Cincinnati Bengals: Emmanuel Lamur

CINCINNATI -- I have to credit colleague Greg Garber for planting the seed in the minds of Cincinnati Bengals fans.

Ever since his "explosive," "unlikely," "hypothetical" trade idea from the middle of this past regular season, Bengals fans have been convinced that Ndamukong Suh was about to become the next member of their team's defensive line.

Yes, it is true the Bengals need help on the line. It is also true that last week defensive coordinator Paul Guenther vowed to make changes in order to enhance his unit's pass rush in 2015. Yes, some of those changes could mean bringing new players at the position who currently aren't on the roster.

But does any of it mean Suh specifically is coming to the Queen City? That's where we turn in our latest installment of the Bengals mailbag:

@ColeyHarvey. There is no chance, Rob. It simply doesn't fit the Bengals' way of doing things. They haven't much been in the business of signing a free agent who is in the middle of his career and in the prime of his playing and earning potential, especially since 2011. They would rather bring in a veteran out of free agency just to bolster depth or serve as a locker room presence while addressing major positional needs via the draft. Their philosophy is more about setting themselves up to win in the future instead of trying to gamble on winning big now. Some fans might hate it, but it's a logical and tried-and-true philosophy. Cincinnati might not have a playoff win in that time, but they have at least been to the playoffs each season using this philosophy. So that said, there simply is no chance the Bengals would turn into gamblers and add the expensive Suh in the name of augmenting the pass rush. They want to make it better, but they would rather do so, if able, with a significantly cheaper Nick Fairley, Terrance Knighton or Corey Wootton-type of defensive lineman. Suh-to-Cincy just isn't happening.

@ColeyHarvey. It's hard to rank the top positions they'll want to go after in free agency, in part because of what I said above. I'd be more focused on the order of positions they seek to go after in the draft if I were you. That said, there might be a slightly tweaked emphasis placed on the defensive line when it comes to free agency this year, simply because of how frustrated the team was by lack of a pass rush this season. Because of the numbers game at defensive tackle and defensive end, I can't see the Bengals going out and signing the world at the two positions -- specifically because they would have to cut more players than they might be willing to do right now. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if they try to get at least one bigger-name lineman (not named Suh) via free agency if he's available. They still probably will try to address the position in the draft, too. As for retaining free agents, I could see them holding on to about seven of the 15 eligible.

@ColeyHarvey. I actually do see the Bengals re-signing both Emmanuel Lamur and Rey Maualuga for now, Tim. They are in my seven. The reason is this. Maualuga has long had the confidence of the coaching staff even if those outside the stadium have been less enamored with him at times. Like we mentioned in Saturday's mailbag about how loyal the Bengals are to certain players and coaches, there's a little bit of that in Maualuga, a player who has seen both good and bad seasons in this city. The Bengals won't be paying him a king's ransom, but how many teams would? They ought to get him at a reasonable deal. Even as early as it is, it also seems reasonable to think Lamur will be re-signed to the low-round restricted free agent tender. If so, that'll keep down the Bengals' money for others such as Maualuga. With injuries, Lamur just hasn't had enough time in the league to command a higher tender from a competitor, in my opinion. The Bengals like both linebackers, and certainly would want to keep them paired with others already under contract such as Vincent Rey and Vontaze Burfict.
CINCINNATI -- The last time the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts played, the team in black and orange had one of its worst defensive showings of the 2014 regular season.

Look for a vastly different Bengals defense to take field at Lucas Oil Stadium in Sunday afternoon's wild-card round playoff game.

Back in October when the teams met in a game that went completely in the Colts' favor, 27-0, the Bengals gave up 506 yards of total offense. The Bengals defense surrendered over 500 yards three times this year. For a defense that had grown accustomed to being labeled stingy in recent years, the three 500-yard games were a real shock.

More puzzling, though, was the way the Bengals struggled through that specific game. Without all three starting linebackers by the middle of the first quarter, they had all kinds of communication issues. Tight ends were roaming free. Corners and safeties weren't holding their coverages downfield well. And absolutely no defensive linemen were getting pressure on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

Week 8 was a completely different time for this Bengals defense. Since then, the unit has made major improvements.

