Tonight’s game between the Bengals and the Jets will be the team’s second action of the season. It will also be the second opportunity for several players to stand out and show they can contribute to this team going forward in 2014. As is always inevitable, injuries have created opportunities for players to shine while several position battles are still raging with competition. Here’s a look at five Bengals to keep your eye on during tonight’s action.
Really a fan should keep an eye on the battle between both he and Orson Charles. In the Bengals first game versus the Chiefs, Hewitt played well producing two catches (on three targets) for 15 yards on just 28 snaps. More telling of this matchup was Charles’ lack of any snaps. Hewitt has impressed the coaches thus far in camp. I wrote an article on this matchup a couple of days ago which mentioned Marvin Lewis’ comment about this camp battle being a “dog fight.” Hewitt has been the more natural fit at FB in camp due to his blocking ability.
Ryan Hewitt another nice block…he has a shot to make this team…honestly he looks more natural at it than Charles @MoEgger1530
— Rocky Boiman (@ROCKYBOIMAN50) August 1, 2014
If Hewitt can continue to impress the Bengals’ coaches in tonight’s action, he may permanently supplant Orson Charles for the FB/HB role and leave Charles vying for the third tight end slot versus veteran Alex Smith.
This is an obvious pick after Marvin Jones’ suffered his broken foot last Saturday. Although Jones will only miss an estimated three games, which means the team may not elect to keep an extra receiver heading into the regular season, his injury certainly opens up playing time and allows others to more time on the field. Jones typically lines up wide, which means this opportunity may be best suited for Cobi Hamilton, who’s been quiet in camp of late. Dane Sanzenbacher may stand to gain the most playing time by transitioning to the slot while camp star Mohamed Sanu moves outside, but Hamilton could assert himself as this is his natural role on the field. He’s not the only receiver who will utilize the extra opportunity though as both James Wright and Brandon Tate are vying for a spot on this team. Ironically Hamilton was involved in the most snaps (30) versus the Chiefs, but was unable to make the catch on his lone target. Tate played the second most amongst these three with 29 snaps, but was only able to make a single catch (on four targets), albeit for a nine-yard TD. James Wright had the most impressive receiving game by catching two passes (on three targets) for 20 yards and a TD.
All three of these Bengals have a legitimate shot to make the roster. Because this competition is so close, special teams should play an especially important role during the decision-making process. At this point I’d have to give this edge to James Wright even when considering Tate’s contribution towards the unit over the past few years. If Wright can establish himself again tonight as the most productive receiver amongst this group, then he’ll separate himself from the pack while giving this team the experienced special teamer it needs.
And staying with the receiver talk, Tyler Eifert will be another player to watch tonight in the receiving game. Eifert could have his foot in two camps as the season rolls around. Eifert’s versatility allows him to play all over the field, so he could see time both in the slot and on the outside in Jones’ stead. His role is doubly important going forward as Jermaine Gresham only recently has begun to return to the field. Gresham is out for tonight’s game, so Eifert could continue to push forward and maybe even take over the “starting” tight end slot, which is probably a novelty title at best, but still. With Gresham heading into a contract year, 2014 will be a vital year for both he and Eifert as the team decides what to do with the position going forward. Thus far this off-season, Eifert has established himself as a favorite weapon of Andy Dalton while Eifert certainly has the tools to be a real handful for the rest of the league. I’m very interested to see how things work out for Eifert as the Bengals will be looking to utilize the second-year tight end significantly more during his sophomore season. Hopefully Eifert becomes the player we all suspect he can be and gives the Bengals, along with Gresham, one of the league’s best and most dynamic tight end duos.
Margus Hunt is on the prowl and may be the most exciting player to watch tonight. We’ve all read about how physically gifted he is and how his ceiling seems endless, but Hunt still has to master the technical skills in order to truly dominate the way he could. He’s been earning a ton of praise this off-season from coaches and the Bengals’ media alike and has positioned himself to have a breakout year. Although Hunt led the defensive line in snaps versus the Chiefs, I would expect him to see more starting snaps against the likes of Pro-Bowler D’Brickashaw Ferguson and former Seahawks’ tackle Brent Giacomini. Over the next few weeks Hunt could begin to erase the concerns over Michael Johnson’s departure and show that this line could be as dominant as ever. This line possesses extraordinary depth and each player has his own niche, but none of these players are as gifted as Hunt nor are capable of dominating opponents in the way he could. Is it possible that Hunt takes advantage of the presence of both Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap and produce the way Johnson did in 2012? Can he be the run-stopping force Johnson was? Tonight’s game will begin to answer these questions.
Recently veteran guard Mike Pollak has began delivering the snaps, a flashback to his college days. Pollak came out of Arizona State as a highly touted center, but has yet to play the position in the NFL. After spending a few tumultuous years with the Colts and a year with the Panthers, Pollak signed with the Bengals last year for his versatility along the interior of the line. He was resigned to a three-year deal worth $4.8 million this off-season after playing an important role for the Bengals last year while both LG Clint Boling and RG Kevin Zeitler were hurt at various points during the year. Pollak was paid so handsomely that there was relentless speculation that the Bengals may try and start him at center for the first time in his NFL career. But then the Bengals made rookie center Russell Bodine a priority during the draft. Bodine has all the tools the Bengals want in their center, but he’s struggled with snaps during camp while also going through the rookie process of learning the playbook, which is especially difficult for a rookie center who played within a very basic college offense. If Bodine continues to struggle snapping the ball, he may find himself spending the year playing in a reserve role. This would allow him to continue to grow into the position and hopefully become the center the team thinks he can be. In the meantime, Pollak could earn the starting gig and mentor Bodine for the future. The center position is still very much fluid and as Bengal fans have been waiting for a solution to this long-standing issue, tonight’s game could begin to reveal some answers for both the team and its fans.