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Top Cincinnati Bengals Positional Battles to Watch This Preseason

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | After back-to-back playoff appearances and a stellar performance in the 2013 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals have one of the younger, more talented rosters in the NFL as we head into the preseason.

This means the Bengals are going to have some of the best positional battles in the NFL to watch.

Let's take a look at five battles that could turn out to be the most heated.

1. Safety

The Bengals went into the draft knowing something had to be done with the strong safety spot opposite Reggie Nelson. Head coach Marvin Lewis and Co. elected to address the area of need by bringing on Georgia safety Shawn Williams with the No. 84 overall pick.

According to Joe Reedy of the The Cincinnati Enquirer, Williams looks like a lock to start at strong safety. Williams will have to do battle with the ultra-athletic Taylor Mays and the special-teams phenomena known as Jeromy Miles, so keep an eye on this one.

2. Running Back

North Carolina's Giovani Bernard was the first running back selected in the 2013 NFL draft, and he figures to have a major impact with the Bengals right away. Under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Cincinnati runs a West Coast offense which requires a back who can run and catch passes out of the backfield.

Bernard does both extremely well.

Last season with the Tar Heels he rushed for over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns while adding another 490 yards and five touchdowns as a receiver.

Bernard enters a battle with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who will likely stick around as the short-yardage back. Bernard Scott, Cedric Peerman, Dan Herron and rookie Rex Burkhead will all fight for a roster spot.

In other words, it's going to be a fun one.

3. Wide Receiver

Obviously the elite A.J. Green is not going anywhere, but all of the spots on the depth chart behind him are up for grabs. Second-year receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu will fight for the right to be the No. 2 receiver, but the loser could still end up in the slot.

Andrew Hawkins is still around as a gadget-player and slot weapon. Brandon Tate, Ryan Whalen and a host of other undrafted free agents such as Roy Roundtree make for an interesting preseason.

Not to mention rookie Cobi Hamilton, a speed threat out of Arkansas who the Bengals selected at No. 197 overall. He has the skill set to sneak into a slot receiving role as a rookie.

When it comes to wide receiver, there's no sure-thing heading into the preseason.

4. Offensive Tackle

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right tackle Andre Smith are not going anywhere, but the battles developing behind them on the depth chart are intriguing.

Dennis Roland and Anthony Collins have been solid options in the past, and the former has frequently been used as an extra lineman who is eligible to catch passes. The problem for the duo is the additions of rookies Tanner Hawkinson and Reid Fragel.

Most perplexing is Fragel, a converted tight end who could easily steal Roland's roster spot as a versatile weapon who has shown the propensity to be a great blocker, but is twice the receiver Roland has proven to be.

The starters are intact, but after that offensive tackle is one to watch.

5. Linebacker

The polarizing Rey Maualuga is still around, which will draw the ire of fans. That is especially the case after the outstanding campaign of Vontaze Burfict, a man who appears to be more suited to playing in the middle after spending his collegiate career there.

Cincinnati added an old foe in James Harrison, who looks to be fighting for playing time at the strong-side linebacker spot. The weak-side is where things get interesting thanks to the addition of talented rookie Sean Porter. Emmanuel Lamur was effective in spot-duty last season as well and figures to put up a fight.

According to Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Thomas Howard is expected to be back with the team as well. This means Cincinnati will have its No. 1 linebacker from two years ago back, a year removed from a serious injury.

Chris Roling is a graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. His work has appeared on Bleacher Report, Fansided, The Cincinnati Enquirer and more.

You can follow Chris on Twitter @Chris_Roling

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