Breaking Down the Cincinnati Bengals as the 53-Man Roster Deadline Looms

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Breaking Down the Cincinnati Bengals as the 53-Man Roster Deadline Looms
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

With the first two preseason games in the books, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis will soon be making his final roster cuts as the 53-man roster deadline of Sept. 5 approaches. 

The Bengals had an exceptionally busy offseason, signing several high-profile free agents and holding a draft that could quite possibly go down as one of the best in the team's 41-year history. This year's cuts are going to be especially difficult considering the amount of talent the team has in certain areas and the lack of depth in others.

Regardless of all the positive developments coming out of training camp, there is one issue that overshadows them all: Andre Smith's contract situation.

Smith is entering the fourth week of his holdout without any apparent progress. There is no question after last season that the offensive line was a top priority heading into 2009. It's the reason the Bengals decided to draft Smith, one of the most complete left tackles in college football.

Unfortunately, Smith isn't in camp. With the team's history of frugality, it comes as no surprise that Smith hasn't been paid the type of money that he expected.

But for the fans (and Carson Palmer's short-term health), it would all be very disheartening.

With that in mind, here is a position-by-position breakdown of what the 2009 Cincinnati Bengals have going for them, as well as the areas in which they need improvement:

 

Quarterback

There aren't many "sure" things in the NFL, but there is one: The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and the Bengals are definitely not an exception to that rule.

This team goes as Carson Palmer goes. Unfortunately, Palmer has been plagued with injuries in recent years, which ultimately lead to losing seasons. With the departure of last year's starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bengals were forced to sign a two-year deal with backup free agent quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan.

Upon O'Sullivan's signing, most Bengals fans assumed that he would be the backup going into week one, however, this was not exactly the case. According to Lewis, Jordan Palmer (Carson's younger brother) is the most improved player on the entire team and has looked pretty sharp this preseason.

At this point it's O'Sullivan's job to lose, but Jordan hasn't had the same opportunities to run with the first team offense that O'Sullivan has had. If given the same opportunities, it could get interesting. Regardless, given Carson's history of injury, I see all three making the team.

While neither O'Sullivan nor Jordan Palmer will ever come close to dethroning Carson as the starter, keep an eye on this battle during the final two preseason games.

 

Running Back

Rewind back to Sept. 30, 2008: The Cincinnati Bengals were in desperate need of a running back after the painful discovery that Chris Perry, the team's injury-plagued, first-round selection of 2004 draft, couldn't hold on to the football.

With no other viable option on the roster to replace Perry as the starter, the Bengals signed a one-year deal worth $520,000 with another "bad guy" player in the form of Cedric Benson (though Benson was cleared of all charges).

Despite not seeing any significant playing time until Week Seven, Benson finished the season with 214 carries for 747 yards and two touchdowns, also catching 20 passes for 185 yards. 

Many different opinions circulate about Benson.

Chicagoans pretty much despise the guy and consider him a bust.

In terms of production, Benson absolutely was a bust in Chicago, considering he was the fith overall pick in the 2005 draft. Benson never even came close to rushing for over a thousand yards in Chicago.

Cincinnati fans take a different perspective.

As a player in Cincinnati, Benson rushed for more yards in nine games with the Bengals than he did in any of his previous seasons with the Bears.

In my opinion, Benson had little chance of success with the Chicago Bears for a number of different reasons:

First, in an article on the Bengals' official Web site, Benson discussed his tenuous relationship with his former teammates and some altercations with linebacker Brian Urlacher—situations in which Benson claimed Urlacher tried to purposely injure the Texas standout.

Even before Benson's rookie season was over, his own team was trying to take him out. That's a problem! Why would Benson want to play for a team where his own teammates purposely tried to take him out in practice? Regardless of whether Benson's accusations are true, that was his perception and the only perception that matters in this case. 

In a recent article on Yahoo! Sports, this is what Carson Palmer had to say about Benson:

“Ced has been the ultimate teammate,” says Palmer, the team’s star quarterback and unquestioned leader. “He’s fun to play with, studies hard, wants to win, helps young guys and is a leaderwhat’s not to love? It makes me mad when I think about what I heard out of Chicago, because now I know the guy and have spent a lot of time with him, and he’s a model teammate.”

