- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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Examining the Cincinnati Bengals' roster:
The Bengals were content with having just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster last season, but expect them to take three this year. McCarron would be the odd man out, but since they drafted him this year and made him a de facto heir apparent to the position in case something happens with Dalton in the next few seasons, they probably won't cut him or place him on the practice squad. In Campbell, the Bengals also get a tried and true veteran who could step in if Dalton's play is unsatisfactory, or if he gets hurt.
RUNNING BACKS (5)
This grouping includes Charles at H-back, meaning the Bengals are more likely to take four true running backs. I'd argue that neither Burkhead, Peerman nor Charles is a lock right now to make the team, but there are compelling reasons for each being part of the 53-man roster. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and James Wilder Jr. also have real chances to be part of the full roster. Although his carries have been limited early in training camp, Green-Ellis still has made the most of the few he has had. Multiple times on runs over the weekend, you could hear teammates shouting their support as he carried balls into the second and third levels of the defense.
The top three on this list are locks to make the team. The true battle during training camp will be for the other two spots. If this group holds, that means veterans Brandon Tate and Jasper Collins, former Bengals practice squad player Cobi Hamilton, undrafted rookie Colin Lockett, and recently added free agents Jeremy Johnson and Conner Vernon won't make the team. Alex Neutz was released last week. Of the possible cuts listed here, Tate would be the real notable one after performing well as a kick returner and filling in at punt returner last year. With a fully healthy secondary around him, expect Adam Jones to get back to returning punts. While the Bengals will give Tate opportunities to contribute in the passing game (he's had only 14 catches in three seasons with Cincinnati) this preseason, Sanzenbacher can also do much of what Tate can. Sanzenbacher has been more consistent in the passing game and could fill in as a returner on punts or kickoffs. Hamilton's size (6-foot-2) and leaping ability make him a possible pick to make the team, but performance would be a reason for cutting him. Wright's special-teams background and his strong showing in minicamp and organized team activities make him a possibility too.
So far, Tate has been among the most sound and steady receivers of camp. He's had several noteworthy catches and has been praised by coaches for his route-running. Hamilton has been less impressive, dropping or bobbling mutliple passes.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
Gresham is entering a contract year, and expectations have never been higher for him. To meet them, he'll have to first overcome a back injury that has prevented him from practicing so far. Along with Gresham, Eifert and Smith should be part of the main roster. Kevin Brock and Ryan Hewitt also are competing for spots at the position.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
It's possible the Bengals end up taking only nine linemen so they can fit additional players at other positions. For instance, they could end up taking another running back or another receiver. It's common for most teams to have nine or 10 linemen, and this group seems to provide the versatility coaches are seeking. Of the undrafted free-agent linemen the Bengals signed this year, Trey Hopkins -- a versatile guard who was used in a variety of ways this spring -- has the best shot to make the team, but even he's just barely left off this list.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
The only player on this list who wasn't on last year's 53-man roster is Will Clarke. The rookie was drafted in the third round in May. He effectively takes the roster spot of Michael Johnson, who signed with Tampa Bay in the offseason. This may be the most set group on the team. Another name to watch, though, is 360-pound LaKendrick Ross. The defensive tackle was added nearly two weeks ago and could give the Bengals an added run-stopping presence in certain situations. He hasn't played much football, though, so coaches have a tall task teaching him schemes and concepts, and reaffirming fundamentals.
Like the receivers, the top spots at linebacker are pretty much squared away. In this case, it's a veritable lock that Vontaze Burfict, Emmanuel Lamur, Vincent Rey and Rey Maualuga will make the team. The two remaining linebackers, on the other hand, will be part of one of the better position battles on the team. DiManche and Flowers have the best chances among the rest of the outside linebackers to make the team, but they'll have to fend off Sean Porter, Brandon Joiner and James Davidson too. Dontay Moch could make the team because of his versatility as a stand-up defensive end and hybrid linebacker. J.K. Schaffer was snubbed on this list at middle linebacker, but there's a lot about his drive and internal makeup that could make him a repeat roster surprise.
The top four positions are effectively locked down. Kirkpatrick runs the risk of being cut for performance reasons, but it's unlikely he will be dismissed because the Bengals would take a $1.2 million cap hit if they let go of the former first-round pick. The sixth cornerback spot will be a battle between Hampton, R.J. Stanford, Lavelle Westbrooks, Chris Lewis-Harris and Onterio McCalebb. Hampton has some versatility and ability the Bengals like, as well as special-teams leanings.
This may end up being one of the tougher cuts Bengals coaches have, if they end up keeping just four safeties. Taylor Mays would be the odd man out in this situation, which might come as a surprise given how well his spring and summer practices have gone. Nelson and Iloka are virtual locks, Manning seems like a good veteran addition and Williams factors into the team's future at the position.
These guys aren't going anywhere. The punter, kicker and long snapper will make the team.