The Cincinnati Bengals have finished up their OTAs and are now moving forward to their mandatory minicamp. It is still early in the league year, but we can begin to put the pieces together in order to assemble a projection for the final 53-man roster.
There are still plenty of starters that are currently unable to participate due to minor injuries and ailments, but most of these players have solidified positions on the roster already.
This year, there are plenty of heated positional battles that will rage on through the duration of the preseason for Cincinnati. The Bengals have a happy problem in the fact that they have an exuberant amount of talent on this year's roster.
So, what will happen as the roster battles begin to shake out for the Bengals?
Let's take a look at each position and predict the 53 players that will enjoy the 2013 season on the roster of the Bengals.
Generally an NFL team will only employ two quarterbacks throughout the season and have a player from a different position designated as the third emergency quarterback.
This will be the trend for the Bengals this season as there are plenty of talented players that must be addressed at other key positions.
Dalton will be the incumbent starter once again this season for Cincinnati. He is entering a very crucial third year and—with the weapons he has been given—should improve over his 2012 campaign.
Johnson will likely step in as the backup to Dalton. He showed some flashes of his ability to make plays with his legs during OTAs which has caused some staff to come away impressed.
His ability to run with the football and scramble for yards on a busted play should be enough to win him the job over John Skelton.
The Bengals will keep four running backs on the roster without a traditional fullback this season. Yes, they currently have two good players in Chris Pressley and John Conner. However, they will not survive the final cuts.
Pressley has been solid but is coming off a major injury. Conner only spent a handful of time with the team as a replacement for Pressley. That being said, neither of these players fit the scheme of this offense going forward. The Bengals will turn to a more dynamic and versatile option at that position.
Green-Ellis will again be the primary running back. He will shoulder most of the workload and continue to be utilized in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Splitting time with Green-Ellis will be Bernard. He will be given a healthy amount of opportunities this season both as a ball-carrier and receiver.
Herron should stick with the team as the younger replacement for Cedric Peerman. Peerman has been the special-teams ace for a couple season now. Herron will be the heir apparent for that position after he showed some great flashes last season.
Burkhead will make the roster as another change-of-pace back. He will be used in a similar fashion as the Bengals former third-down back Brian Leonard. Instead, Burkhead will be plugged in at fullback on passing downs to create another threatening element for the Bengals.
This will be a position that will be highly contested until the preseason ends. Veteran Alex Smith could possibly make the final roster as a fourth tight end should the Bengals decide to trim another position back.
However, this should not be the case.
Gresham will continue on as the starter at the tight-end position. He will be looking to shore up his in-line blocking and hand-eye coordination over the offseason. After a brutal end to the 2012 season, he needs to step up in a big way and be a leader by example for the younger tight ends on the roster.
Eifert—the Bengals' first-round selection from 2013—should see plenty of playing time during the upcoming season. Like Gresham, he needs to develop as a blocker as well. However, he has already been showing off his great hands during OTAs. His coaches and teammates are both impressed, and this will certainly help earn him some more playing time.
Charles comes in as a third tight end, but he should be considered more as an H-back. He will slide between the tight-end and and fullback position during the season to give an added dimension to the offense. This is a position he is familiar with from his days at Georgia. He will be a great receiver out of the backfield and could be the best pound-for-pound blocker on the team.
This could possibly be the most difficult positional group of all to predict—not to mention considering the team could decide to keep seven wide receivers instead of six.
If they do indeed keep six, it will all begin with Green. He is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL and will be looking for yet another strong performance in 2013.
Sanu is now healthy and should be a fine complement to Green as a starter. During his limited time on the field last season, the entire offense improved drastically due to his presence.
Jones will be a great change-of-pace receiver for Sanu. If Sanu slides into the slot, Jones can supplant him on the outside and become another deep threat for the Bengals offense.
Hawkins will continue to be the primary slot receiver for the Bengals. There should be some urgency to get the ball into his hands in space this coming season. He is always a threat to break a big play each time he touches the ball.
Hamilton has been turning heads during rookie minicamp and OTAs. Every coach has been truly impressed with what they have seen so far. If Hamilton keeps up this pace, not only will he make the roster, but he could see a decent amount of playing time in his rookie season.
Whalen will take the final spot here for two reasons. First, he is possibly the most reliable receiver on the team. He is a crisp route-runner and has great hands. Second, the Bengals have options in the return game this year which could make Brandon Tate expendable.
Offensive Line (9)
Left Tackle: Andrew Whitworth, Tanner Hawkinson
Left Guard: Clint Boling
Center: Trevor Robinson, Kyle Cook
Right Guard: Kevin Zeitler
Right Tackle: Andre Smith, Anthony Collins, Reid Fragel
The offensive line is a very sensitive issue for a team when making final cuts. Solid linemen are very difficult to find on the street once the regular season begins. This means that the coaching staff will have to be very careful when making this decision.
Two names that are not on the list are Travelle Wharton and Dennis Roland. Wharton suffered a season-ending injury last year in the preseason which paved the way for Boling.
Boling has been solid which could make Wharton expendable. Also, with the versatility of guys like Hawkinson, Collins and Fragel, the less versatile Roland could find himself on the chopping block as well.
The offensive line that the Bengals are left with contains a great mixture of youth and experience. All five starters from last season are still currently intact which is a very big deal for the line.
