Early Predictions for Cincinnati Bengals' 2014 Training Camp Battles
The Cincinnati Bengals have a lot of surefire starters as they head toward the 2014 season. It's no secret that A.J. Green, Vontaze Burfict, Andrew Whitworth and Andy Dalton are all going to be starting come Week 1, barring any injuries. Still, every offseason brings a few positional battles.
For example, Green is going to be the No. 1 wide receiver, but who will be playing behind him? There are certainly plenty of candidates, among them being Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. No, none of these will be the high-profile quarterback battles that fans die for, but they will be important to make up the 2014 Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals find themselves in a great position—they are returning a sizable portion of the team that has found recent success, with Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins being the key losses. For the most part, a big piece of the team will be in Cincinnati for an extended period, and therefore, some spots are locked in.
That being said, what battles are going to take place this year in training camp?
Russell Bodine, Cincinnati's fourth-round selection from North Carolina, was signed late last week by the team, as reported by Dave Richard with CBS Sports. As Richard put it, "He'll compete for playing time in training camp."
Not many fourth-round picks turn a whole lot of heads at first. There's just not the star power a first- or even second-round pick brings to the party. Don't discount the former Tar Heel, though.
He's playing the right position on the offensive line to get a chance to start. He'll be measuring up against Trevor Robinson, who was signed by the Bengals in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. Robinson has seen a pretty good amount of playing time since being in Cincinnati, mostly due to the injury struggles from the now-exiled Kyle Cook.
While Robinson hasn't been too bad, he's not blowing anyone away, either. He's certainly the favorite to start Week 1, but don't sleep on Bodine. Both men are roughly the same size (one inch and 10 pounds separates them), but Bodine shows a bit more speed and strength. Robinson has experience on his side, no matter how little it may be.
I wouldn't be completely shocked to see Bodine start Week 1, but I don't expect it, either. He will by the end of the season if Robinson doesn't show more dominance.
Winner: Trevor Robinson
If Leon Hall and Darqueze Dennard make it through training camp without getting injured or completely blowing up, they will be the Week 1 starters at cornerback. If you look at the Bengals roster, the questions go way beyond the starters, though.
Competing for playing time will be veterans Terence Newman and Adam Jones, while younger guys like Dre Kirkpatrick, Chris Lewis-Harris and even Onterio McCalebb will be chomping at the bit for more opportunities.
With injuries to the entire corps last year, Lewis-Harris saw some time, while McCalebb spent the year on the practice squad. Newman and Jones are clearly on the back nine of their careers but still have experience to give. Jones still plays with a high level of intensity. And then there is the curious case of Dre Kirkpatrick.
The team's first pick in Round 1 of the 2012 NFL draft, Kirkpatrick has been hugely marred by injuries since being drafted. He played in only five games his rookie season but saw time in 14 games in 2013. He even had a nice showcase in Week 17, making two interceptions, taking one back to the end zone.
In the end, with how fragile Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Adam Jones can be, I would think Kirkpatrick will have the edge for playing time and that Lewis-Harris will, at the very least, make the roster.
Depth (in order): Kirkpatrick, Newman, Jones, Lewis-Harris, McCalebb (practice squad)
Starting Strong Safety
Truthfully, this isn't nearly the position battle it shaped up to be in 2013, but with the new additions at safety, it isn't out of the question that someone could overtake George Iloka for the starting gig.
This isn't to say Iloka didn't perform well last season—he made a solid 66 tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered one, while also making one interception. He didn't light the world on fire, but those are adequate numbers.
It is, however, worth taking a look at who will be lobbying for playing time in 2014. The team just signed seasoned veteran Danieal Manning, who has had a very good career, but after a mediocre 2013, it's becoming clear that his best years may be behind him. Taylor Mays is back in Cincinnati, but he would really need to show that he's adapted to the NFL playing style after four years in the league.
There are two youngsters to notice as well. Shawn Williams, a third-round pick in 2013, saw action in all 16 games in 2013 but only recorded 12 tackles. He's currently listed on the depth chart as a backup to free safety Reggie Nelson, but if he impresses in camp, there's no reason Paul Guenther wouldn't give him a look at strong safety.
Finally, undrafted free agent Isaiah Lewis could sneak up and steal the spot. He had a decent college career, but he also has the benefit of having played alongside first-round pick Darqueze Dennard at Michigan State. The idea of throwing these two on the field together—as they were on NCAA football's top defense—may do some good for the defense's chemistry.
In the end, I do not expect a change at the position as the year begins, but the pressure will be on Iloka to have another good season. There are certainly plenty of capable guys looking for his job.
Starter: George Iloka
Starting Strong-Side Linebacker
According to the Bengals' depth chart on CBS Sports, the starter here is going to be Jayson DiManche. While I admire the play we saw from DiManche in 2013, if we're only going off last season's performance, there's one clear winner.
Vincent Rey, an undrafted free agent in 2010, burst onto the scene in 2013, recording 57 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions (one pick-six), a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He did incredibly well filling in for Rey Maualuga and James Harrison. OTAs are a long process, and he surely could get beat out, but given such a fantastic look, he has to be the front-runner.
DiManche, meanwhile, also did some filling in due to injuries. He made appearances in all 16 games but never performed to the abilities of a starter.
Also keep an eye on Brandon Joiner, Bruce Taylor or even undrafted free agent Marquis Flowers. Emmanuel Lamur could be a popular thought here, but he's expected to backup Vontaze Burfict on the weak side.
Starter: Vincent Rey
No. 2 Wide Receiver
It was thought by many in 2013 that Mohamed Sanu was going to have a breakout season as the No. 2 receiver. That really never happened, but someone else emerged from the pack.
Marvin Jones, a fifth-round selection in 2012 from California, racked up over 700 yards and amassed an outstanding 10 touchdowns. He put an exclamation point on his breakout season with a four-touchdown performance against the New York Jets.
Meanwhile, Sanu, another draft pick in 2012, only managed to pull in 455 yards and two touchdowns.
These two guys are the only real possibilities to start behind A.J. Green, but there's one clear difference. Marvin Jones is an outstanding slot man, while the bigger and more physical Sanu is built for the outside. Jones may be the No. 2 receiver in theory, but when the cameras are rolling on Sunday Night Football, that second man is going to be Mohamed Sanu.
I won't proclaim that he's now definitely going to have a breakout season, and I'm not even saying he rightfully should be the No. 2 receiver. Jones had an outstanding season from his position and there's no reason to pull him from it.
No. 2 Receiver: Mohamed Sanu