It has gotten healthier, too. Two of the linebackers who missed that entire game, starters Emmanuel Lamur and Rey Maualuga, are back. Vincent Rey, the linebacker charged with filling Vontaze Burfict's shoes in that game and many others this season, has emerged as a cog in the middle of the Bengals' linebacker corps. At Indianapolis in October, Rey was the most experienced linebacker in a group that included rookie Marquis Flowers and second-year player Jayson DiManche. Both were getting the first meaningful snaps of their careers.

Of late, it has been considerably easier for Rey to communicate with the other veterans who have returned.

If the Bengals are to win, they must make sure to tackle better than they did in the earlier meeting. Three missed tackles from Rey and Flowers led to big gains in the first game.

While health and stability ought to make for a better defense this time around, so should the newfound ball-hawking mentality the unit has been playing with recently.

Indianapolis is tied for 30th in turnovers with 31. Of those, 16 have come off interceptions thrown by Luck. The other 15 are on fumbles from the Colts' skill players. Luck has six alone.

In the last three games, the Bengals have forced nine turnovers. That includes four interceptions of Peyton Manning two games ago. There have been only two games all season in which the Bengals haven't forced a turnover.

Cornerback Leon Hall's dropped potential pick-six at the start of the October meeting between these teams could have completely changed the tenor of the game. Combine that touchdown with a greater emphasis likely being placed on the running game, and the Bengals' offense might have eventually settled down long enough to get in better position to convert third downs.

Instead, a 1-for-13 showing on third down meant the Colts were getting the ball back quickly, keeping Cincinnati's defense on the field for nearly double the amount of time as its offense.

A much improved, run-focused offense also should help lead to fresher and better defensive play for the Bengals on Sunday.

This is all to say, when these teams meet again, don't expect another blowout.
CINCINNATI -- One of the few NFL teams who held a Christmas Day practice, the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday got a pair of key players back into the fold after they missed Wednesday's workout.

Quarterback Andy Dalton returned after being sent home early the day before because of the flu. He was one of four Bengals to be declared ill on Wednesday's injury report. On the report provided Thursday, another two were listed with illnesses as the flu bug continues to work its way through the locker room.

Along with Dalton's presence at the closed session, receiver A.J. Green also participated for the first time since bruising his right biceps in the first quarter of Monday night's win over the Denver Broncos. Initially he felt nerve pain in his hand and was scared he had broken his arm. X-rays came back negative, and doctors only observed an injury to his muscle. The Bengals are hopeful the Pro Bowl wideout will be healthy enough for Sunday night's regular season finale at Pittsburgh. The winner of the game will claim this season's AFC North title.

Unlike Dalton, who was a full participant Thursday, Green was limited. Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, receiver James Wright and defensive end Wallace Gilberry, who also didn't practice Wednesday due to a hamstring injury, were all also limited on Thursday. Lamur and Wright were practicing for the second straight day. Lamur missed Monday night's game with a hamstring issue, and Wright has been out since Week 14 dealing with a knee injury.

The other ill players were Reggie Nelson and Terence Newman, who missed their second straight day of practice. Chris Lewis-Harris and Mike Nugent were the two additions.

Here is the full Christmas injury report:

DID NOT PRACTICE
LB Chris Carter (knee)
CB Chris Lewis-Harris (illness)
S Reggie Nelson (illness)
CB Terence Newman (illness)
K Mike Nugent (illness)
OT Andrew Whitworth (veteran's day off)

LIMITED PRACTICE PARTICIPATION
DE Wallace Gilberry (hamstring)
WR A.J. Green (biceps)
LB Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring)
WR James Wright (knee)

FULL PRACTICE PARTICIPATION
QB Andy Dalton (illness)
TE Jermaine Gresham (illness)
CB Darqueze Dennard (shin)

Four Bengals sick as flu infects team

December, 24, 2014
12/24/14
5:30
PM ET

CINCINNATI -- Four Cincinnati Bengals missed practice Wednesday, being told to stay away because a flu has run amok throughout the team.

The virus has affected different position groups and different corners of the locker room.

Quarterback Andy Dalton was the biggest name player who was sidelined because of it, forced to head home about a half hour before his regularly-scheduled Wednesday news conference. Along with him, tight end Jermaine Gresham, safety Reggie Nelson and cornerback Terence Newman had illnesses, too.

