The Preseason doesn’t matter. That’s the lie NFL fans have been perpetuating for years, simply because the games don’t count toward the playoff race. The truth is – the preseason (especially the Bengals preseason) is so important to developing players, players trying to earn a role on the team, and players trying to make the roster at all. For some, preseason is everything.
For a team as young and under-developed as the Bengals, preseason offers the perfect opportunity to put players in high-pressure situations. Through those high-pressure situations, they should be able to figure out the best 53 players before the season starts. This is how depth is developed, and the Bengals desperately need to find better depth than they had last year.
Each week, the players battling for roles and positions are going to see plenty of ups and downs. Week 1 was absolutely no exceptions. We should be careful not to read too much into what happens in the first preseason game, but there were some clear winners and losers this week.
RB Chris Evans
It wasn’t a perfect night from the Bengals sixth round running back. But, Evans looked like a solid, reliable running back who won’t go down easy. That’s exactly what the Bengals are looking for in a Giovani Bernard replacement. Right now Evans looks like the clear favorite to win the backup job behind Joe Mixon.
He also flashed as a pass catcher, catching four passes for 33 yards. It helped that Samaje Perine lost a fumble in the Red Zone. Jacques Patrick finished with solid numbers, but Evans was much more consistent on the night. Ultimately, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Evans looks like the clear leader for the No. 2 RB spot after a solid night.
OG Jackson Carman
Carman’s night didn’t start on the best note, getting absolutely shredded on an early bull rush. To avoid a major problem, he had to resort to basically tackling his opponent leading to an obvious holding penalty. Bengals fans collectively sighed around the world after that play seemed to highlight all the negative things we’ve been hearing about him from camp.
However, in Carman’s defense, he bounced back after that play. He adjusted throughout the rest of his night and inspired a much needed dose of confidence. The Bengals saw generally poor interior OL play in this game, so some flashes from Carman were very much welcome.
EDGE Joseph Ossai
If there is one thing Bengals fans can agree on, it’s that Joseph Ossai looked great in his first NFL action. At one point, it seemed like he was involved in virtually every pressure, sack, and TFL the Bengals produced.
As a third round pick, it’s unlikely Ossai is fighting to make the roster. However, Bengals fans are still desperate to see any life from the pass rush. The way he was beating up on former first round pick Tristan Wirfs, it seems they’re getting what they want.
Unfortunately, Ossai left the game early with a wrist injury. As of the writing of this piece, the severity of the injury was unclear. There is no reason to assume the worst, as you’d likely pull him for even a minor injury in the preseason. However, it’s never fun to see someone with that much potential go down.
K Evan McPherson
The starting kicker job appears to be McPherson’s to lose. A solid training camp saw him slightly out-perform Austin Seibert, and he hasn’t flinched since. In a game where field goal opportunities were not hard to come by, McPherson nailed both of his opportunities. In fact, both field goals were perfectly down the middle and looked like they could have been good from 50+.
Credit where credit is due, Seibert looked very good on the day as well. In fact, he outscored McPherson because he kicked the lone extra-point of the night. If McPherson continues to do well and wins the job, it certainly won’t be for lack of competition. But, right now, he looks unstoppable.
WR Trenton Irwin
Irwin looked like a man on a mission to earn that final roster spot in the wide receiver room. He seemed virtually unguardable against the Buccaneers’ third stringers and finished the night with more receiving yards than anyone else on the team. For that matter, only one player on the Buccaneers recorded more receiving yards on the night and that was on nearly twice the number of targets.
Irwin flashed the ability to quickly get in sync with QB Kyle Schurmur, who otherwise struggled on the night. Imagine what he can do if Joe Burrow is throwing him the ball.
OG Gunnar Vogel
If there was one player who looked absolutely out of place in this game, it was Gunnar Vogel. Perhaps going up against Joe Tryon was a bit of a mismatch, but it seemed like it didn’t matter who he was lined up against. 62 was consistently letting rushers through like a subway turnstile.
He was already unlikely to make the roster, but with all the uncertainty at right guard this was his chance to at least put some positive film out there for future teams. That’s not what happened. You know it’s bad when half of Bengals Twitter is making the same joke about you reminding them of Bobby Hart all night.
RB Samaje Perine
There’s not a lot of wiggle room in the competition for roster spots right now. I mentioned earlier how Chris Evans looks like the clear favorite for the No. 2 RB spot. However, Perine didn’t even look worthy of the No. 3 spot against the Buccaneers.
It’s unfortunate because he has flashed in the past, and many expected him to potentially win the backup job this year. But, after only managing five yards on thee carries and losing a fumble in the Red Zone, it doesn’t look good for him. It didn’t help that Chris Evans played well and Jacques Patrick recorded a few flashy plays. Right now, it looks like Perine could be on the outside of the depth chart looking in.
WR Mike Thomas
The Bengal’s WR corps is loaded right now. With Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and possibly Auden Tate seeming like locks for the roster right now, there are only 2-3 roster sports up for grabs. If Mike Thomas wants one of those spots, he can’t be involved in as many sloppy plays as he was in this game.
Granted, when he held on to the ball, he looked pretty good. Gaining 32 yards on two receptions certainly isn’t anything to sneeze at. But, he had a fumble and contributed to an interception on back to back drives in the second quarter. The Bengals remained scoreless until the waning seconds of the first half because of it.
Granted, he put up a 22-yard reception on the drive that did eventually lead to the Bengals’ first points of the game. But, at that point, you’ve already left a sour taste in the mouths of everyone watching. He might have gotten away with it had Irwin not come alive at the end of the game, but he did. Another game like that and Thomas’s position on this team could be in jeopardy.