The Cincinnati Bengals kept with their trend of focusing on youth this preseason when they released veteran defensive tackle Chris Baker on Friday.
That opens opportunities for players like Andrew Brown and Josh Tupou to get a closer look as the team is about a week from having to cut down the roster to 53.
Baker, a ninth-year player, had signed with the team as a free agent on March 8, and according to NFL.com insider Ian Rapaport, he will earn $300,000 in guaranteed money while the Bengals avoid the rest of his $3 million deal.
“We have to waive guys all the time,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said Friday. “We only get to keep 53. … Every time we release a guy, it’s providing an opportunity for the younger guys to have an opportunity to play. It’s not fair to keep a veteran guy here if he’s not going to get a chance to play, and if he can hook on with another team, that’s the best way to do it.”
Baker, considered a fun guy in the locker room, wrote a note on Twitter thanking Lewis and Bengals owner Mike Brown for the opportunity.
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He was working with the second-team defense behind projected starter Andrew Billings at the nose tackle position. Tupou, who signed with the Bengals as an undrafted college free agent last May, was listed behind Baker in the team’s latest depth chart, released Tuesday.
The decision to terminate Baker’s one-year contract also could mean there is a spot for Brown, a rookie fifth-round pick out of the University of Virginia who is among the third-team defensive tackles.
“He’s got a lot of the qualities we look for,” Lewis said of Brown. “He’s got some explosiveness, he’s got some length to him and he has to go out. Unfortunately, he’s been hurt so this is his first opportunity to go out and play.”
Both Brown and Tupou have yet to play a preseason game this year, as Brown was dealing with a hamstring injury the sidelined him for just under two weeks, and Tupou was out with a knee injury. Both returned to practice this week and are expected to play Sunday at Buffalo, according to Lewis.
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Brown wasn’t sure how much playing time to expect this week but said he has to make up for some lost time.
“I don’t really think I’ve shown anything yet because you have to play in a game first, you know,” Brown said. “Of course you can be good in practice, but to actually apply what you’ve done in practice in a game — it kind of doesn’t count yet, so I’m looking to make that mark this upcoming game. … I just know that coming into this game, I just want to show that I deserve to be here.”
Billings said he was a little surprised by the decision to cut Baker before Sunday’s game. He didn’t necessarily take the move as an added vote of confidence in his ability as the starter, though.
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The 2016 fourth-round draft pick missed all of his rookie season because of knee surgery but returned to the field last year and was getting regular snaps at nose tackle by Week 8. Now, he appears ready to take over as the full-time starter.
“It’s business,” Billings said of Baker’s release. “I guess it’s a vote of confidence but just me being with the (No.) 1s is all the confidence I need, not so much cutting people around me.”
Lewis said the team also has “a lot of confidence” in tackle Ryan Glasgow, who appeared in all 16 games last year with one start.
Glasgow, a second-year tackle, is capable of playing both inside positions, and the Bengals have other options with defensive ends Michael Johnson and Sam Hubbard lining up inside in nickel packages.
Lewis said didn’t want to connect the decision to release Baker with the possibility of Johnson and Hubbard spelling some of the young tackles because “that’s a different situation.” However, in his mid-week press conference Wednesday, he spoke of those two ends as providing depth to the line.
The Bengals likely will keep eight or nine defensive linemen on the roster when it gets parred down Sept. 1.
“Mike played inside last year in nickel situations when Carl (Lawson) came on the field, and Sam (Hubbard) has those abilities to really lighten the load for our guys,” Lewis said. “If you think about it in a real NFL game, you have approximately 250 snaps to spilt across the four D-Line positions. (You have to) parse those out and have fresh people out there all the time and let these young guys come on and develop as well.”