Today is the first true test for Bengals players, especially those few who are entrenched in heated battles for the starting job.
The Bengals will have their first preseason game tomorrow against the Bears, which is extremely exciting. Cincinnati football is back! The actual game itself and its result don’t really matter, but getting to see these training camp guys in action is huge.
Game action will be the last key in deterring who will start and who will make this Bengals team in 2018. While most positions are still up in the air, there are a few positions that are even murkier in the rest. Since the true starters likely won’t play against Chicago, these position battles will become even more important. Keep an eye out for these three positions.
Can Trey Hopkins hold onto the right guard spot?
We’ve already talked about the right guard battle, but the preseason games will be where the separation happens. Right now, Trey Hopkins, Christian Westerman, and Alex Redmond are locked into a three-horse race for the starting job. Hopkins is listed as the current starter, but the Bengals could reasonably choose any of these three players.
Hopkins will likely start the first game, but this is only because of his listing on the depth chart. He should get a lot of playing time, and may even bump over to center at some point. No matter where he plays, the Bengals will want to see what Hopkins looks like in Frank Pollack’s zone scheme. Hopkins performed well last year, but his lack of mobility could hurt him in the zone. Even though he’s the current starter, Hopkins will definitely have to earn it.
Westerman and Redmond should get plenty of work, too. Like Hopkins, the Bengals will want to see what they have in both of these guys as well. Westerman, who ended the season very well last year, will hopefully continue his hot streak. If he does, he could seriously dominate some second and third string defensive linemen. Redmond also needs to prove himself, especially since he may be on the roster bubble.
Is there a viable backup QB on this roster?
Andy Dalton is definitely going to start, but it is a wide-open race behind him. Unfortunately, the race is so open because no quarterback has proven themselves behind Dalton. Matt Barkley, who has never been good in his many NFL stops, has still looked shaky, and Jeff Driskel has had a roller coaster of a camp. Rookie Logan Woodside hasn’t even really been present at camp at all.
The Bengals will like play all of these guys, or at least Barkley and Driskel. Hopefully, one of them starts to turn their play around and separate themselves from the pack. If neither of them performs up to par, watch some of the other preseason games and see how other backup quarterbacks play. The Bengals could be in the market to trade for a backup quarterback instead of rostering Barkley or Driskel.
Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Hundley, and Tom Savage are all intriguing young backups who could be available. In all likelihood, the Bengals would prefer to roll with a player who’s been on the roster longer. However, Barkley or Driskel has to play well against Chicago, or else they could both be in trouble.
Who can complement Geno Atkins on the D Line?
Aside from Geno Atkins, the Bengals need a second defensive tackle to start in the 4-3 defense. Although Michael Johnson or Jordan Willis will likely play defensive tackle in the nickel formation, the team still needs a one-technique tackle to play along Atkins. Atkins will likely not even play again Chicago, but plenty of other guys will get some snaps.
Andrew Billings should see a ton of playing time. Billings has broken out during camp, and was listed as the starter on the depth chart as a result. He’s the perfect complement to Atkins as a nose tackle, and can be a real asset on clear running downs. Billings’ athleticism at his size is impressive, but he needs to apply it to the game. The Bengals will definitely be watching his performance in Week 1.
Chris Baker is a veteran who could challenge Billings for the job. He doesn’t have nearly the athleticism of Billings, but he’s much more well-rounded from a skill perspective. He’s a safe start in case Billings doesn’t pan out, but Baker should at least demonstrate those skills against the Bears.
Other defensive tackles on the roster are Ryan Glasgow and Andrew Brown. Both are solid players who should make the roster, but they are less relevant to this discussion. Glasgow and Brown are much better as three or five-technique defensive tackles, so they will likely spell Atkins as opposed to starting alongside him. Both guys should get some reps today, but watch for their prowess against the pass instead of the run. That’s where they’ll be best.