Sounds to me like Benson is in a completely different situation than the one he was in with the Bears.

Second, Benson just couldn't stay healthy while in Chicago. There isn't much else that can be said about that.

Finally, it's important to remember that Benson lined up behind one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL, Rex Grossmanhow he led that team to a Super Bowl speaks volumes about the defense.

Think about it—if you were a defensive coordinator in the NFL, would you stack eight in the box to stop Benson and force Grossman to beat you through the air? It's pretty much a no-brainer to me. 

As the old saying goes, "One man's trash is another man's treasure," and I truly believe Benson has found a home in Cincinnati.

Obviously, I like what I'm seeing from Benson this preseason. I think he's running with a chip on his shoulder this season. He reported to camp in great shape, and as Bengals HOF Anthony Munoz mentioned on the last preseason telecast, he also appears to be stronger, faster and quicker than at any other point in his career. Benson is this team's starting running back; the interesting question is "Who backs Benson up?"

With veteran running back Kenny Watson and undrafted rookie Marlon Lucky having already been cut by the Bengals this preseason, the remaining candidates include Brian Leonard, Bernard Scott, DeDe Dorsey, and James Johnson.

Look for Bernard Scott to be the backup heading into week one of the season. Scott, who was drafted in the sixth round of this year's draft, has looked exceptionally well this preseason, displaying great speed, quickness and vision. Considering Benson is a downhill, straight-line runner, Scott will be the perfect change-of-pace-type back that Lewis has been searching for since his arrival in Cincinnati.

When the Bengals traded "waiver-wire wonder" Orien Harris to the Rams this offseason in exchange for former second-round pick Brian Leonard, I was pleasantly surprised.

Leonard is a player that isn't great at any one particular thing, but is good at a lot of different things. Although I don't believe Leonard is going to press Benson for any significant playing time, he is a great guy to have on the roster.

Leonard has a similar running style to that of Benson. He isn't the fastest player and won't make many people miss, but he has a knack for picking up yardage.

Leonard isn't fast enough to be a change-of-pace back or a receiving threat out of the backfield, so the real question is: What value does he have?

My guess is that his real value is as a primary backup to Benson. If Benson goes down, Leonard would handle the load for the remainder of the season.

Dorsey is the guy that drives me crazy. When he touches the ball, he makes plays. Period.

However, the question with Dorsey has always been "Can he stay healthy?"

The answer up to this point has been "No." I have absolutely no doubt that Dorsey could be an effective third-down back in the NFL if he could stay healthy. But he's proven time and time again that he can't!

It has to be tough decision cutting a talented player in favor of Dorsey considering his history with injuries, but it also has to be difficult to cut a player as talented as he is.

It's a double-edged sword.  The guy has all the tools you look for in a third-down backhe has blazing speed, can make guys miss, and he can catch the ball out of the backfieldbut he just can't stay healthy!

This might be the year that Lewis finally lets Dorsey go in favor of another player. Keep in mind: Dorsey doesn't have the baggage that others may have and he's averaging 9.3 yards a carry; do you see how difficult of a decision this is? Would he make it past waivers? We'll see...

Finally, barring injury, James Johnson will either be cut or retained on the practice squad. There is simply too much talent ahead of him to secure a spot on the 53-man roster.

 

Fullback

Want to see one of the most intense positional battles in training camp? Look no further than the fullbacks. If you've been watching HBO's Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals you will recognize the name Chris Pressley.

Pressley, an undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin, was one of the best collegiate fullbacks in the country last year. However, fullbacks are a dying breed in the NFL and it's extremely difficult to make a team considering the size of the roster, the limited number kept by each organization and the number of college fullbacks looking to fill these limited positions.

Fullback is as "blue collar" of a job that can be found in the NFL, and fullbacks experience the same difficulty finding work in their profession as many other "blue collar" men and women experience in the "real world."

Personally, I'm pulling for Pressley. I wouldn't mind seeing him line up as the starter on Sept. 13 against the Denver Broncos.

