Bengals Make Their 2021 Preseason Debut At Tampa Bay | RopSport
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Bengals Make Their 2021 Preseason Debut At Tampa Bay

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Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

Television: Live coverage on the Bengals Preseason TV Network with broadcasters Mike Watts (play-by-play), Anthony Munoz (analyst) and Marisa Contipelli (sideline reporter). The network is led by flagship WKRC-TV (CBS Channel 12) in Cincinnati. Also on the network are WKEF-TV (ABC Ch. 22) in Dayton, WSYX-TV (ABC Ch. 6) in Columbus, WLIO-TV (FOX Ch. 8.2) in Lima, WDKY-TV FOX Ch. 56) in Lexington, Ky. and WDRB-TV (FOX Ch. 41) in Louisville, Ky.

Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). WLW-AM (700) will join the flagship stations in broadcasting the Bengals game once its broadcast of the Cincinnati Reds game concludes (the Reds game begins at 4:05 p.m. Eastern). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).

Setting the scene: The Bengals make their 2021 preseason debut Saturday night, when they travel to Tampa Bay to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.

The most significant offseason storyline in Cincinnati surrounded the health of QB Joe Burrow, who suffered a season-ending left knee injury on Nov. 22 last season. After surgery and a long rehab process, Burrow was medically cleared in time to take the first snap of training camp on July 28. Burrow has been practicing fully throughout training camp, save for one off day so far, but Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said recently that the 2020 No. 1 overall pick will not play against Tampa.

“Joe is not going to play in Preseason Game 1, for sure,” Taylor said. “We do have a general idea of how we see it unfolding for all three preseason games, but for right now, the firm decision has been made for Preseason Game 1.”

Burrow has told the local media that he would like to play at some point in preseason, but Bengals leadership continues to be very cautious with their team’s most high-profile player.

“We’ll look at every scenario and see what we would gain out of (playing him in preseason),” Taylor said. “If we’re going to put him out there, what exactly is that going to look like where we can control it or not control it? There’s a lot of thought that goes into that process, and we want to make certain that he’s ready to play Week 1 against Minnesota.”

Saturday will, however, mark the Bengals debut for a number of new additions, including rookie WR Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati’s first-round pick in April’s draft. Chase arrived in the Queen City to great fanfare given his rapport with Burrow in college at Louisiana State, where the duo helped power the Tigers to a national championship in 2019.

In addition to Chase, a majority of Cincinnati’s 2021 draft class figures to see extensive action on Saturday, including G Jackson Carman (second round), DE Joseph Ossai (third) and K Evan McPherson (fifth). Cincinnati has also been active recently in free agency, and a number of 2021 additions could make their Bengals debut on Saturday, including CB Chidobe Awuzie, DE Trey Hendrickson, CB Mike Hilton, DT Larry Ogunjobi, OT Riley Reiff and CB Trae Waynes (a 2020 UFA who missed all of last season with a pectoral injury).

And as is always the case in preseason, there are a variety of battles to watch for roster spots, playing time and even starting positions. The most intense of those competitions figure to take place at guard, linebacker, defensive line, punt returner and backup running back.

Saturday will also mark the debut of the Bengals’ new uniforms, which were released over the offseason. It was Cincinnati’s first uniform redesign since 2004. The Bengals are slated to wear black jerseys and white pants (orange stripes) on Saturday.

The series: Tampa Bay leads 7-5, thanks to a six-game series win streak in meetings spanning from 1995 through 2010. The Buccaneers are 5-3 in games played in Cincinnati, including 3-1 at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Bengals, however, have won the last two regular-season meetings – 14-13 in 2014 at Tampa Bay, and 37-34 in 2018 at Cincinnati. Prior to that ’14 victory, the Bengals had not beaten the Bucs since 1989, when they prevailed 56-23 at Riverfront Stadium.

Tampa Bay leads the preseason series 9-5, however the Bengals won the last meeting 23-12 at Paul Brown in 2017.

