Start, Keep, Cut for Every Cincinnati Bengals' Offensive Position
After one preseason game, the Bengals' roster may have become a little bit clearer. It's all fine and good to speculate during OTAs and training camp, but actually seeing guys on the field lends a lot more information.
Cincinnati looked very good against the Atlanta Falcons last week, but let's make sure we keep it in perspective—most of the guys who were impressive were third-string athletes playing against the Falcons' third string.
Still, this is the time where the sleepers come out and shine. With one week of preseason in the books, what can we tell about the Bengals' roster?
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This one is a no-brainer. Dalton, Cincinnati's second round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, is in no immediate danger of losing his job. Actually, if you look at the options for his backup, one would think he's in no danger whatsoever.
Dalton has thrown for 47 touchdowns and over 7,000 yards in two seasons with the Bengals. There's no doubt he's given the Bengals a boost, but this should be the season he really breaks out and gives Cincinnati a shot at a Super Bowl run.
Johnson, who spent 2012 out of the NFL, had a nice showing in Atlanta last week, collecting a grand total of 164 yards (through the air and on the ground) and throwing a touchdown to Brandon Tate.
Throughout training camp, it became pretty obvious that Johnson would be the best backup option on the roster. He's a dual threat guy, so should Dalton go down, the Bengals' offense would be running at a different sort of tempo.
There is no reason to believe John Skelton will see the field in Cincinnati. However, Skelton has had some recent action with the Arizona Cardinals, and despite a less than impressive showing, experience is experience.
Decision-making has always been a problem for the former Cardinal, and if nothing else, it's worth noting that Skelton went 4-of-5 with 72 yards and a score against Atlanta. It was a decent showing in what limited time he's going to get.
Having four quarterbacks on the roster is a waste in and of itself, so this really leaves Zac Robinson in a bad situation.
Robinson had some decent showings at Oklahoma State, but he's never seen NFL action during the regular season. Now that Skelton and Johnson are here and injuries are plaguing him, expect Robinson to hit the road.
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The team signed Green-Ellis last season after Cedric Benson left town, and in terms of rushing yardage, the Law Firm had the best season of his career with 1,094 yards.
The problem was that there wasn't really anyone to take some of the load off him. That may have worn him down, but he actually progressed as the season went. He has a bruising style of play, and he's going to head the Bengals' depth charts for the entirety of the season.
I expect that he'll rack up another 1,000 yards in 2013, and improve on his most disappointing 2012 stat—only six touchdowns.
I, as well as many others, expected Cincinnati to draft a running back in the 2012 Draft. Needless to say, that didn't happen. A year later, the Bengals got Bernard out of North Carolina.
What Bernard can add is a speed element to the running game, which can complement Green-Ellis' bruising style. He has quick feet, which he displayed as a Tar Heel, totaling over 2,400 yards and 25 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
With this new running game in the offensive mix, I expect Bernard to see substantial time. He won't be the "starter," but it's a two-back set in this league now, and you may see Bernard gather 800 yards.
Peerman saw the biggest opportunity he's received to date in 2012, though that only came in the form of 36 carries. He gathered 258 yards, which averages out to over seven yards per carry.
He benefited from Bernard Scott's injury problems last season and should have shown enough to keep himself around for the 2013 season. He's not incredibly fast or powerful, but he has a respectable combination of both. He won't see much time, but he'll be good to keep around.
More than anyone else, Rex Burkhead benefited from the first preseason game in Atlanta—he ran for 52 yards on nine carries, and had the Queen City buzzing about the rookie from Nebraska.
Burkhead has the build and skill set to be a good third down back, much the way Brian Leonard had when he was in Cincinnati. Bernard and Green-Ellis will be carrying the majority of the load, but in recent weeks, Burkhead has stood out. He's seemed to have gone from possibly being in danger of not making the team to being a shoe-in who could see a good amount of time.
Injuries have plagued Scott dating back to the beginning of last season, and with Cincinnati having added a lot of depth to the position, I see no reason to keep him around. There's no doubt that his speed has served the Bengals well in the past, but at this point, the Bengals have a lot of that and may move on without him.
Only one running back was drafted in 2012 by the Bengals, and it came in the seventh round—that was Dan Herron. Some speculated that he may see the field at some point, but as I mentioned above, the depth may edge him out. He hasn't done much to distinguish himself from the pack.