With Jeremi Johnson still struggling to keep his weight down, I wouldn't be surprised if he's cut for the second straight year in a row. Rookie seventh-round pick Fui Vakapuna appears to be the heir apparent, but I wouldn't count Pressley out just yet. Vakapuna suffered an injury in the first preseason game of the year and it might slow him down.

It seems that all the stars are aligning for Pressley if he takes advantage of the situation. Pressley is a smart, hard-working guy that has always made the best of the bad situations in his life. He's self-made and wouldn't be where he is today if it wasn't for the game of football. He realizes that. The Cincinnati Bengals could certainly use more people like Chris Pressley on the roster.

 

Wide Receiver

Wide Receiver is another position that will be interesting to watch between now and the start of the season. Obviously Chad Ocho Cinco, Chris Henry, Andre Caldwell and newly acquired Laveranues Coles are all locks to make the 53-man roster, but there are 10 guys currently fighting for what will likely be seven open spots.

Lets start with Jerome Simpson. Simpson was a second round draft choice out of a small Division 1-AA school, Coastal Carolina, in 2008. When Lewis drafted Simpson he acknowledged that there would be an adjustment period for Simpson since he was going from a division 1-AA school to the NFL. As a rookie, Simpson only caught one ball for two yards and was deactivated for most of the season.

After spending significant time in California this offseason, Simpson worked on his route running, catching and timing with quarterback Carson Palmer.

Although he still isn't where he needs to be to contribute at least for another season, he has shown some promise this preseason, catching four balls for 40 yards and a beautiful one handed catch for a touchdown against the Patriots (which was called back for offensive pass interference.)

He will make the roster, but as a second round draft choice he needs to improve each and every day to become a consistent contributor in 2010 and justify his draft position.

Along with Dorsey, 2009 might be the year the Cincinnati Bengals cut ties with return "specialist" Antonio Chatman.

The Bengals had high hopes for Chatman coming over from Green Bay in 2006, when he was coming off a 49 reception, 549 yards and four touchdowns season with the Packers. But he has proven to be unreliable and injury-prone as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Chatman has never caught more than 21 balls in a single season with the Bengals. But he is well-liked by quarterback Carson Palmer and has been considered the team's primary kickoff/punt returner (most likely the reason he's still around.) With Andre Caldwell being a similar (and cheaper) player, Chatman's days in Cincinnati could be limited.

The rest of the field includes rookies Quan Cosby, fighting for the team's primary kickoff/punt returner, Greg Orton, Freddie Brown and second year player Maurice Purify.

I would guess that Cosby and Purify currently have a leg up on the competition due to their contributions on special teams.

As I mentioned earlier, the wide receiver position is going to be one where I wouldn't be surprised if the Bengals enter the season with one less guy in order to secure a roster spot for a guy like Dorsey. I can't see the Bengals cutting a guy with the talent of Dorsey for a guy like Freddie Brown, who would more than likely pass waivers and could be placed on our practice squad just in case one of our receivers go down during the season. Can Dorsey line up in the slot? Certainly something to consider.

 

Tight End

The tight end position is without a doubt one of the biggest questions marks heading into the 2009 season. If you've been watching Hard Knocks you already know that the Bengals lost starter, and arguably the best blocking tight end in the league, Reggie Kelly for the season with a torn ACL.

Additionally, we don't fully know the extent of Ben Utecht's concussion that required him to be rushed to a Georgetown hospital a few week ago. After reading several reports, it appears that Utecht's injury is serious and could sideline him for a significant period of time, if not career-ending. 

The Bengals proved to have made a smart decision in drafting Missouri standout Chase Coffman in the third round of this year's draft.

At this point Coffman could very well end up the starter going into the season. Having caught 247 passes for 2,659 yards and 30 touchdowns in college his talent has never been a question, it's his blocking that leaves a lot to be desired. He has the ability, it's just a matter of if the coaches feel he is ready to play. Remember, he is partly responsible for protecting a $118 million dollar investment in QB Carson Palmer.

Also on the roster is Daniel Coats, a two-year veteran out of BYU. Coats, who was making the transition from tight end to fullback last season, will be asked to move back to the position he played in college.

Due to his familiarity with the system and the injures to Kelly and Utecht, Coats will enter the season as the starter. However, he shouldn't get too comfortable: Chase Coffman will be inserted as soon as the coaches feel he's ready.

