Cincinnati Bengals: Pre-Camp Roster Prediction
Defensive Line (9): Carlos Dunlap, Margus Hunt, Wallace Gilberry, Will Clark, Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Brandon Thompson, Devon Still, Dontay Moch
Again the first seven here are roster locks. The battle begins at the eighth and ninth slots. Devon Still has been disappointing to date, but is only going into his third year. The Bengals have proven loyalty to their guys and give young players ample time to mature. Although the team has brought in extra tackles recently, LaKendrick Ross, I believe this has more to do with Atkins’ return from injury and a spot on the practice squad and less to do with a change amongst the tackles they currently have. The battle gets real interesting when discussing the ninth spot. Moch should be in for possibly the most competitive battle during this training camp along with the talented Sam Montgomery and long-time Bengal veteran Robert Geathers. In a division that is moving towards emphasizing the run once more Geathers run stopping ability would be useful. His mentorship may be negligible at this point as many players along the defensive line are now veterans. Sam Montgomery has always possessed ability but was miscast as an outside linebacker in Houston’s 3-4 defense, one that Montgomery had no experience with. He came into the league lazy and overweight and was subsequently cut twice during his rookie year. If Montgomery recommits himself he has a great shot to make the team over Moch. But Moch’s talent should win the day. He was drafted by the Bengals in 2011 and racked up plenty of sacks during preseasons. If it wasn’t for his serious bout with migraines he probably would’ve never been let go by the team and would’ve continued his production during regular seasons. After spending last year healthy with the Cardinals and earning his first playing time and sack, things are looking up for Moch. Assuming the migraines are behind him, I expect Moch to be a useful pass-rushing force off the edge this year while contributing on special teams, a rarity amongst defensive linemen, due to his uber-athleticism. This potential special teams contribution may be what puts him over the top.
Linebackers (6): Vontaze Burfict, Vincent Rey, Emmanuel Lamur, Rey Maualuga, Sean Porter, Jayson DiManche
The linebacking core has been reported as tricky but I simply don’t see it as such. The only players I see threatening for a spot amongst the group are Marquis Flowers and Taylor Mays (I just don’t see him as a safety any longer after years of struggling at safety and his production last year as a nickel backer). Jayson DiManche made a real impact on special teams last year and is improving as an outside linebacker who could offer rushing ability from the linebacker position, which is something the Bengals have lacked in recent years. Sean Porter suffered a year-ending shoulder inury last year but his talent is undeniable. The Bengals prioritized him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft due to his ability to play all three linebacker spots. Before Texas A&M switched defenses, Porter was a pass-rushing monster, which will also appeal to the team for aforementioned reasons. Porter’s athleticism will allow him to contribute on special teams, a must for all backup linebackers. Marquis Flowers is talented but undersized and isn’t ready for linebacking in the NFL, much like Emmanuel Lamur a couple of years ago. Frankly I’d love to see the team move on from Maualuga and keep Mays. Maualuga offers little as a middle linebacker and the defense primarily plays in the nickel set anyway, which negates the need for a middle linebacker. Maualuga was most productive as a strong side linebacker in his early years, but the Bengals are well stocked on the strong side now. Due to Maualuga’s lack of ability to play on special teams, his bloated contract, and Vincent Rey looking like the better middle linebacker, I think Maualuga would enjoy a better future with another team and the Bengals could keep players who better fit the defense. Nonetheless the Bengals loyalty will keep Maualuga and place Flowers on the practice squad while Mays’ future may be in further jeopardy.
Defensive Backs (11): Leon Hall, Darqueze Dennard, Terence Newman, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Shawn Manning, Danieal Manning, Victor Hampton, Onterio McCalebb
By far the most contested position on the roster and admittedly the hardest to predict. As confident as I am in my predictions I must admit I don’t envy the Bengals’ coaches when trying to decipher out this mess of talent. The first eight on this list are locks due to past production and Williams’ incredible contribution to special teams last year while diaplaying leadership abilities. Eleven is a large number but there’s a “method to this madness.”
First, as much as I loved Taylor Mays’ contributions as a nickel linebacker last year, he isn’t a safety and won’t make the roster in this capacity. His chances to make the cut will lie in his ability to supplant one of the team’s current linebackers and continue to make a contribution on special teams.
The Bengals leaped at the chance to sign Danieal Manning once he was cut. He can mentor the younger players and help them transition to life under new defensive backs coach Vance Joseph (he played under Joseph the last few seasons in Houston). Manning can play in the slot and upgrades the role voided by Chris Crocker’s departure. Because of my belief that the Bengals will move on from Brandon Tate, Manning’s experience as a kick returner will help mentor the new returner or he may find himself in this role, though I don’t see that happening. The biggest threat to Manning is Isaiah Lewis. He’s had a fantastic start to his NFL career and could supplant Manning with a strong training camp. Much of this decision may come down to the team’s decision on kick returning duties and if Manning will play a role in these duties. If Lewis plays well during training camp and is then placed on the practice squad, I’ll be worried about another team signing him away from the Bengals. This may make for the most difficult decision during camp. In the end I see Manning getting the nod and the team placing Lewis on the practice squad.
If Victor Hampton can keep his head on straight, then he could be he steal of the off-season (maybe the next Vontaze Burfict?). Hampton reminds me a lot of an Ed Reed type. He has quickness, awareness, a penchant for hitting, and the ball-hawking skills to be effective. He can play in the slot and may even project better as a NFL safety. Hampton seems to lack the height and leaping ability to play on the outside against today’s receivers, but I wouldn’t count him out entirely due to his physicality. He has leadership skills as seen at South Carolina and showed a willingness to be a productive member of the community. Getting away from his southern roots could allow Hampton to get away from those distractions that have got him into trouble in the past and the time to mature and develop both as an adult and NFL player. Going undrafted and spending several weeks with his dreams and future in-flux may make this young player desperate to achieve him dream and avoid all distractions that may hinder this opportunity. His potential and on-field intangibles make him to enticing to let go.
Finally there’s Onterio McCalebb. Again, because the team will move on from Brandon Tate, McCalebb’s speed and return ability becomes especially valuable. The Bengals also lost Andrew Hawkins this off-season, so they have a vacant slot for a special teams gunner. McCalebb has the speed to fill this void easily. He has been training as a cornerback and shows promise in the slot, an increasingly emphasized position in today’s NFL. Beyond this, McCalebb was a great gimmick running back in college and offers Dexter McCluster-type skills. With the team only carrying five wide receivers McCalebb could help fill any potential void. Opposing defenses would have to account for McCalebb’s game breaking speed as he could add a dangerous situational weapon for the offense. McCalebb’s versatility all over the field will help him win a spot and round out what at first may seem an unnecessarily bloated group, but one that makes perfect sense for this team.