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Loads of fans were very excited about the Bengals drafting Orson Charles in the 2012 Draft, though he was drafted as a tight end.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has converted Charles into an H-back now, and early reports are that the transition is going very well for him. He's a great blocker, which was already known last season. As a fullback, he'll be doing a lot of that now.
It's also looking promising that he's going to add another receiver to come out of the backfield for Andy Dalton, which will be huge for a guy who can't throw the ball downfield effectively. Charles has good hands, so if he can be a good presence coming from behind the offensive line, this Bengals' offense will only get better.
It's likely that Pressley will miss some regular season time on the PUP list as he continues to struggle with a knee injury. His time in Cincinnati has been great—he isn't much when it comes to carrying the rock, but he's a tremendous blocker who cleared the way well for Cedric Benson and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
I expect the Bengals to keep him around should something happen to Orson Charles.
Conner being cut doesn't have to do with a lack of skill, because to say he doesn't possess a solid skill set would be untrue. Simply put, he will be edged out, as I don't see the Bengals keeping three fullbacks on the squad.
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Any questions? Concerns? I didn't think so.
It seemed that Sanu was going to break onto the scene with a vengeance in 2012, as he grabbed four touchdown passes and even threw one before going down with a foot injury late in the season.
Now that he's back, training camp reports are that he's receiving extensive time in the offense. He's evidently been doing very well and you can bet that expectations for the former Scarlet Knight are building higher and higher.
Cincinnati needed a guy to take some attention away from A.J. Green. That guy is Sanu. It's very possible that the Bengals could have two 1,000 yards receivers in 2013.
Another sophomore like Sanu, Jones saw some time as well in 2012. He even started in the playoff game against the Houston Texans.
He caught 18 balls for over 200 yards as a rookie and managed to find the endzone once. There are a lot of fans that are high on Jones because of his speed and great hands. He was a diamond in the rough for the Bengals, as he was a late round 2012 pick.
Jones has proven that he is capable of being a good receiver, and while he isn't going to be the No.2 guy, he will see substantial time out of the slot with Andrew Hawkins.
I have dubbed Hawkins the team's x-factor for a couple of seasons now. He seized the opportunity in 2011 when the Bengals were having injury problems in their receiving corps, and continued to capitalize on his chances in 2012. He wound up with 51 catches and four touchdowns.
Coming out of the slot, Hawkins is able to turn a broken play into a huge gain. He's one of the fastest players in the game and there's no doubt that the Bengals should be using that to their advantage, especially with a quarterback who will succeed more with swing passes than deep ones.
If Hawkins' high ankle sprain heals up nicely, he should have his best season to date.
Big things are expected from the rookie out of Arkansas—maybe not this season, but definitely for years to come.
Hamilton, a late round selection back in April, garnered comparisons to teammate Mohamed Sanu during his Combine performance given his size and physicality as a receiver.
His first preseason game was nothing to write home about, but he had impressive moments during OTAs. Expect Jay Gruden to try to sneak Hamilton in for the occasional deep ball, as most of the attention will be turned to Green.
If Ryan Whalen could stay healthy, I'm of the belief that he could be a solid receiver with similar abilities to Jordan Shipley. Whalen, since being drafted in 2011, has seen only 13 games.
Keep in mind that he was once supposed to be Andrew Luck's favorite target at Stanford, so he's no slouch on the field. If Whalen stays healthy, you may see him come out of the slot from time to time.
Throughout Tate's time both in New England and Cincinnati, his career as a receiver really hasn't taken off. There was speculation that he would be the No. 2 receiver opposite A.J. Green in 2012, but that never came to pass.
He's really only been a mediocre special teams presence as a Bengal, and with Adam Jones and Giovani Bernard on the team now, I see no point in keeping him around even for that reason.
Sanzenbacher's only real substantial NFL time came in 2011 with the Chicago Bears when he caught 27 passes and scored three times. He was mostly out of the league last season until being picked up late by the Bengals.
He stood out in the team's preseason game in Atlanta last week, scoring two times, once on special teams. It's hard to gauge his talent playing against the Falcons' third team, but if nothing else, he's using his opportunities to extend his stay with the team.