Also on the roster is Matt Sherry (the Bengals' sixth-round selection in 2008 who was cut in the offseason), undrafted rookie Darius Hill (Ball State) and recently acquired free agents J.P. Foschi and Kolo Kapanui. All of which will most likely be fighting for a spot on the practice squad.

 

Offensive Line

The offensive line is without a doubt the biggest question mark heading into the 2009 season. It's ironic that just four years ago the Bengals had one of the premier offensive lines in the NFL with players like All-Pro tackle Willie Anderson, a healthy Levi Jones, Eric Steinbach, Rich Braham and the last remaining lineman still on the team, Bobbie Williams. The offensive line was so good, they turned Rudi Johnson into a Pro-Bowl running back.

Last season the Bengals starting offensive line gave up 51 sacks, resulting in a black and blue franchise quarterbackhence the 4-11-1 season.

This year there is no reason to believe it's going to be any better (unless, of course, you are overly optimistic). However, after the first two preseason games I think Bengal fans can breath a little easier considering the line hasn't played all that bad. Granted, the starters are only playing about a quarter, but they're giving all three quarterbacks plenty of time in the pocket while also opening up holes for the backs to run through.

One of the best decisions made by the coaching staff this offseason was the decision not to re-sign center Eric Ghiaciuc (later signed by the Kansas City Chiefs.) While only giving up four sacks last season, his play was much worse than indicated by the stats.

Frankly, Ghiaciuc was not physically strong enough to anchor an offensive line in the smash-mouth AFC North. His replacement for the 2009 season, Kyle Cook, is one of the strongest players on the roster and has the intelligence it takes to make the necessary assignment calls.

While Cook certainly has the physical tools and mentality to anchor an offensive line, he lacks experience. I fully expect Cook to make mistakes, it's how he learns from those mistakes that will determine if he can be the the center this team has been looking for since the departure of Rich Braham in 2006.

Another decision made this offseason was to move Andrew Whitworth from left guard to left tackle. I have no question that Whitworth can physically play the position but it's going to take some time for him to adjust blocking speed rushers off the edge as opposed to brute strength up the middle. Whitworth, the best lineman on the team, was really starting to come into his own as on of the NFL's premier guards before the switch. 

If there's one good thing to come from Andre Smith's contract situation it's that Anthony Collins, the Bengals fourth round pick from a year ago, will have an opportunity to start at right tackle.

Many Bengals fans were calling for this even before the team decided to draft Smith with the 6th overall pick.

Collins is off to a fast start this preseason picking up where he left off last year. However, like Whitworth, I fully expect him to have his ups and downs. Ironically, the Bengals might be better off in the future as a direct result of Smith's holdout.

When Smith does decide to sign with the team, Collins will already have some real experience at right tackle, and depending on how he preforms, Whitworth could move back to left guard if Smith proves he can play left tackle. However, this is a long way off considering Smith has missed all of training camp and won't be close to playing any time soon.

Starting at left guard is another guy with limited experience, Nate Livings. Livings, an undrafted rookie out of LSU in 2006, was a practice squad player two years ago and finally made the 53-man last season.

Last season injuries to former Bengals left tackle Levi Jones forced Whitworth to move to left tackle, opening up a spot for Livings at left guard over the final six games of the season. During those six games Nate played surprisingly well only giving up a half a sack in six games. Livings was also a member of the offensive line that allowed Cedric Benson to rush for over 100 yards in each the final three games of the season. Livings is a guy everyone needs to keep an eye on.

Finally, Bobbie Williams is the last starter on offensive line. Williams has been a member of the Cincinnati Bengals for five years, starting his career Philadelphia in 2001. He is without question the most experienced lineman on the team and is the only remaining starter from the extremely talented offensive line that lead the Bengals to the playoffs in 2005. Williams has been extremely durable during his time in Cincinnati and I expect another solid season from him in 2009.

Fighting for backup spots are tackles Dennis Roland and Agustus Parrish. Roland has a big frame at 6'9" and 325 pounds and has played pretty well whenever he's been given the opportunity.

Parrish on the other hand is on this team for one reason: Andre Smith's contract situation.

