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Preseason Week 3 Preview

Like a lightwave from space, and like many of you, I will see the game on delay, and by then, some players may have already solidified, or lost their locker space for the season.

It’s true that the third game of the preseason is widely considered the most important of them all, but it’s still just dressing up an exhibition in the middle of summer—the fact that it’s priced the same as regular-season tickets seems criminal to me. But for the dregs of the roster, the bottom-of-the-barrel guys, it could become one of the most important nights of their lives.

In nine days, the thicket of striped helmets along the sidelines of tonight’s game will be dramatically reduced as teams are required to shed their rosters to 53 players by September 5th. That means upwards of 25 players will either be cut or demoted to the practice squad within that time. The performances that these fledgling hopefuls give tonight will have serious implications to their future professional football careers.

A few such men, vying for essentially the same spot on the team, reside in the ranks of the safeties. The journeyman and special-teams mavin Kyries Hebert, the versatile but hesitant Corey Lynch and the hard-nosed and raw Tom “Full” Nelson, all seem to be competing for the sixth safety and special-teams gunner spots.

Hebert has shown the ability to make tackles and be in the right spots on kick and punt returns, and was also forced into a couple of starts last season due to injuries to the regular starters. He’s an inexpensive veteran that has 16 games and two training camps with the Bengals coaching staff under his belt. If it is a competition among the three, I’d consider him the frontrunner.

Corey Lynch also has experience with team, and notably saved a local woman’s life at the scene of a car accident during the off-season, but the NFL has no room for human-interest stories and Lynch has not seemingly done enough on the field to impress the coaching staff in the past two games. Lynch was out most of last season with a knee injury and, at this point, he may be auditioning for other teams.

Nelson was highlighted on last night’s Hard Knocks as a long-shot who is getting noticed by the right people within the organization. He made plays against New England and looked anything but tentative in his pursuit to the ball; the perfect quality for a special-teams gunner. I wouldn’t want to see much of Nelson in zone coverage against a first-string quarterback, but as a practice dummy, an emergency safety and a gunner, I’d like him to be invited to the practice squad.

The other difficult decision that looms above the coaches in the meeting rooms deals with how many, and which running backs to keep. The fact remains, the Bengals have no great one on their roster; they have one good one and three promising ones. Based on what we’ve seen thus far in the preseason though, none of these four runners deserve to be cut.

I’m still of the opinion that Cincinnati should keep all four of them and use them in various situations throughout the year. The acknowledged starter, Cedric Benson, has fumbled in both games he’s played in 2009, and while he hasn’t looked bad, he also hasn’t done anything to assume that he is a problem-free player who will automatically do just fine. The other contenders, Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard and DeDe Dorsey have all demonstrated specific and unique traits that could be used separately and effectively. The running game was abysmal last year and the infusion of talent there can only be a positive, but team management should be wary to cast any of these capable runners out into the street.

There’s another battle quietly taking place among the fullbacks as well. Many jokes and sometimes cruel humor has been written within these pages at Jeremi Johnson’s expense, typically centered around his constant challenges controlling his weight. Johnson did come to camp this July heavier than advised, but has made big strides to get back into playing shape and now looks like the starter for the season-opener.

It’s easy to pick on someone when they let themselves go physically, but it should be equally noted when a player, or a person, battles back from weight concerns and goes about their life in a successful manner. After all, when Johnson is healthy and in playing shape, he’s a possible pro-bowler and who wouldn’t want that on their team? Good job, JJ, keep it up (and the weight down).

Rookie Fui Vakapuna has been nagged here and there by injuries this summer, but thanks in part to the problems at tight end, he seems safe to make the team. Fui has a good build for the position, carried the ball a decent amount at BYU and has the crazy-man stare that I like and opponents fear. He appears as a man who enjoys rough contact—with or without a helmet—and probably goes around hitting Coke machines throughout the winter and spring just to get his fix.

That leaves Chris Pressley as the most likely candidate of the bunch to wind up on the practice squad or cut altogether. Pressley hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to prove himself and really hasn’t looked bad when he has played, but as the nefarious Jim Lippincot will tell you, it’s a numbers thing and it comes down to ability. Pressley may be a talented blocker and could end up making it in Cincinnati, but from where I’m standing, he’s looks like an odd man out.

Other points of interest tonight include watching to see if Ochocinco is allowed to kick some more and if Rey Maualuga is allowed to crack skulls some more. The world is dying (well, at least I’m dying) to see just how legitimate Chad is as a kicker. The human megaphone and one-man-circus rightfully gained attention from the kicking world for his excellent form and quality results on his kicks. The Bengals have gone out and signed “Yosemite” Sam Swank to fill the kicker role for the next two games, but why not polish up the team’s emergency kicker with a sore Shayne Graham sitting out the remainder of the preseason? These games don’t count; let’s have some fun out there, dammit.

It was most refreshing to hear the defensive coaches unanimously agree that by Week 1, Maualuga should start “for the betterment of the team.” Their knock on him is that he plays wild and crazy, but after seeing a similar chaos exuded from Odell Thurman during his tremendous rookie season, and the positive results that came from it, the Bengals need someone who is reckless and dangerous out there. Current starter Rashad Jeanty is slower and a lot less scary then Rey and has no real value to start over Maualuga.

The world thought I was a crazy, and probably still does, but I stand by my opinion that I would have taken Rey first overall. Elite players only come by once in a great while; it’s vital to an organization to snatch one up when they see him.

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One Response to “Preseason Week 3 Preview”

  1. The world thought I was a crazy, and probably still does, but I stand by my opinion that I would have taken Rey first overall. Elite players only come by once in a great while; it’s vital to an organization to snatch one up when they see him.

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