Bengals at Washington: 5 things to watch in tonight’s preseason game

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals got off to a good start to the preseason with a win at defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay last weekend. Tonight they head back on the road to play the Washington Football Team in their second preseason game, looking to build off that momentum.

Washington brings some bad memories for the Bengals last year when Joe Burrow blew out his knee when his pocket collapsed around him after he attempted a pass. The offensive line hasn’t forgotten its struggles from 2020 and continues to have something to prove this preseason while the guard spots and backup jobs are being sorted out.

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Burrow won’t be playing in this game, as he wasn’t expected to appear in any preseason exhibitions when training camp started. It’s possible he will get some reps in the preseason finale Aug. 29 against Miami but Bengals coach Zac Taylor says that hasn’t been decided.

Here are five things to watch in the Bengals’ second preseason game:

1. Players expected to sit

Burrow and center Trey Hopkins have been ruled out but will watch from the sideline, Taylor said, as both continue to be limited for precautionary reasons as they return from ACL tears.

A few others were ruled out because of injuries, including running back Trayveon Williams and defensive backs Eli Apple, Ricardo Allen and Donnie Lewis, who all have hamstring issues, as well as defensive linemen Khalid Kareem and Joseph Ossai. Rookie tackle/guard D’Ante Smith is day-to-day and might not play as a precaution because of a dehydration issue.

Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who returned from injury last week and didn’t play at Tampa, is expected to make his Bengals debut.

Williams’ absence is one that could hamper his ability to make the team, as Samaje Perine is expected to fill a role behind Joe Mixon, and Jacques Patrick and Chris Evans have been impressive in camp so far.

2. More reps for the starters?

The starters last week only played one or two series for the most part, while backup quarterback Brandon Allen played a half before making way for Kyle Schumur. Taylor said he expects the first team offense and defense to play a bit more Friday.

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“In my head maybe a little bit more than last game, we’ll see,” Taylor said. “It’s just kind of a wait and see. You feel out the first quarter, but it won’t be beyond that. That would be the most they play is a quarter for the starters.”

Joe Mixon is one player who might be even more limited than some of the others, while the Bengals already know what they’ve got in him and need to see the other backs for roster decision purposes.

3. Position groups to keep an eye on

The offensive and defensive lines continue to be the focus in camp, as the Bengals have starting spots to decide at guard, and rotational roles to sort out on defense. Taylor said there are interesting battles at every spot, but those remain the big ones.

Quinton Spain has the edge at left guard, while Taylor said Xavier Su’a-Filo, Michael Jordan and Jackson Carman are still all in the mix at right guard. Smith is competing at left guard and tackle but also could be an option at right guard, according to Taylor, based on his performances so far.

“Whether we feel like we’ve got a good group there, there’s still guys you want to see how they respond in these environments,” Taylor said. “We’ve got a lot of first and second year players that haven’t taken a lot of reps in these games, so that’s important. Just watching all these big guys compete, offensive line and defensive line, that’s one of the primary focuses, but I would be remiss if I left out a position, because there’s every position group we’ve got our eye on.”

4. Eye on special teams

As always, special teams will play a big role in roster decisions, and those spots are still very much up for grabs, Taylor said. Kickers Evan McPherson and Austin Seibert rotated in the first game and will continue to do so after both went 2-for-2 on field goal attempts at Tampa Bay.

The punt return competition between Trenton Irwon, Trent Taylor and Darius Phillips continues to be one to watch.

“I think these games are continuing to help us,” Taylor said. “We’ll see how the opportunities shake out. There are several guys in the mix. We want them to have opportunities in the game. Certain guys react differently in the games. Obviously, Darrin (Simmons) has gotten a lot of work. I’ve seen a lot of improvement from those all those guys has training camp has gone. But the games are what matter most, ultimately. We’ll do our best to get a different look in these next two games out of all those guys that are competing for the job.”

5. Running backs get chances

Chris Evans and Jacques Patrick got a lot of opportunities in the first preseason game and will continue to battle for the third running back spot. Patrick led the running backs with 71 yards on 15 carries at Tampa Bay with a long of 24 and impressed, but Evans was effective in the passing game with four catches on four targets for 33 yards.

Patrick had a good camp last year but ended up on the practice squad. Gio Bernard’s departure and Williams’ injury is opening the door for another chance.

“I think we all saw the same thing last year,” Taylor said. “So, I can’t say that I was surprised with what he did. Again, he’s a detailed guy, it’s important to him, you’re happy when a guy gets to go in finally after two years. I think his last game was an XFL game however many springs ago. So you’re happy for guys like that, that go and get success. And we’ll get plenty more opportunities, especially with Trayveon being out. And us limiting Joe and Samaje, you know, he and Chris are gonna get all the work.”

TODAY’S GAME

Bengals at Washington, 8 p.m., Ch. 12 (CBS, Cincinnati), Ch. 22 (ABC, Dayton); 1530, 102.7, 104.7