Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor is making changes this year and not just with the playbook.
The first-year head coach made some interesting decisions as the Bengals trimmed their roster to 53 players Saturday, parting ways with a couple players who earlier this year were expected to make fairly significant contributions in 2019 and keeping others who were surprises.
Cincinnati waived 21 players Saturday and terminated the contract of veteran guard John Jerry, who was released to free agency. They also placed rookie running back Rodney Anderson and quarterback Jeff Driskel on the reserve/injured list and put cornerback Darqueze Dennard and rookie offensive tackle Jonah Williams on the reserve/physically unable to perform list.
Among the notable cuts were 2018 third-round draft pick Malik Jefferson and fourth-year wide receiver Cody Core, who has been a top special teams contributor in the past. On Friday, guard Christian Westerman and defensive tackle Christian Ringo were among 11 players waived.
“It certainly is (difficult), really the last two days,” Taylor said of making cuts. “You get to talk to some guys — some of them see it coming and some were holding out hope until the final hour there. We let some really quality people go, and they all handled it well and appreciated the opportunity they had with the Bengals. Hopefully some of them get an opportunity somewhere else but the reality of the business is some of them won’t.”
Safety Tyree Kinnel, a Wayne High School product, also was cut.
One of the big surprise inclusions on the roster is rookie undrafted quarterback Jake Dolegala, who flew in under the radar out of Central Connecticut State and did well enough the final two preseason games to sway the Bengals into keeping a third quarterback on the roster.
Dolegala completed 37 of 53 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns in two games.
“Jake’s done a nice job this preseason, played well in those two games and earned an opportunity here,” Taylor said. “He’s a young player, certainly has a bright future so we felt he earned himself a spot.”
The last wide receiver spot likely came down to Josh Malone and Core. Malone started out the preseason looking strong but faded off toward the end. Core never stood out at the receiver position but provided some value on special teams.
Taylor and his staff ultimately went with the guy they felt could contribute best on offense.
“It was just a decision we made and we came to it,” Taylor said. “Josh has had a good training camp. Cody had done some good things. It wasn’t an easy decision, but we felt Josh had earned an opportunity there. He’s got good speed. He’s done a nice job, made some plays for us this preseason, but one thing he does have is good size, good speed, and he’s shown up a couple times this preseason making some plays.”
Jerry started out training camp as the starting left guard and showed some versatility when he kicked out to right tackle in the third preseason game. However, he gave up two sacks in the finale while playing left tackle and didn’t make a great final impression.
The Bengals could still re-sign him as a free agent, and Taylor indicated other moves could be coming at offensive line depending on who shows up on the waiver wire.
“There could be some movement here in the next two days there, so we feel comfortable with the direction we are heading there,” Taylor said.
Cincinnati went with 11 defensive linemen and just five linebackers, which would have been a surprise if more linebackers had stood out. The line proved to be the deepest part of the defense this preseason, so the Bengals didn’ bubble guys like Andrew Brown and Josh Tupou.
Many had hoped Jefferson would step up after not getting many opportunities last year; however, that wasn’t the case and he missed the finale because of “non-football illness,” according to a team spokesperson.
“We just felt those other guys earned a spot,” Taylor said. “I wouldn’t say it was anything Malik didn’t do, it was just those other guys earned the opportunity and we made the decision to go with five and unfortunately it didn’t work in his favor.”
With Anderson going on IR after re-tearing his ACL in the finale Thursday and Trayveon Williams nursing a foot injury, the Bengals are low on running backs. There also could be some more moves made there, Taylor said.
“We keep seeing the progress Trayveon is making, and we will see what his timeline is like in the next couple days, but certainly it doesn’t have to be set in stone the way we’ve got it for this next Sunday,” Taylor said. “So, we will keep making progress this week and then make some more decisions next week.”3