Although Parrish is fighting an uphill battle to make this team, he is, at this point, on an NFL roster. When Smith signs, the Bengals are still going to be thin at offensive tackle which is very good news for Parrish who has a decent shot at making the practice squad.

At guard, Evan Mathis, Andrew Crummey, Scott Kooistra and Jason Shirley (who recently switched positions from DT to G) will all be fighting for a roster spot. Kooistra is likely a lock to make the roster given his experience with the team, while Shirley, Crummey and Mathis fight it out for the other backup position with the others likely headed to the practice squad or cut.

 

Defensive Tackle

Defensive tackle is a position that just a few years ago was considered a major area of need for this organization. However, with the emergence of Pat Sims as a potential star in the making, Domata Peko improving by the day, and the signing of "Tank" Johnson, Bengals fans can feel pretty confident with this group heading in the season.

Last season the Bengals signed Peko to a five-year, $29.3 million contract extension.

When I heard the news I was disappointed. It was nothing personal, I thought owner Mike Brown was rewarding another "good guy" with a huge contract that he didn't necessarily deserve, I was wrong.

Peko has been playing extremely well this preseason. He appears faster and stronger than I have ever seen him before. A good friend on mine once described him as a guy who "had the pedal to the metal, with his hands off the wheel," I think that's a good way to describe him. Peko has always had a good motor, but he didn't always make a lot of plays. We all knew he could be a good player, and it appears he going to live up to his potential this year.

Even with all the Bengals have to look forward to with Peko, they have even more to look forward to in second year player Pat Sims out of Auburn.

Sims, who started 6 games as a rookie last season, finished the year with 36 total tackles and one sack. This preseason, Sims has ten total tackles and one sack...in TWO games!

Just weeks ago, Lewis moved Sims down to the second team on the depth chart. This move must have provided a little inspiration for Sims considering he spent last Thursday night terrorizing the Patriots offensive line and making play after play. If you watched the same game I did then you know as well as I do that Sims is one of the starting defensive tackles on this team.

In another offseason move the Bengals acquired unrestricted free agent "Tank" Johnson from the Dallas Cowboys.Tank spent the '07 and '08 seasons with the Cowboys after playing his first three seasons with the Chicago Bears, who later released him after the NFL suspended Johnson for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. 

Johnson is a very strong defensive lineman with good quickness who can stop the run and apply pressure on the quarterback up the middle. As mentioned earlier, I believe Pat Sims has played himself into the starting lineup, but there is no question that Peko, Sims and "Tank" will all see significant playing time in 2009.

Rookies Clinton McDonald and Pernell Phillips will be battling it out with recently signed (and former Bengal) Langston Moore for the backup roles.

From everything I hear out of training camp, it appears that Lewis really likes McDonald's potential. McDonald is a versatile player who can play both defensive end as well as defensive tackle. He's very athletic for his size and as a senior at the University of Memphis, McDonald was tied for fourth in sacks (seven) as a defensive tackle in Conference USA. His versatility will certainly be an asset to this team. Expect him to make the 53-man roster.

Expect Moore and Phillips to be cut.

 

Defensive End

In addition to the offensive line, the defensive end position is another area of concern for the Bengals heading into 2009 season.

Last season, the Bengals finished 12th in total defense despite only recording 17 sacks the fewest in the NFL.

As one of the team's main focus this offseason, they were given just what they were looking for in April's NFL Draft when Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson, a pass rushing specialist, fell to them in the third round.

Johnson, a third-round pick with first-round talent, fell in the draft due to his reputation for taking plays off. Coach Lewis is giving Johnson a lot of playing time this preseason to prove his critics wrong and Johnson hasn't disappointed.

One thing Johnson will need to do going forward is get stronger. Johnson has a lengthy 6'7", 260-pound frame with long arms, an ideal frame for a dominate pass-rusher. So far this preseason you can see him struggle getting around bigger offensive tackles but is improving with each rep. As Johnson gets stronger he could prover to be a nightmare for offensive tackles. Expect Johnson to be a key component to the rotation throughout the season.

A healthy Robert Geathers is back this season which has to put a smile on Coach Marvin Lewis' face.

