Two fringe defenders needed to make a splash in the preseason to assure their spot on the Bengals. KeiVarae Russell and Josh Shaw did just that.
One of the weak points in training camp to this point has been the secondary. The starters, per usual, have been pretty solid – William Jackson III, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, George Iloka, and Shawn Williams. The issue for the Bengals has been the guys backing them up. Things got so bad at cornerback that the Bengals had to bring in veteran CJ Goodwin to bring competition to the position.
However, the secondary may have turned a page with KeiVarae Russell and Josh Shaw excelling against Chicago. Both Russell and Shaw are young veterans on this team, but both were near the roster bubble. The Bengals may need to keep both of them, though, if they’re going to play as well as they did last Thursday.
Russell may have been the best Bengals player over a sustained period of game time against the Bears. While starters like Geno Atkins and Carl Lawson played well with the starters, Russell played most of the game, and took advantage of his time. He tallied 3 solo tackles and came down with one of the two Bengals’ interceptions. His coverage on the play was phenomenal – he read the route the whole way and put himself in perfect position to make the pick.
Russell’s PFF grade bears out his strong performance. He received an 83, which is an excellent grade. That came in only behind Lawson and Darqueze Dennard for highest on the Bengals’ defense. Russell’s play was excellent, but was almost bested by Josh Shaw. Shaw had the fourth highest grade of any Bengals defensive player at 79.2.
Shaw passed the eye test as well. A former cornerback, Shaw now sits at third on the depth chart at free safety. While that puts him in a precarious situation, he has enough versatility to make an impact as a rotation defender. Shaw was all over the field against Chicago when he played, racking up 4 tackles, including a tackle for loss.
Russell and Shaw are not locks to make the final roster, but their initial performance in the preseason certainly earns them some security. Watch for both this week against Dallas, as they could continue to impress and lock up a spot on this team.