AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals

Most significant move: The most significant move of the cut-down period for the Cincinnati Bengals was the decision to terminate veteran running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis' contract Friday. It wasn't too surprising considering the Bengals drafted rookie Jeremy Hill in the second round in May. Still, the fact that a veteran as respected as Green-Ellis -- he played in one Super Bowl and didn't have a fumble before arriving in Cincinnati -- got cut was attention-grabbing. The most stunning move of the weekend came Saturday, when defensive tackle Devon Still was waived. A former second-round pick, Still's release was a clear sign the Bengals have established the type of depth that now makes parting with such high picks the norm. Still's release also was stunning because earlier this year his 4-year-old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with stage-4 cancer. She just moved to Cincinnati for treatment last weekend. It was, in part, because of Still's personal situation that made coach Marvin Lewis mention multiple times Saturday how cutting him was among the most difficult decisions his staff had to make this year.

Same safety group: After signing veteran Danieal Manning in the offseason, the Bengals are going to end up entering the regular season in the exact same spot they were when the offseason began: with Taylor Mays and Shawn Williams backing up Reggie Nelson and George Iloka. Manning may have had versatility as a returner, and he may also have had some veteran savvy, but Williams still has promise and upside. He also has special-teams coverage ability -- a trait more valued on a team that already was chock full of possible return specialists. Mays also has potential and brings the added dimension of being able to play linebacker in certain nickel situations.

Hamilton the odd WR out: One of the more intriguing storylines to track this preseason had to do with the battle for the final wide receiver spot. Former practice-squad player Cobi Hamilton was slugging it out with rookie James Wright and veteran Brandon Tate. With bouts of inconsistency this summer, Hamilton appeared to be the odd man out, and on Saturday, he was released. Although he still could be added back to the practice squad, Hamilton was cut while the other two stuck. Wright's penalties on special teams in games this preseason concern coaches, but his upside outweighs them, Lewis said.

What's next? For 10 of the 13 players who were waived, potentially the practice squad. Lewis didn't rule out that many of them may make it on that list, which will be announced Sunday. For rookie quarterback AJ McCarron, the next six weeks will be filled with rehab and position meetings as he participates as part of the non-football injury list. He's unable to practice with the team until Week 7. Similarly, the Bengals are going to be monitoring rookie offensive guard Trey Hopkins, who was placed on injured reserve Saturday. They have until Tuesday to announce whether he will be on IR all year or if he can be IR'd with a designation to return after Week 9.

Bengals' moves: Terminated -- RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, S Danieal Manning, OT Will Svitek. Waived -- LB Brandon Joiner, QB Tyler Wilson, DT LaKendrick Ross, DT Devon Still, OG Trevor Robinson, WR Colin Lockett, H-back Orson Charles, FB Nikita Whitlock, RB James Wilder Jr., CB Victor Hampton, CB Onterio McCalebb, WR Cobi Hamilton, OT Dan France, DT David King, DE Sam Montgomery, DE Dontay Moch. Suspended -- CB Chris Lewis-Harris. Non-Football Injury List -- QB AJ McCarron. Injured Reserve -- OG Trey Hopkins. Waived/Injury Settlement -- CB Lavelle Westbrooks.
CINCINNATI -- Along with earlier reported cuts, the Cincinnati Bengals made a series of additional moves Saturday afternoon to reach their 53-man roster limit entering next week's regular season.

Manning
Among the biggest cuts were contract terminations of veteran safety Danieal Manning and offensive tackle Will Svitek. Those cuts were announced by the team not long after reports indicated defensive tackle Devon Still, H-back Orson Charles, offensive lineman Trevor Robinson and receiver Colin Lockett had been waived.

Those reports were all accurate.

In addition, the Bengals waived offensive tackle Dan France, cornerbacks Onterio McCalebb and Victor Hampton, receiver Cobi Hamilton, defensive tackle David King, defensive ends Dontay Moch and Sam Montgomery, fullback Nikita Whitlock and running back James Wilder Jr. All the players who were waived are eligible to join the team's practice squad, which will be named Sunday.

The Bengals expect to use all 10 practice squad spots.

Along with those moves, the Bengals also had a series of others to get down to the 53-man active roster. Offensive guard Trey Hopkins, an undrafted rookie free agent from Texas, was placed on the injured reserve with a leg injury. Hopkins was carted off the field in the fourth quarter of the Bengals' Week 3 preseason game at Arizona. Hopkins joins linebacker J.K. Schaffer on the IR.