One last note is second-year player Robinson. Once he is healthy, he should be able to beat out Cook for the starting position at center during training camp and the preseason.
This should be a rather easy position for the Bengals to handle this season. There should not be any surprises at this position when it is time for final cuts.
Two players that Bengals fans may be familiar with that are not on this list are Dontay Moch and DeQuin Evans. Moch cannot seem to help his case to get on the field as he still suffers from chronic migraines. Evans will just be a numbers casualty.
These five players will make a great rotation at defensive end for the Bengals this season. Dunlap, Gilberry and Hunt will be manning the left side of the line, while Johnson and Geathers will have the right.
Do not expect Hunt to see much playing time during his rookie season. He will be involved in a handful of defensive snaps, but this will mainly be a learning year for him. Most of his contributions will come on special teams this season.
With the four key players at defensive end returning this season along with the addition of Hunt, this defensive line could be primed to outdo their 2012 numbers.
One key loss at the defensive tackle position during the offseason was that of Pat Sims. Sims was a great body to have in the middle on rushing downs. The void left by him will need to be filled by second-year players Still and Thompson.
This position is comprised of Atkins—the best defensive tackle in the NFL—and his counterpart Peko. Both of these starters have been great against the run and will continue without the presence of Sims.
However, the second-year players must step up this season in the rotation despite very limited playing time last year.
The pressure is mainly on Thompson, who will fill the nose-tackle role where Sims previously played. Still will have the pleasure of spelling out Atkins at the 3-technique.
If the defensive line is to be as dominant as it was in 2012, these unproven players will need to be on top of their games in 2013.
There is a great amount of pressure on Still and Thompson this season. They must be ready to rise to the occasion.
This may be one of the most controversial positional groups among fans and pundits alike. There is plenty of depth at the linebacker position this year for the Bengals and cuts will be tough.
Right now, the best way to decide who to keep is to look at what they do best and the role that they will play on the team this season. After all, the team will want to keep the most productive players on their final roster.
Your starters for 2013 will be Maualuga at MIKE, Harrison at SAM and Burfict at WILL. That much is pretty well known so far. Lamur will be the next guy in line to get reps while he can jump in on passing downs being the best coverage linebacker on the Bengals roster.
Porter is a great talent and should be able to play both the WILL and SAM positions. He will not be asked to do too much during his rookie season and will likely sit back and learn from the veterans. He should be able to contribute on special teams in the meantime.
Rey was brought back over the offseason specifically for his contributions on special teams. The loss of special teams ace Dan Skuta means Skuta's production will have to be duplicated by another player. This is where Rey comes in. Look for him to make a big difference on the coverage teams during 2013.
DiManche is an interesting story. He is a UDFA this season and looks to make the team in the same way as Burfict and Lamur did last year.
DiManche has a great amount of speed and could be that situational edge-rusher that the Bengals were hoping to get with Moch. The coaching staff is very high on this rookie, and his freak athleticism could earn him a roster spot when it is all said and done.
This is yet another tough group to call due to the amount of depth that sits at the position. Not only is depth a factor here, but inexperience is as well. Some of these players have never taken a regular-season snap before which makes it very difficult to gauge their abilities.
Hall will be back as the incumbent starter at the position. He will be joined by Newman on the other side.
Kirkpatrick does want to start—and very well may get the chance. However, it may not be until a couple games into the season. He has been rehabbing his injury and has not practiced with the team yet. This could push back Kirkpatrick's plans to start for a little while longer.
Jones will return as the slot cornerback. CBS Sports.com reported that on Monday, Jones tweeted that he had been arrested due to a quarrel with fans at a local bar. However, he has said that he feels he was not in the wrong, and that is how it will be treated for now.
Ghee and Prater are two corners that have a great amount of skill and have shown flashes during camp over the past two years. However, they were both derailed by ill-timed injuries and could not play last season.
They have already begun to impress yet again this year and—barring a setback—should see plenty of playing time in the regular season.
This is the group that has given Bengals fans headaches for quite some time now. Nelson has always been stellar at the free-safety position. Although, the Bengals have yet to find a suitable counterpart for him at strong safety.
Cincinnati hopes to end that trend when it drafted Williams in the third round in this year's draft. He comes from a great defense in Georgia and has very suitable skills for a strong safety. He does need to work on his coverage abilities, but he is a sure tackler and a vocal leader.
Backing them up will be Mays and Iloka.
Mays is not much of a fan favorite. His reckless play on the field has been a huge cause for concern. The hope will be that he can watch from the sidelines as a backup as he continues to develop.
Iloka has done well in OTAs. He impressed coaches in some coverage drills and seems to be progressing nicely. If he is able to keep up this pace, he should be a suitable backup to Nelson.
Robert Sands and Jeromy Miles become casualties here. The Sands experiment seems to have run its course, and Miles could not produce enough last season to warrant further consideration.
Kicker (1): Mike Nugent
Punter (1): Kevin Huber
Long Snapper (1): Clark Harris
This trio of specialists were all brought back during the offseason by Cincinnati. In fact, they were some of the first to re-sign with the club.
All three of these players were very solid last season.
Huber had the best season of his career, Nugent was kicking very well until an injury held him out the rest of the season and Harris was on point with every snap.
Having all three of these players back and working together again this year keeps a very solid and stable special-teams unit that finished inside the top 10 in all major categories last season intact.