Bengals-Buccaneers connections: Buccaneers RB Giovani Bernard originally was a second-round draft pick of the Bengals in 2013, and was with the team through the ’20 season … Buccaneers S Mike Edwards is from Cincinnati (Winton Woods High School) and played at the University of Kentucky … Bengals WR Auden Tate attended Paul R. Wharton High School in Tampa, and played at Florida State University … Bengals TE Mitchell Wilcox is from Tarpon Springs, Fla. (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) and played at the University of South Florida … Buccaneers OLB Elijah Ponder played at the University of Cincinnati … Bengals DE Trey Hendrickson is from Apopka, Fla. (Apopka High School) … Bengals OT Fred Johnson and K Evan McPherson both played at the University of Florida … Bengals HB Jacques Patrick is from Orlando, Fla. (Timber Creek High School), played at Florida State University, and also played for the XFL’s Tampa Bay Vipers in 2020 … Bengals TE Pro Wells is from St. Petersburg, Fla. (Dixie Hollins High School) … Bengals S Ricardo Allen is from Daytona Beach, Fla. (Mainland High School) … Buccaneers WR Scotty Miller played at Bowling Green State University … Buccaneers S Javon Hagan played at Ohio University … Bengals WR Reece Horn played for the XFL’s Tampa Bay Vipers in 2020 … Bengals head coach Zac Taylor was a college free agent signee (QB) of the Buccaneers in 2007 (released prior to training camp) … Bengals senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner coached with the Buccaneers from 2016-18 … Bengals wide receivers coach Troy Walters coached at the University of Central Florida from 2016-17 … Buccaneers assistant strength and conditioning coach Corey Cichey coached at the University of Cincinnati from 2012-13 … Buccaneers tight ends coach Rick Christophel is from Reading, Ohio, and coached at the University of Cincinnati in 1983 … Buccaneers offensive line coach Joe Gilbert coached at the University of Toledo from 2001-03 and ’07 … Buccaneers assistant to the head coach Mike Chiurco coached at Ohio State from 1989-91.

At the top of the list: Here’s a look at where the Bengals ranked – both individually and in team categories – among the top 10 in the NFL in 2020.

BENGALS OFFENSE

Fourth in fourth-down percentage (70.4; 19 of 27).

BENGALS DEFENSE

Sixth in lowest opponent completion percentage (62.8).

JESSIE BATES III

Tied for sixth in passes defensed (15).

VONN BELL

Tied for third in defensive fumble recoveries (two).

BENGALS SPECIAL TEAMS

Sixth in average drive start on offense (26.4-yard line). Sixth in average yards allowed per punt return (5.9).

KEVIN HUBER

Tied for longest punt (72). Seventh in net punting average (42.8). Seventh in gross punting average (47.2).

BRANDON WILSON

Tied for second in kickoff returns of at least 40 yards (five). Sixth in average yards per kickoff return (26.2).

Uniform watch: The Bengals are scheduled to wear black jerseys and white pants (orange stripes) this week at Tampa Bay, in what will be the on-field debut of their new uniforms. Those uniforms were unveiled over the offseason, in what was the team’s first significant uniform redesign since 2004.

There are three different color options for the new jerseys – black, white and orange. The pants also feature three different options – black with orange stripes, white with orange stripes, and white with black stripes. The team’s iconic striped helmet was unchanged.

Burrow’s 300-yard games make history: Despite playing only 10 games as a rookie in 2020, Bengals QB Joe Burrow passed for 300 yards five times. That total at the time was tied for second-most ever among NFL rookies, and just one shy of the then-rookie record of six, set by Colts QB Andrew Luck in 2012. Then, of course, came Burrow’s season-ending left knee injury on Nov. 22 at Washington.

At the time of his injury – early in the third quarter – Burrow was just 97 yards shy of the 300-yard mark, which would have given him his sixth such performance and put him into a tie with Luck with six games remaining in the season. That never happened, of course, and later in the season Chargers QB Justin Herbert surpassed Luck and established his own rookie record of eight 300-yard games.

Earlier in season, Burrow became the first rookie QB in NFL history to ever throw for 300 yards in three consecutive games – Game 2 at Cleveland (316), Game 3 at Philadelphia (312) and Game 4 vs. Jacksonville (300). Additionally, Burrow joined Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes as the only players in NFL history to top 300 passing yards in at least five of their first seven career games. Mahomes, though, did it over his first and second seasons, meaning Burrow is the only rookie in league history to accomplish the feat.