Geathers never really had much of an opportunity to get into a rhythm last season after being moved from defensive end to outside linebacker before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 11.

Geathers only notched 2.5 sacks last season, a personal low since coming into the league in 2004. During the offseason Geathers had micro-fracture surgery and will likely take it slow until the regular season when he will most likely rotate with Michael Johnson.

Geathers did play exceptionally well against the New England Patriots, racking up four tackles and one sack in which he put QB Tom Brady on his back for the first time since his own surgery for a torn ACL. Expect a refreshed Geathers to apply some pressure to opposing quarterbacks all season long.

One of the biggest disappointments of the entire 2008 season was the play of newly acquired Antwan Odom. Odom signed a five-year, $29.5 million contract after coming off an eight-sack season with the Titans and certainly did not live up to expectations.

Many Bengal fans thought the Bengals paid too much for Odom, considering he had one good season with the Titans while the rest were pretty mediocre. Until the 2007 season Odom had never had more than three sacks in a single season.

Many believed Odom's success was more of a tribute to teammate Albert Haynesworth demanding double teams than a testimate of Odom's own ability. So far the critics have been correct. Nevertheless, Odom has taken responsibility for his play and noted that he needs to get better.

He added 28 pounds to his frame this offseason and claims he hasn't lost any of his speed or quickness, this should help him from being pushed around by bigger lineman. The Bengals paid Odom a lot of money to produce, if he doesn't start he can expect rookie Michael Johnson to take over in his place.

Fighting for the backup sports this season will be Frostee Rucker, Chris Harrington, Ventrell Jenkins and Jonathan Fanene.

It could be interesting with Odom, Geathers and Michael Johnson all guaranteed a spot on the roster and depending on how many defensive ends Coach Lewis decides to take into the season we could easily see one of the guys that has been on this team in the past no longer employed.

This is going to be one of the more interesting competitions during the final two weeks of the preseason. Look for the competition to come down to Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker...but don't be surprised if one of the two actually get cut this season.

 

Linebacker

Remember a few years ago when the Bengals were literally holding open tryouts for linebackers? How things have changed!

This year, linebacker is without a doubt one of the deepest positions on the team.

The Bengals arguably ended up with the steal of the entire 2009 NFL draft when USC's Rey Maualuga slipped to them in the second round. While it isn't entirely clear why Maualuga slipped into the second round, Marvin Lewis is surely thankful that he did.

Although Maualuga was obviously disappointed that he lasted as long as he did, he is in a perfect situation in Cincinnati. The brand of smash-mouth football he brings is ideally tailored for the AFC North. Maualuga is a guy that Lewis can build a defense around.

He brings a "swagger" that has been so desperately needed on this team since Marvin Lewis was hired as a "defensive specialist" back in 2002. His skill set suggests that he may be better suited as a middle linebacker, however, until Dhani Jones proves that he can no longer play the position at a high level, Maualuga will be slotted on the outside along with former USC linebacker Keith Rivers.

Although Rey is currently listed as a backup to Rashad Jeanty, there is no way he remains a backup for long. Maulauga is already making his presence after playing in only one game this preseason and he has already become a fan favorite.

Speaking of Keith Rivers, it will be nice to have him back after a brutal hit by Hines Ward knocked him out for remainder of the season with a broken jaw. By the looks of things this preseason, he hasn't missed a beat and is playing at the same high level he displayed before the injury.

Expect BIG things from the highly intelligent Rivers this season.

Another player that I've already mentioned is the Bengals defensive captain, and starting middle linebacker, Dhani Jones. While Jones might not bring the same physical presence as rookie Rey Maualuga, it's hard to argue his production. Jones lead the 12th ranked defense last season with 116 tackles and is an extremely intelligent player.

Until Jones proves that he can no longer play at the same high level, Maulauga will have to wait a while before he becomes the leader of the defense.

The talent doesn't stop with Rivers/Dhani Jones/Maualuga. There are several other linebackers on the roster that have tremendous value as special team players. Rashad Jeanty is a crafty, hard-working, selfless player who will certainly play whatever role the coaching staff asks of him.

He will begin the season as a starter but even after Maualuga removes him from the starting lineup he will continue to have a role on this team. Jeanty finished the 2008 season second on the team with 96 tackles.

