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    Cincinnati Bengals 53-Man Roster Projection: Key Battles Loom on Defense, Special Teams

    The NFL's new kickoff rule could alter how the Cincinnati Bengals build their roster, and an undrafted rookie free agency could be the beneficiary.

    CINCINNATI – The Cincinnati Bengals nearly split their 2024 rookie class right down the middle between offensive and defensive players.

    Of the team’s 10 draft picks, five play offense, and five play defense.

    And of their 14 undrafted free agent signings, seven play offense, six play defense, and one is a punter.

    Cincinnati Bengals 53-Man Roster Projection | Defense, Special Teams

    Earlier, we looked at the projected 53-man roster from the offensive standpoint.

    Let’s turn the focus to the defense and special teams, as training camp is less than two weeks away.

    Edge Rushers (5)

    Starters: Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard

    Backups: Myles Murphy, Joseph Ossai, Cam Sample

    Others: Jeff Gunter, Cedric Johnson, Justin Blazek

    The Bengals will get a better idea of what sixth-round pick Cedric Johnson can do when the pads go on, but at the moment, the only real question seems to be how many of the “others” the team will put on the practice squad, and which ones are they?

    MORE: Joseph Ossai Expecting Big Things for Himself, Bengals’ Defense in 2024

    Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has been as complimentary of Cam Sample as any backup on the defense, so it would take a heck of a camp for Johnson to beat him out for the final spot.

    Defensive Tackles (5)

    Starters: Sheldon Rankins, B.J. Hill

    Backups: Kris Jenkins, McKinnley Jackson, Jay Tufele

    Others: Zach Carter, Travis Bell, Domenique Davis, Devonnsha Maxwell

    Barring injury, the first four should be locks.

    But the fifth spot is wide open. Jay Tufele gets the nod at the moment, given his experience and the fact that Zach Carter, a third-round pick in 2022, hasn’t developed the way the team had hoped.

    But the Bengals claimed Travis Bell late last season for a reason, and Domenique Davis has flashed when given opportunities in the preseason.

    Linebackers (6)

    Starters: Logan Wilson, Germaine Pratt

    Backups: Akeem Davis-Gaither, Joe Bachie, Devin Harper, Aaron Casey

    Others: Shaka Heyward, Maema Njongmeta

    Another position group where the top four are solid and beyond that is anything but.

    The Bengals claimed Devin Harper off waivers in September, and he appeared in six games. Aaron Casey, the undrafted rookie from Indiana, might be UDFA with the best odds of making the roster this year.

    The team hasn’t kept six linebackers since 2020, but with the new kickoff rule, it would make sense to keep an extra bigger, athletic body that can tackle well.

    Cornerbacks (6)

    Starters: Cam Taylor-Britt, Mike Hilton, Dax Hill

    Backups: DJ Turner II, Josh Newton, Jalen Davis

    Others: DJ Ivey II, Allan George, Lance Robinson

    Anarumo has been impressed with Dax Hill’s adjustment from safety to cornerback this offseason, and he went from running with the second team in OTAs to playing the starters in minicamp.

    You can’t read too much into those types of things in the offseason, but at the same time, they’re not inconsequential.

    A ripple effect in that position battle could cost Jalen Davis a spot if DJ Turner II wins the battle because Hill would slide into the backup nickel spot behind Mike Hilton.

    DJ Ivey II tore his ACL in December and could be headed for a stint on the Physically Unable to Perform list. If he’s healthy enough to practice in camp, he’ll face a stiff challenge from fifth-round pick Josh Newton.

    Safeties (4)

    Starters: Geno Stone, Vonn Bell

    Backups: Jordan Battle, Tycen Anderson

    Others: Daijahn Anthony, PJ Jules, Michael Dowell

    Jordan Battle played well enough as a rookie to continue as a starter, but the addition of Geno Stone and Vonn Bell in free agency makes for a crowded room.

    It will be interesting to see how many three-safety sets defensive Anarumo uses to get on the field. It also will be interesting to see how long Bell can hold off Battle as the starter.

    Bell returns as the savvy vet who is fluent in Anarumo’s scheme, but Battle showed a lot of promise last season and is six years younger.

    Tycen Anderson is returning from an ACL and looks to be ready for camp. His value on special teams is so great that he will be the fourth safety whenever he’s cleared to practice.

    Specialists (3)

    Kicker: Evan McPherson

    Holder: Cal Adomitis

    Punter: Brad Robbins

    The Bengals signed Texas Tech’s Austin McNamara to compete with Brad Robbins for the job.

    Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons isn’t giving up on Robbins, but he’s been open about the 2023 sixth-round pick needing to be much better than he was as a rookie.

    KEEP READING: ‘I Thrive in Competition’ – Brad Robbins Welcomes Bengals Bringing in UDFA Punter

    McNamara could be the push Robbins needs. Or he could be the shove that sends Robbins out the door.

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