It's the second time a contagious bug has hit the team, following the spread of a stomach bug four and five weeks ago. In all, seven Bengals were hit by that one, including Dalton who got it the night before the Bengals' Week 13 game at Tampa Bay. After taking three IVs before the game and throwing up in the locker room during pregame introductions, Dalton threw three first-half interceptions before tossing a touchdown pass and running for another in the second half.

Along with the sick quartet, the Bengals were unsurprisingly without receiver A.J. Green, too. Although he participated in the stretching period, he didn't go through any other part of the practice as he starts trying to recover from a right biceps bruise. Green suffered the injury Monday night when the helmet of a Broncos defensive back barreled hard into him as he leaped for a high pass.

When the ball deflected off Green's hand, it ricocheted into cornerback's Aqib Talib's hands. Untouched, he got off the ground and ran 33 yards for a touchdown on the Bengals' fifth offensive play.

Green told ESPN on Wednesday that he initially thought he had broken his arm on the hit.

During his news conference, coach Marvin Lewis said Green was "progressing." Lewis added that he thought Green had a shot to play Sunday at Pittsburgh in the unofficial AFC North title game. The winner of the matchup will win the division.

Along with the notes on Dalton and Green, the Bengals also are hopeful that receiver James Wright and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur will return this week. Both missed Monday night's game, and Wright missed the two before that. They both practiced Wednesday, going in limited capacity during the Christmas Eve session.

Unlike most teams the Bengals will practice on Christmas Day. Part of the reason they aren't taking the day off is because this keeps them in a daily rhythm ahead of the big Sunday game. It also made sense that they practice after being done no favors by the NFL schedule-makers.

The same week as Christmas, the Bengals had a Monday night game and a Sunday one immediately after it. Normally they'd have six days of practice between games. They would have had only four if they took Thursday off.

Here's the full Wednesday injury report:

DID NOT PRACTICE
QB Andy Dalton (illness)
TE Jermaine Gresham (illness)
CB Terence Newman (illness)
S Reggie Nelson (illness)
LB Chris Carter (knee)
DE Wallace Gilberry (hamstring)

LIMITED PRACTICE PARTICIPATION
CB Darqueze Dennard (shin)
LB Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring)
WR James Wright (knee)
CINCINNATI -- As had been expected, the Cincinnati Bengals will be without their starting "Sam" linebacker Monday night when they host the Denver Broncos.

Emmanuel Lamur was one of seven inactives for the Bengals after appearing on the injury report all this week with a hamstring issue that cropped up late in last week's game at Cleveland. He practiced in a limited capacity Saturday, and had been expected to test out the injury before the game.

Lamur
Lamur
He didn't come out onto the field within the four-hour pregame window that injured Bengals typically give their tweaked injuries a go. Coach Marvin Lewis was optimistic over the weekend that having the extra day to prepare for Monday's game might be just enough for the hamstring to get healthy. Apparently it wasn't.

Officially, Lamur will be replaced by rookie Marquis Flowers at "Sam" linebacker. In his pass-coverage responsibilities, though, Lamur will be replaced by safety Taylor Mays, who spent the week in linebackers' meetings. Mays played that spot parts of last season before he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 8. He was playing in place of Lamur, who missed all season with a hurt shoulder.

In addition to Lamur's absence Monday, the Bengals also will miss defensive tackle Devon Still. It's the second game he has been declared inactive, and the third contest he has missed this season. The third-year player wasn't on the 53-man roster for the season opener.

With Still inactive, the Bengals kept active two promising young backup defensive ends to help bolster the team's pass-rushing depth. Margus Hunt and Will Clarke presumably will play at points in the game. The rookie Clarke has seen his playing time increase in recent weeks, getting a season-high 19 snaps in last week's game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His playing time spike correlated with Hunt being injured the last four games.

The Bengals also will give starts to veteran Eric Winston at right offensive tackle, and Jeremy Hill at running back. This will be the second straight week that Hill will be the starter with a healthy Giovani Bernard. Hill's only other starts this season came when Bernard was injured.

