Zac Taylor’s first preseason game as Cincinnati Bengals head coach is less than a week away, and he will soon find out what kind of team he’s got.
The Bengals released their first depth chart Monday as they prepare for Saturday’s preseason game at Kansas City, giving an initial picture of where things stand in individual position battles.
There were few surprises on the list, but most notable were the inclusions of John Jerry at left guard, C.J. Uzomah at tight end ahead of Tyler Eifert, Sam Hubbard at right end and Josh Malone behind injured A.J. Green at wide receiver.
The lineup Saturday might not reflect the depth chart, which could even change throughout the week in practice. Taylor did say he doesn’t plan to hold back starters like mentor Sean McVay did as coach of the L.A. Rams during Taylor’s two years there.
“Not this year — certainly in Year 1, I don’t think Sean (Rams head coach Sean McVay) would have done that,” Taylor said. “Even if we’ve shown the chemistry in practice that we’re looking for, you still have to get out there under the lights and get a chance to play, especially on the road. Everybody walks out from the sidelines together and kind of be isolated out there on the field where coaches aren’t on the field.
“It’s just a different feel to it, so you want those guys to get out there, be isolated on their own and get that feeling together — whether it be four snaps or 15 snaps, that remains to be seen. Then we’ll evaluate each game and how much we want those guys to play, but barring anything unforeseen, you will see those guys go out there in the first game.”
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The left guard spot seems to be the position with the most uncertainty. Offensive line coach Jim Turner rotated Jerry and Christian Westerman in with the 1s through the first week of training camp, and Trey Hopkins had his first turn Saturday with Billy Price back at center.
Taylor said it was pre-determined that Jerry and Westerman would get the first shot. He hopes to have the offensive line nailed down sooner than later but doesn’t have a target date in mind.
“I’d think it’d be unfair to put a time table on it,” he said. “We’ve got all these practices, and we’ll use them if we have to. If it resolves itself sooner than that, then we’ll pick it and go with it. Right now we’ve got several guys that are in contention for that job, and we want to make sure that they all (get a chance). This is the NFL, they don’t all need their fair shot, but we’ve got a lot of candidates that we feel like are worthy of getting a shot at that job and we’ll see how each one of them does.”
Uzomah’s place ahead of Eifert easily could change as well, although Uzomah was the team’s top tight end last year after Eifert broke his ankle in Week 4. Eifert is back to practicing finally but still easing back into the mix as he returns from surgery, which occurred Oct. 1, 2018.
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“No. 1, it’s, ‘Let’s make sure Tyler is ready to play against Seattle,’” Taylor said. “We know what he can do on tape. The live reps he’s gotten so far just running are really good for me to see. This dude can play some ball. Just keep him healthy. Last year was a fluke deal, so you say he’s injury prone, but last year was a fluke deal. We are mindful to take care of him and ease him in there. We have a good tight end group, and we need to evaluate some of these younger guys as well. We need Tyler to get his work, but at the same time, he’s a guy you will see every so often sit out a portion of practice or just do (certain portions) and take the rest of it off. He’s a guy that we’ll take care of all through camp.”
Coming off a standout rookie campaign, Hubbard replaces departed veteran Michael Johnson in a starting role on the defensive line, and for now, Malone looks to be a starter with Green recovering from ankle surgery that is expected to sideline him at least one or two regular-season games. Alex Erickson and Cody Core also are listed with the second-team offense behind Tyler Boyd and John Ross, who remains day-to-day with hamstring tightness.
The first-team linebackers are the incumbents — Nick Vigil at SAM, Preston Brown in the middle and Jordan Evans at WILL — with third-rounder Germaine Pratt backing up Evans ahead of 2018 third-rounder Malik Jefferson.
With Darqueze Dennard (knee) still injured, B.W. Webb is the first slot corner. Veteran Andre Smith is backing up left and right tackles and rookie running back Trayveon Williams is third behind Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard.
Overall, Taylor said he is pleased with the progress heading into this week’s preparation for the first preseason game.
“We need more work in pads,” Taylor said. “I think it’s good. … Both sides of the ball have gotten better every single day with hand placement, pad level. We’re going to need a couple more before we play the Chiefs. I’m happy with the progress.”
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