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Friday, August 29, 2014
Cincinnati Bengals' projected roster

By Coley Harvey

Examining the Cincinnati Bengals' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
The Bengals were content with having just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster last season, and might do the same this season. Rookie AJ McCarron would be the odd man out. He didn't practice in training camp after being placed on the active non-football injury list, and it doesn't seem like he's going to practice anytime soon. After Matt Scott was cut earlier this week that leaves fellow backup Tyler Wilson to potentially contend for a practice squad spot. He isn't likely to make the 53-man roster.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

This grouping includes Hewitt at H-back, meaning the Bengals are more likely to take four halfbacks. Burkhead, Peerman and Hewitt are not locks 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 chances to make the final roster, but in Green-Ellis' case that's really hard to see. He hasn't played in two weeks and has barely practiced in that time. Wilder had a strong 11-carry, 49-yard rushing performance that mostly covered the fourth quarter. Like Green-Ellis, Burkhead also hasn't practiced or played in two weeks after suffering a Week 2 knee injury. The last halfback spot could be one of the toughest decisions the Bengals have to make this year. As for Hewitt, I included him over Orson Charles because he has seemed to impress more throughout camp, and seems more versatile. Nikita Whitlock also is competing for a fullback job.

RECEIVERS (6)

The top three on this list are locks to make the team. If this group holds, that means former practice squad player Cobi Hamilton and undrafted rookie Colin Lockett won't make the team. Tate, who was left off earlier roster projections, had been impressive catching passes in training-camp practices, and has been listed as the starting kick and punt returner on the team's depth charts. It's tough to say if he will stick, though, now that others, like Adam Jones and Sanzenbacher, have gotten in-game work at both return positions. Sanzenbacher returned a punt for a touchdown Thursday against the Colts. Of the possible cuts listed here, Hamilton's size (6-foot-2) and leaping ability make him a possible pick to make the team, but he's been inconsistent. Wright's special-teams background and his consistently strong showing in training camp make him a very real possibility to make the team, too, although an apparent head injury ran him from Sunday's game, and he had three big special teams penalties in the three games he played. He didn't play Thursday.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Gresham is entering a contract year, and expectations have never been higher for him.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)

It's common for teams to have nine or 10 linemen, and if the Bengals do injury-list McCarron, it seems likely Cincinnati would keep 10 linemen this season, instead of the nine I previously had been predicting. This group seems to provide the versatility coaches are seeking. Of the undrafted free-agent linemen the Bengals signed this year, Hopkins -- a versatile guard who was used in a variety of ways this spring -- has the best shot to make the team. A serious shin injury on Sunday, though, could affect him. Depending on the injury's severity, he could find himself placed on injured reserve to open up another spot that could go to a sixth back like Wilder. Coaches had been very high on Hopkins' play before the injury. For now, we'll bank on the injury being more minor than it appeared. He'll stick if so.

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 might be the most settled group on the team.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Like the receivers, the top spots at linebacker are squared away. In this case, it's a lock that Burfict, Lamur, Rey and Maualuga will make the team. The two remaining linebackers are part of one of the better position battles on the team. DiManche has the best chance of the remaining linebackers to make the team. Flowers could be in a scenario similar to McCarron, Wilder, Lockett and Hopkins in that he has tools the Bengals don't want to risk losing by placing him on the practice squad where he could be poached away. But with Lamur ahead of him, Flowers could be a good "redshirt" candidate. There is no need to rush him into his cover linebacker duties unless he really is ready to contribute. J.K. Schaffer earlier this week was one of two players placed on injured reserve after missing much of the preseason with two concussions.

CORNERBACKS (5)

After a strong preseason from this group, these are the Bengals' five cornerbacks this season. Chris Lewis-Harris has a shot to stick as a practice squad player after a solid preseason, too. He won't make the 53-man roster to start the season because he was suspended under the league's substance abuse policy in July. He'll miss the first two games.

SAFETIES (4)

This might be one of the tougher cuts Bengals coaches have to make if they end up keeping just four safeties. Shawn Williams has performed quite well so far this preseason in both training camp practices and games, but Manning has a measure of versatility as a special-teamer, a fluidity with which he plays defense and a locker room presence as a veteran that trumps Williams' promise and Mays' play.

SPECIALISTS (3)

These guys aren't going anywhere. The punter, kicker and long-snapper will make the team.