Here are 10 things to keep an eye on Monday night when the Bengals take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in preseason game two in Tampa:
MCCARRON'S DEBUT: Projected backup quarterback A.J. McCarron is expected to make his preseason debut after missing last week's opener against the Giants with an upper body injury It's expected to be McCarron's first action in an NFL uniform. He hasn't seen the field in a game since his last one at Alabama. He did not play his rookie season due to a shoulder issue, spending the year on the reserve/non-football injury list. It's unclear if McCarron will immediately follow starter Andy Dalton into the contest, but it's a good bet the Bengals want to see him against the Bucs' ones or twos for better evaluation, leaving second-half mop-up duties to veteran Josh Johnson and undrafted rookie Keith Wenning. Expect McCarron to look a little rusty at the start.
HUNT'S RETURN: Defensive end Margus Hunt was on the rise this time last year with a team-best four preseason sacks, but he has yet to see the field this year after being slowed by the re-aggravation of an old back injury during offseason weight training. The Estonian giant was a late scratch for the preseason opener. With nine days in between games, he should be a go Monday. The Bengals are eager to see what he can do, knowing full well that the athletic lineman will first need to knock off some rust. The primary goal is getting him some quality action against first-teamers, getting him off the field in good shape, and going to the film room.
DEFENSIVE CONSISTENCY: The starting defense held the Giants' starting offense to a pair of three-and-outs in two series for minus-two yards in six plays. The Giants, with Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning directing a plethora of weapons, are a much more high-powered offense than Tampa Bay, which features rookie quarterback Jameis Winston at the controls, two quality receivers and a cast of running backs who've had their individual moments but nothing on the order of what the Giants Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen have accomplished overall in the league. The Bengals should have an easier time with the Bucs, but they can't get much better than they were against the Giants.
THE GREAT CAMP GUYS: Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, a former player who sees a lot of the team during preseason, says those Bengals with impressive camps have been tight end Tyler Eifert, running back Jeremy Hill and wide receiver A.J Green. That's good news for the Bengals. The trio is at the heart of the offense surrounding Dalton. Lapham said Eifert, who had two receptions for 30 yards against the Giants, has been the standout among them. “Jeremy Hill had a great camp. A.J. Green has plays every day that made you open your mouth," Lapham said. "But the most important guy -- Tyler Eifert. He can control the middle of the field every day in practice, and in the preseason against the Giants. If you can control the middle of the football field, you control the football field.”
GIO ON SPECIAL TEAMS: With Hill expected to lead in carries, versatile Bengals back Giovani Bernard will be seeing plenty of action on pass plays and possibly some time on special teams this season. The Bengals want to take advantage of all of Bernard's skills and find ways to get the ball in his hands without taking it away from Hill. Bernard had two punt returns last week for four yards. It was his first return action since last preseason. He returned punts in college at North Carolina, so it's nothing new. He broke some long returns as a Tar Heel, two for touchdowns. He's had a return TD for the Bengals. If it works out, he would be the punt return backup to Adam Jones. There's also rookie receiver Mario Alford, who also returns kicks and has mostly likely made this team.
ROSTER BATTLES: Among the fiercest are...
The last spot at safety where this year’s sixth-round pick, Derron Smith, and well-traveled four-year veteran, Shiloh Keo, are battling...
The last spot on the defensive line which is completely up for grabs, with literally everybody being in the mix for spots as deep as on the practice squad. On the bubble but percolating at the top are Hunt, Will Clarke and Devon Still. Making strong cases are rookie Marcus Hardison and undrafted rookie DeShawn Williams, both of whom are putting the squeeze on untested veterans Sam Montgomery and Kwame Geathers.