The Cincinnati Bengals’ first preseason under Zac Taylor came to a close Thursday night, and now it’s time to turn the page to a new chapter.
That starts with some difficult decisions.
The Bengals — and the other 31 teams in the NFL — have to cut down their roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday. Guys who have spent the last several months learning a new playbook, adapting to a different system and competing for jobs won’t be showing up the next time the team meets to begin official preparations for the season opener Sept. 8 at Seattle.
“It’s tough, but this is a very finite job we’re in,” Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah said. “People are here one day and not the next. This is obviously the biggest period of cuts that happen, but throughout the year you see guys you are close with come and go and get cut, picked up by other teams. It’s always a hard time, but at the same time I know the majority of the guys if not everyone in this locker room can play, if not here, then somewhere else.”
After the roster is parred down, up to 10 others who are eligible will be signed to the practice squad, but those who don’t have jobs will hope for another opportunity through the waiver wire.
The Bengals waived 11 players — linebacker Curtis Akins, center Kirk Barron, safety Demetrious Cox, long snapper Dan Godsil, cornberback Tony Lippett, defensive tackle Dare Odeyingbo, defensive tackle Christian Ringo (injury settlement), linebacker Sterling Sheffield, defensive end Immanuel Turner, kicker Tristan Vizcaino and guard Christian Westerman —Friday to get down to 80 players on the active roster.
Some of those bubble decisions likely came down to performance in the Bengals’ 13-6 loss to Indianapolis on Thursday, which put Cincinnati at 1-3 for the preseason. Here is a projected 53-man roster and a look at who seems to have the edge in some of those tight battles:
In: Andy Dalton, Ryan Finley
Out: Jeff Driskel, Jake Dolegala
Finley started training camp on shaky footing after a rough start during the offseason workout program, but the rookie from N.C. State turned a corner as preseason games began and immediately grabbed hold of the backup job with the highest completion percentage of any of the team’s QBs. He’s right where he was expected to be when the Bengals drafted him in the fourth round. Driskel likely loses out to Dolegala, who played the entire game Thursday, in the competition for a practice squad spot.
RUNNING BACK (4)
In: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Rodney Anderson, Trayveon Williams
Out: Quinton Flowers, Jordan Ellis
The rookie tandem of Williams and Anderson have both looked solid when they’ve been on the field, but injuries have limited them this preseason. Williams has been dealing with a foot injury and didn’t play the final two preseason games but was expected to be back for the start of the season, while Anderson on Thursday re-injured the right knee he underwent ACL surgery on last September. Bengals coach Zac Taylor on Friday confirmed another ACL tear for Anderson.
WIDE RECEIVERS (7)
In: A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Damion Willis, Alex Erickson, Auden Tate, Cody Core
Out: Josh Malone, Hunter Sharp, Stanley Morgan, Ventell Bryant
Green’s absence since suffering an ankle injury on the first day of training camp enabled undrafted rookie Damion Willis a chance to shine, and he already has been announced a starter for Week 1. Auden Tate also benefited from more reps with John Ross not practicing until this week. The last spot likely is down to Malone and Core, but Core gets the nod thanks to his special teams contributions.
TIGHT END (4)
In: Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample, Cethan Carter
Out: Jordan Franks, Mason Schreck, Moritz Bohringer
Eifert was babied throughout the offseason and preseason as he returns from October 2018 ankle surgery but appears ready to go, and the unit has potential to be pretty solid if healthy. The final spot is probably between Cethan Carter and Mason Schreck, but, like Core, benefits from his ability to help out on teams.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
In: Cordy Glenn, Michael Jordan, Trey Hopkins, John Miller, Bobby Hart, Billy Price, Andre Smith, John Jerry
Out: Justin Evans, Brad Lundblade, Keaton Sutherland, O’Shea Dugas
Suspended: Alex Redmond
Taylor announced the Week 1 offensive line as Glenn (LT), Jordan (LG), Hopkins (C), Miller (RG), Hart (RT), and the backup spots were pretty much solidified in the final two preseason games. Price is the first one off the bench in a pinch at guard or center, Smith slid in for Cordy Glenn while he was in concussion protocol and Jerry’s versatility and experience give him the edge, as he can play right tackle or guard.
DEFENSIVE LINE (10)
In: Carlos Dunlap, Andrew Billings, Geno Atkins, Sam Hubbard, Jordan Willis, Carl Lawson, Ryan Glasgow, Kerry Wynn, Andrew Brown, Renell Wren
Out: Josh Tupou
Tupou was listed on the final depth chart as the backup to Billings at nose tackle, but Wren, a fourth-round draft pick, should get the nod ahead of him. The real competition for the final spot seems to be between Tupou and Brown. Brown could end up on the practice squad for the second year in a row instead but seemed to be the more consistent of the two this preseason. This is the strongest unit of the defense.
In: Preston Brown, Nick Vigil, Germaine Pratt, Jordan Evans, DeShaun Davis, Hardy Nickerson
Out: Malik Jefferson, Noah Dawkins
Four linebackers are locks between Brown, Vigil, Pratt and Evans, but no one else really stood out. Davis probably looked the best of the remaining options, so the Bengals could cut it off there but they likely could use the extra body. Many were hoping Jefferson would step up this preseason but the reported “non-football illness” that kept him from playing Thursday might have wiped him out of the competition.
DEFENSIVE BACK (9)
In: Dre Kirkpatrick, William Jackson III, Shawn Williams, Jessie Bates, Darqueze Dennard, B.W. Webb, Clayton Fejedelem, Darius Phillips, Brandon Wilson
Out: Tony McRae, KeiVarae Russell, Davontae Harris, Trayvon Henderson, Jordan Brown, Anthony Chelsey, Tyree Kinnel
Wilson is a “bubble” guy but gets the nod based on inconsistency of others who also seemed to be in the mix for jobs. If the Bengals go with five linebackers, Tony McRae or Davontae Harris could slide in as the 10th man in this unit. McRae got beat bad multiple times this preseason but seemed to be getting every chance to prove himself. Harris didn’t take advantage of his opportunities either. Phillips looked solid in the secondary and improved on special teams, so it seems he is in.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
In: Randy Bullock (kicker), Kevin Huber (punter), Clark Harris (long-snapper)
Vizcaino hit a couple long field goals but never really was in the picture. He was inconsistent in camp, and Bullock’s job is safe.