Cincinnati Bengals: 5 Situations To Watch Tomorrow Night

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Kick Returner

Brandon Tate’s kick returning job and roster spot could be up for grabs this year. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The most infrequent play of the game may be the most interesting for Bengal fans. Brandon Tate has been a stalwart in the return game over the past few years. I’ll try not to repeat myself much here as I wrote an article recently detailing my thoughts on Brandon Tate and his value to this team since the NFL changed the kickoff rules prior to the 2011 season. But considering how the NFL has de-emphasized the return game, in light of concussions concerns, and Adam Jones’ potential return to punt returning due to a younger and healthier secondary, Tate’s grip on his roster spot should be considerably loosened. This could open the door for several players on the Bengals roster to grab hold of a roster spot or solidify their spot by playing well within the return game. Dane Sanzenbacher produced a TD off a punt return during last year’s preseason, which may earn him some looks at the spot during tomorrow’s game. Onterio McCalebb is a roster long shot, but has the type of skills to produce in the kick return game, as he is much more agile than Tate, while also filling the gunner role vacated by Andrew Hawkins’ departure to Cleveland. Finally, Danieal Manning has past experience and could duplicate the production of Tate.  All of this leaves Tate’s status as the primary returner in doubt.

Tate’s inability to produce as a receiver, when it counts, may also hurt his chances. Both Cobi Hamilton and seventh-round pick James Wright are pushing hard for a roster spot. Hamilton suffered from inconsistent hands early on in camp, but has done better recently. James Wright has been especially impressive during camp. He’s been praised by coaches several times and is making a great case to make this roster. It’s no secret that producing on special teams is the best way to make a roster as a backup and Wright was drafted out of LSU specifically for his special teams experience and production; a rare reasoning for any draft pick, but it’s looking increasing like a positive decision as the days go on.

As is easy to see in the previous paragraphs, by the amount of times Tate is mentioned, one has to assume that he remains the front-runner until firmly supplanted. But Tate better be ready to produce throughout the rest of camp or he may finally find himself on the outside looking in.