Examining the Cincinnati Bengals' roster:
The Bengals were content with having just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster last season, and might do the same this season. Rookie AJ McCarron would be the odd man out, possibly getting placed on an injury list that would allow him to be part of the overall roster, but not count against the 53-man roster. He hasn't practiced all training camp as part of the active non-football injury list, and it doesn't seem like he's going to be doing so anytime soon. McCarron isn't sure what the plan for using him is, but it seems a likely course of action so Cincinnati can keep another position player. Fellow backups Matt Scott and Tyler Wilson are not likely to make the 53-man roster.
RUNNING BACKS (5)
This grouping includes Hewitt at H-back, meaning the Bengals are more likely to take four halfbacks. Neither Burkhead, Peerman nor Hewitt is a lock right now to make the team, but there are compelling reasons for each being part of the 53-man roster. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and James Wilder Jr. also have real chances to be part of the full roster. Green-Ellis in recent days has gotten more opportunities, and even ended up as the No. 2 back on the Bengals' depth chart that was released Saturday. Still, I'm not sure right now if he remains in that spot through the end of the preseason. As for Hewitt, I included him over Orson Charles here because he has seemed to impress more throughout camp, and seems more versatile. Charles didn't even play in last Thursday's preseason game. Hewitt, an undrafted free agent, has been strong in blitz pickup and has opened his share of holes in short-yardage work during the last week or so of practices. He has also been thrown to regularly as a tight end with Jermaine Gresham and Kevin Brock both injured. Nikita Whitlock also is competing for a fullback job.
The top three on this list are locks to make the team. The true battle during training camp will be for the other three spots. If this group holds, that means Jasper Collins, former Bengals practice squad player Cobi Hamilton and undrafted rookie Colin Lockett won't make the team. Tate, who was left off earlier roster projections, has been impressive catching passes in practices, and has been listed as the starting kick and punt returner on the team's depth charts. Odds he sticks around for another season are increasing exponentially with each workout. Of the possible cuts listed here, Hamilton's size (6-foot-2) and leaping ability make him a possible pick to make the team, but performance would be a reason for cutting him. He hasn't been as consistent overall as the others, although it should be noted that his past week or two of camp has been filled with a number of nice grabs. Wright's special-teams background and his consistently strong showing in training camp make him a very real possibility to make the team, too.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
Gresham is entering a contract year, and expectations have never been higher for him. To meet them, he will have to first overcome a back injury that has prevented him from practicing so far. Along with Gresham, Eifert and Smith should be part of the main roster. Brock also is competing for a spot at the position.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
It's common for most teams to have nine or 10 linemen, and if the Bengals do injury-list McCarron, it seems likely Cincinnati would keep 10 linemen this season, instead of the nine I previously had been predicting. This group seems to provide the versatility coaches are seeking. Of the undrafted free-agent linemen the Bengals signed this year, Hopkins -- a versatile guard who was used in a variety of ways this spring -- has the best shot to make the team. Coaches have been very high on his play. Along with Thursday's preseason opener at Kansas City, he has spent his share of practices getting first-team reps at left guard in place of Boling and Pollak, who have been slowly recovering from knee injuries.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
The only player on this list who wasn't on last year's 53-man roster is Will Clarke. The rookie was drafted in the third round in May. He effectively takes the roster spot of Michael Johnson, who signed with Tampa Bay in the offseason. This might be the most set group on the team. Another name to watch, though, is 360-pound LaKendrick Ross. The defensive tackle was added nearly two weeks ago and could give the Bengals an added run-stopping presence in certain situations. He hasn't played much football, though, so coaches have a tall task teaching him schemes and concepts, and reaffirming fundamentals.
Like the receivers, the top spots at linebacker are pretty much squared away. In this case, it's almost a lock that Burfict, Lamur, Rey and Maualuga will make the team. The two remaining linebackers will be part of one of the better position battles on the team. DiManche has the best chance of the remaining linebackers to make the team. Flowers could be in a scenario similar to McCarron, Wilder, Lockett and Hopkins in that he has tools the Bengals don't want to risk losing by placing him on the practice squad where he could be poached away. But with Lamur ahead of him, Flowers could be a good "redshirt" candidate. There is no need to rush him into his cover linebacker duties unless he really is ready to contribute. Like McCarron, I can't see the Bengals cutting Flowers. J.K. Schaffer was snubbed on this list at middle linebacker. Because of time spent under concussion protocol, he has missed a lot of time to prove his value this camp.
The top four positions are effectively locked down. Kirkpatrick runs the risk of being cut for performance reasons, but it's unlikely because the Bengals would take a $1.2 million cap hit if they let go of the former first-round pick. Victor Hampton had previously been the sixth cornerback on this list, but the past two weeks I removed a sixth corner altogether in favor of adding a sixth receiver to balance the roster. If I had picked a sixth cornerback this week I would have gone with R.J. Stanford.
This might end up being one of the tougher cuts Bengals coaches have if they end up keeping just four safeties. Taylor Mays has performed better defensively this camp than Manning, but the elder Manning has a measure of versatility as a special teamer and a locker room presence that for now trumps Mays' play.
These guys aren't going anywhere. The punter, kicker and long snapper will make the team.