Competition on the Bengals is fierce at wide receiver. In the end, that means better depth for the team.
“We feel good," coach Marvin Lewis said. "There’s opportunity out here to win jobs and continue to compete for playing time."
Projected No. 4 receiver James Wright is out for the season with a knee injury. In the scenario of a fully healthy Wright, the Bengals were looking for two other players to stand out as they assemble what is expected to be a six-man receiver corps. With Wright lost, there is an eight-man battle for three spots.
Opportunity knocks on every snap in every preseason game, as well-traveled and regularly jettisoned receiver Greg Little can attest. Little was thought to be a long shot to make the Bengals' final 53 a second time after being released during the offseason then brought back when Wright was ruled out. But Little had a 42-yard catch after gaining great separation, and threw a perimeter block helping running back James Wilder get loose for a 20-yard sweep in the preseason-opening win against the Giants.
Not to be outdone, Denarius Moore, another veteran receiver who had fallen on hard times, also had a big grab for a 30-yard gain.
Versatile rookie Mario Alford, a true speed guy, had a 13-yard catch, a 23-yard run, a 21-yard kickoff return and two punt returns totaling eight yards while averaging 13.5 yards a touch.
"That’s important these next three weeks, as far as playing in the preseason games and putting good quality snaps on tape and plays in practice to earn that opportunity," Lewis said. "The depth will be what the depth will be when it plays out.”
There's also veteran Brandon Tate, who provides special teams value.
Green, Jones, Sanu, Little, Moore and Alford would make a nice six-man group with varying skills, in all shapes, sizes and speeds. Tate, although listed second on the depth chart behind Green, would be the odd man out in that scenario. "His fate may rest on how Alford handles punt return duties in the games," said the team's official web site.
It didn't help Tate's cause when he dropped a short pass over the middle against the Giants while the much faster Alford impersonated a human Swiss Army knife. Tate did have an 11-yard catch among his two targets. Little was targeted a team-high five times against the Giants, coming down with three receptions for 65 yards, also team highs.
The rookie competition is coming primarily from undrafted Jake Kumerow, who made plays in training camp and in Friday's preseason contest. He appears to be ahead of converted defensive back Onterio McCalebb, practice squad player Tevin Reese and the recently signed Desmond Lawrence.
“I think it’s an open position," Lewis said. "I don’t know in comparison (to other position areas), but we have some guys battling for spots, no doubt.”
The coach said it helps tremendously if the injury-riddled Jones is over his aches and pains and becomes something akin to the Jones of 2013, when he caught 10 touchdowns.
“I think Marvin has had a couple of good days. He has to keep on ascending," Lewis said. "We have to keep him moving forward. I think he’s gained his confidence back, which is important. His time on task has been good. He’s had three to four good days. It’s been great to see the smile back on his face, and not that frustrated look. That’s what we need from Marvin.”