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It's hard to say just how well Gresham fits in with Bengals' fans at this point in his career. He's a Pro Bowler who has been a huge presence in the team's offense.
Unfortunately, what fans remember is him dropping a lot of passes, particularly in his postseason appearances against Houston. He is definitely more of a receiving tight end than he is a blocking tight end, so when the drops start to pile up, fans will turn.
However, he's got a partner-in-crime now and it's hard to say who will get more looks from Andy Dalton. What is certain is that Jay Gruden has confidence in his fourth-year tight end and he will continue to be utilized heavily in the Bengal offense.
He certainly wasn't the pick that anyone anticipated the Bengals to make, but it appears that the team's "draft the best available" logic in 2013 is going to pay dividends.
No matter who tops the depth charts, you can bet that Eifert will see just as much action as his counterpart, Gresham, in 2013.
The addition of Eifert will add another receiver to go across the middle, which is the best place for Dalton to make his passes. Eifert has great hands and I expect that he will team with Gresham to form one of the best two tight end sets in football.
Since debuting in 2005, Alex Smith has caught 160 passes for over 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns. The downside to that is that the bigger portion of those numbers came prior to the 2009 season.
He's mostly been an afterthought since then, and I imagine that the veteran will only see the field in goal line situations.
I haven't heard much about Richard Quinn during training camp, and he had a catch in the preseason game against Atlanta. Past that, all I know is that he was drafted in 2009 by Denver and has one catch in his career, which came in 2010.
My guess is that he'll be cut from the crowded position.
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Coming in with a new contract, Smith hasn't exactly started off on the right foot, missing OTAs and a couple days of training camp. Now, Smith is active and hopefully, he will improve on his stellar 2012 season.
Within one year, Smith managed to launch himself up the ranks of NFL right tackles, making him a hot commodity on the free agent line. Cincinnati managed to bring him back, and he should be able to continue to lock down the right side of the line with Kevin Zeitler.
Roland came into the league in 2006 with the Buccaneers, and has seen sporadic time over the years. At 6'9" he's a gargantuan human being, but that comes with some inability to be mobile. He has talent, but he's no Andre Smith.
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Kevin Zeitler was drafted in the first round of the 2012 Draft, and the pick has ironed out wonderfully for the Bengals. It was thought that a number of other prospects would be taken, but the Wisconsin Badger wound up joining Cincinnati.
In his rookie season, Zeitler was fantastic and proved that he was well worth the pick. He's a guy that Cincinnati can build their offensive line around, and they will continue to do so.
Hawkinson will be a rookie in 2013, fresh out of the University of Kansas. He's got good size for the position, but isn't quite ready for the NFL. Should things not iron out on the left side—as it is a little hairy—he may see a little action.
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For now, Robinson is listed as the second man on the depth chart, but he started the majority of the games for Cincinnati in 2012.
The center is probably the most under-appreciated position on the field and if the quarterback doesn't have chemistry with his center, you wind up with a butt-fumble. Robinson was a rookie last season, and should improve following a decent showing.
Whether the team starts Cook or Robinson, Andy Dalton should have chemistry with both. Cook only started a couple of games in 2012, but had some bright spots in his limited time.
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Last season, the Bengals had Travelle Wharton slated to be their starting left guard—and then he was done for the entire season, which gave Clint Boling the opportunity to take the reins.
I wasn't personally impressed with Boling, as I thought he allowed a lot of defenders to get through. However, it is notable that he has a full season of experience under his belt and, hopefully, has improved. We'll see if Boling has improved for the season, but it's possible that he's simply filling in until the 2014 Draft.
However, Pollak has fallen on hard times, having only appeared in one game as a Carolina Panther last season. Should Boling struggle, it's not impossible to see the veteran on the field.
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For the last few seasons, Andrew Whitworth has been garnering a lot of attention as one of the league's most underrated left tackles. Given the importance of the position, it is vital that each team have a solid tackle to protect the quarterback's blind side.
While I don't follow the logic of the attention—I find Whitworth prone to penalties—he is a good tackle. He's done a good job over the years of protecting both Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton. He is in no danger of losing his spot.
Collins has seen some time on the field in Cincinnati, having started 18 games over the last five years in orange and black. He's respectable as a tackle, but with Whitworth around, he'll simply be a fill in.