CINCINNATI -- In no particular order, here are five Cincinnati Bengals you'll want to pay attention to on the defensive side of the ball during Thursday night's preseason opener at the Kansas City Chiefs:
1. DT Brandon Thompson. A third-year player from Clemson, Thompson enters the Bengals' preseason opener as a starter at defensive tackle with Pro Bowler Geno Atkins continuing his slow return from ACL surgery last November. Although Atkins has been cleared medically to practice, he hasn't participated yet in any 11-on-11 drills and hasn't been part of any contact since his official return last week. Atkins won't play against the Chiefs, but Thompson will. The former backup ought to get his share of action in Thursday's game, too, likely playing deep into the game. Larry Black and LaKendrick Ross are among the players who could cycle in and replace him in the Bengals' base defense late, but don't be surprised if Thompson lasts into the second quarter.
2. CB Darqueze Dennard. Of course you have to keep your eyes on the Bengals' first-round draft pick, right? With veterans Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Adam Jones likely to see very limited playing time, Cincinnati probably will be turning to Dennard early and often. The rookie could get in as early as the late first quarter. You may want to pay attention to Hall's few reps, too. This will be his first live, game-speed action since last October when he tore an Achilles. With the Bengals likely using a vanilla game plan on both sides of the ball, expect Dennard to be tasked with doing what he does best: attempt to shut down receivers with his patented man-press coverage. Dennard's man coverage skills made him a first-rounder. Since the Bengals have been running more man-cover defense in training camp, coaches have remarked about how much looser and better Dennard has played.
3. CB R.J. Stanford. Not expected to get quite the same early playing time as Dennard, Stanford still should see a large share of action when he dresses Thursday night. A fifth-year corner noted for his special-teams skills and versatility, Stanford has been a bit of a surprise addition in Bengals camp this year. The veteran has gotten his share of reps covering some of the team's best receivers, and he's handled his own. If Cincinnati's cornerbacks were ranked by how well they have performed in camp, Stanford could be among the top 3-4. Stanford's veteran coaching skills have been noteworthy. Since an afternoon when he surprised receiver Cobi Hamilton with a deflection on what had looked like a surefire first-down catch, Hamilton has performed better. Stanford was among those who gave the wideout a quick tutorial after the pass breakup. Before that, Hamilton had been going through a rough camp, dropping most everything that came his way. He's been much more impressive since.
4. LB Marquis Flowers. An outside linebacker who played safety in college, Flowers might be best compared to fellow Bengals linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. They play the same position and will be asked to fulfill many of the same roles. When it comes to playing style, though, Flowers might be best compared to Bengals weakside linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Both talk a lot of trash Both can hit hard. Both are former Pac-12 defensive players who feel they have a lot to prove. While tackling might be a concern for some defenders who haven't done much of it in camp, there are no worries with Flowers. His very first play of preseason practices was a hard forearm shiver that leveled Hamilton in a non-contact 7-on-7 drill. They know he can hit. Keep an eye on his playing time. He figures to be on the field often in place of Lamur, whose playing time might be monitored somewhat closely these next four weeks. Lamur suffered a serious shoulder injury in the preseason finale last season.
5. LB Jayson DiManche. Back in a fight for a roster spot this year, DiManche is among the Bengals defenders who will want to perform well in these next four games. He made the team last year and was a valued addition to its specia- teams units, but the depth at his position keeps him in a true battle. Another linebacker in a fight for a job is local product J.K. Schaffer. The second-year player hasn't had the best luck so far. For more than a week he's been under concussion protocol, forcing him to miss valuable practice time. Like Flowers, DiManche ought to be on the field often. He'll primarily be playing the strongside linebacker position in relief.