Updating Bengals' Key Position Battles Halfway Through Training Camp
On Thursday we got our first glimpse of what the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals might look like.
Backups Dane Sanzenbacher and Josh Johnson stole the show, but there were some promising performances from veterans Rey Maualuga and Jermaine Gresham.
While we still have a long way to go before final cuts, four quarters of football have given us some indication of how key positional battles are developing.
Here's our look at who's rising and who's falling.
Josh Johnson vs. John Skelton
Josh Johnson and John Skelton got their first opportunity to command attention on Thursday, in the Bengals' opening preseason tilt against the Falcons.
It was Johnson who had the more impressive display, after taking over for Andy Dalton in the second quarter.
He completed nine of 16 passes, throwing for 100 yards and a nice TD to Brandon Tate in the process. He also used his legs to clock 43-yard and 14-yard gains.
It's that scrambling ability, combined with Johnson's knowledge of the Gruden system, that could be the difference-maker in the battle for the backup job.
But the battle isn't over yet. John Skelton threw what may have been the prettiest pass of the game during the fourth quarter. Dane Sanzenbacher was the receiver to haul it in, grabbing it between two defenders for a 36-yard touchdown.
Despite a competent performance from Skelton, it was Johnson who received the majority of praise after this one.
Jermaine Gresham vs. Tyler Eifert
Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert are set to be two of the key pieces for this offense in 2013.
However, the next few weeks will establish which one will be the Aaron Hernandez to the other's Rob Gronkowski.
Jermaine Gresham is keen to show that he's still the No. 1 tight end on the roster, and he proved it in Atlanta on Thursday. His flattening shoulder barge on Falcon Desmond Trufant did a good job of reminding us just how much of a force he can be.
If Gresham is the Bengals' go-to YAC tight end, then Eifert is their end-zone threat.
However, he didn't have a strong performance on Thursday night, and per Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, Jay Gruden was not impressed:
(I) was kind of surprised that he was way better in the running game than he was in the passing game. It was awful. Great in the running game and awful in the passing game. Finally I get something to yell at him about.
Gresham has gained the edge for now, but there's a long way to go, and Eifert has all the tools to be just as useful.
Brandon Ghee vs. Shaun Prater, Etc.
If the Bengals decide to keep five corners on the final 53-man roster, Brandon Ghee is the favorite to grab the final spot.
With Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick already locks to make the grade, Ghee needs to perform over the next few weeks to ensure that he remains above the likes of Shaun Prater.
Ghee had been putting together a solid game in Atlanta before he was forced off the field with a head injury—another setback in a spectacularly injury-prone career.
The fourth-year cornerback had an interception in the second quarter that would go on to produce a Giovani Bernard TD on the ensuing possession.
Behind Ghee we have Shaun Prater, the likely sixth man (if there is one), followed by a scrum of Chris Lewis-Harris, Onterio McCalebb, Troy Stoudermire and Terrence Brown.
In reality, Ghee is primarily competing against himself. Shaun Prater provides the only real threat to upend him, but provided Ghee remains injury-free, he should seal the deal.
George Iloka vs. Taylor Mays vs. Shawn Williams
The triple-threat matchup to decide who will start opposite Reggie Nelson continues to heat up.
George Iloka has emerged as the front-runner, and following the trip to Atlanta, he won the plaudits of Marvin Lewis, via Paul Dehner Jr. of Cincinnati.com:
"George did great,” Lewis said. “George knows what to do and how to do it. He gets people where they belong and he knows where he belongs and that’s great. I feel really good about him."
At this point, it looks like it's Iloka's job to lose.
Taylor Mays doesn't appear to be making too valiant a challenge for the job in camp. On Sunday he struggled to cover Tyler Eifert, according to Brennen Warner of Cincy Jungle.
It'll be interesting to see if the rookie third-round pick can supplant Taylor Mays at No. 2 on the depth chart over the coming weeks.
Rex Burkhead vs. Dan Herron
Running back No.4.
That's the job Rex Burkhead and Daniel "Boom" Herron are fighting for this preseason.
Above them, Cedric Peerman is the likely No. 3 behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard.
Burkhead showed promise in the visit to Atlanta, leading the running backs with nine carries for 52 yards. More impressively, he averaged over five yards per carry.
Dan Herron ran the ball well on Thursday but didn't quite reach the level of play that Burkhead provided. Herron posted 30 yards from eight carries and averaged just under four yards per carry.
This positional battle seems entirely fluid, meaning we should see some exciting rushing performances over the coming weeks.
It's bad news for Bernard Scott who's currently sitting on the PUP list as he continues to rehab his knee. He's already lost his No. 2 job to Giovani Bernard and now risks falling even further behind.