Burrow’s five 300-yard passing games also put him into a tie for the single-season team record, alongside Boomer Esiason (strike-shortened 1987 season), Carson Palmer (2007) and Andy Dalton (2013). Burrow’s three consecutive 300-yard games are tied for the second-most in Bengals history, and were just one shy of Dalton’s team record of four, set in 2015.

Higgins ties Collinsworth’s rookie record: WR Tee Higgins last season finished his rookie campaign with 67 catches, tied with former WR Cris Collinsworth for most receptions ever by a Bengals rookie.

Higgins entered Cincinnati’s Jan. 3 season finale vs. Baltimore tied with Collinsworth and poised to capture sole possession of the record with just one catch. And he appeared to get it in style in the first quarter, when he hauled in a pass from QB Brandon Allen and darted for a 41-yard gain. But the play was negated by penalty, and at the end of the run Higgins aggravated a prior hamstring injury that caused him to miss the rest of the game.

Higgins, thus, was held without a catch in the finale. Still, his rookie season ended with 67 catches, despite several obstacles along the way. He did not have an offseason program or preseason games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a hamstring injury caused him to miss two weeks early in training camp. He was eased into the WR rotation the first two regular-season games, and then his starting QB – fellow rookie Joe Burrow – was lost for the final six games due to injury. Higgins caught passes from three different QBs as a rookie.

Still, Higgins’ 67 catches moved him ahead of some impressive names on Cincinnati’s rookie receptions list- WR A.J. Green (65), HB Giovani Bernard (56), WR Tyler Boyd (54) and WR Eddie Brown (53).

Bates coming off his best season: Bengals S Jessie Bates was among the top performers – offense or defense – on the team in 2020, drawing praise from many observers as one of the top safeties in the NFL.

Bates, a 2018 second-round pick of the Bengals, started all 16 games and recorded 107 tackles (second on team), including two for losses, along with 15 PDs (tied for sixth in NFL), three INTs and a FF. He also made two tackles on special teams, including one big one – a touchdown-saving stop on a kickoff return on Dec. 13 vs. Dallas, as Cowboys RB Tony Pollard began to break into the clear.

And opposing coaches took notice when watching the film. “I don’t know how many interceptions Jessie Bates has, but this is a good player. I’ll tell you that right now,” said Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. “I don’t really care how many interceptions he has. This is a damn good player.”

Added Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin: “I just can’t say enough about the play of (the Bengals’) safety tandem, specifically Jessie Bates. He’s a good player. They are asking him to do more, and he’s delivering more.”

Said Bates of all the praise: “That only means so much. I play this game to win football games. I’m a leader of this team on the defensive side, and my main goal is to win football games. I look at national media when I need to, but right now I’m just focusing on building the right environment around here.”

Bates has started all 48 games of his career, and has topped 100 tackles in each of his first three seasons.

Bengals leaned on 2020 rookies: Despite the lack of an offseason program to ease the college-to-pro adjustment, the Bengals in 2020 leaned heavily upon their draft class. The seven players drafted by Cincinnati in April combined to play in 96 games, with 33 starts. For perspective, the most combined games played by a Bengals draft class since 1994 (the year the draft went to seven rounds) is 99, achieved by the 11-player draft class of 2017. The most combined starts over the same period is 50, by the nine-player draft class of 1998.

Bengals draft picks stick in NFL: A familiar trend emerged in 2020 regarding which teams have the most keen eye for talent in the draft, and (Bengals draft picks stick in NFL, continued) the Bengals again were toward the top of the list. At the end of the 2020 regular season, there were 44 players on NFL rosters who entered the league as draft picks of the Bengals. That total was tied for third-most in the NFL, and just three shy of the Baltimore Ravens (47) for most in the league.

Cincinnati has been among the top five teams in this category every week since 2018, and has spent long stretches in the top spot. At times, the Bengals have even held a double-digit lead over the second-place team.

At season’s end, there were 32 players on Cincinnati’s active roster who entered the NFL with the team – 26 draft picks, and six college free agents. Of the 26 draft picks, three were first-round picks, six were second-rounders, four were third-rounders, four were fourth-rounders, three were fifth-rounders, four were sixth-rounders and two were seventh-rounders.

Cincinnati Bengals Weekly Release | Preseason Week 1, 2021 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers [PDF]

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