Zac Taylor’s first seven months on the job as Cincinnati Bengals head coach have not been kind. He’s weathered the storm of injuries and retirements to put a final 53-man roster together, but it hasn’t been easy. There were plenty of interesting decisions made as the team worked to pare down its roster for the regular season. With a daunting week one matchup in Seattle looming, here are four takeaways from the Bengals 53-man roster moves.
1. The offensive line shakeup
Taylor’s plan for a revamped offensive line was spoiled with the season-ending injury to first-round offensive tackle Jonah Williams in minicamp. Since then, the Bengals have shuffled through linemen trying to piecemeal together a starting lineup. Taylor made two surprising moves in naming Trey Hopkins starting center and fourth-round rookie, Michael Jordan starting left guard. Hopkins gets the nod over 2018 first-round center Billy Price. He’s a battle-tested versatile interior lineman who started 21 games at guard and center over the past two seasons. Price struggled with injuries throughout training camp, allowing Hopkins to pass him on the depth chart.
The Bengals think enough of Jordan that they released veteran guard John Jerry, who opened training camp atop the depth chart at left guard. Jerry was brought back 48 hours later when lineman O’Shea Dugas was placed on injured reserve, but the move is for depth only. The line is still in flux, however, as starting left tackle Cordy Glenn has been in concussion protocol since the second preseason game. Depth remains a major issue for the offensive line. Andre Smith, now in his third stint with the Bengals, will draw the start at LT if Glenn isn’t able to go on opening day.
2. Remaking the Bengals wide receivers
Much like the offensive line, injuries have caused a shakeup with the wide receivers. A.J. Green suffered torn ankle ligaments in the team’s first practice of training camp, forcing Taylor to search for a contingency plan. It came from an unlikely place with undrafted free agent Damion Willis named as Green’s replacement for the first few games of the season. The team also released special teams standout Cody Core and speedster Josh Malone as part of the final cuts. Taylor opted to round out the receiver group with a familiar face, claiming Pharoh Cooper off waivers from the Arizona Cardinals. Cooper and Taylor spent two years together in Los Angeles. The team is still waiting for 2017 first-rounder John Ross to breakout. He has just 21 receptions to his name, all coming last season.
3. Running back roulette
Taylor’s offense is predicated on the running game and play-action to set up the pass. Joe Mixon is primed for a big season after leading the AFC in rushing yards, but there are plenty of questions behind him. Cincinnati invested a pair of sixth-round picks in the running back position with Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson and Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams. They’ll have to wait for the investment to pay off.
Anderson tore his ACL in the final preseason game and is out for the year. The injury came just weeks after he was cleared for practice after an ACL injury suffered last September at Oklahoma. Foot and rib injuries robbed Williams of valuable preseason time, and he may not be ready for the regular season. The Bengals signed Mixon’s former Oklahoma teammate Samaje Perine for depth, but there remains plenty of unknowns after Mixon and pass-catching back Giovani Bernard.
4. Double-digit defensive line depth
In addition to a new offensive scheme, the Bengals will unveil a new defensive scheme under new coordinator Lou Anarumo. The team curiously kept 11 defensive linemen on the 53-man roster, which begs the question: Just what type of scheme will the team employ? The moves support what we projected in a June profile of Anarumo. With six defensive ends, five defensive tackles, and just five linebackers on the roster expect some unique 4-3 fronts from Anarumo’s squad this season.