Bengals’ 2014 Camp Battles

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 Offensive Line

The most significant camp battles on offense will take place along the line. When Clint Boling is healthy, he’s a serviceable LG, but certainly didn’t have a permanent lock on the position. After tearing his ACL in week 13 last year, his status for the start of the season is in jeopardy. It’s because of his injury that both the LG and center positions are still fluid. After a strong 2013, the Bengals signed Mike Pollak to a 3-year extension. He played guard effectively, but considers himself a natural center. The Bengals signed him in part for his versatility, but his performance probably earned him a starting spot at one of the two positions. After this the battle is wide open. Tanner Hawkinson was drafted in 2013 for his agility and quickness, but he needed to get stronger; he addressed this over the past year. He can play multiple spots along the line, but best projected to guard at the NFL level. The guards in a power running system need to be able to pull and work in space, so Hawkinson has a leg up in this way for the LG spot. This would effectively slide Pollak to starting center. Rookie center Russell Bodine was drafted this year for his strength and nasty demeanor. He should fit the running system well according to CBS contributor Ron Rang, who gave Bodine a glowing endorsement. His 42 bench press reps proved he has the power to hold and seal defensive tackles, opening up lanes for the running backs. Trevor Robinson is on the fringe of the discussion. He has played admirably at times, but couldn’t beat out an underperforming Kyle Cook for the job last year. The team’s investment in another center may be the most telling sign that they aren’t sold on him.

Prediction: Whitworth, Hawkinson, Pollak, Zeitler, Smith

Running Back

The depth at running back has yet to be determined. The battle will be between four men vying for two to three spots: Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead, and James Wilder, Jr. Green-Ellis has been a solid contributor over the past few seasons. He isn’t dynamic, but is effective in short-yardage situations and will benefit from Hue Jackson’s power system. Because he lacks superior vision and agility, he is only as effective as his blocking. Jackson’s system will provide better second-level blocking and enable Green-Ellis to gain more yards/carry. He lacks the ability to contribute on ST, which is often a requirement for reserve running backs. This is where Cedric Peerman has a an advantage on the field. Peerman is currently the special teams captain. Last off-season he was resigned to a two-year extension largely because of this contribution. He hasn’t had much opportunity as a runner and won’t in the future as the team has invested in three RBs in the last two drafts (along with Wilder, Jr. this year). Rex Burkhead was drafted in 2013 with the Brian Leonard role in mind. He hasn’t been able to get on the field and hasn’t contributed on ST. It’s only his second year, so it isn’t time to give up on him yet. He’ll need to contribute on ST in order to maintain his spot. James Wilder, Jr. is the most intriguing of the group. He has the ability to be a powerful runner and showed some receiving ability in 2012 while at FSU. He’ll need to find a niche on ST and keep his head on straight; he’s had some run-ins with the law in the past. If he can do so, he may find himself on the roster as the competition lacks his running ability. The final consideration in this discussion is the inclusion of a FB on the roster. Hue Jackson enjoys having one to lead the ball-carrier through the hole. The team brought in two opposing UDFA fullbacks in a versatile Ryan Hewitt and transitioning college DT, Nikita Whitlock. Second-round pick Jeremy Hill has good blocking ability and the team has experimented with both he and Giovani Bernard on the field at the same time during OTAs. If he or Orson Charles, who would assumedly make the roster as a 3rd TE, can provide this lead blocking, then it’s conceivable the team could carry five RBs. The more likely option is the team keeps four RBs and a FB/HB in a close contest.

Prediction: Bernard, Hill, Green-Ellis, Peerman, Charles.