Bengals-Rams: 5 things to watch in Saturday’s preseason finale

Two days after a brawl ended the Cincinnati Bengals’ final joint practice with the L.A. Rams, the teams will meet for their preseason finale Saturday at Paycor Stadium.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor doesn’t expect any spillover from the incidents that caused the teams to cut practice short Thursday, but there will be plenty of other things to keep an eye on as players make their last big push for roster spots and roles on the team.

Final cuts need to be made 4 p.m. Tuesday to get the roster down to 53 players.

Here are five things to know going into the preseason finale for the Bengals:

1. Emotions running high

The game has been hyped as sort of a “Super Bowl rematch” but most of the key participants from that February championship game won’t be on the field, as the preseason finale is used as an opportunity to give the back end of the roster and guys on the bubble for spots to make their final case to make the team.

Safety Vonn Bell said there is still some animosity toward the Rams because of the way the Bengals lost – penalties helped L.A. extend their go-ahead scoring drive and the Bengals couldn’t convert on three attempts to get one yard in the final minute of the 23-20 loss. However, a preseason game isn’t much of a means for redemption and that likely won’t be a consideration among players.

The intensity of Thursday’s practice didn’t even seem connected to anything related to the Super Bowl. New right tackle La’el Collins was in the heart of the three incidents that occurred, and he was with Dallas last year. Leonard Floyd, who was going at it with Collins, and Aaron Donald, who ended up swinging a helmet at Bengals players before getting taken to the ground, are not expected to play.

2. What’s next for Dax Hill?

With Jessie Bates’ arrival at training camp this week, the Bengals will be looking to test out rookie Dax Hill’s versatility even more. He’s gotten some work in other roles besides the free safety job that Bates will occupy Week 1, but with some depth concerns at cornerback, Saturday could be an opportunity to see how he looks in a game situation at an outside corner role.

Eli Apple, who had fluid drained in his quad this week, wouldn’t have played Saturday anyway, but backup Cam Taylor-Britt is out because of a core muscle injury. The Bengals will want to get Hill on the field, and three-safety sets aren’t the only way to do that. He’s also got the build and skillset to be an effective cornerback.

Cincinnati likely won’t be playing the second-team players as much in this game, and the Bengals have seen enough from Hill to know what he can provide but limited time in different roles could be beneficial.

3. Punter competition still open

Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said there is not much separation between punters Kevin Huber and Drue Chrisman in what they’ve done so far in training camp and preseason, so the decision between the two will come down to the evaluation from the joint practices and Saturday’s performances.

Chrisman seems to have the bigger leg but Huber has the advantage on directional punting.

“Right now, Drue is a power punter and he’s really getting the ball downfield for us,” Simmons said. “We need to continue to work on the line and accuracy that he takes. I think it’s a developable skill. Over time, that can be developed.”

Huber’s franchise record for most games played (he’s tied with the late Ken Riley at 207 games) won’t factor in. Simmons just wants “the best punter.”

4. Left guard battle already won?

Rookie Cordell Volson got all the first-team left guard reps against the Rams in practices Wednesday and Thursday, but Taylor said not to read too much into that because Jackson Carman just got back from being in COVID protocols and the missed time impacted his usage. Carman still has an opportunity to win the job, but he will have to take advantage of his opportunities Saturday.

Volson looked the more consistent option in the first preseason game but also has seen some difficult moments. The Bengals just want whoever is going to keep the most pressure off Joe Burrow.

5. Other positions to watch

The Bengals have seen some impressive play from the backup defensive linemen and wide receivers, and those are two big spots to watch in terms of roster implications.

Undrafted players Kendric Pryor and Kwamie Lassiter have been solid pass catchers, but Trent Taylor, Mike Thomas and Stanley Morgan all seem locked in and it could come down to whether Cincinnati wants a seventh receiver and needs to use that spot at another position with greater need for depth.

On the defensive line, Tyler Shelvin hasn’t been seen much this training camp because of injury, and Khalid Kareem only played nine snaps in his preseason debut last week, so this game could be big for both of them.


Rams at Bengals, 6 p.m., Ch. 12, 22; 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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