Rams at Bengals: Position Battles to Monitor in Preseason Finale – Sports Illustrated

The Bengals host the Rams at Paycor Stadium in the preseason finale on Saturday night. It won’t be much of a Super Bowl rematch as neither teams’ starters are going to play. 
It’s the last chance for players to prove their value that they belong on the final 53-man rosters as well as coaches to take a look at who best benefits their team moving forward.
Last week’s game against the Giants gave a clearer picture as to who is winning position battles within Cincinnati’s squad, but there is still plenty up for grabs before final cuts are made on Aug. 30.
Let’s take a look at what to watch for Saturday night.
Left Guard
Cordell Volson’s stock as starting left guard continues to rise, despite Zac Taylor saying the competition between the rookie and Jackson Carman is still wide open.
“We’re just looking for consistency from those guys occupying that left guard spot,” Taylor said. “When you’ve got a bunch of veterans, you’ve got four veterans on the line, you just want somebody there that’s dependable and coachable.”
Volson played all 67 of the Bengals offensive snaps against the Giants last week. Carman didn't suit up after testing positive for COVID-19, but the fourth-round pick made the most of his opportunity as the positives outweighed the negatives.
He gave up one sack and was called for a false start late in the game, but was able to open up running lanes for the Bengals' backs. He was also solid in pass protection, giving up two pressures according to Pro Football Focus.
"He [Volson] can only get better from where he’s at," Brandon Allen said after the game. "For a rookie in his position, he’s a really good player and I think the good group of guys around him in the O-line room are only going to help him and turn him into a great player." 
The coaching staff made another indication of where the left guard battle stands when Volson took first team reps Wednesday and Thursday in the joint practices with the Rams. Carman was cleared and returned to practice Wednesday, but only saw action with the second team both days.
The punting competition is the tightest battle heading into Saturday night.
Kevin Huber and Drue Chrisman have both shown their strengths; Huber is experienced and is the superior directional punter, meanwhile Chrisman has greater leg strength.
"Right now Drue is a power punter and he's really getting the ball downfield for us. We need to continue to work on the line and accuracy that he takes," Darrin Simmons said. "I think it's a developable skill. Over time that can be developed."
The young punter handled all of the punting duties against the Giants. Chrisman averaged 48.3 yards on three attempts with a long of 56 with one punt inside the 20.
Chrisman getting the nod over Huber at punts last week could mean something or it could simply mean Darrin Simmons wanting to see how Chrisman fared in a game environment with the punter’s lack of experience.
Both punters have been proficient in holding for Evan McPherson throughout training camp and in the preseason games.
Huber and Chrisman returned to normal practice and rotation this week. Expect to see a split of punting duties Saturday night as it will be the last time for Simmons and company to evaluate the position moving forward.
Simmons made it clear that Huber’s history with the team and potential upcoming record-breaking season will have “zero” impact on his final decision.
"I have to do what's best for the team," Simmons said.
Wide Receiver
Trent Taylor had another strong showing in Week 2 of the preseason as he’s rounding out an impressive training camp. Taylor has made his case for as high as the fourth receiver on the roster, although he will more than likely be slotted as the fifth or sixth pass catcher.
In his two preseason games, he has six grabs for 106 yards. The most notable aspect of his performances have been his ability to create space and haul in acrobatic catches.
Stanley Morgan is a lock with Mike Thomas presumably taking the last receiver spot.
Kwamie Lassiter II, Kendric Pryor, and Trenton Irwin are all vying to steal one of those back-end jobs.
Lassiter led Cincinnati in receiving last week. He finished with seven receptions for 91 yards after a quiet debut. The undrafted rookie showed his potential, making multiple catches on the Bengals' lone touchdown drive. He dropped a pass on a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter, but it was a successful night overall.
His versatility puts him a step ahead of Pryor and Irwin. Lassiter has been splitting punt returns with Taylor.
Irwin has been a team favorite since arriving in 2019, but the receiver has yet to make a splash. Irwin has just five catches for 29 yards on 10 targets and no punt returns. He is third on the depth chart for punt returner behind Taylor and Lassiter.
Clay Johnston took a leap for the coveted fifth linebacker position after a career game against the Giants.
Johnston recorded 20 tackles (16 solo) and one sack. He played 66 defensive snaps and 12 special teams snaps. The linebacker was all over the field as he showcased his ability to find the ball and stop the run.
This linebacker role's main responsibilities will be to contribute to special teams. Keandre Jones recovered a fumble on a kickoff return after safety Michael Thomas knocked it loose from Giants returner C.J. Board.
Johnston was not pleased with his special teams play against New York. He knows if he is going to stick with this Bengals team he is going to need to be a special teams ace, especially with Joe Bachie waiting to come back from rehabbing his knee injury.
Jones, Tegray Scales, and Clarence Hicks are all in the mix with Johnston for the final linebacker spot, but Johnston seemingly cemented it with last week’s performance.
Defensive Back
Jessie Bates returned to the team on Tuesday. Bates is currently on the Exempt/Commissioner Permission list after signing his franchise tag tender. This allows the safety to have a roster exemption for up to two weeks.
Although Bates is another body added to the final roster, the plan was always in place for his return. Players and coaches knew it was going to happen, it was just a matter of when.
NFL teams typically keep 10-11 defensive backs on the roster with four of those spots belonging to safeties. Bates, Vonn Bell, and Dax Hill are unquestionably safe as well as Chidobe Awuzie, Eli Apple, Mike Hilton, and Cam Taylor-Britt
Do the Bengals keep four safeties? Or do they go with five safeties in Michael Thomas and Tycen Anderson to go along with Bates, Bell, and Hill? Thomas has made most of his opportunities on special teams, whereas Anderson is a fifth-round rookie with a lot of upside.
Hill and Anderson have the ability to play in a single high setting, in the box, or cover slot corners. Lou Anarumo could use the athleticism of both rookie safeties as versatile depth in the defensive back room.
Tre Flowers, Jalen Davis, Trayvon Henderson, Allan George, Delonte Hood, and Javaris Davis are fighting for the remaining defensive back positions.
Defensive Line
The interior of the defensive line behind DJ Reader and B.J. Hill is likely set with Zach Carter and Josh Tupou. Tyler Shelvin could make a push, but the second-year player’s stock has fallen during training camp and preseason games.
The question that remains is who will be the depth pieces on the edge behind Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard, and Joseph Ossai.
Cam Sample probably snags edge rusher number four, leaving one to two more spots open along the line between Khalid Kareem, Jeff Gunter, Noah Spence, Tariqious Tisdale, and Shelvin.
Kareem had a lot of promise going into training camp, but has missed time due to injury. He didn’t play in the first preseason game and left last week’s game with a hamstring injury. Will his injury shape the final layout in the Bengals defensive trenches?
Long Snapper
Clark Harris has taken the first half snaps in both of the Bengals' preseason games. Cal Adomitis handled the second half duties last week. Harris continues to show his consistency at the position should win the job.
The Bengals play the Rams on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET. All rosters must be cut down from 80 to 53 at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday.
Make sure you bookmark All Bengals for the latest news, exclusive interviews, film breakdowns and so much more!
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