When Zac Taylor accepted the job as the Cincinnati Bengals first new head coach in sixteen seasons, you have to think he didn’t see this coming. As a member of the Sean McVay coaching tree, Taylor is expected to oversee a high-powered offense. Injuries to his star receiver and first-round offensive tackle may have slowed that installation process. Taylor and his coaching staff now have tough decisions to make at several positions. Here’s a look at the Bengals offensive depth chart after a spate of injuries and one week of preseason football.
Quarterback: Andy Dalton
This remains the Red Rifle’s Bengals for at least 2019. It’s also an audition of sorts in his first year under Taylor’s tutelage. Dalton’s contract runs through 2020, but the Bengals can move on from him at any point with no cap penalty. If he puts up big numbers this season, Taylor might decide to go all-in with the veteran rather than start over with a rookie or the thing that team owner Mike Brown hates most: an unfamiliar face.
Dalton offers a calming veteran presence during a time of great change to the team in both system and personnel. Fourth-round rookie Ryan Finley is the only legitimate threat to Dalton and given his early struggles, don’t expect any real competition this year.
Running back: Joe Mixon
Perhaps it was the ghost of Todd Gurley’s knee that spooked Taylor. Whatever the reason, don’t be fooled by the Bengals drafting a pair of running backs in this year’s draft. Joe Mixon is the unquestionable workhorse and RB1 of this group. It sounds like Giovanni Bernard will be utilized as a pass-catcher and rookie Trayveon Williams is getting a lot of action in camp with Mixon and Bernard both missing some practices last week. No debate here.
Wide Receiver: John Ross, Josh Malone, Tyler Boyd
This is a big question mark because of A.J. Green’s injury and John Ross’ injury history. Green is expected to miss some early games with ligament damage in his ankle. Ross is slated for a starting role, but he hasn’t practiced at all this training camp due to a lingering hamstring injury. You get the feeling that injuries and performance will eventually knock him down the depth chart. Look for Cody Core to step in as next man up.
On the opposite side, third-year player Josh Malone has a golden opportunity to prove he’s more than just a deep threat. Boyd has a lock on the slot, but he could move outside in a pinch with Alex Erickson filling in at slot. He could end up a Cooper Kupp-lite in this offense. The well is not very deep for the Bengals here and Taylor has some tough decisions to make with this group.
Tight End: C.J. Uzomah
Expect this position to remain very fluid, dependent on the game plan, Tyler Eifert’s health, and rookie Drew Sample’s development. C.J. Uzomah is the best combination of blocker and receiver the Bengals currently have, giving him the starting nod. Eifert is expected to act as the “F” tight end, lining up outside to avoid additional wear and tear that comes with being an inline blocker. The team invested a second-round pick in Sample, and he should see the field a lot in two-tight end sets.
OT: Cordy Glenn, Bobby Hart, OG: John Miller, John Jerry, C: Billy Price
This is a mess. The team drafted offensive tackle Jonah Williams with the 13th overall selection in this year’s draft with visions of a rebuilt offensive line. It was a move of necessity as the offensive line finished 2018 ranked 27th by Pro Football Focus. The plan included moving Cordy Glenn to left guard, but when Williams tore his ACL in OTA’s, the entire thing was scrapped. Since then, incumbent left guard Clint Boling retired, and the Bengals has spent a lot of time trying to piece this thing back together.
Glenn is back at left tackle, and Bobby Hart returns at right tackle. Street free agent John Jerry drew the start at left guard in week one of the preseason and looks to have the edge there over Christian Westerman and rookie Michael Jordan. He’s an eight-year veteran but was out of football last year. The bottom line is that this is a hodge-podge line thrown together at the start of training camp, so don’t expect much if any improvement from last year’s ranking.
What’s in store for 2019?
The only certain thing for the Bengals this season is that the depth chart is not certain. Who steps up at wide receiver to start opposite Green when he returns? How many games will Eifert miss due to injury? How will all the carries be split between the running backs? These questions will continue throughout the season as Taylor attempts to put his stamp on a malleable team very much in a state of flux.
Travis Yates is a writer for PFN covering the Cincinnati Bengals. He is also a co-host of the AFC North & Goal Podcast, along with the Fantasy Fixers Podcast, on the PFN Podcast Network. You can follow him @TheTravisYates on Twitter.