Difficult decisions ahead for Bengals to reach 53-man roster

Cincinnati Bengals' head coach Zac Taylor, center, talks with his team after an NFL football camp practice in Cincinnati, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Cincinnati Bengals' head coach Zac Taylor, center, talks with his team after an NFL football camp practice in Cincinnati, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

The Cincinnati Bengals have some difficult decisions to make without the normal benefit of being able to evaluate players against an opposing team.

The Bengals made a trade Friday, acquiring defensive lineman Christian Covington from the Broncos in exchange for linebacker Austin Calitro.

NFL teams have to cut down their rosters to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday, but because there were no preseason games, guys who have been competing for jobs during an unusual training camp will have to hope they impressed in enough splash plays in practice.

A total of 24 players from the current roster of 77 will be cut, but the team can then sign 16 to the practice squad and at least one player could end up back on the 53-man roster Sunday after cornerback Trae Waynes is put on injured reserve. Those who don’t have jobs also can hope for another opportunity through the waiver wire.

Here is a projected 53-man roster and a look at who seems to have the edge in some of those tight battles:

QUARTERBACK (2)

In: Joe Burrow, Ryan Finley

Out: Jake Dolegala, Brandon Allen

There is no doubt Burrow is the starter from Day 1, but the battle was supposed to be for the backup job as Dolegala was expected to get a chance to unseat Finley as the No. 2. That competition never matriculated in training camp, as Dolegala struggled with consistency. Bengals coach Zac Taylor indicated last week that Finley has done well enough to be a backup in this league.

RUNNING BACK (4)

In: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams, Samaje Perine

Out: Jacques Patrick

Patrick has shown flashes but the former XFL player still appears to be behind Williams and Perine in the pecking order, as the other two add more value on special teams and appear viable options in the backfield if needed. Perine was a solid contributor in that role during the six games he played last year before moving to the practice squad and getting plucked by the Dolphins in December. The Bengals brought him back with a waiver claim after Miami cut him in April, and it seems he fits in the plans.

WIDE RECEIVERS (7)

In: A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Mike Thomas, Auden Tate, Tee Higgins, Alex Erickson

Out: Stanley Morgan, DaMarkus Lodge, Trenton Irwin, Scotty Washington

Ross and Higgins are behind schedule after working back from absence/injury, but Thomas and Tate have really shined while getting first-team reps, and Erickson has been solid in his opportunities as well. Darius Phillips’ increasing role on defense makes it less likely Erickson gets pushed out on punt returns, so the group of seven listed appears pretty much a slam dunk.

TIGHT END (3)

In: C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample, Cethan Carter

Out: Jordan Franks, Mason Schreck, Mitchell Wilcox

Uzomah stepped up in the past through the injuries of now-departed Tyler Eifert but now has more competition for playing time with Sample showing progress. Sample arrived at training camp looking stronger and certainly more comfortable heading into Year 2, and that carried onto the practice field. He no longer looks like just the run-blocking tight end he was most known as when the Bengals drafted him in the second round last year and should be an emerging target for Burrow. Carter’s role on special teams keeps him ahead of the other bubble guys.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

In: Jonah Williams, Michael Jordan, Trey Hopkins, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Bobby Hart, Billy Price, Fred Johnson, Alex Redmond, Hakeem Adeniji

Out: Frederick Mauigoa, Josh Knipfel

The first-team unit seems to have been set since the beginning of training camp, so the only real competition was for a backup spot. The Bengals cut tackle O’Shea Dugas on Thursday, and it seems pretty clear where the others fall in line, especially since Redmond finally was cleared to begin practicing and dressed for the first time Friday for a mock game. Adeniji, Johnson and Price all have moved around with the second-team unit and there seems to be some versatility on the bench.

DEFENSIVE LINE (8)

In: Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, D.J. Reader, Sam Hubbard, Carl Lawson, Mike Daniels, Khalid Kareem, Christian Covington

Out: Andrew Brown; Freedom Akinmoladun, Amani Bledsoe, Kendall Futrell, Trey Dishon, Kahlil McKenzie

The Bengals went heavy on defensive linemen last year but the depth seems to fall in the secondary this year. The addition of Covington on Friday means Brown is the last one out of this group. Brown could find his way back onto the roster if the Bengals put anyone else on IR.

LINEBACKER (6)

In: Germaine Pratt, Logan Wilson, Josh Bynes, Akeem Davis-Gaither, Jordan Evans, Markus Bailey

Out: Marcel Spears Jr.

The Bengals included Brady Sheldon in their cuts Thursday, so now it seems there are five in and Evans on the bubble. Evans hasn’t practiced in two weeks because of a hamstring issue, so it seems possible the Bengals could put him on injured reserve. Pratt and Wilson are the likely starters.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (11)

In: William Jackson III, Darius Phillips, Vonn Bell, Shawn Williams, Jessie Bates, Mackensie Alexander, Trae Waynes, Brandon Wilson, LeShaun Sims, Tony Brown, Torry McTyer

Out: Greg Mabin, Winston Rose, Trayvon Henderson

Waynes is headed to the injured reserve list, but the Bengals first have to include him on the 53-man roster to make him eligible to come back, so that leaves six cornerbacks and four safeties and a decision on who to bring back elsewhere. Rose has been an interesting addition in camp but needs more time to develop, possibly on the practice squad, after a successful start in the CFL. McTyer is a bubble guy that got more substantial reps than the others left “out,” and his history with Anarumo during a stint with the Dolphins is beneficial. The only question with the safeties is Williams’ status after he missed the last two weeks because of a calf injury. In the case he won’t be ready to go Week 1, Henderson could get a nod for a promotion off the practice squad.

SPECIAL TEAMS (3)

In: Randy Bullock (kicker), Kevin Huber (punter), Clark Harris (long-snapper)

Out: Dan Godsil (long snapper)

Godsil spent the preseason with the Bengals last year but was waived on final cuts and faces that fate now as well after getting another look in case something happened with Harris.