2 roster decisions that may haunt Bengals in future

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Formulating an NFL roster is all about taking risks, especially for a rebuilder like the Cincinnati Bengals.

Risks that projects will work out. Risks that losses won’t hurt. Risks that the scouting ends up correct and the players mesh well with the coaches.

Sometimes it works. Think, a Joe Mixon. Sometimes it doesn’t. Remember Cedric Ogbuehi?

Here are two roster decisions the Bengals made during the 53-man cutdown that they could end up regretting.

Youth on the OL as key depth

Cincinnati Bengals' Jackson Carman during an NFL football camp practice in Cincinnati, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

The Bengals are one injury away on the interior offensive line from potentially overexposing a rookie. Cincinnati will start Xavier Su'a-Filo and Quinton Spain at the guard spots and Trey Hopkins at center, creating a potentially strong, stable veteran core. But fourth-round rookie D'Ante Smith and second-round rookie Jackson Carman are the primary backups at guard and sixth-rounder Trey Hill is the backup center. In time, those three rookies could very well be key starters and have noteworthy upside (if they don't, especially Carman...). But Carman was third string, even below Smith, for a reason. Smith had to put a ton of weight back on his frame and continues to learn a new position. Hill was better than his draft slotting, but fell due to injuries. If the Bengals are lucky, everyone stays healthy and the rookies develop quickly. But it's a big gamble to take in front of a quarterback playing on a surgically repaired knee.

The approach to CB

Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Trae Waynes (26) during training camp on the practice fields outside of Paul Brown Stadium in Downtown Tuesday, August 17, 2021.
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On paper, the Bengals secondary has the potential to be really good. Really good. On paper. But that secondary has to be on the field. And big-money corner Trae Waynes, who missed all of last year after suffering an injury before training camp while training, is likely out for at least Week 1 with a smaller injury. New signee Chidobe Awuzie has huge upside too, but is coming off a bad season (albeit on a terrible overall defense) and has missed 15 games over four seasons. Fellow new arrival Mike Hilton, who could be the most productive member of the secondary, missed four games last year. Darius Phillips hasn't been able to stay healthy either and Eli Apple, primary backup to Waynes, also appears to be dealing with a small issue. Some of this just comes with the territory. But the Bengals spent big on rolls of the dice and have had some bad injury luck with Waynes. If the entire starting three can't get on the field together (for a still-unproven coordinator in Lou Anarumo, no less), it's going to cause big problems and make corner something that needs rebuilt from the ground up again next offseason.

Will they regret these moves?

Aug 20, 2021; Landover, Maryland, USA; Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (22) breaks up a pass for wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) during the first quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

These two decisions backfiring could have long-ranging repercussions, especially when it comes to the line in front of Burrow. Luckily for the Bengals, they landed some really, really good prospects and there's reason to have faith they'll develop. Carman needs time but has starter written all over him. Smith has always had the versatility and now that he's put weight back on his frame, could be starter material before Carman. And Hill was a warrior in the SEC we were much higher on than most. And at corner, Waynes and Awuzie have looked very good when on the field. But it's starting to feel like Waynes' body just won't cooperate. There's an out built into his contract after this season, at least. Same story for Awuzie's contract. The corners should have the benefit of an improved pass-rush in front of them this season, but they actually have to be on the field. So in short, despite big attendance issues from the veteran starting guards in recent years, the Bengals could be just fine and won't regret the line decisions. We can't say the same for corner unless the injury luck dramatically changes soon.

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