In a corresponding move, seventh-round cornerback Lavelle Westbrooks, who cleared waivers this week after getting a thumb injury, was released with an injury settlement Saturday.

Cincinnati made one other injury-list designation when it put quarterback AJ McCarron on the non-football injury list with a shoulder issue that has plagued him since arriving in May. It means the Bengals will keep two quarterbacks, the same as they typically do. As part of the NFI list, McCarron can remain with the team for rehab and meetings but can't practice until Week 7. At that time, he will begin a window of eligibility to return to practice under a roster exemption, if medically cleared.

Additionally, cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris went on the suspension reserve list after violating the league's substance abuse policy in July. He will miss the first two games.

Here is the complete list of moves made Saturday:

Contracts terminated
S Danieal Manning
OT Will Svitek

Waived (but eligible for practice squad)
OT Dan France
OL Trevor Robinson
RB James Wilder Jr.
FB Nikita Whitlock
H-back Orson Charles
WR Cobi Hamilton
WR Colin Lockett
DT David King
DT Devon Still
DE Dontay Moch
DE Sam Montgomery
CB Onterio McCalebb
CB Victor Hampton

Moved to Injured Reserve
OG Trey Hopkins (leg)

Given Injury Settlement
CB Lavelle Westbrooks (thumb)

Suspended (for 2 games)
CB Chris Lewis-Harris

Moved to Non-Football Injury List
QB AJ McCarron (shoulder)
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals have parted ways with defensive tackle Devon Still and H-back Orson Charles, according to Pro Football Talk.

A former second-round pick out of Penn State, Still was part of the same 2012 rookie class that brought linebacker Vontaze Burfict to Cincinnati as an undrafted free agent. Charles was a fourth-round Bengals selection in that same draft. He came to Cincinnati as a tight end but was moved to H-back last season.

In his two seasons with the Bengals, Still appeared in 18 games and recorded just 21 tackles. He also had one half sack, which came his rookie year.

Injuries overshadowed much of Still's career with the Bengals, including two major injuries he fought through in 2013. After bouncing back from a dislocated elbow, he suffered a back injury that held him out of the last two games of the regular season, as well as the Bengals' opening-round playoff loss to the Chargers. This offseason, Still underwent back surgery to repair a ruptured disc. He returned in time for training camp.

Still was hopeful that he'd contribute this season, going as far as telling me last week that he felt in the best health he had been in for quite some time.

Bengals coaches apparently didn't quite see Still's playing prospects as well as he did. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther intimated ahead of last week's third preseason game at Arizona that he wanted to see more from Still.

"I still think the fourth tackle spot's kind of open right now," Guenther said. "So hopefully somebody can take the lead on that one."

That "somebody" should have been Still, the backup to Domata Peko who played at times alongside fellow 2012 draft pick Brandon Thompson. With Geno Atkins sidelined with an ACL injury last season, Thompson stepped up and filled in admirably. He continued that strong play this preseason.

Still presumably will be replaced by Christo Bilukidi. Rookie Ryan Hewitt has been Charles' challenger all preseason, and is his expected replacement.

The news on Still getting cut has some poor timing for the lineman who is going through personal hardship right now. His 4-year-old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed earlier this offseason with a serious pediatric cancer. Just last weekend she moved from Delaware to Cincinnati, where she will be almost exclusively treated at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

Charles had his own off-field situation this offseason. In March, he was arrested for waving a gun at a motorist in Kentucky while he traveled along Interstate 75. His legal proceedings are still pending.

Along with Still and Charles, the Bengals have also reportedly cut ties with offensive lineman Trevor Robinson and receiver Colin Lockett. With cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris set to begin serving a two-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, the Bengals -- as of this posting -- are now in need of cutting another 13 players to get to the magical number of 53 by Saturday's 4 p.m. ET deadline.
CINCINNATI -- In addition to terminating the contract of veteran running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis on Friday, the Cincinnati Bengals also waived three other players.

Quarterback Tyler Wilson, defensive tackle LaKendrick Ross and linebacker Brandon Joiner were released as the Bengals made their first few cuts from the current 75-man roster. By 4 p.m. Saturday, all 32 NFL teams have to get down to 53 players on their active rosters. Wilson, Ross and Joiner could qualify for the practice squad, but until all the other cuts are made, it's unclear exactly how the practice squad will shake out.

Cincinnati's roster now sits at 71.

