The Cincinnati Bengals made some surprise moves on Saturday in trying to get their roster down to the 53-man limit set by the league.
The release of 10th-year defensive end Michael Johnson was one of them, as the Bengals decided to go with only eight up front instead of the usual nine or 10 for a 4-3 defense.
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However, other decisions seemed tied to specific battles between two players. Here is a look at some of the decisions that were made and why:
1. Schreck over Hewitt
The Bengals released veteran Ryan Hewitt, terminating his contract that ran through 2019, and it seems as though that decision is a case of Bill Lazor’s new offense being more tailored more toward tight ends than H-backs. Cincinnati kept second-year tight end Mason Schreck, a more athletic player, and Cethan Carter (shoulder) was put on season-ending injured reserve.
“This is how the numbers played out,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “I think as Mason has developed, we have kind of a comfort level of how things have been going with him. He just has to hold onto the football.”
Schreck quietly led the team in receiving this preseason with nine receptions for 118 yards, but also fumbled twice.
2. Tupou over Brown
Cincinnati opted for a No. 2 nose tackle in Josh Tupou rather than keeping another three-technique player in fifth-round pick Andrew Brown. Ryan Glasgow can play both positions inside, so it seemed there could have been room for Brown instead of Tupou, but the rookie loses out to the second-year nose tackle that got some playing time late last year.
“Josh is coming back off his injury and that gives us a backup with some girth,” Lewis said. “At this point, we felt that’s a good fit for us.”
Tupou, at 345 pounds, is about 50 pounds heavier than Brown.
3. Tate in for now
Cincinnati went with a seventh receiver and kept seventh-round pick Auden Tate, a 6-foot-5, 228-pound target from Florida State, but Lewis indicated that decision had something to do with Cody Core’s status being unknown for now.
Core has been battling an undisclosed injury and appears to be making progress, but Lewis said it’s still unclear if the Bengals can carry him for a couple weeks or if they need to move him to Injured/Reserve-return.
“I don’t think you can worry about whether you’re going to lose a guy or not, but we do have Cody here with his status up in the air a little bit,” Lewis said. “He seems to be on the mend, so at this point that’s where we’re headed.”
4. Carson over Hill
Brian Hill had a solid preseason, leading the team with 87 yards on 17 carries, but Tra Carson also was impressive and apparently a little moreso.
Lewis said it was a “close call” between the two. Fourth-round pick Mark Walton wasn’t as productive but earned the right for more consideration based on potential indicated by his draft position.
“Tra has been very productive,” Lewis said. “He’s worked hard. He’s done a good job showing up on special teams. With Brian, it was a close call between those guys, but we right now have obviously given the nod to Tra. But Brian has done a nice job for us as well.”
5. Secondary concerns
The secondary is looking a little thin, so it was surprising the Bengals waived cornerback KeiVarae Russell and versatile defensive back Josh Shaw and kept Tony McRae, who has been dealing with an ankle injury. Lewis had given some praise to McRae earlier in the week.
“KeiVarae has had some good plays, but he’s had some plays we need to do better,” Lewis said.
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