The Most Intriguing Rookie Storylines at Cincinnati Bengals' OTAs

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 27, 2014

STARKVILLE, MS - OCTOBER 05:  Jeremy Hill #33 of the LSU Tigers celebrates a touchdown against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during a game at Davis Wade Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Starkville, Mississippi.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals are one of the NFL's more interesting teams to watch this preseason.

No, there is not a mega quarterback controversy the media will flock to. There is no drama in the locker room. Not one, major superstar. Not even a hint of Hard Knocks.

But there is one of the NFL's youngest teams, fresh off three straight postseason appearances, not only attempting to get back, but to do so without offensive and defensive coordinators of years past.

An infusion of youthful talent through the draft means critical position battles for one of the league's deepest rosters. How those battles, second only to how well the coordinators replicate—or don't—the strategies of those before them, will have a major impact on a fourth playoff bid.

Let's take a look at three storylines involving rookies to watch as OTAs get underway.

Jeremy Hill's Quest to Usurp BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Al Behrman/Associated Press

The whispers that veteran running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was out of a job began the minute the No. 55 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft was announced.

After all, for the second year in a row the powers that be in the Bengals front office elected to select a running back in the second round.

This time, it was LSU's Jeremy Hill, a power back complete with an explosive skill set and predraft character issues to boot. Add in the fact Green-Ellis enters the final year of his contract and the Bengals need precious cap space to extend important names like Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Vontaze Burfict, and this narrative made some sense.

But only to a degree.

Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

Those familiar with the Bengals know the coaching staff, especially head coach Marvin Lewis, love their veterans. Green-Ellis is a high-character guy in the locker room, who—gasp— won't mind or speak out if he does not see the field. More importantly, he will act as a critical mentor for both Giovani Bernard and Hill, who, again, was red flagged by some with concerns before the draft.

So, no, Green-Ellis won't be cut. But he can most certainly lose his role in the offense to Hill, who can do the bruising work as the spell back to Bernard. So Hill's performance in OTAs is a critical factor to watch.

This is especially the case when one considers the limited number of roster spots available. Hill's performance will have a direct impact on the likes of special teams ace Cedric Peerman, intriguing sophomore Rex Burkhead and the potential-laden James Wilder Jr.

Suffice it to say, Hill has a lot riding on OTAs as a precursor to training camp and the preseason.

Russell Bodine's Impact on the Offensive Line

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Heads turned and some eyes rolled as the Bengals moved up to grab North Carolina's Russell Bodine at No. 111 in the fourth round.

Say hi to the new potential starter at center.

While the Bengals brought back versatile piece Mike Pollak this offseason and many correctly presumed it was for him to potentially take over at center, the Cincinnati coaching staff and line coach Paul Alexander leaped at the opportunity to grab a tumbling Bodine.

The praise of the pick has come from many within the organization, including Bernard, who played with Bodine as a member of the Tar Heels. Bernard spoke about what the addition of Bodine means, via ESPN's Coley Harvey:

I like that. He's one of those guys he's always going to watch for his guys. He's never going to let anyone bully on a guy or whatever it may be. He's always going to clean up the pile. If we get a flag here and there, it's OK. I'm joking. But he has that aggression, he has that go-getter attitude that I love. All our offensive line is like that. That shows they just don't want to be messed around with. They want to be able to play and they want to do what they can do.

Character? Check. How about measureables? Let's ask Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer:


When Alexander speaks or acts, it's wise to pay attention considering he is one of the best in the business. He and the staff clearly want Bodine to win the starting gig at center. The ability is there, and should it come to fruition, that means Pollak can slide to left guard and provide an upgrade over Clint Boling, who is coming off a torn ACL.

The Presence of AJ McCarron

Butch Dill/Associated Press

Like it or not, AJ McCarron is going to be the story this preseason.

Every snap. Every gesture. Everything. That goes twofold for starter Andy Dalton, who is entering the final year of his contract and in negotiations with the Bengals for an extension. The fact an extension has not happened yet is not alarming—yet.

Which is why McCarron was brought on board. He's a carbon copy of Dalton in most ways and surely would not have a plethora of issues running the quarterback-friendly offense on his own once given the time to digest its intricacies and adapt to the pro game.

McCarron is a backup. Marvin Lewis said as much to Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei after the draft:

Each and every year we have been in that one-year, two-year backup quarterback model. We kind of wanted to make sure we got somebody who could fit that role for a longer period of time if that's what they ended up being, if that's what their lease on life was.

We had [Ryan] Fitzpatrick here, [Jon] Kitna here, and nobody wants to be the backup. Everybody wants to go somewhere and start. The only way to get a backup quarterback for longer than a year or two is to draft one.

Two things—That's not a smokescreen, Dalton is the guy, and Lewis and Co. did a heck of a job getting exactly what they desired at a great value.

But McCarron is also insurance. Insurance should Dalton get hurt or tremendously regress. Insurance that Dalton's contractual demands—much like they are everywhere else—aren't completely out of whack.

Just don't expect the media to play along. Expect quarterback "controversies" to pop up at times. Pay very close attention to how the locker room reacts to an unnecessary spotlight throughout the preseason over a backup quarterback.

The Bengals locker room can and will handle it just fine, but just know that it's coming. Try to enjoy the ride, this is the bed the coaching staff wanted to make, after all.

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