Here is the full list of inactives for both teams:

Bengals inactives
QB AJ McCarron
CB Chris Lewis-Harris
LB Emmanuel Lamur
OT Tanner Hawkinson
DT Devon Still
WR James Wright
WR Greg Little

Broncos inactives
CB Tony Carter
OT Paul Cornick
RB Ronnie Hillman
TE Dominique Jones
LB Brandon Marshall
OT Michael Schofield
DE Quanterus Smith
CINCINNATI -- If Peyton Manning ends up playing for the Denver Broncos on Monday night, the Cincinnati Bengals could be without one of their best weapons for combating him.

Lamur
Lamur
Although he practiced Saturday morning for the first time this week, linebacker Emmanuel Lamur was listed later in the day as doubtful on the Bengals' final injury report of the week.

He could be a game-time decision.

"He's made a lot of progress," coach Marvin Lewis said. "With the extra day this week, obviously that helps a lot."

Lamur had an extra day early in the week to rest his sore hamstring, and he will have time even early Monday to get it treated several hours before the game if need be.

"It wasn't real severe, and we shut him down right away," Lewis said of the injury.

Lamur was run from last Sunday's 30-0 win against the Browns because of the issue.

If Lamur is ruled unable to play, the Bengals likely will use a combination of backups Marquis Flowers, Chris Carter and Nico Johnson at the "Sam" linebacker position he occupies in the base defense. When Cincinnati shifts into nickel packages as it likely will do often against the Broncos' multi-receiver and tight end sets, safety Taylor Mays likely will come off the bench and shift into Lamur's role as the cover linebacker. Despite playing the "Sam" in base, it has been Lamur's responsibility to defend tight ends in passing situations this season.

Last season, with Lamur out for the season, Mays moved down into a linebacker role. He was covering tight ends in a similar capacity before suffering his own season-ending shoulder injury in Week 8.

In addition to watching Lamur, eyes will be on Manning before Monday's game, too. After fighting through a thigh injury and an illness this week, the quarterback was listed as questionable on the Broncos' Saturday injury report.

Here is Cincinnati's full injury report*:

DOUBTFUL
WR James Wright (knee)
LB Lamur (hamstring)

QUESTIONABLE
QB AJ McCarron (illness)

PROBABLE
WR Brandon Tate (illness)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Achilles)
DE Carlos Dunlap (calf)
TE Jermaine Gresham (toe)
DE Margus Hunt (ankle)
CB Terence Newman (ankle)
OT Marshall Newhouse (illness)

Receiver A.J. Green was taken off the injury report. He's healthy after dealing with an illness this week.
CINCINNATI -- As they face yet another tough tight end matchup, the Cincinnati Bengals may be without their top cover linebacker Monday night when they host the Denver Broncos.

That's because for the second straight day, Emmanuel Lamur missed practice, working instead Friday on the rehab portion of the practice field. The base strongside linebacker typically lines up with tight ends in certain passing situations. He's drawn his fair share of good ones this year, too.

After facing Rob Gronkowski, Delanie Walker and Jimmy Graham among others, Lamur would be expected this weekend to defend Julius Thomas, Denver's big red zone passing target.

If the hamstring injury Lamur suffered late in last Sunday's 30-0 win over Cleveland hasn't calmed by Monday night, then he'll likely be replaced by Taylor Mays, a safety who has been used as a linebacker in the past. There are other options available to the Bengals, too, including backups Marquis Flowers, Chris Carter and Nico Johnson, linebackers coach Matt Burke said.

Burke acknowledged that Mays has been in his meeting room all this week in the event Lamur can't go.

Before a season-ending Week 8 injury last season, Mays was beginning to emerge as a solid enough option at the nickel linebacker spot. He spent much of his time before the injury playing there with Lamur shelved from the preseason due to his own season-ending issue.

As far as the health of the linebacker positions are concerned, it's been a year to forget for Burke. Lamur's latest injury comes after he, Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfict and Jayson DiManche have all already missed games. Maualuga missed four, Burfict is on season-ending injured reserve after finishing just two games, and DiManche went on IR two weeks ago.

"That's just how it goes. We're cursed this year," Burke said. "We know that's part of sports, it's part of the game. If you deal with injuries, it's 'when.' So you always have to have those contingency plans. We're not changing what we do. Next man up. Those guys have been here. They're responsible for knowing what they're doing to play and it's time to go."

Along with Lamur, receiver James Wright, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury, also didn't practice Friday. Like Lamur, he got in work on the rehab and conditioning parts of the practice field. Fellow receiver A.J. Green, who was sick Thursday, returned to full practice participation.

