5 players to watch during Bengals’ OTAs

Credit: Michael Dwyer

Credit: Michael Dwyer

The Cincinnati Bengals will get a chance to do team drills for the first time this week, and that could provide a sneak peek into what a revamped defense will look like after the organization invested a lot of attention on that side of the ball this offseason.

Organized Team Activities begin Tuesday with seven practices scheduled over the next two weeks before mandatory minicamp takes place June 11-13. Up to this point, through the first two phases of the offseason workout program, the Bengals were only allowed to do individual and position group drills, but OTAs allow teams to move into non-contact 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.

That means players can actually be evaluated against an opponent to some extent so eyes will be on a lot of newcomers — like at the revamped defensive tackle spot with veteran Sheldon Rankins and rookie draft picks Kris Jenkins and Jackson McKinley — and players expected to make a big leap in 2024.

Here are five players to watch:

1. Dax Hill, cornerback

Hill is making the switch to cornerback, and it will be interesting to see where he lines up.

Bengals coaches have said he could play inside or outside, and the latter might be where he could compete best for a starting job if D.J. Turner (who also could have been on this list) can’t get back to the level he started at last year before he hit a rookie wall.

The real test will be training camp, but these early opportunities to go against receivers could be important for establishing where he might fit best.

2. Vonn Bell, strong safety

The Bengals brought back Bell a year after he departed for Carolina in free agency, and he will be competing with second-year player Jordan Battle for the starting strong safety position. If he is back to his 2022 level, it would be difficult for Battle to hold onto the job he took over in the second half of 2023 after Nick Scott struggled.

OTAs will be the first look at what version of Bell the Bengals are getting. Battle has a lot of upside but could still use a mentor like Bell to help lift his game. The competition will be good for both players.

3. Amarius Mims, offensive tackle

When Mims was drafted, all the talk was about him coming in and learning from Orlando Brown Jr. and Trent Brown while he adjusts to the NFL and builds up reps. There is no pressure for the Bengals to get Mims ready right away, and he certainly could benefit from more practice time after getting only eight collegiate starts at Georgia.

However, if Mims does well enough, he could earn the right tackle job over Trent Brown, and that would give the Bengals a new swing tackle and big body that could also play inside if needed.

Mims has been seemingly attached to Orlando Brown’s hip so far learning everything he can, and he was impressive enough in his limited snaps at Georgia to get the Bengals excited about his future. The ramped-up offseason workouts could set the tone for whether he is a contributor in 2024.

4. Jermaine Burton, wide receiver

Burton has looked solid “on air” with no defenders testing him, and he joked he hasn’t showed anything yet – “just running routes really.” But, OTAs will be a good test to see how good he can be against NFL defensive backs.

The addition of Burton could potentially take the Bengals offense to another level. He’s a dynamic weapon that can play inside and outside, but is another deep threat for defenses to consider. Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins have not yet been to voluntary workouts, and this could be Burton’s time to shine even more.

Quarterback Joe Burrow should have plenty of weapons at his disposal once all of his receivers are present, and tight end Mike Gesicki gives some added flexibility as someone who can play in the slot as well.

5. Myles Murphy, defensive end

The new defensive tackles will be ones to keep an eye on (though Rankins has not participated in recent practices open to media), but Murphy has looked solid so far and his progression could be huge for the defensive end spot.

Murphy had not been accustomed to playing on the left end, where he gradually starting seeing more reps last season, but he grew more comfortable as he got game experience there and now feels like he is ready to step into a bigger role. The Bengals pass rush could benefit greatly if their 2023 first-round draft pick can make more of an impact this year.

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