By Will Pembroke, Sports Editor
The middle of August, also known as the dog days of training camp in the National Football League, is the time of the year that often determines the level of success any given franchise is going to have in the upcoming season. Nagging injuries from long practice days, contract hold-outs and inadequate coaching threaten to derail teams as they aim to make a Super Bowl run. With an opening Sunday home rivalry game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11 approaching, it is now the time to analyze the five major storylines emerging from the Bengals’ training camp.
Position battles: Though much of the starting rotation on offense, defense and special teams had already been decided heading into training camp, two major position battles are still underway. First is the Bengals conundrum at left guard, where former second-round pick Jackson Carman finds himself at risk of losing his starting job to late-round rookie Cordell Volson. Following an abysmal first preseason game performance, Carman did not play in the Bengals second preseason tilt Sunday against the Giants. Taking his place, Volson had a very solid performance, with only one major miscommunication which led to a sack in the game.
Joe Burrow’s appendix: Following his outstanding sophomore campaign in which he led the Bengals to a Super Bowl appearance, little seemed to stand in the way of quarterback Joe Burrow continuing to dominate as one of the NFL’s premier signal callers. As it often does, injury struck Burrow at perhaps the worst time it could have — right before the beginning of training camp. After feeling some discomfort, Burrow was rushed into surgery to remove his appendix on July 26. His recovery has gone smoothly, and the NFL world can breathe a sigh of relief as Joe Burrow returned to practice August 14.
Rookie standouts: Throughout training camp, several rookies from this year’s draft class have emerged as standout players already. Late-round guard Cordell Volson’s improvements are well documented, but he is far from the lone candidate. First-round pick Dax Hill has displayed enormous potential at the free safety spot, playing in Bates’s absence. Hill showed off his athleticism, making an incredible diving interception against the New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in Cincinnati’s second preseason game. Late-round selection Jeffery Gunter has also played well throughout training camp as he fights for a spot along an already loaded defensive line.
NFL Top 100: As the NFL continues to release its Top 100 Players list for the upcoming 2022-2023 season, four Bengals have found themselves on the list. Coming in at #78, veteran pass rusher Trey Hendrickson earned his nod by recording 14 sacks last year and 13.5 the year before that. At #38. running back Joe Mixon found his way onto the list after his first Pro Bowl appearance last year. Finally, inseparable quarterback and wide receiver duo Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase landed at #21 and #24 on the Top 100 list, respectively.
Jessie Bates III hold-out: This storyline is nothing new to Bengals fans. Star safety Jessie Bates III has thus far held out of training camp due to his contract situation. Bates III is seeking a long-term deal from the Bengals in the ballpark of the four-year $76.4 million range after being placed under the $12.9 million franchise tag this offseason. The framework for the four-year contract comes from Chargers star safety Derwin James’s new contract, which makes him the highest paid safety in the NFL. While there is no doubt that Bates is a talented player deserving of a new contract, the Bengals have to be careful with how much they are willing to spend prior to negotiating Burrow’s mega-extension.