Bubble Watch for Cincinnati Bengals Training Camp
The Cincinnati Bengals have a very happy problem when it comes to final cuts this year—they have an extraordinary amount of talent at many positions. This will make their decisions very difficult when figuring out which players will stick on the final 53-man roster.
Some veterans who have been with the team for some time now will likely find themselves on the chopping block. The same goes for some promising rookies who are looking to climb their way up the depth chart.
One thing is certain—these training-camp battles will be very enticing, and will be on full display during the filming of HBO's Hard Knocks.
Let's take a look at some key Bengals players who happen to find themselves firmly on the roster bubble as training camp approaches.
All depth chart positions courtesy of Ourlads.com.
Experience: Two years
Depth Chart Position: Third-string right defensive end
Analysis: Dontay Moch brings a freakish athletic ability to the Bengals. He has a great 6'2" frame and can run a 4.4 second 40-yard dash despite weighing 255 pounds.
The Bengals have always thought highly of Moch as a situational pass-rusher. Unfortunately, he has not been able to take the field due to his ongoing trouble with migraines.
It is sad to see a player with so much potential held back due to injury. With the addition of Margus Hunt in the 2013 draft, the defensive end position remains very deep and could be a cause for the departure of Moch if he cannot stay healthy.
Experience: Two years
Depth Chart Position: Fourth-string left wide receiver/slot receiver
Analysis: Despite his limited time on the field, Ryan Whalen has been a consistent target for quarterback Andy Dalton. During his first two years in the NFL, Whalen has 11 receptions for a total of 80 yards without a score.
With an offense that relies so heavily on short-to-intermediate routes, a receiver like Whalen could be a nice commodity. He has great hands and runs some of the cleanest routes of any wide receiver on the Bengals' roster.
He will have a difficult time making the final roster this year in such a deep position—he just barely made the roster in 2012—but his reliability could propel him into the final 53-man roster.
Experience: Six years
Depth Chart Position: Second-string left tackle
Analysis: Dennis Roland was brought back to Cincinnati on a new deal over the offseason. However, that was before the new rookie class began to prove themselves during offseason workouts.
The additions of Tanner Hawkinson and Reid Fragel through the draft could make Roland expendable. Roland is strictly an offensive tackle due to his large frame (6'9", 315 pounds). However, the smaller, more versatile Hawkinson could jump over Roland on the depth chart due to his ability to play all five positions on the offensive line.
Roland seems to be the odd man out at the left tackle position right now, but the progress of Hawkinson through training camp will be very telling as to the necessity for the Bengals to keep a veteran behind starter Andrew Whitworth.
Experience: Three years
Depth Chart Position: Third-string weak-side linebacker
Analysis: Vincent Rey was re-signed to a new deal with the Bengals over the offseason due to his value on special teams. The loss of linebacker Dan Skuta hurt the special teams coverage unit, and Rey was supposed to be the guy to pick up the slack.
However, it will be easier said than done for this linebacker. The depth at the weak-side backer position is overwhelming. Vontaze Burfict, Emmanuel Lamur and Sean Porter are all virtual locks for roster spots at that position.
This could make Rey the odd man out if another player can step up on special teams this season.
Experience: Five years
Depth Chart Position: First-string fullback
Analysis: Chris Pressley is on the roster bubble for a completely different reason than any other player. It is not due to his performance one bit—it is due to his position.
Fullback seems to be a dying position in today's NFL. Teams are starting to trend away from the big, bruising types who serve a purpose as an extra blocker. Now, teams are looking for versatility at that position. They want a player that can block, carry and catch.
This could be the route the Bengals take in 2013. They have been working out Orson Charles as an H-back throughout OTAs—a move that would make a traditional fullback irrelevant.
Pressley will continue to see work throughout training camp, it will just be a matter of if the Bengals decide to keep a fullback on the roster when final cuts come around.
Experience: Four years
Depth Chart Position: Third-string left wide receiver
Analysis: Brandon Tate had a great chance to prove his worth both as a return specialist and as a wide receiver in 2012. He did not do much to bolster his stock.
Instead, he was relieved of his pass-catching duties early in the season and concentrated mostly on kick and punt returns thereafter. Some very poor decisions in those departments left many Bengals fans wondering why the team was using Tate as a return specialist.
This season, Tate has some competition at the return position. He will not make the roster solely as a wide receiver, so he must show improvement in his return game if he wants to stick with the Bengals for another season.
Depth Chart Position: Fifth-string running back
Analysis: The 2013 sixth-round draft pick of the Bengals, Rex Burkhead will have an uphill battle during training camp in an effort to make the final roster. There are a couple of reasons why Burkhead could ultimately make the team, and see action in 2013.
Much of this hinges on the Bengals' intentions toward the fullback position. If they choose not to keep a fullback this season, Burkhead would benefit in two different ways.
First, the Bengals would be able to keep four running backs on the final roster instead of three running backs and a fullback.
Second, without a traditional fullback, Burkhead's skill set could find himself converting to an H-back role along with Charles. That would allow him to make the 53-man roster and also see some action during his rookie season.
Experience: Three years
Depth Chart Position: Third-string strong safety
Analysis: With the addition of Shawn Williams in the draft this year, Jeromy Miles could become expendable. Miles saw some time at safety during the regular season last year; however, he appeared to be lost at times on the field and has not been able to fully grasp the position at the NFL level.
Miles was brought back over the offseason due to his contributions on special teams, but the Bengals are full of players who could easily fill his role as a gunner on punts and on coverage units.
There have been some nice things said about the progress of George Iloka—especially in coverage—over the course of OTAs this year. That, too, could lead to the departure of Miles if he does not show improvement over the course of training camp and the preseason.
Depth Chart Position: Third-string strong-side linebacker
Analysis: Brandon Joiner signed with the Bengals before he had to serve a three-year sentence for a 2007 aggravated robbery. He was released from prison after serving eight months.
While in college, Joiner showed tremendous athletic ability and was a highly-sought-after candidate at linebacker by many NFL teams. His stint in prison may have slowed him a bit, so his initiative to stay on the roster will be determined by how quickly he can get back into form and learn the playbook.
Linebacker is such a deep position this year, but if Joiner can reproduce his tremendous play while at Arkansas State, he has a very fair shot to make the final roster.
Depth Chart Position: Fourth-string right cornerback
Analysis: Onterio McCalebb is a converted running back from Auburn. He now plays cornerback for the Bengals due to his smaller frame—this was an attempt to increase his longevity at the NFL level.
Certainly, McCalebb will not make the final roster due to his work as his new position. Instead, he must flash his elite return abilities that he showcased while in college.
The Bengals are very deep at the cornerback position, which means they have the luxury of keeping a sixth corner on the roster that should only see time as a specialist. That is McCalebb's best shot at remaining a Bengal for the 2013 season.
He will compete throughout training camp against Tate in what should be a very intense battle to serve as the team's return specialist.