Bengals vs. Dolphins: 5 storylines to watch in today’s preseason finale

Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow expected to see his first action of preseason

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals will get one quick look at how quarterback Joe Burrow looks against live competition, but otherwise Sunday’s preseason finale against Miami is expected to be a feature show for the backups and bubble players trying to earn roster spots.

After going 1-1 in the first two preseason games, Cincinnati looks to end the exhibition slate on a high note in front of a home crowd at Paul Brown Stadium for the first time in 2021.

The Bengals will make final roster decisions by Tuesday afternoon and officially begin preparations for the opener Sept. 11 at home against the Minnesota Vikings.

Here are five things to know going into Sunday’s 4 p.m. preseason finale against the Dolphins:

1. In and out for starters

Burrow and center Trey Hopkins will both make their preseason debuts Sunday with the first-team offense, but coach Zac Taylor said it would be a quick few reps for them and then onto the backups.

“I think it’s important going into this last preseason game to be as close as you can to having a game-like feel,” said Burrow, who especially has been protected during his return from ACL and MCL surgery in December. “I’m going to be in the huddle Game 1, so I need to be out there for the first play of this game. I’m excited.”

Brandon Allen likely will finish the half and possibly play a bit into the second half.

Quinton Spain and Xavier Su’a-Filo will start at guard and then give plenty of opportunities to the young guys behind them to make their case, as rookies Jackson Carman and D’Ante Smith and third-year player Mike Jordan all have gotten first-team reps in camp.

Taylor said the defensive starters would not play.

2. Little expectation for Burrow

Burrow would like to see how he handles a hit but Taylor will be doing everything he can to prevent that.

The plays likely will be pretty vanilla with Burrow, just giving him a chance to get into a game environment and with the players who are expected to start with him in the opener.

“He’s not going to have the ability so show us too much,” Taylor said. “It’s more for the unit as a whole they have not got a chance in a preseason game to go out there with us. They’re in the huddle, they can talk amongst themselves. Kind of get in their routine a little bit. You got Riley Reiff a new guy, we need him to be out there with the group. Trey Hopkins coming off the ACL, Joe coming off the ACL. It’ll just be good for them to look at each other in the huddle for the limited snaps they get and continue to form that camaraderie they’ve already generated.”

3. No hard feelings

The last time the Bengals played the Dolphins, in Week 13 of the 2020 season, there was a bench-clearing brawl in the 19-7 loss for Cincinnati and five players were ejected.

Taylor said the teams have put that behind them now and there won’t be any lingering issues.

“There’s respect there,” Taylor said. “Obviously, what happens there on the field a lot of times, happens on the field, but Brian is a good guy. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He’s done a great job. He and I have gotten to know each other a lot more through us becoming head coaches at the same time. He’s done a great job. We’ve got a lot of mutual people working down there who are close to him. I saw him at (UF) Florida’s Pro Day and that’s probably the last time I saw him. Yeah, I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”

4. Continued position battles

The battle for the starting guard spots seems to be drawing to a close with the veterans having the edge, but the question remains what kind of depth the Bengals have at defensive end.

Rookie Joseph Ossai is out for the year after going knee surgery this week, Taylor told reporters Thursday, and that leaves one less clear option for a rotational role behind Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard on the edge.

Darius Hodge, a college free agent signing from Marshall, has been impressive and could have a chance to seal his place Sunday with another strong performance. Rookie Cam Sample has shown flashes as well and will likely get opportunities, though he injured his shoulder last week and only returned Thursday.

Second-year players Khalid Kareem and Amani Bledsoe are also players who have been getting good looks so far. Recent waiver claim Noah Spence is more of a question mark as he’s had little time to settle into the team and pick up the defense.

“He’s competing for the depth there at defensive end,” Taylor said. “I think there’s a lot of people in the mix there. He’s explosive. Only been there are short time. But he’s got a good personality and done a good job competing. We got three big days here at practice and a game for guys like that coming up. It will be good to see how he handles all that.”

5. Close tight end group

With so much of the offensive attention on the line, Burrow coming back and the flashy receivers, the battle at the tight end position has flown under the radar a bit. However, it’s been one of the better position battles with C.J. Uzomah and Drew Sample returning as the top two and Thaddeus Moss competing for the third spot along with Mitch Wilcox and Mason Schreck.

Moss has been impressive in camp and has experience with Burrow from their days playing at LSU together. Sunday could be a big opportunity for him to win a spot as one of the bubble guys heading into 53-man roster decisions.

TODAY’S GAME

Dolphins at Bengals, 4 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7