Cincinnati Bengals: Immediate 53-Man Roster-Cut Predictions Post-Colts Game
Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff are not in an enviable position now that it is time to cut the roster down to just 53 players.
It seems that players on the roster bubble in need of a big performance did just that in Thursday's 35-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts, which only makes the job of cutting down one of the NFL's deepest rosters all the more difficult.
Let's take a stab at that job based on performance, what makes sense given the schematics, how the staff has behaved in the past and more. Keep in mind that the severity of some injuries is yet to be revealed and that players can still wind up on the practice squad.
Let's take a look.
There is not a whole lot to discuss when it comes to the quarterback position in Cincinnati.
Andy Dalton is the starter and looks great under new coordinator Hue Jackson, not to mention his new deal. Jason Campbell was brought on specifically to be the main backup, and he just so happens to be one of the better players in the league in that regard.
Tyler Wilson was nothing more than a camp body with AJ McCarron and Campbell dealing with injuries this summer and is the obvious odd man out.
As for McCarron, the Bengals would not dream of letting him go, but coach Marvin Lewis is not one for wasting a rosters spot on a third signal-caller, which in turn hurts depth along the defensive line and secondary.
Instead, expect McCarron to hit the PUP list, which keeps him and a bubble player on the roster. Paul Dehner Jr. of Cincinnati.com concurs:
McCarron's injury helps the staff strike a balance between winning now and building for the future. Not bad.
Running Back (5)
|Giovani Bernard||James Wilder Jr. to practice squad|
|Jeremy Hill||Rex Burkhead to injured reserve|
Pretty straightforward stuff here, too.
Giovani Bernard has been inefficient at best this preseason (2.45 per-carry average in three games), but one can feel safe in presuming that much of that has to do with the vanilla schemes and plays rather than a bad fit with new coordinator Hue Jackson. He's been on the field essentially as much as Andy Dalton so far, which means he's locked in as a major contributor.
Jeremy Hill has looked good in flashes and figures to spell Bernard. Thursday he handled the load on his own against mostly backups and racked up 90 yards on the ground and even showed some soft hands in the passing game.
Cedric Peerman and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are not going anywhere, either. The former is an outstanding special teams presence who continues to show he can gain positive yardage when called upon.
The latter is a veteran in the final year of his deal. Marvin Lewis loves his veterans, and Green-Ellis serves a critical role should something happen to Hill. Besides, his roster spot gets freed up thanks to the aforementioned issue with AJ McCarron and an injury to Rex Burkhead.
Burkhead suffered a knee injury this preseason, and Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com thinks it could be an MCL sprain. If that's the case, look for the Bengals to stash him on injured reserve and give him a more prominent role next season with Green-Ellis out of the picture. Burkhead is not valuable enough right now to waste a designated-to-return tag on.
Of course, that leaves James Wilder Jr. to the practice squad, where he may or may not stick. He was impressive enough Thursday that it is hard to see him lasting long if the staff attempts to stash him.
Nikita Whitlock rounds out the list for good reason—the team still has its uses for a traditional fullback, and what he has shown while still learning the position is downright scary.
Wide Receiver and Tight End (9)
|A.J. Green||Orson Charles|| James Wright to practice squad|
|Marvin Jones||Alex Smith|
The first three spots at wideout are easy enough to understand. A.J. Green is the No. 1, and Mohamed Sanu has arguably had the best preseason of any player in need of a boost while working more than usual thanks to Marvin Jones' injury.
Speaking of Jones, Paul Dehner Jr. of Cincinnati.com notes that the team is unlikely to use the injured reserve with a designation-to-return label on the No. 2 receiver, which would mean he cannot play until Week 9. It's hard to argue with that, as he'll be back well before then.
Brandon Tate and Dane Sanzenbacher are primary backups and superb special teams contributors—the latter even took a kick back to the house Thursday. Cobi Hamilton rounds out the list at wideout. Fans will rightfully point out drop issues, but he has shown enough in the past few games, not to mention on kick coverage, that he deserves the spot.
That leaves out James Wright, who has yet to outplay either Tate or Sanzenbacher, and it is doubtful he gets stolen off the practice squad.
At tight end, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert need very little behind them. Ryan Hewitt has looked downright superb all offseason and added a touchdown to his resume Thursday. He can also line up in the backfield as an added bonus.
Orson Charles misses the cut as a result, and his wild offseason doesn't help things. Alex Smith is a veteran whom the team can always bring back if necessary as long as he does not land elsewhere.
Offensive Line (9)
|Andrew Whitworth||Will Svitek||Dan France to practice squad|
|Andre Smith||Trey Hopkins to injured reserve|
|Kevin Zeitler||T.J. Johnson to practice squad|
That's a lot of linemen, yes, but such is life when a team loses a critical piece of versatile depth such as Anthony Collins and has a quarterback who seems to get jumpy in the pocket under pressure (although to his credit, Andy Dalton has been much better about this so far this season).
Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith remain the starters, although one does have to wonder when the former will finally kick inside for good. Marshall Newhouse will do his best Collins impersonation after looking pretty much like a turnstile throughout most of his career. Kevin Zeitler has the look of someone who might be one of the NFL's biggest breakout stars next season.
