CINCINNATI -- In no particular order, the following are five Cincinnati Bengals you'll want to pay attention to on the offensive side of the ball during Thursday night's preseason opener at the Kansas City Chiefs.
Be on the lookout Thursday for five defensive players to watch in the Week 1 preseason game.
1. TE/H-back Ryan Hewitt. As you keep reading, you'll see that this week's "Bengals to watch" has a heavy rookie flavor. It will in other weeks of the preseason, too, but don't be surprised to see more veterans' names as we continue throughout the month. That's mainly because in later games, veterans will be fighting for roster spots with the rookies who are simply trying to get noticed in Week 1, proving that they're paying attention to the coaching that has gone on so far. Hewitt very clearly is one of the young players who has been listening to the instructions given him. He's been so sharp since camp opened nearly three weeks ago that he has appeared regularly with the starting units in recent practices. It's worth pointing out that Jermaine Gresham's back injury, which he just returned from Monday, has been part of the reason Hewitt has gotten some of the playing time he has received. Regardless how it's come, though, Hewitt has taken full advantage. Not only has he looked good catching passes alongside Tyler Eifert at tight end, but he's been a proven run blocker as an H-back out of the backfield. In a sense, Hewitt's versatility makes him a candidate for two positions -- a third or fourth tight end spot, and the lone H-back or fullback job. So far, he seems to be showing the pass-catching and run-blocking ability the Bengals wanted to get out of Orson Charles last season when they moved him to H-back.
2. WR James Wright. Those of you who have been following along since May know that I have a hard time masking how highly I think of Wright. Based on what we've seen so far, I still believe Wright edges out Cobi Hamilton for the final receiver spot when the preseason ends. That's not a knock on Hamilton. After a bit of a slow start powered by a slew of early drops, he has come on with a vengeance in the last week or so, catching most everything thrown his way, and even making some spectacular catches look relatively easy. The competition between him and Wright figures to be fierce all camp. Much like Hewitt and Charles, I'd expect to see Wright and Hamilton get their fair share of action Thursday night. The big benefit with Wright is that his action won't only come on offense. He'll also contribute on a variety of punt and kick return and coverage teams.
3. OG Trey Hopkins. Like Hewitt, Hopkins was a post-draft pickup, signed as an undrafted free agent. Since his arrival, Hopkins hasn't much looked like an overlooked first-year player. He and veteran Marshall Newhouse have been among the most-used offensive linemen all throughout this camp. Hopkins has lined up at both tackle and guard during his time in Cincinnati, although of late, he's been primarily helping fill in at left guard for Clint Boling and Mike Pollak, who are returning for serious knee injuries. Expect Hopkins to play fairly extensively against the Chiefs at left guard, and possibly at right guard as he helps relieve Kevin Zeitler. Since it's doubtful that Boling and Pollak will play much, the bulk of Hopkins' snaps probably will come from the left guard position. Hopkins' line versatility and high amount of opportunities make him a strong candidate for the 53-man roster.
4. C Russell Bodine. I hate that I'm beginning to repeat myself on this, but Bodine will have his share of eyes primarily because of his struggles to this point in camp. While he has been praised for solid play overall by coaches and teammates, his new-found penchant for sending shotgun snaps wide of their mark, has caught attention around the organization, too. Bodine has to start delivering more consistent strikes to quarterback Andy Dalton, or the Bengals will be auditioning others to take his place in the starting rotation. Don't be surprised if the rookie's night doesn't end when Dalton's does. He'll probably continue playing a bit longer after Jason Campbell comes into the game.
5. RB Jeremy Hill. Hill is another rookie who has had a decent camp overall but a few glaring issues at times. His problems have involved fumbles; something he didn't do at all in a game during his career. He's had talks with teammate BenJarvus Green-Ellis about the problem and how to correct it. Like Hill, Green-Ellis has prided himself on clean running back play throughout his time playing the sport. He went the first four seasons of his now seven-year career without having a fumble. Also like Hill, Green-Ellis may see his share of action Thursday. He's also in a fight for playing time this season, although his fight arguably has more urgency to it than Hill's. Green-Ellis is trying to avoid getting cut.