounce back from a disappointing 2011.
Pat Sims could be on his way out in Cincinnati. An image of Sims sitting on a cooler watching his teammates practice has emerged from the Bengals practice field, and suggests that the back-up nose tackle is far from 100 percent. With rookie Brandon Thompson breathing down his neck and looking solid, Sims is likely to see the axe, and soon.
Geno Atkins hasn't missed a beat since his Pro Bowl 2011 season and looks to go from strength to strength in 2012.
DeQuin Evans has put to together an impressive offseason, and kicked off the preseason with three tackles and one QB pressure against the Jets. The Bengals seem high on Evans, but barring a showcase in the next three games, Evans is destined for the practice squad.
Devon Still manhandled the Jets offensive line at PBS, and displayed an impressive one-two punch of strength and speed.
Left end Carlos Dunlap suffered a significant knee-injury in the first quarter against the Jets. He is likely to miss the season opener in Baltimore, depending on how quickly he heals in the next week or so.
Former 2007 first-round pick Jamaal Anderson will step into his spot when the Bengals travel to Atlanta on Thursday.
The Bengals linebacker corps has grown significantly this offseason. This will prove difficult when it comes to cuts. The Bengals could justify keeping eight of these players due to the range of skills available to them.
Those unlikely to make the cut are: Dontay Moch, Emmanuel Lamur, Micah Johnson and Grant Hunter.
Moch has real potential and could be the aforementioned 'eighth' man in the lineup. He had a solid outing against the Jets, but his four game suspension and his failure to play consistently since his arrival could be his undoing.
Vontaze Burfict seemed to be just about everywhere on Friday night. He may not be polished, but Burfict has all the tools and believe it or not a great attitude to boot. The controversial UDFA has undergone a transformation this offseason and his place seems secure.
Dan Skuta and Roddrick Muckelroy have also impressed thus far, and give the Bengals some solid depth. Vincent Rey also figures to make the team backing-up Manny Lawson.
Reports out of Bengals camp this week suggest that both Jason Allen and Nate Clements could see time in the strong safety role.
With Taylor Mays recovering from a concussion, the Bengals have been assessing their options were he to go down during the regular season.
By starting Clements at SS, the Bengals would be able to go with Terence Newman and Leon Hall at corner with Reggie Nelson at FS. That's a pretty strong back four.
It tells us that while the Bengals have replaced Chris Crocker with Taylor Mays, the inexperience and youth of those behind him remains a weak point in the secondary.
From a numbers standpoint its hard to see George Iloka making the final 53 despite having significant potential. If he does creep into the final lineup it could mean the axe for Brandon Ghee.
Leon Hall has looked 100 percent and shows no signs of rust. The veteran CB was sorely missed in 2011, and gives Mike Zimmer's secondary an immediate boost with his return.
First round pick Dre Kirkpatrick continues to recover from his knee injury, but is unlikely to see the field any time soon. The concern for Kirkpatrick is that he has fallen so far behind and practiced only sparingly with the defense. This raises the question that even when he does return, how long is it going to take him to simply catch up with all that he has missed?