Cincinnati Bengals: 5 storylines to watch in this weeks’ minicamp

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor stands on the field during NFL football practice in Cincinnati, Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor stands on the field during NFL football practice in Cincinnati, Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

The Cincinnati Bengals had a productive three weeks of Organized Team Activities, as the entire roster showed up for voluntary workouts.

Now the team heads into mandatory minicamp looking to cap off the offseason workout program in perhaps a slightly more intense manner before breaking until training camp at the end of July.

The Bengals will hold minicamp Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with the first two practices open to media. Here are five storylines of note heading into the minicamp.

1. Burrow connecting with receivers

Quarterback Joe Burrow was a full participant in OTAs, minus some limitations the first two weeks with activities that involved close contact with another player, such as handoffs and play-action fakes. But he started ramping things up last week and will continue to be one to watch as he prepares for a Week 1 return from an ACL/MCL tear.

The practices were a good opportunity for him to start building chemistry with his receivers and re-establishing a connection with former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase, who the Bengals drafted No. 5 overall. Now that they have gotten in some decent work in OTAs, this is a good chance to see how helpful those extra weeks of voluntary work was in getting into a rhythm and developing relationships on the field.

Despite no in-person offseason last year, Burrow had a good connection with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins last year and was starting to get comfortable with others before his knee injury in Week 10. C.J. Uzomah was injured in Game 2, so this also has been a good time getting re-acquainted with him.

2. Offensive line reshaping

The Bengals brought in Riley Reiff as their new right tackle and Jonah Williams returns at left tackle, but the interior spots will continue to be a competition to watch. Quinton Spain and Xavier Su’a-Filo remain in the mix at the guard positions with some young guys, like Michael Jordan and rookie second-round draft pick Jackson Carman, coming up behind and Billy Price filling in at center with Trey Hopkins still limited to rehab work on the side following his Game 15 ACL tear.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor had indicated during the draft that Carman, a Fairfield High School graduate, will be competing for a starting role at guard but noted more recently that the team will slowly work him into the rotation for first-team reps as he gets acclimated to his new position and environment.

Jordan has been unable to lock down the left guard spot his first two seasons and is heading into a big development year under new offensive line coach Frank Pollack, and Price lost his starting job to Hopkins in an injury-impacted 2018 season – when Pollack was last with the Bengals.

3. Young linebackers stepping up

The Bengals used three of their 2020 draft picks to rebuild the linebacker corps last year, along with 2019 third-round pick Germaine Pratt and veteran Josh Bynes, who played on a one-year deal. Bynes remains a free agent and could still return, but for now, the Bengals are relying on their young guys to step up into bigger roles and this offseason is a good chance to do that.

Logan Wilson, who was a third-round pick last year, especially will be counted on for a bigger role after a strong rookie campaign and expectations he and fourth-round pick Akeem Davis-Gaither will take leaps in Year 2.

“That’s a group I’m really happy we have this offseason, because we’re not going full speed necessarily in 11-on-11,” Taylor said of the linebackers. “We’re doing a lot of walkthrough work, so part of my job on offense is I script and try to make the defense communicate to help accelarate those guys’ learning process. I’ve seen that. ... That’s a group that all eyes will be on to see their development.”

4. New-look secondary

The two starting safeties return with Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell, but the cornerbacks have several new faces and three new starters since Trae Waynes missed all of 2020 because of injury. Like Burrow’s need for chemistry with his receivers, the secondary can benefit greatly from time together on the field with these extra practices.

Taylor said the defensive backs are a “fun group to watch,” and the one-on-one battles between them and the receivers should be competitive. Those competitions could be tested more during minicamp.

“Really veteran players over there,” Taylor said. “You just look at group that rolls out there first with Chido (Chidobe Awuzie), Trae (Wayne) and Mike (Hilton) and not even talking about the safeties, those guys have played a lot of football. It’s fun to watch them interact and match up with some of the concepts we employ. ... It’s a fun group. They’ve done a good job so far.”

5. Special teams roles

The Bengals have a new kicker from the draft in Evan McPherson, who is expected to beat out Austin Seibert for the job, and some new players in the mix to handle returns since the departure of Alex Erickson opened up a spot. Those competitions will be more prevalent in training camp and the preseason, but the Bengals still spend plenty of time on special teams during these offseason workouts and it’s a chance to start seeing who fits where.

By training camp, special teams contributions will play a big factor in whether some individuals on the bubble make the team or not – it tends to be a tipping point if they can serve as a backup on offense or defense but prove an asset in that area.