With the starters expected to see a little more action in the second preseason game, the Cincinnati Bengals will be taking a closer look at the competition in a few specific spots that need sorted out among the first-team offense and defense.
The Bengals play the Washington Redskins in D.C. on Thursday looking to improve on a 38-17 loss at Kansas City in the preseason opener last weekend.
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Here are five things to look for as the competition ramps up a little bit:
1. Who’s in and who’s out?
Running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard didn’t play Saturday but are expected to be available Thursday. Head coach Zac Taylor said Tuesday he wasn’t sure how much they will play and whether tight end Tyler Eifert or defensive tackle Geno Atkins would be utilized, but defensive end Carl Lawson remains out, as originally planned as part of his return from ACL surgery, and rookie running back Rodney Heath, who was cleared late last week, won’t make his debut until the next preseason game.
Wide receiver John Ross also remains day-to-day.
Starters at several positions played just one series last week, but players were expecting double the snaps Thursday. Quarterback Jeff Driskel will remain with the third-team offense behind Ryan Finley.
2. Getting the running game going
The Bengals had just 12 carries against Kansas City, as turnovers and penalties made it difficult to get in a rhythm with the running game. Taylor is hoping to see more of that Thursday, which is where Mixon and Bernard can help out; however, the offense as a whole needs to clean up some things in order to allow the running game to be more effective.
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“There is certainly a lot more we want to get there (with the running game),” Taylor said. “It seemed like we were first-and-20 in every other possession. To get back on track, it was difficult to get some of those runs off. … Certainly there’s a lot of work we want to get in during these preseason games. We will get the chance to evaluate our different schemes with different line combinations. That’s important to get off the ground in these next couple games.”
When asked if the constant changes on the offensive line and missing guys like A.J. Green and Eifert make it difficult for the offense to find a rhythm as a whole, Taylor didn’t believe that mattered. Several young players are getting good reps they need, which will be important in allowing the offense to feature different players in the future. Wide receiver Auden Tate is taking advantage of more opportunity, for example, and the Bengals hope that pays off in the long run.
Cincinnati still keeps switching things up with the left guard and center positions. Billy Price spent much the final two days of training camp with the second-team offense, while Trey Hopkins was the starting center. Rookie Michael Jordan saw plenty of reps with the first-team offense at left guard, as the Bengals are still giving different players a shot there.
3. Seeking defensive improvement
The Bengals gave up 400 yards and 38 points to the Chiefs, but Taylor thought there were just a few big plays that cost them and he expects the defense to show improvement this week.
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“Just those little things – that’s what’s important,” Taylor said. “It’s part of the details. It’s not a very complicated system here in the preseason. We’re just asking the guys to play fast, play with confidence and play with good eyes. That’s one thing they can do better as a defense as a whole, and they will. There were plenty of mistakes that we pointed out that we will get corrected on Thursday, and these guys will play faster.”
Cincinnati’s defense was one of the worst in the league last year, and new coordinator Lou Anarumo is trying to turn that around.
4. Smoother game management
The first preseason game was Taylor’s head coaching debut, and he said he learned a few things that should help things go a little more smoothly Thursday. With Callahan and Dan Pitcher up in the booth and communicating through headsets, Taylor had a hard time differentiating between the two voices, and he also wasn’t quite settled with the pregame timeline.
“These are the things that the preseason is great for,” Taylor said. “You get a chance to give your talks to the team, and then they need to follow me out to the field. Just those little kinks that are fixed within two seconds. We’ve got a great staff in place – great strength coach in Joey Boese, and (director of coaching operations) Doug Rosfeld. They all do a great job making sure that we clean that stuff up for the next preseason game, and we’ll hit the ground running for the regular season.”
5. Family connection
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan will be coaching against his dad Thursday. Bill Callahan, who also was Taylor’s head coach at Nebraska, is the Redskins’ offensive line coach and considered one of the best in the game.
It won’t be the first time the two will be on opposite sides of the field, but Taylor said it’s a special and unique thing for both of them. Taylor learned a lot from Bill Callahan and also looked forward to seeing him.
“It’ll be a cool day for me, but it’ll be a cool day for our offensive coordinator (Brian Callahan) too,” Taylor said. “…To an extent, the pressure is off. There aren’t any implications in the playoff hunt or anything like that.”
Bengals at Redskins, 7:30 p.m., Ch. 12, 22; 1530, 102.7
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