There are points to be made and points to be taken away. One play on special teams can very well change the outcome of the game. Today we look at the competition on special teams and see where the Bengals are currently at.
Please look out for other competition articles.
- Running back, offensive line
- Wide receiver, tight end, quarterback
- Defensive line, linebacker
- Cornerback, safety
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Punter, Place Holder
Let’s get the obvious choice out of the way. There is no competition at punter. Kevin Huber will continue to be the punter for the Bengals. Huber has been receiving workouts with both teams during scrimmages. Huber has been consistent for the Bengals averaging 45 yards per punt with an average length of 69.5 yards. He was a top ten punter in 2016 and selected to one pro bowl.
As for place holders, traditionally the holder is either the punter or the backup quarterback. However, Kevin Huber has been the holder for some time now. Expect that tradition to continue as long as he wears a Bengals jersey.
Clark Harris has been the long snapper for the Bengals for almost a decade whereas the average NFL long snapper only has 6.25 years of experience. He has played 116 games for the Bengals and has 1068 snaps to his name wearing the Bengals stripes. Currently, there are only five other long snappers in the NFL that have kept their position longer than he has. Harris does not have any competition in camp and the Bengals are smart to keep it that way.
Bengals entered training camp with three kickers on their roster. However, the Bengals were forced to cut kicker Jon Brown to sign Cedric Thompson after George Iloka and Darron Smith went down with injuries. In 2016, the Bengals attempted an average of 2.2 field goals per game, up from 1.7 in 2015. Averaging at least six points coming from field goals, special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons wants to ensure he has the right candidate for the job.
Many fans assumed Jake Elliott would come to camp and take over for Randy Bullock. The two are very similar in both power and accuracy. However, the competition is staying pretty close. Bullock still holds the edge hitting every field goal. During practice on Family Day, Elliott missed a 52-yard field goal and an extra point. He did manage to put that behind himself and convert his last two attempts. But it doesn’t help when you’re competing for a starting job and your opponent is perfect and hits a 51 yarder. The current depth chart still has Bullock as the starter, even if his previous audition against the Texans did not go so well. However, Simmons likes what he sees in Elliott praising him for being coachable and adapting to various situations. That may be in his favor when it comes to roster cuts.
Wide receiver John Ross was a kick returner at the University of Washington and has been practicing as a punt returner. The former husky is still acclimating in receiving punts. In college, he only saw four punt returns as a freshman, whereas Ross was the number one returner on kickoffs. As of now, cornerback Adam Jones is slotted to be the punt returner for Cincinnati. However, Jones’ suspension in the season opener provides Ross the opportunity to show off his talents and speed on special teams once again. As he continues to develop and get his timing down, expect Ross to be on the field quite often as the returning specialist.
Alex Erickson holds the job as of now. Erickson was the return specialist last year fielding 28 punts and returning 29 kickoffs. In 2016, Erickson leads the NFL in kick return yards with 810 yards and an average of 27.93 yards per return. Erickson has been a great change up from 2015 returner Brandon Tate. Ross was a kick returning specialist in college and has a faster 40 time by 0.3 seconds. As time goes on in pre-season play, it is possible that the Bengals move on from Erickson and put Ross in position as the kick returner.
My bold predictions for starter in week 1
Kicker: Jake Elliott
Punter: Kevin Huber
Place Holder: Kevin Huber
Long Snapper: Clark Harris
Punt Returner: John Ross
Kick Returner: John Ross