Wilson was signed during the preseason following No. 2 quarterback Jason Campbell's elbow injury during the preseason opener at Kansas City. Wilson has since appeared in two games. He played in the Week 2 preseason game against the Jets and got extensive second-half action in Thursday night's preseason finale against the Colts. He was 3-of-5 for 73 yards. The bulk of his yards came on a 50-yard touchdown pass to Cobi Hamilton, another roster-bubble player who was one of Wilson's receivers when the two played college ball at Arkansas.

Hamilton will learn his fate Saturday.

As for Ross, the Bengals are cutting ties for now with a 6-foot-5, 360-pound player who has raw athletic skills. He was too unpolished to make the Bengals' 53-man roster, or any team's 53-man roster. Before impressing coaches at a private workout before training camp, Ross had played only one year of high school football and one year of college football at a small school in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Ross had one tackle Thursday and appeared on 23 defensive plays.

Joiner played 29 defensive snaps and was part of 15 special teams plays in the Bengals' 35-7 win.

In addition to these four, the Bengals also cut several others earlier this week, including backup quarterback Matt Scott, kicker Quinn Sharp and linebacker J.K. Schaffer. Per the rules of the waived/injured designation, Schaffer and fellow hurt cornerback Lavelle Westbrooks were able to rejoin the team on its injured reserve Thursday. Both cleared waivers without being claimed.
CINCINNATI -- A.J. Green is currently the second-best receiver in the NFL -- one pass-catching tight end notwithstanding -- and Geno Atkins is the fourth-best defensive lineman in the league, according to ESPN's #NFLRank project that concluded on ESPN.com on Friday.

Are we shocked the Cincinnati Bengals duo is so highly regarded? Are we stunned? Did we really expect anything more?

No. No. And no.

 Respectively, Green and Atkins were ranked the ninth- and 10th-best players on their side of the ball. Only eight players were ahead of Green, including the top overall offensive player, Detroit wideout Calvin Johnson, and New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham. Atkins was surpassed by nine other defensive players including Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the player tabbed in this survey as the top current defender in the league.

Atkins actually fell to 10th after being ranked seventh last year. Still, it's rather amazing he still was included in the top 10 after missing half of last season with an ACL injury. That's a testament to his past success and the optimism many share this season as he comes off the serious injury. He's set to open the season next weekend with the Bengals when they travel to Baltimore. Green remained at No. 9, where he was the year before.

Green and Atkins joined linebacker Vontaze Burfict (No. 32, defense), defensive end Carlos Dunlap (No. 86, defense), running back Giovani Bernard (No. 88, offense) and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (No. 92, offense) as Bengals to appear on the countdown. Only two players in that group haven't been to the Pro Bowl, Bernard and Dunlap. A former undrafted free agent, Burfict attended his first Pro Bowl at the end of his second season last year.

All but two of those players also have negotiated big second deals with the Bengals. Green and Bernard are the only ones who have not. Bernard can't start speaking with the Bengals about a contract extension until after next season. Green and his representatives can begin those conversations now, but it's not likely he'll receive a long-term deal for some time. Earlier this year the Bengals exercised their fifth-year option on him, meaning he's slated to make more than $10 million next season after playing out the final year of his original four-year rookie contract this season.

Green and Atkins have been among the best at their positions in recent seasons. An NFL.com survey of players earlier this year actually considered Green the No. 2 receiver in the league behind Johnson. If you classify Graham as a tight end and not a receiver, the same holds true in the #NFLRank survey.

The #NFLRank series, which debuted last Monday, ranked the Top 100 players in the league. Players were separated into offense and defense.

Earlier this summer, many of the people behind ESPN's NFL coverage, including myself, made individual rankings for the overall project.

You can read the full series here.

Below are blurbs from the series on Green and Atkins:
Green was the most-targeted receiver in the NFL last year, leading the league with 178 targets. Green's eight touchdown receptions on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield last season were the most in the NFL.
-- ESPN Stats & Information (@ESPNStatsInfo)

Despite missing nearly half of last season, Atkins leads all defensive tackles with 29 sacks since he entered the league in 2010. Atkins is the first Bengals defender selected to consecutive Pro Bowls since David Fulcher (1988-90).
-- ESPN Stats & Information (@ESPNStatsInfo)

Bengals snap counts vs. Colts

August, 29, 2014
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CINCINNATI -- In all, the Cincinnati Bengals kept 33 players sidelined Thursday night for their final game of the preseason.

As we've been mentioning, it wasn't much of a surprise. The goal in the finale was to remain healthy and spare the contributing players as much as possible. That definitely happened.

