Examining the Cincinnati Bengals' roster:
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. Fellow backups Matt Scott and Tyler Wilson are not 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. Green-Ellis, Peerman and Hewitt are not locks to make the team, but there are compelling reasons for each being part of the 53-man roster. Rex Burkhead and James Wilder Jr. also have real chances to be part of the full roster. Green-Ellis only played three snaps in Saturday's Week 2 preseason loss to the Jets, but he got the first reps after the starter Bernard, and with Burkhead possibly suffering a serious injury in the game, Green-Ellis might end up sticking as part of the running back rotation. If Burkhead's injury isn't as bad as feared, I'm not sure if Green-Ellis ultimately makes the team, but we're going to say for now that he does. As for Hewitt, I included him over Orson Charles here because he has seemed to impress more throughout camp, and seems more versatile. Nikita Whitlock also is competing for a fullback job.
The top three on this list are locks to make the team. The true battle during training camp will be for the other three spots. If this group holds, that means Jasper Collins, former Bengals 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 Adam Jones and Sanzenbacher are getting in-game work at both return positions. Tate hasn't done much as a receiver in his three years with the Bengals; he's primarily been a special-teams addition. 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 injury did run him from Saturday's game.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
Gresham is entering a contract year, and expectations have never been higher for him. Along with Gresham, Eifert and Smith should be part of the main roster. Kevin Brock also is competing for a spot at the position.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
It's common for most 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. Coaches have been very high on his play.
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.
Like the receivers, the top spots at linebacker are squared away. In this case, it's almost 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. I can't see the Bengals cutting Flowers. J.K. Schaffer was snubbed on this list at middle linebacker. Because of time spent under concussion protocol, he has missed opportunities to prove his value this camp. And unfortunately for Schaffer, less than a week after clearing the protocol, he experienced another head injury in Saturday's game. For now, there is no update on his status, but two head injuries in three weeks doesn't bode well for the hometown kid's chances.
The top four positions are effectively locked down. Kirkpatrick runs the risk of being cut for performance reasons, but it's unlikely because the Bengals would take a $1.2 million cap hit if they let go of the former first-round pick. Victor Hampton had previously been the sixth cornerback on this list, but the past two weeks I removed a sixth corner altogether in favor of adding a sixth receiver to balance the roster. If I had picked a sixth cornerback the last two weeks I would have gone with R.J. Stanford.
This might be one of the tougher cuts Bengals coaches have to make if they end up keeping just four safeties. Taylor Mays 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 that for now trumps Mays' play.
These guys aren't going anywhere. The punter, kicker and long-snapper will make the team.