We are about to get our first look at the 2021 Bengals. Here is what I am looking for.
Of course, the number one thing we all want to see is Joe Burrow strutting out on the field and looking like his old self.
We want to see him chucking deep balls to Ja’Marr Chase.
We want to see him scramble and find Tee Higgins on the sideline with a ridiculous off-balance throw.
We DON’T want to see him get hit, but we would like to see him take a hit and still deliver a perfect strike to Tyler Boyd for the first down, then get up like it’s no big deal.
Unfortunately, we are going to have to wait on all of that. Burrow will not be playing in the first preseason game, but here are five other things to can keep an eye on.
Is the secondary really that good?
We have heard that Burrow and the offense have struggled early in camp. The defense has been winning over and over again and seems to have a lot of swagger. So is that because the offense is struggling, or is the secondary just a lot better than they were last season?
Of course, the safety position is solid with Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell, but the three starting cornerbacks are all basically new this season.
Trae Waynes was a big-time free agent addition a year ago but spent the year on injured reserve. Mike Hilton was a nice pickup at slot corner, made even nicer by the fact that he was stolen away from the Pittsburgh Steelers. It is Chidobe Awuzie who is getting the biggest buzz in camp. Can he step into William Jackson’s shoes?
We’ll find out as we finally get to see this revamped group against an outside opponent.
What are they going to do at linebacker?
Germaine Pratt heads into Year 3 with a lot to prove. Second-year player Logan Wilson has been praised throughout camp for looking faster than ever and is wearing the radio helmet for the defense. He is joined by two of his draftmates in Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey. All four of these players have great physical tools. Now it’s time to see who steps up.
Looking for an OG?
Despite his part in the untimely end to Burrow’s rookie season, Michael Jordan is still very much in the mix at guard. He was showing steady improvement as a rookie in 2019 but plateaued in 2020. A fresh start with a new position coach could get him back on track.
Jackson Carman was a tackle in college who the Bengals drafted in the second round to play guard. Two rounds later, they selected another tackle in D’Ante Smith, and it’s Smith who is getting an opportunity at guard in camp. He is reportedly in great shape and soaks up coaching like a sponge. Who will shine in the Bengals’ first preseason game? Could this be the opportunity Carman needs to climb the depth chart, or will Smith prove he was underrated in the draft?
We all want Evan McPherson to shine and win the job.
Yes, I get being anxious about Austin Seibert performing too well and potentially ending up in another Jake Elliott situation, but we should be cheering for both. The reason being, if Seibert can impress in the preseason, he could become a trade chip for a team in desperate need at kicker.
Ultimately, though, the most important thing is McPherson looking good.
Making the roster on special teams
Speaking of special teams, it can be a great place to look to figure out who will fill out the last few roster spots.
Take receiver for example. Boyd, Higgins, Chase, and Auden Tate are no-brainers. Trent Taylor appears to be a shoo-in as the team’s likely punt returner. That is five receivers, right there. Six, maybe seven will make the roster. Anyone else hoping to make it at that position will need to contribute on special teams as well.
So look for who is covering punts and blocking on the kickoff return team as the preseason goes on. If they are getting a lot of reps on special teams, it is because the Bengals want to keep them and are trying to find a role for them.