The only starter who actually took the field for the first drives was rookie center Russell Bodine. As the only rookie starter on the team, he was being trotted out to receive a little extra playing time before the regular season . Along with him, rookie running back Jeremy Hill saw serious minutes. Hill might not be a true starter in the official sense, but he should expect to receive significant playing time this season.

As you'll see below, Hill was on the field for 38 plays. Long enough to rush 20 times for 90 yards and catch six passes for 63. Coach Marvin Lewis said the objective was for Hill to get used to playing a full game. Because once the regular season begins the hope is to give him several touches a game behind fellow back Giovani Bernard.

Here's a snapshot of Cincinnati's snap counts from Week 4:

OFFENSE (56 plays)
WR Cobi Hamilton (52), OT Will Svitek (48), OT Marshall Newhouse (47), OT Tanner Hawkinson (44), WR Colin Lockett (42), OL Mike Pollak (39), RB Jeremy Hill (38), QB Jason Campbell (34), WR Dane Sanzenbacher (31), C Russell Bodine (31), OG T.J. Johnson (31), H-back Ryan Hewitt (28), TE Alex Smith (28), C Trevor Robinson (26), H-back Orson Charles (24), FB Nikita Whitlock (23), QB Tyler Wilson (23), RB James Wilder Jr. (19), OT Dan France (19).

DEFENSE (61 plays)
LB Marquis Flowers (58), S Shawn Williams (55), S Danieal Manning (52), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (51), CB Chris Lewis-Harris (49), DE Will Clarke (49), DT David King (44), S Taylor Mays (43), LB Jayson DiManche (39), DT Christo Bilukidi (38), CB Victor Hampton (37), DE Margus Hunt (33), DE Dontay Moch (32), LB Brandon Joiner (29), DE Sam Montgomery (28), DT LaKendrick Ross (23), CB Onterio McCalebb (13), LB Vincent Rey (13), DT Brandon Thompson (5), LB Sean Porter (2).

SPECIAL TEAMS (22 plays)
Hamilton (10), Svitek (5), Newhouse (1), Hawkinson (5), Lockett (10), Pollak (4), Hill (4), Sanzenbacher (8), Bodine (1), Johnson (1), Hewitt (13), Smith (7), Robinson (4), Charles (18), Whitlock (11), Wilder (12), France (5), Flowers (13), Williams (12), Manning (10), Kirkpatrick (9), Lewis-Harris (11), Clarke (2), King (4), Mays (11), DiManche (15), Bilukidi (1), Hampton (12), Moch (14), Joiner (15), Montgomery (14), Ross (1), McCalebb (13), Rey (4), Porter (4), K Mike Nugent (11), P Kevin Huber (11), LS Clark Harris (11).
CINCINNATI -- We knew Vontaze Burfict became a well-paid man when he signed his three-year contract extension with the Cincinnati Bengals on Wednesday. Now we know just how well paid he is.

Burfict
According to contract numbers obtained by ESPN Stats & Information, Burfict will make $6.9 million in guaranteed money across the life of his new deal. In theory, he'll see every dime of it before even taking a regular-season snap.

Burfict's guaranteed money breaks down into two figures. First, he received $3.1 million Wednesday in the form of a signing bonus. On top of that, the remaining $3.8 million will be awarded Saturday in the form of a roster bonus. In addition to that bonus money, Burfict also will bring in a base salary of $700,000 this season, bringing the full amount of his Year 1 salary to $7.6 million.

On the fifth day of the new league year next March, he'll also make a roster bonus of nearly $3.2 million, meaning he'll be awarded just shy of $10.8 million in the next six months.

Not bad for a former undrafted free agent who, before the extension, had been set to make just more than $570,000 before bonuses this year.

Across the life of Burfict's contract extension, his base salary figure will increase. Next season, he'll be in seven-figure territory. After making a $700,000 base salary in 2014, he'll make $1,050,000 in 2015, $2,850,000 in 2016, and $3,750,000 in 2017 when the deal ends. In addition to those base salaries and workout bonuses, Burfict also has the chance to make additional money each year starting in 2015 thanks to Pro Bowl escalators.

Burfict's 2015 Pro Bowl escalator has a max level of $175,000. In 2016, it's $350,000. In 2017, it goes up to $525,000. With the escalators factored in, Burfict's total cap figure in the new deal exceeds $20 million, just like what was previously reported.

