November 23, 2014

Who Makes The Cut? CB Edition

Because he gets burnt every now and then, we sometimes forget that Leon Hall is a good corner. We got a good reminder of how good he is in the back half of the season when he tore his Achilles tendon. Nate Clements did an admirable job at trying to maintain the level, but the performance around him lagged, illustrating the need to address the position in the offseason.

Safeties
Starter On The Roster Camp Battle Long Shot
Leon Hall
Dre Kirkpatrick
Jason Allen
Adam Jones
Nate Clements
Terence Newman
Shaun Prater
Brandon Ghee
Reuben Haley

Well, they certainly did bring in a number of options to try to find an answer. Now the coaches face a significant task in sorting through nine puzzle pieces to assemble one good answer at the toughest position on defense.

Starter: Leon Hall

An Achilles injury comes with a long and difficult rehab schedule, so part of me says that it is nuts to list Hall as a starter when it is possible that he could start the season on PUP. But he claims that he is ahead of schedule in his recovery. We will learn more about that in the next couple of months. If he is indeed ready to go at the start of the season, the job will undoubtedly be his.

If he is not ready at the start of the season, the good news is that only one game — the season opener in Baltimore — is against an opponent with an established passing game. The other five games feature a string of less-than-intimidating QBs: Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden in Week 2 and Week 6, Miami’s Matt Moore in Week 5 (or will it be Ryan Tannehill by then?), and Washington’s gifted-but-inexperienced Robert Griffin. (I’m glad the Bengals get him early while he is still adjusting to the speed of the pro game.) The Bengals will need Hall on the field by Week 7, when the opposing QBs get a lot tougher.

Starter: Dre Kirkpatrick

Dre said the right thing at the draft that he was not coming in expecting to take anyone job and he just wanted to learn from so many talented corners. I like that. But there are two simple facts to consider here, that 1) the kid is pretty darn good, and 2) his competition is getting old. Advantage: Dre.

Backup: Jason Allen

Allen was a victim of numbers at a loaded position group in Houston. He is not a bad corner, but Houston had little reason to offer him much to stay. And like we have seen with others, he may have picked Cincinnati seeking a bit of a spark from playing under Mike Zimmer. I envision him battling with Adam Jones to play the nickel spot.

Backup: Adam Jones

Injuries have really hampered Jones’ time with the Bengals, who has never shown the spark here (on the field, I mean) that he had in Tennessee. If he can manage to stay healthy in 2012, I look forward to watching him try to hold on to his spot as the nickel guy, because better play out of the nickel will raise the level of the entire backfield.

Camp Battler: Nate Clements

There has been plenty of speculation that Clements could become a cap casualty because of his high salary compared to the rest of the group. I cannot see where salary will have any bearing on Clements’ job. The team has plenty of cap space for this year, and he is a free agent at the end of this season. He will only miss the team if he is not one of the best six CBs on the practice field. Knowing that this could be his last shot to be a regular contributor, he should give us one more good season as he showcases himself in a bid to find employment in 2013.

Camp Battler: Terence Newman

Newman was clearly drawn to Cincinnati in search of a revitalization of his career through a reunion with Mike Zimmer. Will it work? Going into his 10th season, age is working against him, but he is not out of the running by any means. Zimmer knows his strengths well and will play to those strengths. I wish him well, because solid contributions from him, Allen, Clements and Jones will make this group saavy and experienced.

Camp Battler: Shaun Prater

Prater will be given every chance to make the squad because the Bengals need some youth at the position, but he won’t see much of the field in his rookie season as he refines his technique and adds some meat to his frame. But there is a lot to like about the kid, and spend a year learning from five first round picks will yield benefits later.

Camp Battler: Brandon Ghee

I am not counting him out yet, but the hill is getting steeper for Ghee every year as he continues to struggle to find his way onto the field. Now surrounded by so many talented-though-aging guys, he will have to show something in his game that the coaches have been waiting on for two years now. But the odds are better that he becomes a victim of numbers. If the Bengals try to sneak him onto the practice squad, he could get signed away by a team with a spare slot in need of depth.

Long Shot: Reuben Haley

With the improvement in recent years by the University of Cincinnati football program, the Bengals have been showing a willingness to give players from the local team a shot. Haley joins former teammates Armon Binns, Tony Pike and Vidal Hazelton as UC products getting a look from the Bengals. He faces the hardest fight of the four, though none have it easy.

With these guys to sort through, the Bengals have a good mix of age and experience vs youth and upside. By no means am I willing to call this position group “fixed”, but I would say that they look like they should be improved. That, playing behind an even stronger defensive line, will hopefully be enough to hold up against a tough schedule.