Lewis: Charles in 'dogfight' for H-back

CINCINNATI -- From the tone of his responses to questions about the players competing at his hybrid H-back/fullback/tight end position, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis sounds sold on rookie Ryan Hewitt.

He sounds less excited about third-year veteran Orson Charles.

"He's in a dogfight with these other guys who have come on, and that's what you want for your football team," Lewis said, referring to the position's competition.

That was virtually the extent of his thoughts on Charles during a Wednesday afternoon news conference. Prior to those comments, Lewis spoke at length about the versatility Hewitt brings to the blocking-based position. Lewis also hinted at how Hewitt could be the team's future at the position.

"It's just not been too big for him," Lewis said. "As he grows and [if] he's fortunate enough to stay around here, I think by next year we'll have a real, real, real big, physical man. He's going to be a big person."

The Bengals are like a lot of teams that have started utilizing tight ends like fullbacks, calling on them to provide additional blocking options in running situations, and having them step up from the backfield to block in occasional pass-protection schemes. It seems that the days of the traditional NFL fullback are going by the wayside.

Just think back to last preseason when the Bengals had the option of keeping true fullback John Conner or holding on to Charles, who was being converted into the H-back after having spent his career to that point as a tight end. The Bengals felt Charles gave them more versatility as a special-teams fit, and they liked his upside as a younger player.

He barely got used offensively last season, though. Charles appeared in 13 games, mostly playing special teams. He saw just 62 snaps on offense, with more than half of those coming in Week 17 when he was filling in for tight ends Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham, who were out with injuries, and backup Alex Smith, who dislocated a wrist during the game. Charles' only catch of the season came in that regular-season finale.

The hope is that Hewitt will be involved more. He caught two passes in last Thursday's preseason opener, and he was on the field for 28 offensive plays, according to the NFL's Game and Statistics Information System. Charles wasn't out there for a single one.

When you take into account how highly the Bengals seem to regard the H-back's role, it appears strange that Charles wouldn't get used at all. It also appears like a clear sign that Charles' days in Cincinnati may be numbered.

"It's a position that I really hold valuable to our offensive football team because I think you have to have a guy that can do that," offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said about the H-back.

He acknowledged that the position didn't work as well as he would have hoped last season.

"Nothing against Orson, but at the end of the day, it's competition and the best people win. That's just the way it goes," Jackson said. "Orson still has some chances here and we're going to see if he can continue to improve. But at the end of the day, as you know, there's only so many spots on the football team. So you've got to make sure when your number's called that you make the most of it."

That's an endorsement for Charles -- for now -- but not exactly a ringing one.

As it did last season, Cincinnati likely will keep only one hybrid H-back/fullback/tight end-type of player. Don't be surprised if the undrafted rookie free agent Hewitt is it.