He'll average $6.3 million per year on this second deal, putting him just barely inside the top-20 earning linebackers in the league. Dallas' Sean Lee, Miami's Dannell Ellerbe and Chicago's Lance Briggs are just ahead of Burfict, earning $7 million per year on their current contracts. Just below Burfict are Chad Greenway ($6.3 million), Connor Barwin ($6 million) and Karlos Dansby ($6 million).

Below is a year-by-year breakdown of Burfict's new contract:

 
CINCINNATI -- In no particular order, here are six Cincinnati Bengals you'll want to pay attention to during Thursday night's preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts (7 p.m. ET).

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriJason Campbell is expected to get a lot of action in the Bengals' last preseason game.
QB Jason Campbell. Expect a heavy dose of the Bengals backup quarterbacks Thursday night as Cincinnati attempts to fulfill it's primary preseason objective: staying healthy. Of course, there have been injuries this preseason, and Campbell is among those who have gotten hurt. Still, the plan for the Bengals is to get to opening weekend with a fully healthy Andy Dalton. So don't be surprised if he's only in for one series with other starters. Campbell, who missed the Week 2 game against the Jets because of an elbow injury, will look to get extended action in his final tune-up before the regular season. The veteran is 13-for-29 for 130 yards in two games this preseason. He also has two touchdowns and two interceptions.

QB Tyler Wilson. Just like Campbell, the emphasis for Wilson will be to eliminate turnovers. The Bengals offense did an admirable job of that Sunday at Arizona. They didn't have a single interception or fumble. They retained possession, all while battling horrid field position all night. Wilson hasn't played since the Week 2 loss to the Jets after suffering a concussion late in that game. Now that he's been healthy enough to practice, look for extended action from Wilson, assuming he has been cleared to play. Not all of the players on concussion protocol this preseason have made it on the field. Offensive tackle Andre Smith still hasn't played despite practicing the past two weeks.

RB James Wilder Jr. With a battered and bruised running back group, the Bengals probably will turn to Wilder much earlier than they have at other points this preseason. Look for the undrafted rookie free agent to get heavy action in the second half as Cincinnati tries to save second-round draft pick Jeremy Hill's legs. He'll probably see extensive action in the first and second halves as the Bengals try to ease starter Giovani Bernard through a very non-taxing evening. Remember, the goal is to keep everyone healthy, particularly the starters. Since that is the case, Wilder ought to see significant action since Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis may be missing in action. All three were held out of Tuesday's practice, the only one the Bengals had this short week.

DT Christo Bilukidi. While I'm still not sure Bilukidi will end up earning a spot on the 53-man roster later this week, he's still a player worth paying attention to. Coaches have liked some of what they've seen out of the backup defensive lineman. He has helped contribute to the Bengals' pass rush when he has been in the games, even coming away with one sack through the first three preseason contests. He has three total tackles in his appearances. On Sunday, Bilukidi was on the field for 23 plays, one of the higher snap counts of the team's reserve linemen. This will be his last chance to prove where he belongs: on the 53-man roster, on the practice squad, or released for another team to grab.

DE Sam Montgomery. Like Bilukidi, Montgomery has spent the preseason lining up both at tackle and end as the team tries to test out places it could use him if he makes the team. Also like Bilukidi, I'm not high on Montgomery making the final roster, but he does have tools that could be useful for the Bengals' pass rush. A lineman who has stand-up end ability, Montgomery could give Cincinnati's defense an added dimension from its standard rushes. Dontay Moch also has some of that same playing style and ability. It will be interesting to see how both fare when the roster gets set Saturday.

LB Sean Porter. One of the more impressive players on the back of the depth chart, Porter has caught the coaches' attention now that he's had a chance to play. Placed on injured reserve all last year, the former Texas A&M standout is just now getting an opportunity to show what he can do. The fourth-round 2013 draft pick filled in for Vontaze Burfict in practices last week when the starting weakside linebacker was out sick. He also capped Sunday night's 19-13 win with a final-play interception. He could be a special-teams addition to this year's 53.
CINCINNATI -- The world still has yet to see the best of Jeremy Hill.

At least, that's what the Cincinnati Bengals running back believes.

Hill
  About a half hour after the Bengals held on to beat the Cardinals in Sunday night's preseason contest that saw Hill handed the ball a game-high 12 times, the rookie took to Twitter to pronounce that he didn't quite hit the gear he knows he can reach.

"Had fun out there with the fellas tonight great team win but I didn't get as #turnt as I would've liked," Hill tweeted.

