- 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, 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, although one of them could end up on the practice-squad.
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 real chances to be part of the full roster. Green-Ellis didn't play at all in Sunday's Week 3 preseason win over the Cardinals, and he only appeared in three plays in last week's loss to the Jets. Burkhead also didn't play due to a knee injury suffered in Week 2. Even with his injury -- one that doesn't appear as bad as initially feared -- Burkhead has a chance to stick based on what he did before Week 2. For now, we're going to place him back on this week's 53-man projection over Green-Ellis. 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. 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 others, like Adam Jones and Sanzenbacher, have gotten 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 Sunday's game. It's not yet clear how much time he'll miss, but after experiencing what appeared to be a head injury, it would be stunning to see him on the field Thursday against Indianapolis.
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. He did suffer what appeared to be a serious leg injury Sunday, though. Depending upon the severity of the injury the Bengals could injury-list him, thereby preserving him from potential practice-squad poaching and opening up another roster spot. For now, I'm banking on the injury being more minor than it appeared Sunday night. 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.
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 was snubbed on this list at middle linebacker because he's missed an inordinate amount of the preseason after being placed under concussion protocol on two separate occasions.
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. At this point, aside from perhaps Chris Lewis-Harris or Lavelle Westbrooks, there aren't any other corners who appear worthy of cracking this list.
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.