This week, thesidelinereport.com takes a look at the AFC North’s respective teams and how they shape up going into training camp. We’ll examine the current roster, likely camp battles and subsequent roster cuts, and what each team must do to address weaknesses. Today: the Cincinnati Bengals.
Roster and Depth Chart
Fair or not, incumbent starting quarterback Andy Dalton may be on his last chance in Cincinnati, as injuries, maddening stretches of poor play, and lackluster team performance have all contributed to making Dalton appear worse than he probably is. Dalton’s a stand-up guy, but for a team that’s been deprived of playoff wins since the 80’s, he just isn’t good enough. For now, he’ll lead this team, with adequate backups Jeff Driskel and Ryan Finley both likely to remain on the roster due to Dalton’s sketchy injury history – another factor in his likely demise. Camp cut: Jacob Dolegala (although he impressed during minicamps – may stick on the practice squad)
The top running back spots for the Bengals are not really in consideration for new faces, as Joe Mixon returns to build on his successful sophomore campaign and Giovani Bernard continues his “tweener” role as a pass-catching option out of the backfield. 2019 sixth rounder Trayveon Williams will most likely stick with the club, as he shows much better ability than his draft position indicates. Expect the Bengals to keep at least one back from the trio of rookies Rodney Anderson, Darrin Hall and Jordan Ellis.
Perennial all-pro wideout A.J. Green continues to lead the Bengals’ receiving group, with WR2 Tyler Boyd and WR3 John Ross all but assured of retaining their spots in 2019. Holdover Cody Core is likely to remain as a fourth receiving option and special teams contributor, while fellow 2016 draftee Alex Erickson’s similar production places him in direct competition for the same role, with the added advantage of being the team’s primary punt and kick returner. With excellent size and speed, injury-plagued wideout Josh Malone will most likely remain as an option this season, but his chances of being retained beyond that are thin if he doesn’t produce. Same for the lengthy (6’5″) Auden Tate, whose status on the depth chart will remain tied to his currently-lacking special teams production. Diminutive Levonte “Kermit” Whitfield could challenge for Erickson’s return role. Camp cuts: Stanley Morgan Jr., Ventell Bryant, Charles Holland, Damion Willis
The offensive line suffered a substantial blow when 2019 first round tackle Jonah Williams, earmarked for a potential starting role, was lost for the season with a torn labrum. Holdover Cordy Glenn will remain at LT for now as a result. LG Clint Boling’s status for 2019 remains very much in doubt with an undisclosed injury, with rumors of his possible retirement surfacing recently. He’ll be replaced for now with holdover Christian Westerman, although this spot remains very much open pending camp performances. 2019 fourth rounder Michael Jordan will back up at both guard and center at an undetermined level, although he’s unlikely to unseat solid C Billy Price and backup C Trey Hopkins anytime soon. RT may be the thinnest position on the roster, so expect a number of camp invitees to challenge presumed starter Bobby Hart. Camp cuts: Rod Taylor, John Miller
The Bengals will try to coax another year out of generally-injured-all-the-time tight end Tyler Eifert, who was re-signed this offseason. There’s little question about Eifert’s ability, but it’s worth noting that he’s never played an entire season, logging 15 starts his rookie year and no more than 13 since 2015, which is precisely why the Bengals invested a 2019 second round pick in TE Drew Sample, who will have some growing to do. C.J. Uzomah is a capable backup and fourth option Mason Shreck remains a workable camp body. This group is perilously thin, so it’s possible, barring camp additions, that all four listed TEs will make the final roster.
DE Carlos Dunlap and DT Geno Atkins return to anchor the defensive line, joined by holdover DE Jordan Willis and DT Andrew Billings. Assuming a complete return to health, edge rusher Carl Lawson will see significant time, as will intriguing second-year option Sam Hubbard. DT Niles Scott returns for a second season, and newly-signed DE/DT Christian Ringo provides depth at several line spots. Rookie DT Renell Wren has a chance to stick on a thin positional group, while DT Ryan Glasgow will try to rebound from injury and reclaim his rotational spot. Little depth here could pose major problems.
Due to free agent departures and a lack of timely drafting, the Bengals have a problem at LB. While the presumed starting trio of rookie WLB Germaine Pratt, MLB Preston Brown, and SLB Nick Vigil are capable of solid contributions, there’s little behind them, and the glaring lack of a pass rush at the middle level could create major problems. Backup ILB Hardy Nickerson should provide solid tackling, and 2019 sixth rounder Deshaun Davis should add depth, as will spot starter Jordan Evans. 2018 third rounder Malik Jefferson will get another chance to show he can provide quality snaps. Camp cuts: Who knows? They’ll have to play this one out during the preseason.
A return to health by longtime CBs Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick would go a long way towards solidifying a troubled secondary that lost numerous contributors this offseason. Emerging CB William Jackson III returns as well, but as with a majority of the roster, depth is a serious concern. Well-traveled CB B.W. Webb will see significant time, as will CB (and occasional PR) Darius Phillips. The unheralded rest of the CB group includes Tony McRae, KeiVerae Russell and Davontae Harris, who will be fighting for one, perhaps two special teams spots. Dependable safeties Shawn Williams and Jessie Bates will be counted on to stay healthy, because (again!) there’s little behind them beyond the versatile Clayton Fejedelem. Not-so-probable camp cuts: Brandon Wilson, Trayvon Henderson
PK Randy Bullock and P Kevin Huber have little to worry about and should continue their solid careers, although most clubs seem to bring a few kickers and punters to camp if only for motivational purposes. WR Alex Erickson is penciled in as the team’s primary kick and punt returner, although he’ll probably share time with Levonte “Kermit” Whitfield in both capacities. LS Clark Harris returns in an understated but still vitally important role.
Stay tuned for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ review Friday.