Yes, "turnt." For the uninitiated, "turnt" is a word made popular by the 2010 release of rapper Roscoe Dash's "All the way turnt up" that has become a pop culture phenomenon. An online site defined it, in part, as a way of describing someone who is "excessively excited or prepared for the current event. In it's entirety, it can commonly be seen used as 'turnt up,' as in 'turned up.'"

In layman's terms, Hill doesn't think he has quite hit the peak excitement level he knows he has in him. What will help him get all the way "turnt" up?

Scoring touchdowns.

"I've got to get in the end zone," Hill said, laughing earlier this week as he was asked about his tweet. "As an offense, and for myself, we pride ourselves on not turning the ball over and scoring touchdowns. If I get in the end zone, I'll definitely be fully turnt, as I always say."

At LSU last season, he found the end zone 16 times. The season before, in his first with the Tigers, he scored 12 times.

So crossing the goal line isn't a foreign concept to him. But to this point in his NFL career, it has been. Hill still hasn't scored this preseason, but he's hoping to change that Thursday night when the Bengals host the Colts in the preseason finale. If he can find his way into the orange-and-black painted area on Paul Brown Stadium's field, he'll feel a little more at ease, and a little more confident entering the regular season.

"I had a few occasions to break long runs [this preseason]," Hill said, "and I kind of got stopped by a shoelace tackle. In college, I would have taken that to the house. So for me, it's just getting that rhythm and being able to break a couple of tackles at the second level."

Hill, who has faced both first- and second-team defenses so far this preseason, has found that it isn't as easy to just turn a corner and sprint through a hole for an easy score in the NFL. Defensive backs are faster than they are in college. Lanes tend to close up quicker. Jump cuts and juke moves aren't always as effective against savvy defenders who have been in the league for several years.

While Hill may not yet be averaging the 6.9 yards per carry that he had his final season at LSU, he still has to be proud of the 4.8 yards he's averaged to this point in the preseason. On 21 carries, he's rushed for 100 yards. Only veteran Cedric Peerman, who was hurt Sunday and may not play Thursday night, has a higher average. Peerman has collected 6.0 yards per carry on his 18 rushes for 108 yards this preseason. More of his carries have come against reserve-filled defenses than Hill's.

Only second-year starter Giovani Bernard has a rushing touchdown for the Bengals this preseason following a 1-yard dive against the Jets two weeks ago. Part of Hill's plan for the finale is to join Bernard. With Peerman and fellow backups Rex Burkhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis potentially out with injuries, he could have his share of opportunities to do just that.

Whenever that first score comes, Hill believes he'll finally be fully "turnt."

"That'll let me come out of my shell more and build my confidence level up and just continue to better my play," Hill said. "That's what I'm looking forward to."
CINCINNATI -- Posed a question similar to the one in the headline above, 30 NFL insiders answered, just barely, in the affirmative.

Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis may only be five losses from going .500 in a head-coaching career that ranks second in tenure only to New England's Bill Belichick, but he's done good enough of a job turning around the once-lowly franchise that he has earned tier-2 coaching status, according to a recent survey conducted by ESPN Insider Mike Sando.

Lewis
In a poll published Tuesday, Sando found that to league insiders, Lewis ranked 15th among current coaches.

Atop the list was Belichick, the winner of three Super Bowls. At the bottom? Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen, primarily because he's in control of a bad franchise, one that just Monday was named the least desirable to play for in an anonymous survey of current players conducted by ESPN's NFL Nation.

As he collected votes for his poll, Sando broke coaches down into five tiers. The top three on the list belonged in the first tier. The next 12 were part of the second tier. At No. 15, Lewis rounded out that section. According to Sando's findings, Lewis received 15 tier-3 votes, 14 tier-2 votes and one tier-1 vote.

Voters apparently grappled with many of the same concerns Bengals fans have -- balancing Lewis' regular-season success with his postseason failures.

When Lewis became Cincinnati's head coach in 2003, he took over an organization that hadn't had a winning season in the previous 12 years. He walked into a situation similar to what Allen has found himself currently in. Just three years after his arrival, Lewis took the Bengals to their first playoff berth since the 1990 season. He has made four other trips in the years since.

He hasn't had a playoff win in any of those seasons.

One general manager told Sando: "Sometimes you give people extra credit for where they coach and that whole Cincy place has been a tough place to win."

That GM thought Lewis probably was more of a tier-3 coach because of the 0-5 playoff record, but because of external forces Lewis has had to coach around, he should be regarded with fringe tier-2 status, the GM said.

"They used to make the coaches do the scouting work," the same GM said. "They ask a lot of their coaches. They are a talented team and [Lewis] is part of that."

