The Bengals enter the season with an average of the thirteenth ranked defense in the NFL. While there are some key players that are guaranteed starting spots there are still slots available both on the line and in the linebacker positions. Today we will look at the competition at linebacker and on the defensive line.
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While not going into specifics for line positions, there are at least sixteen prospects fighting for eight to nine spots. To state the obvious, Geno Atkins is safe. He has made multiple pro bowls and two-time First-Team All-Pro. He has been a staple in the Bengals’ defensive line since he entered the NFL and has a nearly perfect playing record. He’s not going anywhere. Same is true for defensive end Michael Johnson. With the exception of one season with Tampa Bay, Johnson has spent his entire career with the Bengals. Defensive line coach Jacob Burney relies on these two for their experience and leadership and will continue to do so.
Carlos Dunlap and Pat Sims are also strong favorites to be guaranteed a slot. As of now, both are on the depth chart as starters and do not expect any competition. Wallace Gillberry and Will Clarke are also favored to stay with the Bengals due to their veteran experience.
That leaves the remaining prospects to compete for limited slots. Three players that need to make it count include Marcus Hardison, Brandon Thompson, and Josh Tupou. Hardison is entering his third year but has had season ending injuries his first two years. Brandon Thompson is in the same situation as well. While Thompson was resigned to the Bengals, it is possible that he is cut from the roster with how many other players are available. Tupou isn’t facing injury but does face scrutiny for his off-field issues and his production. These three may be the first out.
This leaves Chris Smith, Ryan Glasgow, David Dean, Jordan Wills, and Will Clarke to compete for a spot on the 53-man roster. Glasgow is primarily a nose tackle and considered to be a lock for the roster. The Bengals consider him a steal for where they got him in the 2017 draft. Rookie Jordan Willis is another great selection from the 2017 draft and expected to get a crack at the roster. David Dean and Chris Smith have a chance at the roster but will have to compete with each other to prove their worth. Both are looking at backup slots if not the practice squad. Those competing for a spot on the practice squad at best are DeShawn Williams, Ryan Brown, and Andrew Billings.
Currently, the Bengals have eleven players on their roster going for seven slots. However, linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Kevin Minter safe as they are the presumed starting linebackers. Burfict has been a staple in the Bengals’ linebacker position whereas Minter was acquired in the offseason from the Arizona Cardinals. Backup Vincent Rey is considered to be safe as well as he doubles both as a backup and a special teams gunner.
It Also appears that Carl Lawson is guaranteed to make the roster. Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Dehner Jr. tweeted that Lawson has continued to improve in camp and impressing the coaches. Drafted in the fourth round, Lawson is considered one of the steals of this draft class and is in place to take another backup position.
That leaves Brandon Bell, Bryson Albright, Paul Dawson, Jordan Evans, Hardy Nickerson Jr., P.J. Dawson and Marquis Flowers battling it out for a roster spot. Dawson and Flowers do have experience, however, they both face an uphill battle for a position. Evans, Bell and Nickerson Jr. do have potential. The Bengals have expressed interest in all of them. However, it may be safe to say that Nickerson will be cut, Bell makes the practice squad and Evans reaches the active roster. Albright will have to prove his worth and will have to make every preseason opportunity count.
There is still time left for these players to make an impression on the coaches. But with how many players the Bengals have in training camp in these two slots, every moment will count.