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Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Bengals bubble watch: J.K. Schaffer

By Coley Harvey

For the next nine days we're taking a look at Cincinnati Bengals who could be on the dreaded training camp roster bubble later this summer. These are players whom we think you should expect to see fighting for spots when the eventual 75-man preseason roster gets trimmed to the regular-season 53.

As permitted by league rules, the roster currently stands at 89.

We're not going in any particular order. After starting with Taylor Mays on Monday, then Brandon Tate on Tuesday, next up is linebacker J.K. Schaffer:

Why he's on the bubble: Unfortunately for Schaffer these training camp battles are becoming habit. But that's the nature of being an undrafted, slightly undersized player at a position that already has a well-paid veteran and another promising young talent playing it. As a second-year player, Schaffer enters training camp behind Rey Maualuga and Vincent Rey at middle linebacker. He's also competing for a roster spot with fellow outside linebacker Jayson DiManche, who like Schaffer, also has solid special-teams value. As a bubble player last preseason, Schaffer impressed coaches and fans in his native Cincinnati to the point that it would have caused serious heartache around Paul Brown Stadium had he not been placed on the final 53-man roster. Last preseason he was the team's top tackler, playing often in the four games in order to give coaches and idea of where he could play and how he could be used. But with Maualuga and Rey -- another former undrafted player who exploded into the league's consciousness after playing well in place of the injured Maualuga last season -- ahead of him, Schaffer's battle to remain on the roster continues to be difficult.

What he has to do to get off the bubble: Quite simply, Schaffer needs to perform the way he did last preseason to convince his bosses that he deserves to be part of this team in September. He'll have plenty of opportunities in practices to do that, and he ought to be given his share of game snaps again. He made the most of those opportunities by making plays last preseason. This year, he'll want to continue making plays, but he'll also want to show he has what it takes to lead from middle linebacker by getting plays called and making sure the defense is lined up properly. He was doing some of that during organized team activities and minicamp this spring.

What also could help Schaffer get off the bubble is Rey's role. Although he enters training camp as the No. 2 middle linebacker behind Maualuga, Rey showed last season that he probably deserves to be on the field as much as possible. Rotations with Maualuga could be enhanced a bit for Rey to see more action, and the Bengals could also move him around to an outside linebacker spot, like the "Sam" position. Not only was Rey solid at times in run support, but he was impressive in blitz and pass coverage scenarios at times last season, too. He had a career-high four sacks and two interceptions last year. If the Bengals can find more places to move Rey, Schaffer has a slightly better chance to stick around behind Maualuga.

Odds he makes the team: Low. The odds for Schaffer to make the team last year may have been closer to "very low" but he ignored them and did it anyway. That was a credit to his hard work and in-game execution. Believe me, there are a lot of people both inside and outside the Bengals' locker room rooting for him to remain part of the organization. But unless dramatic changes take place with the players listed ahead of him, this could be the year Schaffer falls victim to the numbers game.