D.J. Reader is back. The Bengals have activated the defensive tackle from injured reserve, according to Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic (on Twitter). Cincinnati also promoted wideout Trenton Irwin and punter Drue Chrisman from the practice squad.
Reader inked a four-year, $53MM deal to join the Bengals in 2020. He was limited to only five games during his first season in Cincy thanks to a quad injury, but he returned to start all 15 of his appearances in 2021. The defensive tackle finished the campaign with 43 tackles and a pair of sacks, and he added another 12 tackles and a sack in four playoff starts. Thanks to his regular season performance, Pro Football Focus ranked him ninth among 108 qualifying interior defenders.
The 28-year-old started each of the Bengals’ first three games this year, compiling 10 tackles. He suffered an MCL injury in September that shelved him for a few months, but he returned to practice earlier this week and is now in line to take the field tomorrow in Pittsburgh.
Chrismas is getting a chance to be Cincinnati’s punter despite Kevin Huber‘s presence on the roster. According to Dehner (on Twitter), Chrismas will have a chance to earn the full-time gig, and Huber has “been in the loop”on the team’s plan. Huber’s 2022 salary is guaranteed regardless of how things unfold. Huber has struggled this season, with his 43.2 yards per punt misrepresenting his lowest average since 2010. Chrismas, a 2021 UDFA out of Ohio State, has spent the majority of his career on the Bengals practice squad.
Irwin has earned promotions in each of the Bengals’ last two games following Ja’Marr Chase‘s injury. The 26-year-old wideout has gotten into 11 games in four seasons with the Bengals, collecting six receptions (including three this season).
Cincinnati made the necessary moves today to trim its roster down to 53 players. While some may find themselves back in the striped helmet Wednesday, many will have to clear waivers before being announced to the 16-man practice squad. Here are the moves made today to get down to the 53-man roster:
The defending AFC champions are looking to run it back with much of the same roster as last year. Thirty-eight of this year’s 53-man roster were on last year’s Super Bowl roster, with the differences coming on offensive line and at the bottom of the depth chart.
Additionally, it appears all six 2022 draft picks made the roster for the Bengals, as well as one undrafted rookie signing. With so many starters returning from the Super Bowl team, all the rookies will be expected to contribute in backup roles. First- and second-round defensive backs Daxton Hill and Cam Taylor-Brittfigure to factor heavily into the defensive rotation, though. Also in the secondary, cornerback Allan George is the lone UDFA from this year’s crop to make Cincinnati’s final roster.
To call it the final roster is a bit misleading as the Bengals will likely follow their own trends from last season, setting the roster up for multiple post-deadline moves. The roster currently includes 11 defensive backs, not including starting safety Jessie Bates, working currently on a roster exemption. Taylor-Britt could likely find his way to the four-week injured reserve list after undergoing core surgery recently. Defensive end Khalid Kareem will join Taylor-Britt on short-term IR, according to head coachZac Taylor, with a hamstring injury.
Many expect Cincinnati to mirror a roster move from last year with wide receiver Thomas. Thomas is a vested veteran who will avoid the waiver wire and is expected to re-sign with the team after a corresponding roster move, exactly what he did last year.
Finally, two position battles have been effectively decided with the waiving of long snapper Adomitis and punter Chrisman. Both intended to challenge incumbentsClark Harris and Kevin Huber from their long-time starting jobs. After avoiding being unseated, Huber is now on track to set a franchise record for games played in a Bengals uniform. Harris is close behind, trailing Huber by just six games.
The Bengals’ special teams room has looked mostly the same for 14 years. Bengals coach Darrin Simmons has held the role of special teams coordinator since 2003, adding “assistant head coach” to his title for his 19th and 20th seasons in Cincinnati. It appears, though, that changes could be in the making as Simmons adjudicates position battles including the team’s longest-tenured players, according to Jay Morrison of The Athletic. Both punter Kevin Huber and long snapper Clark Harris will face position battles in camp for the first times in their long careers.
Huber is entering his 14th year in the league. All 14 have come with the Bengals, who drafted him in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL Draft out of the University of Cincinnati. Huber is 20 punts short of 1,000 and one game shy of setting a franchise record for games played as a Bengal. Despite his extreme familiarity with the franchise, Huber is facing a position battle that should have occurred last year.
Drue Chrisman signed as an undrafted free agent with the Bengals after six years at Ohio State in 2021. The Cincinnati-native from La Salle High School chose to stay close to home for his first NFL signing. The strong-legged challenger was set to compete with the long-time veteran Huber before a broken hand shut Chrisman down. He was waived before the regular season and signed to the team’s practice squad. The Bengals released him in mid-October and the Steelers scooped him up two months later, just to release him after only two days. Cincinnati quickly re-signed him to the practice squad until releasing him in mid-January. Chrisman signed a reserve/future contract with Cincinnati a week before they would appear in the Super Bowl.
Now, Chrisman is back, hand intact, to challenge Huber for his job. According to Morrison, while Chrisman’s leg strength is a plus and the battle will surely judge punting factors such as hang time and directional accuracy, Chrisman’s true test to win the job will be his ability to handle the duties of holder, a role commonly assigned to punters and backup quarterbacks. If Chrisman can show a reliability holding for rookie sensation Evan McPherson on field goals and extra points, the Bengals may have no choice but to go with youth and award Chrisman to job.
One may think that Huber’s 14 years of holding snaps from Harris gives him an unfair advantage over Chrisman. That may be true, but Chrisman may not be at too much of a disadvantage as Harris, too, will face competition in training camp for his job.
Harris is headed into his 16th year in the NFL and his 14th with the Bengals. Harris served double-duty in college as a tight end and long snapper at Rutgers. As a redshirt sophomore, Harris led the Big East in catches, yards, and touchdowns for a tight end. He received first-team All-Big East honors for three straight years. Harris was drafted in the seventh round of the 2007 NFL Draft by Green Bay. He spent time on the practice squads for the Packers, Lions, and Texans in his first three seasons, finally making his NFL debut as a long snapper in Houston when starter Bryan Pittman was suspended for four games. After being released from another practice squad, Harris was signed midseason by Cincinnati to be their long snapper.
Harris has been extremely reliable for the Bengals. Since signing with the team in 2009, Harris has missed only three games and has never had an unplayable snap. Unfortunately, Harris got on the bad side of his long-time position coach during the team’s Super Bowl LVI loss. While McPherson gained further notoriety around the country for skipping locker room adjustments to watch the Super Bowl halftime show, Harris’ participation (and influence) in those antics drew the frustration of Simmons, according to The Athletic’s Paul Dehner Jr. Simmons found himself needing to make “a few critical adjustments” that required shifting personnel in a few packages, but the constant of every package was on the field with the rookie kicker watching the show. When asked if the situation was all water under the bridge, Simmons replied, “It’s not under the bridge. I’m still floating on the float. It is what it is.”
Whether a result of the halftime stunt or just a reaction to Harris’ growing years, the Bengals brought in University of Pittsburgh first-team All-American long snapper Cal Adomitis as an undrafted free agent this offseason. Adomitis also won the Patrick Mannelly Award, given to the best long snapper in the country, in his fifth and final year with the Panthers.
Harris has reportedly responded well to the newcomer, reporting for offseason activities in the best shape he’s been in during recent years and “(working) his tail off” to prepare to fight for his job.
Both Huber and Harris have the talent, experience, and familiarity to win the starting jobs. But Chrisman and Adomitis have plenty of talent and the youth to back it up for potentially 14 years to come. As Huber and Harris head into contract years, will the Bengals stick with experience or ride the youth movement along with their second-year kicker?