CINCINNATI -- By this time next week, the Cincinnati Bengals will have their entire roster set for the start of this new season.
The 53-man roster will be in place. The players on the various injury lists will presumably be squared away. And the 10-man practice squad will be completely set, too.
With origins that date back to Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown's "taxi squad" in Cleveland, the NFL practice squad has been a useful tool for teams' development for years. So, how does the team Brown founded in Southwest Ohio currently view the practice squad?
"It's [threefold]," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "The first being is, can a guy make good on an opportunity to play if we have an injury at that spot? Secondly, it's the developmental part of a young player. Lastly, the depth of the football team."
The now 10 men on the practice squad -- previous to last season it had been eight; new rules permit two additional players with no more than two accrued seasons in the NFL to be eligible, too -- are used for scout-team purposes. They help to give the starting offense and defense a glimpse at what those units will face in each game.
"It's fun for them and they have fun doing it," Lewis said of the scout-team work. "We can talk to them within our concepts and they understand what responsibilities they have and how we're coaching to emulate the opponent."
The practice squad also gives certain young players who just didn't quite fit on the 53-man roster a place to try to grow, while maintaining a connection to the team even if another one can snatch them away at any time.
By the end of this week, Lewis and his staff will have to determine which of their current players meet some of the aforementioned criteria. Last season, undrafted rookies James Wilder Jr. and Dan France were part of the practice squad along with veterans such as defensive linemen Sam Montgomery and Devon Still.
As a result of the rules change last year permitting veterans with two years of accrued experience to be on the squad, the Bengals had somewhere to put Still just after preseason cuts. His practice squad stay wasn't for long. After taking a week to refocus while dealing with his then-4-year-old daughter's bout with Stage 4 pediatric cancer, Still returned to the main roster.
But he was a unique case. Typically, the Bengals use the practice squad for developmental purposes.
"You try to look at all three areas to make sure you're covered," Lewis said. "A guy that can ascend, a guy that can develop mentally and physically because he has NFL upside, and lastly the overall depth of the football team in order to practice."