Position-by-position breakdown of Bengals roster heading into OTAs

After taking the unusual step of not signing any of the tryout players from last week’s rookie camp, the Cincinnati Bengals head into OTAs with 89 players on the roster.

That means they have room to add one player. It could be one of the unrestricted free agents remaining on the market, another undrafted rookie, or they could chose to stand pat at 89.

Tight end and safety are the thinnest positions in terms of sheer numbers, but any player the team signs at this point would probably be a longshot to survive the first set of cuts in August to get the roster to 75.

Here’s a position-by-position look at the roster as the team prepares for the start of on-field workouts May 23:

Quarterback (3)

Starter: Andy Dalton

Backups: AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel

Dalton enters his seventh year as the starter while McCarron heads into his fourth – and what he hopes is his final – season as a backup. The Bengals like Driskel’s potential, which is why they kept him on the 53-man roster all year, protecting him from being claimed on waivers.

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Running back (9)

Starter: Jeremy Hill

Backups: Giovani Bernard, Joe Mixon, Cedric Peerman, Ryan Hewitt (h-back), Tra Carson Jarveon Williams, Stanley Williams, Darrin Laufasa (fullback)

Barring injury, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Hill, Bernard and Mixon don’t get at least 150 touches each. The question will be how all of the carries are split, and whether the Bengals will try to ease Mixon into the workload they the way they did with Hill as a rookie.

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Wide receiver (12)

Starters: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd (slot)

Backups: John Ross, Cody Core, Alex Erickson, Josh Malone, Jake Kumerow, Alonzo Russell, Chris Brown, Monty Madaris, Karel Hamilton

This will be one of the most interesting position battles in training camp with so much talent vying for what likely will be seven spots on the 53. Core played well when Green was out with a hamstring injury last year, and Erickson was the surprise story of the season, but both will be fighting for jobs with the addition of Ross and Malone. Russell, who spent last year on the practice squad, always impresses when given reps in practice and could be a sleeper.

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Tight end (5)

Starter: Tyler Eifert

Backups: Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah, Mason Schreck, Cethan Carter

Even with the frequent injuries to Eifert, Kroft and Uzomah haven’t produced much in their first two seasons. If Schreck impresses in camp, he could steal one of their spots.

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Offensive line (12)

Starters: Cedric Ogbuehi, Clint Boling, Russell Bodine, Andre Smith, Jake Fisher

Backups: Eric Winston, T.J. Johnson, Trey Hopkins, Christian Westerman, Alex Redman, J.J. Dielman, Landon Lechler,

No position group has more questions and less experience than the offensive line. As the anchors at tackle, Ogbuehi and Fisher have to take big steps forward in their development or else last year’s sack total of 41 could be eclipsed. There are questions at right guard, where Smith will be learning to play for the first time. Aside from Winston, the remaining backups have combined for one NFL start.

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Defensive end (7)

Starters: Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson

Backups: Wallace Gilberry, Will Clarke, Chris Smith, Jordan Willis, Ryan Brown

Dunlap has gone to back-to-back Pro Bowls, but the Bengals need to get more production from the right side. And there will be no shortage of candidates looking to unseat Johnson. Gilberry is an established veteran who performs better when his snap count is limited. The Bengals obviously saw something they like in Smith, leading to the trade with Jacksonville. Clarke showed improvement last year and is entering his contract year. And the Bengals used a third-round pick on Willis.

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Defensive tackle (9)

Starters: Geno Atkins, Brandon Thompson

Backups: Pat Sims, Marcus Hardison, DeShawn Williams, Andrew Billings, Ryan Glasgow, David Dean, Josh Tupou

Thompson has recovered from his 2015 ACL tear and appears to be the likely starter next to Atkins, but you could make a case that three or four of the other guys will end up starting more games. The coaches are high on Billings, but last year’s fourth-round pick is coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss his rookie season. Hardison and Williams have shown promise since they arrived in 2015 but always have been blocked by Domata Peko. Then there’s this year’s fourth-round pick in Glasgow and a sleeper in Dean, who spent last year on the practice squad.

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Linebacker (11)

Starters: Vontaze Burfict, Kevin Minter, Vinny Rey

Backups: Nick Vigil, Carl Lawson, P.J. Dawson, Marquis Flowers, Jordan Evans, Bryson Albright, Hardy Nickerson, Brandon Bell

Lawson was a guy who really stood out during rookie camp, so it will be interesting to see how he does when he mixes in the veterans in OTAs. The Bengals usually open in nickel packages, which means only two linebackers are officially listed as starters, but Lawson has a chance to play a high number of snaps. Vigil showed promised at the end of his rookie year and will be in the mix as well. Burfict and Minter are established veterans who will lead the group, but both are in contract years so it will be imperative for the coaches to get the younger guys in when they can.

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Cornerback (8)

Starters: Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick

Backups: Darqueze Dennard, William Jackson, Josh Shaw, Bene Benwikere, KeiVarae Russell, Tony McRae

By picking up the fifth-year option on Dennard, the Bengals have each of their top four corners under contract for at least two more years. But it will be interesting to see how the battle between Dennard and Jackson shakes out at nickel corner. Given the decline Jones showed last year and his off-field antics, it's not out of the realm of possibility one those two could be starting by the end of the season.

Safety (6)

Starters: George Iloka, Shawn Williams

Backups: Derron Smith, Clayton Fejedelem, Bandon Wilson, Demetrious Cox

Assuming the Bengals keep six corners, there will be spots for safeties, which means the final battle likely will come down to Fejedelem, last year’s seventh-round pick, and Wilson, a rookie sixth-rounder. Wilson will have practice squad eligibility, while Fejedelem, who played in all 16 games last year, won’t, so unless Wilson is brilliant during camp, last year’s top four should be this year’s top four.

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Specialists (5)

Starters: Randy Bullock (kicker), Kevin Huber (punter), Clark Harris (long snapper)

Backups: Jake Elliott, Jonathan Brown

Punter and long snapper are set, as they have been since 2009, but kicker is going to be the most wide-open position battle in camp. Bullock has NFL experience, but the Bengals are high enough on Elliott to make him the first kicker drafted in the Marvin Lewis era. Brown has the biggest leg of the three, but the former soccer player is as raw as one can be having never attempted a field goal in a game at any level.

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