Here's the full Friday injury report:

DID NOT PRACTICE
LB Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring)
WR James Wright (knee)
OT Andrew Whitworth (veteran's day off)
WR Brandon Tate (illness)

LIMITED PRACTICE PARTICIPATION
CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Achilles)
DE Carlos Dunlap (calf)

FULL PRACTICE PARTICIPATION
WR A.J. Green (illness)
TE Jermaine Gresham (toe)
DE Margus Hunt (ankle)
CB Terence Newman (ankle)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
CINCINNATI -- In their first practice of the week, the Cincinnati Bengals got tight end Jermaine Gresham back from a toe injury that forced him to miss last Sunday's game at Cleveland.

Gresham was in and out of practice last week after picking up the injury in one of the week's workouts. He tested out the toe before Sunday's game and, for the most part, looked pretty good. But he apparently didn't feel good enough.

He told coaches and trainers he was in too much pain and was thus declared inactive.

On Thursday, he not only was active, but he participated fully alongside defensive end Margus Hunt and cornerback Terence Newman. Hunt returned after missing four weeks with an ankle injury. He was injured in the Week 11 game at New Orleans and was quickly placed into a walking boot and crutches. Newman practiced after also being inactive last Sunday due to his own ankle injury.

Of concern Thursday was the absence of A.J. Green. The Pro Bowl receiver was sent home after the Bengals' morning walk-through because of an illness. It is believed he'll be OK to practice Friday, and his status for Monday night's game against the Denver Broncos isn't in doubt.

While there doesn't appear to be any issue with Green this week, the same can't be said just yet about linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and receiver James Wright. Neither practiced, but they did participate in rehab and conditioning exercises on the side of the practice fields. This was only the second time Wright has gone through rehab drills in the nearly three weeks he has missed with a knee injury. It's a promising sign that he could be activated this week if the Bengals are comfortable with the injury's progress.

Lamur hurt his hamstring in the second half of the 30-0 win over the Browns on Sunday.

Here is the complete Thursday injury report:

DID NOT PRACTICE
WR A.J. Green (illness)
LB Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring)
WR James Wright (knee)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)

LIMITED PRACTICE PARTICIPATION
CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Achilles)
DE Carlos Dunlap (calf)

FULL PRACTICE PARTICIPATION
DE Margus Hunt (ankle)
CB Terence Newman (ankle)
TE Jermaine Gresham (toe)
CINCINNATI -- Emmanuel Lamur has played basketball.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
AP Photo/Rogelio SolisWith his size and athletic ability, Jimmy Graham will be a tough challenge for the Bengals' defense.
 But there's a reason he's now a football player.

His sporting profession won't matter much at the Superdome on Sunday, though, but he probably still might have to pull out a few hardcourt tricks as he spends much of the afternoon covering New Orleans Saints pass-catching phenom Jimmy Graham. The tight end who spent four years of college playing Division I basketball is a veritable matchup nightmare.

Graham's 56 receptions this season tie him for seventh in the league among all pass-catchers. His seven touchdowns is tied for ninth.

Lamur did't want admit that he would be doing his share of boxing out and leaping while trying to prevent jump-balls downfield, but he did concede that he will have arguably the biggest challenge he's had in a year full of them.

"He's Graham," Lamur said, smiling as he was asked about what made the tight end so special. "He's like a dinosaur. He's so big. He's a tall guy."

At 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, Graham is slightly bigger than most tight ends. Pound-for-pound, most defensive ends and many outside linebackers would be ideal to cover him. But then factor in Graham's penchant for going up for jump balls downfield. Maybe that's when a safety would be best to cover him. But then again, he is 6-foot-7, 265 pounds.

Even with his T-Rex-like size, Graham runs like a greyhound. His long, purposeful strides get him in the back of a secondary quickly, meaning cornerbacks could be good options for covering him. But again, he's 6-foot-7, 265 pounds.

"You don't want to get in those situations," said 5-foot-11 Bengals cornerback Leon Hall, one of several defensive backs who could spend a play or two on Graham. "He's a big body so if you get up on him, a lot of the time, it would be jump-ball type of situations where he can reach up for the ball and you can't reach your short arms in there. You have to play a little differently. I can't say exactly how, but you have to be smart."