Since 2011, the Bengals have changed much of their structure. Team president Mike Brown has had a dramatically decreased role, with his daughter, executive vice president Katie Blackburn, handling many of the front-office administrative duties. Lewis and director of player personnel Duke Tobin have had larger roles in scouting and giving the final word on the drafting of prospects and signing of free agents. It's one of the reasons the Bengals, since 2011, have routinely had some of the league's best draft classes and found more hidden gems, like former undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict, than most other teams.

Combine that with the fact the Bengals have at least been to the playoffs, and you have some who question why Lewis didn't poll higher.

Like one coordinator told Sando: "Marvin took over a franchise that is troubled and, no, they have not won a playoff game, but look at the Cleveland Browns today. If you asked every person in that organization or who comes to the stadium if they would take a winning season but lose in the playoffs, they would take it."
CINCINNATI -- Vontaze Burfict finally spoke to reporters on Tuesday, but it was what he didn't say that warranted a headline.

For the first time since before he reportedly agreed with the Cincinnati Bengals last week on a contract extension that was said to pay him more than $20 million, Burfict fielded questions about the suddenly troubling extension and the apparent stalemate that has happened since.

When asked if he wanted to comment about the talks that have been stagnant since Wednesday's reports about the agreement, the linebacker whispered, "No comment."

Burfict
Asked if he was ready for the extension to reach a resolution, Burfict answered once more with a "no comment."

A locker away, listening to the whole pre-practice interview session, veteran cornerback Terence Newman chimed in: "I know I would like for him to get it resolved."

Burfict isn't answering any questions about the apparent extension debacle, and no one else involved in the situation really is, either. The Bengals aren't addressing the extension until it's finalized, and so far attempts to reach his agents for comment have been unsuccessful.

Last Friday, coach Marvin Lewis seemed to take exception with the way news of the pending agreement was publicized. In his only comments on Burfict's contract impasse, Lewis said at that time that the deal "is not signed off."

It still isn't.

"I would guess we expect him to sign," Lewis added. "Obviously the agent believes he has a deal. We didn't release it."

Burfict switched representation in February, hiring Paradigm Sports to help him get his second deal.

As he enters the third and final season on his rookie deal, the Pro Bowl linebacker is scheduled to make $570,000. Last week, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the agreement Burfict and the Bengals reached would have paid him $7.6 million this season on the first year of the new deal.

With 298 career tackles in 32 regular season games, Burfict has been arguably the Bengals' best defender since he has been in Cincinnati. He had a league-high 171 tackles last year. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has often praised his football intelligence and credits Burfict for knowing the system better than any other player on the team.
Most significant move: Few of the Cincinnati Bengals' cuts were very surprising, but quarterback Matt Scott's release might have been the most significant because he had been viewed as the No. 3 quarterback on the roster behind Andy Dalton and Jason Campbell. Tyler Wilson, fresh off concussion protocol, reverts into that role. When Wilson was signed after an injury to Campbell two weeks ago, it appeared the writing was on the wall for Scott, a mobile quarterback who doesn't fit the Bengals' scheme as well as the others. Although he played well during the Week 1 loss at Kansas City, Scott completed only 45.5 percent of his passes and was sacked five times in the three games he played.

Sharp should find a home: Kicker Quinn Sharp's release had been expected after he was signed in the offseason to help keep starter Mike Nugent's leg fresh throughout training camp and offseason workouts. While Nugent is the starter and has the more accurate leg of the two, Sharp's power is one of his more impressive traits. In Sunday night's preseason game, hours before he was cut by the Bengals, Sharp went 2-for-2 on field goals with one of them a 51-yarder. The Oklahoma State product should help someone's team this season desperate for a kicker.

What's next? The Bengals aren't technically done with this round of moves. They could end up sending two of their Tuesday cuts, J.K. Schaffer and Lavelle Westbrooks, to injured reserve Wednesday. Both were cut via the waived/injured designation and have until Wednesday to be claimed by another team. If neither is claimed and they clear waivers, they will be added to Cincinnati's IR. It's also worth keeping an eye on safety Taylor Mays, rookie linebacker Marquis Flowers, stand-up defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Dontay Moch, receivers Cobi Hamilton and James Wright and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis as the Bengals cut to 53 on Saturday.

