Four players the Bengals drafted in the spring did not make the 53-man roster, although one was due to injury with the team placing seventh-round tight end Mason Schreck on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered Aug. 19 vs. Kansas City.
Fifth-round kicker Jake Elliott, fifth-round offensive lineman J.J. Dielman and sixth-round defensive back Brandon Wilson were part of the final cuts.
“Well with 11 picks we ended up with in the draft, you knew there was a possibility of that occurring,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “That’s part of it. We have guys competing for jobs and that’s the only way you can be fair, is give everybody an opportunity to earn a spot, earn a job.
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“We tell them all the time, ‘It doesn’t matter how you got here, it’s what you do once you’re here that counts,’” Lewis continued. “Some of these guys will get opportunities here or other places as they move forward and eventually they’ll bubble up and be NFL players. I feel really good about that. We’re not releasing a guy today that likely may not show up somewhere on somebody’s roster at some point this season.”
The flip side of that is two undrafted rookies made the roster in linebacker Hardy Nickerson and tight end Cethan Carter.
While Carter’s selection was a ripple effect from the Schreck injury, Nickerson was a candidate to make the squad almost from the jump, performing well in OTAs and earning second- and third-team reps throughout the spring and training camp.
“Hardy’s done a tremendous job since the day he walked in here in running the defense and understanding the defense,” Lewis said. “He’s very calm on the field. Listening to Paul speak with him during the games through the communicator, he’s able to relate things to him like you’re talking to a very veteran player. He’s been very sudden in his play and has really played very, very well.”
The Bengals hoped to get Dielman on the practice squad, but the Rams claimed him off waivers.
The Bengals signed eight players to their practice squad Sunday, including rookie kicker Jake Elliott.
Also joining the practice squad are linebacker Brandon Bell, tackle Kent Perkins, defensive tackles DeShawn Williams and Josh Tupou, wide receiver Kermit Whitfield, running back Jarveon Williams and safety Brandon Wilson.
All eight players were with the Bengals during training camp and were waived Saturday when the team announced its 53-man roster.
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Two players the Bengals released Saturday were claimed by other teams: fifth-round offensive lineman J.J. Dielman went to the Los Angeles Rams, while undrafted rookie safety Demetrious Cox signed with Carolina.
The team has two openings left on the practice squad.
It’s not unheard of but it is rare for the Bengals to keep seven wide receivers, as they did Saturday with A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Cody Core, Josh Malone and Alex Erickson.
The last time the Bengals kept seven receivers to start a season was 2013.
For the second year in a row, it appears as though Erickson was the player who claimed the final spot, due in large part to his ability as a punt and kick returner. Erickson led the AFC with a 27.9-yard average on kick returns, and his 7.0 average on punt returns was nearly 2 yards more than Adam Jones.
Erickson also made a lot of plays as a receiver this preseason, leading the team in receptions (12) and yards (189).
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“Alex has been a productive player every chance he gets to go on the field,” Lewis said. “He’s been one of the leading kickoff return players in the NFL in his rookie year, so we feel really good about him as a football player in general and everything we ever ask of him. As we go forward with Cody Core and Josh Malone, we feel like they have really bright futures.”
The influx of young players replacing a handful of veterans has moved the Bengals from the 10th oldest team in the league to the third youngest with an average age of 25.5 when the 53-man roster was announced Saturday, trailing only the Browns (24.2) and Rams (25.1).
In terms of experience, the Bengals are are 3.8 years, their youngest since the 2011 reboot when they drafted A.J. Green and Andy Dalton.
Of course both the average age and average experience numbers will rise once cornerback Adam Jones (33 years old, 11th season in league) and Vontaze Burfict (26, sixth) return from their suspensions in Week 2 and 4, respectively. But it’s still a notable change of direction for the roster.
The team features eight rookies and 15 players who have yet to make their NFL debut.
Defensive end Chris Smith has stood out since the Bengals got him in a trade with Jacksonville in the offseason, but there was a question of whether he would fit on the 53-man roster as pass-rush specialist.
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At 6-foot-1, 266 pounds, Smith doesn’t fit the prototypical defensive end for the Bengals, but he was simply too good to cut. Smith didn’t even have to sweat out cutdown day. The fact that the Bengals didn’t play him in the preseason finale at Indianapolis was a sign that he had made it.
Smith’s presence brought an end to the tenure of one of those prototype ends the Bengals love, the 6-6 Will Clarke. A third-round pick in 2014, Clarke never materialized into what the team hoped he would be, with
Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
TV: Ch. 7, 12
Radio:1530-AM, 102.7-FM, 104.7-FM