Bengals training camp battles to watch: offense
By Jack Lane
OTAs have begun, the pressure to make the 53 man roster grows. The Cincinnati Bengals have to make tough cuts at some important offensives positions.
There’s always a lot of excitement around the draft and the UDFAs. Unfortunately, inevitable roster cuts dampen that hype. This situation is no different for the Bengals, who are going to have to make some difficult decisions pretty soon. We’ve discussed the potential cuts at wide receiver, but some other offensive positions should produce some tough camp battles.
Veteran quarterback Andy Dalton’s spot on this roster is secure. There were whispers that the Bengals may move on from Dalton, especially given his contract situation. However, the team didn’t bring in any respectable competition for the starting job, so Dalton will start once again this season. The competition comes behind Dalton, where many of the quarterbacks on the roster are fairly evenly talented.
The only other quarterback from last year still on the roster is Jeff Driskel, a standout from last year’s preseason. Driskel flashed against other teams’ backups during his preseason reps, displaying some dual-threat ability. However, Driskel has never seen NFL game action, so it’s hard to know exactly how good he would be if he had to play. Also, he’s had myriad injury issues, dealing with broken fingers all year last year. This year, Driskel’s had to heal a broken arm prior to OTAs. While he should be fine for training camp, Driskel’s health is certainly a concern.
Because of Driskel’s arm injury, the Bengals signed journeyman Matt Barkley as the backup quarterback this offseason. Barkley, once a Heisman Trophy favorite, has never panned out in the NFL. He’s bounced between the Eagles, Cardinals, Bears, and 49ers, and only played meaningful snaps with the Bears. Barkley has thrown 216 passes in NFL game action, but his stats are pretty brutal. His completion percentage is under 60 percent, and his TD/INT ratio is 8/18 (bleh). He has never impressed on the field in the NFL, but Barkley will get a chance to make the roster in camp with the Bengals.
The last competitor for a spot on the roster is 7th round pick, Logan Woodside. Woodside, a Toledo product, was nearly the last pick of the draft, so he won’t challenge for the starting job. However, Woodside has impressive accuracy and touch on short and intermediate passes, and clearly displayed good decision making in college. His size and athletic profile will limit his NFL upside, but he can likely be a game manager as a backup quarterback.
Driskel, Barkley, and Woodside will each get plenty of reps during OTAs and training camp to prove themselves. Each has their own advantage – Driskel has team familiarity, Barkley has NFL game experience, and Woodside has draft capital investment. The Bengals may decide to keep 3 quarterbacks if they like two of these guys enough. Likely, the team will only keep two quarterbacks on the roster, though. These three quarterbacks will have to vie for one spot, and the competition should be tight.
Like at quarterback, the starters are in place for the Bengals. Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, and even 4th round pick Mark Walton have their spot on the roster for this year. These three running backs should take the bulk of the carries for the Bengals, but having depth at running back is important. The Bengals tend to keep 4 backs on the roster, although at least one will go to the practice squad for insurance. The competition for that single spot will be intense given who’s left.
Brian Hill, a 5th round pick out of Wyoming last year, is the only back in this competition who got work last year. Though unremarkable, Hill did take 11 carries for 37 yards. Hill had incredible college production, nearly equaling Donnel Pumphrey (D1 all-time rushing leader) in yards in the Mountain West. He’s a bigger back at 6’1″, 220 pounds, although he isn’t really a power back. Hill has a great shake for a guy his size, making him a fairly versatile runner. Hill could use some improvement in the passing game, but his well-rounded skill set and familiarity with the Bengals give him a leg up in the camp battle.
Two bigger backs that could give Hill a run for his money are Tra Carson and Quinton Flowers. The Bengals could use an extra big back just for situational size, so Carson or Flowers would be valuable. Carson has been a constant in Bengals camp – this will be his third season with the Bengals. Each of his last two seasons has ended on IR, so it’s hard to know exactly how much the Bengals like him. Carson is a stocky, powerful back who hits holes with a lot of speed and power. His elusiveness is lacking, but he could be the best short-yardage back on the roster.
Flowers, a converted college quarterback, will get “every opportunity to make the 53 man roster,” according to coach Marvin Lewis. There’s obviously a learning curve, as Flowers has to learn essential running back skills like pass blocking. However, Flowers was an amazing dual-threat option at USF, so he has no issues running the ball. Flowers’ most impressive work comes around the goal line – he put up 45 rushing TDs his final three years of college. At 5’10”, 220 pounds, he has the frame to be a powerful back. If Flowers can make the adjustment to being a physical runner, he certainly has the dynamism to make the Bengals’ roster.
The Bengals also still have UDFAs Ray Lawry and Jarveon Williams on the roster, but both are smaller backs. Neither Lawry or Williams are over 5’9″, which makes them fairly redundant with Bernard and Walton on the roster. Hill, Carson, and Flowers have the size to be physical runners, which gives them an advantage over Lawry and Williams. I don’t expect either of these scatbacks to make the roster. However, the three bigger backs will be embroiled in a heated battle to get that elusive final roster spot.
The offensive line camp battles will be slightly different than those at quarterback and running back. While the final spots are the battles to track at those positions, there are still starters to figure out along the O-line. On the left side of the line, things are fairly settled. Cordy Glenn, Clint Boling, and Billy Price will start at tackle, guard, and center, respectively. However, the right guard and tackle spots are very much up for grabs.
At right tackle, the likely starter is Jake Fisher. Fisher, a 2015 2nd round pick, has been a rotation lineman for his first few years in the league. Now that Andre Smith and Eric Winston are off the team, the road is clear for Fisher to step into that role. Fisher has been solid, though unspectacular when he’s gotten on the field, but an offseason in which he gets countless reps with the first team could spur his development.
Fisher will get competition from veteran Bobby Hart. Hart, a member of Fisher’s draft class, has actually started 23 games the last two seasons with the Giants. His play was less than stellar last year, though, so many have presumed Hart will be the backup right tackle in Cincinnati. However, it would not be too surprising to see Fisher stagnate in his growth and yield to the more experienced Bobby Hart.
At right guard, the competition does not feature as highly touted draft picks. Both Christian Westerman and Trey Hopkins are vying for the starting spot, although Hopkins did win the battle last year. Hopkins, a former UDFA from Texas, started 12 games last season and was serviceable, though he didn’t assure himself of the starting job in the future.
Next: Carlos Dunlap absent from OTA's
He graded out as the 41st best guard in football, which is suboptimal, but at least starting quality. Westerman, a 5th round pick, started the games Hopkins missed due to a knee injury and was about the same. His PFF grade was about 8 points worse overall, but his film is solid. Neither guard has stood out, so the starting guard spot should go to whoever looks better in camp this offseason.