Bengals' cuts: QB Matt Scott, DT Larry Black, S Isaiah Lewis, K Quinn Sharp, WR Ryan Whalen, CB R.J. Stanford, TE Kevin Brock, WR Jasper Collins, LB J.K. Schaffer, CB Lavelle Westbrooks, LB James Davidson, WR Alex Neutz, WR Jeremy Johnson, OT Curtis Feigt, WR Conner Vernon, P T.J. Conley, DT Zach Minter, OG Chandler Burden.
CINCINNATI -- After a minor health scare Sunday in Phoenix, Cincinnati Bengals president Mike Brown is progressing comfortably back home.

A team spokesman told ESPN.com on Monday that Brown's "minor medical situation" is trending toward resolution, and that the 79-year-old should be resuming his daily duties shortly.

"Everything continues to progress the way we had expected," the spokesman said. "He should be back at his desk soon."

The Bengals still aren't saying what exactly happened to Brown on Sunday morning in Phoenix. The only details they have allowed are that he underwent treatment in Arizona, where he was with the team for Sunday night's Week 3 preseason game against the Cardinals. Out of precaution, it was decided that he wouldn't attend the game, and would travel immediately back to Cincinnati.

"The good thing is everyone acted very quickly to get things headed in the right direction very fast," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said late Sunday night, following his team's 19-13 win. "We're happy that, hopefully, everything is going in the right direction and hopefully he'll get back with us very quickly."

Brown has owned the Bengals and served as team president since 1991, when his father and team founder, Paul Brown, died. An innovator of the game as it's known today, Paul Brown won seven championships as coach of the Cleveland Browns before establishing the Bengals in 1968.

Late last month, Mike Brown hinted at his forthcoming exit from football when he admitted that his daughter, executive vice president Katie Blackburn, has had a growing role in the team's daily operations. It has been under her guidance that recent multiyear and multimillion-dollar deals with Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Andy Dalton have been signed the last two summers. Earlier this month, Dalton signed a six-year contract extension that will pay him up to $115 million.

"Oh, you can tell I'm getting old," Mike Brown said in July. "When you get old, your children get impatient with you. Just the way it works in life. I have been blessed to have been able to work with my two kids and my father. That's something that is unusual in America these days, and I realize that roles change. My role changed with my father, just as Katie's role with me changes.

"One time I went up. Now I'm going down and that's just the way it is."
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Injuries marred the final minutes of the Cincinnati Bengals' 19-13 preseason win over the Cardinals on Sunday night as three Bengals were carted off University of Phoenix Stadium's field in the fourth quarter alone.

Coach Marvin Lewis didn't have any updates on the injured in the locker room after the game, but he did acknowledge that having to deal with the injuries was "the only negative part" of the night. His defensive starters played well and for the third straight preseason game didn't allow a touchdown. His offense played turnover-free football, and his reserves held their own and played well enough to preserve the win.

Throughout the physical game several Bengals needed medical attention, but it was the injuries to James Wright, T.J. Johnson and Trey Hopkins that caused a series of stoppages and had fans hushed. All three were on the ground for several minutes and needed assistance getting off the field after getting banged up late in the ballgame.

All three also find themselves on the bubble, needing every opportunity they can to make the team.

First, it was Hopkins, the undrafted rookie free agent from Texas. He went down with 12:35 remaining in the game after a couple of players rolled on top of his leg. For some time, trainers evaluated his right leg before a cart came onto the field and he was loaded on it. The Bengals later announced that he had a right shin injury. Hopkins was spotted immediately after the game walking through the locker room with his leg already inside a boot.

As if that moment wasn't enough for the Bengals, two plays later, seventh-round draft pick James Wright required a cart when he went down awkwardly at the end of an attempted touchdown reception. While trying to make the 15-yard catch in the back of the end zone, he took what appeared to be a blow to the head from safety Curtis Taylor's forearm before going down hard to the turf. Instantly after his head hit the ground, Wright's body locked up.

A few minutes went by before medical personnel got him to sit up before helping him onto the cart. He was not strapped onto a stretcher.

On the next drive, running back Cedric Peerman received what appeared to be a serious leg injury but walked off on his own power after getting some treatment on the field. On the drive after that, Johnson went down with an undisclosed issue. Like Hopkins and Wright, a cart eased the offensive lineman into the locker room.

In addition to those injuries, linebacker Vontaze Burfict and defensive tackle Devon Still went down in the first half with hamstring injuries.

When asked if Burfict would be available for the season opener in two weeks, Lewis simply said, "Yes."

The Bengals won't have much time to rest the injured before their preseason finale. With days off Monday and Wednesday, they will only practice Tuesday before Thursday's game at home against the Colts.

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