CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals will begin the third phase of their offseason program Tuesday, holding their first practices since the 2016 season concluded.
How does the team look now after months of reshaping the roster?
Here's some of the biggest storylines expected to play out through the summer:
Which injured Bengals are back on the field?
The Bengals limped to the finish in 2016, missing A.J. Green (hamstring), Tyler Eifert (back), Giovani Bernard (ACL), Vontaze Burfict, (concussion), Clint Boling (shoulder) and Jeremy Hill (knee). They also never saw rookies William Jackson III (pectoral) or Andrew Billings (knee) play. This will be the first time most of these players are back on the field since last season. Out of the group, Eifert and Bernard are the biggest question marks. Eifert, who missed the offseason last year, said he expected to be ready for training camp after having offseason back surgery. It will be notable to see how much he and Bernard participate this week.
How do the Bengals use their running backs?
Bernard tore his ACL in November, so Tuesday will be the first time he'll be back on a practice field in some capacity since the injury. The running back group looks different after Rex Burkhead left for the Patriots and Joe Mixon was drafted. Hill will go into OTAs as the presumed workhorse, but the Bengals could use Mixon in a variety of ways. If Bernard isn't ready to go for a while, Mixon could quickly see some snaps with the first team. Mixon was used as a pass-catcher in college, so expect him to be utilized that way in the NFL as well.
What does the offensive line look like?
With Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler now with other teams, the Bengals will have to break in several new offensive linemen. They won't be totally flying blind. The Bengals are familiar with their entire offensive line. Longtime Bengals tackle Andre Smith is back after a season with the Vikings and will try playing guard for the first time. Cedric Ogbuehi will be moved from right tackle to left tackle, taking Whitworth's old spot. Jake Fisher will take over at right tackle, a spot the team struggled to fill last year. Andy Dalton was sacked 41 times last year, so one of the main priorities will be fixing an O-line that struggled last season. Ogbuehi, the Benglals' 2016 first-round pick, started 2016 at right tackle but wasn't ready to be a full-time starter at that point and was eventually benched. Fisher, a 2015 second-round pick, has also been a backup up to this point. This will be a big year for both.
Who plays slot cornerback?
The Bengals signed former Panthers cornerback Bene Benwikere in the offseason, presumably with the intention of making him their nickel cornerback. But it's a crowded position group these days. Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick are the presumed outside starting cornerbacks. That leaves everyone else to battle for one spot. The biggest name to watch is 2016 first-round cornerback William Jackson III, who spent all of last season on injured reserve. But there's also Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw and KeiVarae Russell. The primary nickel cornerback spot likely won't get settled until training camp, but it should be a fun battle to watch.
Who returns kicks?
Alex Erickson, a 2016 undrafted rookie free agent, unseated long-time kick returner Brandon Tate last season to make the roster as the sixth wide receiver. Erickson impressed as a kick returner last year and showed a lot of potential, but he has his work cut out to make the team again in 2017. Mixon and fellow rookie John Ross could both push Erickson as the main kick returner, although Ross won't be doing that for a while. Ross has school obligations until mid-June and is still recovering from offseason surgery, so he likely won't be doing anything on the field until training camp. Erickson will enter OTAs as the primary kick returner, but there will be some competition this year.