NFL

W2L4: The Names To Watch As Bengals Reserves Make Their Final Play For A Roster Spot

Bengals (0-1-1, preseason) at Commanders (2-0, preseason) Saturday, Aug. 26 at FedExField (natural grass), 6:05 p.m. ET, TV: Bengals Preseason Network Ch. 12 WKRC-TV (Cincinnati) Mike Watts, Anthony Munoz, Marisa Contipelli. Radio: Dan Hoard, Dave Lapham. WEBN-FM (102.7 FM), ESPN1530

This is last call for those on the back-end of a very deep NFL roster to make a statement about their potential value down the road.

This is the game that can affirm the thought of coaches already thinking a backup player could stick around and help should the need arise. That’s because these second and third string players can demonstrate in a game environment they’re capable of doing the job.

This is the preseason finale.

First, those who will not be playing include all 22 projected starters on offense and defense plus Trayveon Williams (right ankle), DJ Turner II, Sidney Jones IV (hamstring) and Cody Ford (concussion).

For all of John Harbaugh’s bluster directed at those dismissing the importance of the final preseason game after his team’s loss to the Washington Commanders last Monday night, the Ravens coach is right about this much: This game is not meaningless to those who play in it.

The Commanders played Monday night like it was a preseason playoff game, beating the Ravens, 29-28, on a last-second field goal that ended Baltimore’s NFL preseason record at 24 straight wins. They played starters through the first half and played the game like the outcome meant something. Will they play with that fire again Saturday for head coach Ron Rivera?

You never know who’ll be watching and whose attention you might attract if you make a play or extra effort. When the Bengals play the Commanders Saturday, there will be several positions where players will make the case for either staying on the roster or being worthy of one of 16 practice squad spots next Thursday.

“That’s what we factor in. All of it,” Zac Taylor told me on Thursday. “It’s not just the 53. It’s the 16-man practice squad. So again, that can sometimes be a little more in the players’ hands on whether they’re accepting that or not. But again, that’s all taken into consideration with these final practices and this final game. Absolutely that those spots are talked about quite a bit.

“You want to make sure you’ve seen everybody, as you’re dealing with final roster spots and practice squad spots. So there’s that element, what you’re asking is, to see a guy play a whole game, if you ever needed him to do that, we don’t have anybody in mind, that’s gonna play all four quarters and get every rep for that reason you’re asking. It’s more so that we’re gonna get good work with some guys that still need it. And then give some opportunity to some guys that maybe haven’t had a lot of opportunity.”

Here are several spots that bear the most attention:

  • Quarterback:
  • This is the final chance for either Jake Browning or Trevor Siemian to show they are worthy backups and can effectively run the Bengals offense if Joe Burrow is unavailable for whatever reason. Browning appears to have the narrowest of leads in this race. But one strong performance by Siemian and one subpar one by Browning and the last impression could be the most important.

  • Offensive line:
  • For the second straight camp, Jackson Carman has been a dominant storyline. Can he show in the finale – at either right tackle or left tackle – that he is worthy of the 8th or 9th spot in the group for cut-down day? Will he be the third tackle with La’el Collins expected to start the season on PUP? He will be battling D’Ante Smith and Hakeem Adeniji for that spot. Cody Ford sustained a concussion on Sunday and likely is out for Washington. He’s a veteran that was signed in free agency in the spring. Odds are he’ll be on the roster to start the season. Ben Brown, Nate Gilliam and Jaxson Kirkland have their chance to prove worthy of a PS spot.

  • Tight end:
  • The battle behind Irv Smith Jr. is a fascinating one. Drew Sample has always done the dirty work in the run game for the Bengals and Taylor sang his praises again Thursday. Mitchell Wilcox wouldn’t have been brought off the PUP and activated (using up an active spot) if the Bengals didn’t think he could play and contribute right away in their system. Tanner Hudson has shown good hands in camp and has played around the NFL, including winning a Super Bowl ring with Tom Brady at Tampa Bay in 2020. He played with San Francisco in 2021 and the New York Giants last season. Devin Asiasi appears to be on the outside looking in. The Bengals are certainly not going to keep more than three at this position.

  • Running back:
  • We are presuming that Joe Mixon and Trayveon Williams will have spots on the team. But there is always the chance that Williams could begin on the IR and come off at some point, allowing the Bengals to keep Chase Brown and Chris Evans on the 53-man roster. Brown has his spot on the roster but Evans, who’s had a very good camp, could force the Bengals’ hand to keep him with another solid performance.

  • Punter:
  • Brad Robbins presumably is the guy but Drue Chrisman has been respectable. This is a game where Chrisman can again prove worthy of a practice squad spot.

  • Defensive line:
  • The second and third team units had a terrific game against Atlanta last Friday. Names like Owen Carney, Domenique Davis and Raymond Johnson III have proven worthy before of PS roles. That is likely the case again this year. Look for rookie first-rounder Myles Murphy – who has been flashing lately in camp – to pick up his intensity in the preseason finale.

  • Linebackers:
  • This group was singled out by Zac Taylor as one that has had a particularly strong camp. Keandre Jones, Jaylen Moody, Shaka Heyward and Tyler Murray can make a statement for PS on Saturday.

  • Bottom Line:
  • The Bengals will have decisions to make at quarterback, running back, tight end and offensive line and this game will go a long way in guiding their final decisions. The Bengals have had just one measly offensive touchdown in two preseason games, and it came only when the Bengals went into hurry-up mode at the end of last week’s game in Atlanta. It would be nice to see the Bengals go with an up-tempo look out of the gate Saturday and see the offense – albeit twos and threes – put some early points up on the board. Here’s to positive energy, as was on display in their final practice Thursday of camp.

    Bengals 26, Commanders 17

    Mike Petraglia

    Joined CLNS Media in 2017. Covered Boston sports as a radio broadcaster, reporter, columnist and TV and video talent since 1993. Covered Boston Red Sox for MLB.com from 2000-2007 and the New England Patriots for ESPN Radio, WBZ-AM, SiriusXM, WEEI, WEEI.com and CLNS since 1993. Featured columnist for the Boston Celtics on CelticsBlog.

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