For now, Clint Boling gets the nod at left guard, although Mike Pollak could make a push for the spot if everything works out at center. That spot in the middle is a major issue, though, as rookie Russell Bodine has been miserable in the run game and ranks No. 72 out of 76 players at his position through three games, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The good news is that Trevor Robinson has played himself into a roster spot this preseason. Should that translate to the regular season, he can man center and give Pollak a shot at guard if the Bodine experiment gets delayed by a year.
Tanner Hawkinson is more quality depth as he continues to improve, while T.J. Johnson gets another season on the practice squad to develop. As of now, we don't know the extent of Trey Hopkins' injury, but if he's healthy, he would get a spot on the practice squad as well.
Defensive Line (9)
|Carlos Dunlap||Dontay Moch||David King to practice squad|
|Margus Hunt||Christo Bilukidi||Sam Montgomery to practice squad|
|Wallace Gilberry||LaKendrick Ross|
The defensive line in Cincinnati continues to be a strong point.
Carlos Dunlap has had a productive preseason, as has the duo of ends across from him, Margus Hunt and Wallace Gilberry. The former is expected to make a significant leap this year with Michael Johnson out of the picture and has shown flashes of doing just that—he notched three sacks alone Thursday.
At tackle, a four-man rotation seems a good possibility. Geno Atkins and Domata Peko remain the starters, but Brandon Thompson and Devon Still figure to see an uptick in contributions this season.
Marvin Lewis confirmed to Paul Dehner Jr. of Cincinnati.com that all four should see plenty of time: "If I were Brandon Thompson, I would think of myself as a starting player and keep going forward that way. Geno will be back, and we'll have a good three-player or four-player rotation in there when it comes to Sundays."
Things are not as muddy as they seem when it comes to depth. LaKendrick Ross and David King are obviously out, while popular sleeper pick Sam Montgomery played himself out of a roster spot through three games by ranking as the No. 96 4-3 end on a list of 106 at Pro Football Focus. A solid outing against Indianapolis was a case of too little, too late.
Then again, No. 106 on that list was rookie Will Clarke, who had a miserable first two contests. The light seemed to come on last week against Arizona though, and he nabbed a sack. On Thursday, he seemed to keep that upward trajectory alive with five tackles. He's a rookie and not going anywhere regardless.
Christo Bilukidi gives the staff some serious pause after a strong showing, and he has certainly earned a job somewhere else. Veteran Robert Geathers will stick as a key cog in the rotation, especially thanks to his skill against the rush.
Some won't like that Dontay Moch gets the ax after a very good preseason, but his injury history makes him unreliable. The four ends on the roster in this scenario cover all of the bases at the position as is.
|Rey Maualuga||Sean Porter||Brandon Joiner to practice squad|
The first four slots at linebacker are a sure thing.
Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfict and Emmanuel Lamur are the starters, while Vincent Rey remains the first up on a rotational basis despite his horrific preseason showing. Really, Jayson DiManche is a lock as well now that he has put on weight and had an electric camp.
After that, things get murky. Sean Porter has shown plenty of flashes when actually healthy, but those have been few and far between. Case in point—Porter went down with a hamstring issue Thursday and did not return. We don't know the extent of the injury, but he could get bumped to injured reserve if it's serious.
Rounding out the list is Marquis Flowers, who had a great preseason and is versatile enough to fill multiple roles. He'd get the nod over Porter at this point regardless of health issues on Porter's end.
|Leon Hall||Victor Hampton||Victor Hampton to practice squad|
|Terence Newman||Onterio McCalebb|
|Adam Jones||Shawn Williams|
Cornerback is the easiest defensive position to lock down. Safety is the most difficult.
At corner, Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard are locks, and Chris Lewis-Harris has quietly been very good in spot duty the past two seasons. Victor Hampton has upside, and Onterio McCalebb can dazzle on special teams, but there is simply not enough room on the roster at this juncture.
The top two safety spots seem to be a lock. Reggie Nelson is one of the best in the business, even if he is not a household name. George Iloka had a solid season a year ago and actually ranked inside the top 25 at his position at PFF.
Cincinnati brought on Danieal Manning this past offseason for good reason, and his ability to act as a quality additional defensive back in passing situations is something that cannot be replaced.
Taylor Mays has earned a spot thanks to a versatility the staff seems to covet. After flirting with putting the USC product at linebacker on occasion last season, the Bengals staff has made no secret about its intent this preseason, as captured by Paul Dehner Jr. of Cincinnati.com:
Bengals running Taylor Mays at linebacker with Manning and Williams at safety in the nickel. Mays has been working in both rooms.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) August 25, 2014
Further helping Mays' cause was his excellent play Thursday, as ESPN.com's Coley Harvey illustrates:
Taylor Mays breaks thru for a tackle for loss on a Colts fourth down deep in #Bengals territory. Good finish for Cincy's backup D. Still 0-0— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) August 28, 2014
That leaves Shawn Williams as the odd man out, but that is what tends to happen when a deep team gets a rather unexpected quality starter (Iloka) and finds stellar depth for cheap on the open market (Manning).
Nothing too shocking here to round out the final roster. Mike Nugent has been his usual self, as has Kevin Huber.
Nugent hit on all four of his attempts over the course of the first three games, which in turn has already forced Quinn Sharp off the roster. Huber has been in form and yet to see his average dip below 42 yards through three games.
Clark Harris does not get nearly enough credit, but there is a reason the staff saw fit to lock him up on a five-year deal last offseason. The long snapper is not going anywhere.
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