The same can be said for Brandon Johnson as Jeanty. Johnson, a fith-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 2006, signed as a free agent with the Bengals last offseason.

Johnson started to come into his own last season, filling in nicely for the injured Keith Rivers, finishing third on the team with 83 tackles, behind only Jones and Jeanty. Johnson is cut from the same cloth as Jeanty and will play whatever role is asked of him. His value this season will be as a situational linebacker who should standout on special teams.            

Darryl Blackstock is another linebacker that shouldn't have any problem making the team. Although Blackstock only finished the season with 20 tackles, he proved to be much more valuable as a special team player than as a linebacker.

In addition to playing special teams, Blackstock also displayed some versatility last year lining up as a pass rushing defensive end in passing situations. His role on the defense will take a hit with the addition of Maualuga and Michael Johnson, but will still play a role on the team.

The players competing for smaller roles this season are Abdul Hodge, who is currently tied for second in tackles this preseason with nine, Dan Skuta and Jim Maxwell. Look for these players to either be cut of signed to the practice squad.

 

Cornerback

The biggest area of concern for the Bengals heading into the 2009 season is at cornerback. The Bengals have two very solid corners in starters Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph, but there is concern outside of the starters.

David Jones was the team's nickelback last season but a foot injury has sidelined Jones for the remainder of the preseason. The injury to Jones opens up the competition to several young, inexperienced players in rookies Morgan Trent and Rico Murray and veterans Geoffrey Pope and Jamar Fletcher.

It appears that Fletcher has the upper hand this preseason due to his experience and familiarity of the system, however, one of the younger player could compete for more playing time as they become more comfortable with the speed and physical demands of the NFL.

Depending on the health of injured David Jones, one of the lesser known players has a real shot at some significant playing time going into the 2009 season.

However, due to the lack of real experience I wouldn't be surprised if the Bengals look into signing another corner as other teams around the league begin making final cuts.

Starter Jonathan Joseph is coming off an injury plagued season but is playing extremely well this preseason. Leon Hall is without a doubt the teams top corner and will continue to get better as he becomes more experienced.

Keep an eye on this position as we get closer to the start of the regular season.

 

Safety

Safety is in my opinion the most heavily contested position of training camp.

During the offseason, the Bengals signed former Dallas Cowboy safety Roy Williams after he was cut by the team.

Under Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who was Dallas' defensive coordinator from 2000-2006, Williams was named to the Pro-Bowl five times. However, after Zimmer's departure, Williams career went downhill. Williams was criticized by the media for his questionable coverage skills and injury history.

Williams has admitted that he has occasionally been beaten in coverage, but claims that all safeties have been in some point of their career. Williams believes that he wasn't being used properly by other defensive coordinators in Dallas and is looking to get back to playing at the pro-bowl he was under Zimmer in Dallas.

Before Williams signed with Cincinnati he was not guaranteed a starting job. In recent years the position has been held by the beloved seventh-round pick out of Notre Dame, Chinedum Ndukwe. heading into the third game of the preseason Williams appears to be the starter, but the competition is far from over.

If Williams continues to struggle as he did in his final year in Dallas, look for Ndukwe to reclaim the starting job. Regardless of who starts, Ndukwe and Williams should both see significant playing time this season.  It's even been discussed that Free Safety Chris Crocker could line up as a cornerback on passing downs, with Williams and Ndukwe on the field at the same time.

Safety is without a doubt of of the deepest and most talented positions on the roster. Regardless of who makes the team, someone has to be cut and all have proved their value in some way or another. Keep a close eye on this position as we move closer to the home opener, it really is too close to call at this point.

 

Specialists

With kicker Shayne Graham nursing a sore groin that kept him out of the last preseason game against the Patriots, the Bengals signed free agent kicker Sam Swank. Swank appears to be a placeholder for Graham until he can resume his kicking duties. Look for Swank to be released as soon as Graham returns.

Homegrown rookie punter Kevin Huber, fifth-round draft selection out of the University of Cincinnati, is the sole punter on the roster and unless he sustains an injury the job is clearly his.

He has been kicking exceptionally well during the preseason and should make Bengal fans forget all about Kyle Larson.

 

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