Quarterback (2): Andy Dalton, Jason Campbell
Any speculation that Dalton may be replaced was put to bed once signing his six-year extension with the team last Monday. He is the Bengals future at the position and will remain so until he loses the trust of the franchise. And though Jason Campbell struggled in Thursday’s game, he still understands the position and NFL life better than any other quarterback the Bengals have currently. He is a veteran of Hue Jackson’s system and can mentor younger players in this way. It’s increasingly looking like A.J. McCarron may at least begin the year on the I.R. The Bengals want him to rest his recovering shoulder and McCarron has yet to even throw in practice, so unless Matt Scott can supplant Campbell for the number two position, it’s only advantageous that the Bengals carry a third QB on their practice squad while letting McCarron recover.
Running Back (4): Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Rex Burkhead, Cedric Peerman
During my pre-camp prediction, I predicted the team would keep both Burkhead and Wilder, Jr. believing another team would poach either player if the team attempted to place one of them on the practice squad. Well I still believe this be be true, but in light of the Bengals struggle on special teams during their first game, it seems that prioritizing special teams’ players may be necessary for this squad. If Thursday proves to be an enigma, the team could still move on from Peerman, but retaining both of the Bengals special teams’ captains from a year ago (Vincent Rey being the other) seems the more likely scenario.
On the positive side Jeremy Hill performed as advertised during his first game action. He ran hard and moved the chains while gaining 36 yards on 6 carries. This was an encouraging sign from the young back while it looks increasingly likely that the Bengals move on from veteran runner BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Tight End/Fullback (4): Tyler Eifert, Jermaine Gresham, Orson Charles, (FB) Ryan Hewitt
Although Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham are considered roster locks, it’s still worth noting Eifert’s fantastic camp thus far. The former first-round pick is beginning to produce the way the team had hoped while becoming a favorite target of Dalton’s lately. Once Gresham gets healthy, this duo could prove to be the NFL’s best and present matchup nightmares for opposing defenses all year long. Ryan Hewitt’s emergence has nearly supplanted Orson Charles for the FB/HB role. I believe he’ll be a favorite of Hue Jackson’s due to his resemblance of Jackson’s once prized weapon, Marcel Reece. Frankly veteran Alex Smith is probably the more reliable player at tight end versus Charles, but Smith landed on this team due to his Gruden connection. Between Gruden’s departure for Washington and the Bengals possessing a quality blocker in Hewitt (who has tight end experience and can block from this spot), there doesn’t seem to be a reason for the team to keep Smith over Charles, who is significantly younger. Charles makes the team due to his ability to produce on special teams, but is probably the lesser player as a tight end.
Wide Receivers (5): A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Dane Sanzenbacher, James Wright
By far the hardest position to predict is wide receiver. The Bengals have an overabundance of talented players here, but the first preseason game revealed some important truths. The player of the game was Dane Sanzenbacher. He made impressive catches, one for a TD, and had impressive kick returns, three of them to be exact. This performance most certainly solidified Sanzenbacher’s roster spot and may have even spelled disaster for Brandon Tate’s kick returning job. Although Tate had a TD of his own in the receiving game, the Bengals have seen quality receiver play from Tate in the preseason before, which has not carried over to the regular season. The special team’s lack of production will certainly play a role in the selection process and may push James Wright onto the roster; ironically after making some nice catches, Wright’s only mistake was a holding call during a Sanzenbacher return. I am still sticking with my original prediction that the team will go light on receivers due to the receiving ability of several players outside this group. This will essentially push Cobi Hamilton clear off the roster unless he does something special in the coming games.
Offensive Line (9): Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Marshall Newhouse, Tanner Hawkinson, Kevin Zeitler, Clint Boling, Mike Pollak, Trey Hopkins, Russell Bodine
The Bengals will choose to keep nine players along the line due to injury concerns both from last year and thus far in camp. Marshall Newhouse continues to be a roster lock as he’s been given much time at the tackle spot while the veteran starters have recovered from various injuries. The team prioritized his signing this off-season to take over the swing-tackle duties, so at this point he isn’t going anywhere. Hawkinson makes the roster due to his versatility to play both the tackle and guard position. Finally Trey Hopkins has simply been given to much playing time and has performed to well to let him go; placing him on the practice squad would certainly result in another team claiming him and what would be the point of having trained him for another team’s benefit? This should be the final line as I don’t see any changes occurring here barring injury.