Because of his combination of athletic ability, size (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) and recent experiences, Lamur is the best option for consistently playing Graham. After covering the likes of Dennis Pitta, Delanie Walker, Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen, Lamur has already gone through a pass-catching tight end gauntlet.

But he has struggled. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the four tight ends caught a combined 28 passes for 339 yards, three touchdowns and 18 first downs with Lamur on the field. Only one 11-yard, first-down pass was caught by Olsen with Lamur not in the game.

Lamur, playing in his first full season as a starter, still believes he has discovered the best way to play such challenging receivers: be just as physical as they are, if not more.

"You have to put a hand on those guys," Lamur said. "You can't let them get free releases. That's where they make their bread and butter. You just have to have collisions."

With respect to defending Graham specifically, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther broke it down even simpler.

"He's got to cover him," Guenther said. "Point blank."

Bengal Morning Takes: Can't drop INTs

November, 3, 2014
11/03/14
8:00
AM ET
CINCINNATI -- Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles should have thrown more interceptions Sunday afternoon than the one George Iloka delivered late in the fourth quarter to effectively ice the Cincinnati Bengals' 33-23 win.

Bengals defenders had five other passes that could and should have been interceptions. Had they not dropped them or allowed a receiver to either yank the ball away or deflect them at the last second, the Bengals could have set a franchise record for single-game interceptions with six.

Iloka
But they only are credited with Iloka's because Iloka was the only one who caught the ball when it hit his hands. That simply can't happen. A better quarterback can expose a defense if it misses that many opportunities.

Despite playing well in coverage most of the game, linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and cornerback Terence Newman came up empty on five occasions when they couldn't hang on to passes from the league's interception leader. They flat-out dropped three potential interceptions. Lamur had another that a receiver deflected just as he got his hands up for a possible interception. Newman was in position for one more when Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns flashed in front of him and yanked the ball as he twisted across the goal line for an 18-yard touchdown.

Each missed opportunity gave the Jaguars new life on drives.

"It's very frustrating," said Iloka, who had a couple drops last year playing with a cast covering a broken hand and wrist. "It's the NFL. Anybody can beat you any Sunday, especially when you start doing things like that. You don't want to build that bad habit. You want to catch the interception, get the fumbles. We put our offense sometimes in some bad positions. Like coach [Marvin Lewis] said, we made it hard on ourselves. The score is what it is, but it didn't have to be that close."

Bortles didn't disagree.

"There were a lot of things -- a lot of plays left out on the field," Bortles said, annoyed by what, statistically, was actually one of the best performances of his rookie season.

As good as Bortles' outing looks statistically, Iloka thought the Bengals should have capitalized better.

"He's a young quarterback, we watched him on film. He averages like two interceptions a game," Iloka said. "He throws into double coverage. We should have had four to five. All of them, he was forcing it."

Bortles admitted to forcing the ball on Iloka's interception. It was supposed to sail out of the end zone because he saw no receivers open. Instead, it stayed low enough for Iloka.

Like Iloka, who has a team-leading three interceptions, Bengals defenders must start catching the passes that hit their hands. Dropped interceptions can have a more devastating impact than they did Sunday. Just look at the dropped potential pick-sixes Lamur and Leon Hall had in losses at New England and Indianapolis, respectively. The Benglas were routed in each game, and both missed opportunities happened early in the game and could have completely changed the tenor of those contests.
CINCINNATI -- Blake Bortles and Paul Guenther have something in common.

Like a rookie quarterback facing five- and six-man pressures every snap, Guenther, the Cincinnati Bengals' first-year defensive coordinator, has been under constant duress this season.

It's been a weekly assault of injuries that have made life as the top defensive assistant more hectic than he imagined.

"I told somebody [Wednesday], 'It's been a hell of a first year,'" Guenther said.

Cincinnati's latest blow came earlier in the day when linebacker Vontaze Burfict underwent surgery to clean out his left knee after taking a shot to it Sunday from a low, legal block. Aside from this latest problem, the Pro Bowler had already been in and out of the defense's starting rotation for much of the year due to head and neck injuries. He's only finished two of the seven games the Bengals have played this season, despite starting five of them.

Along with Burfict's injury issues, the Bengals have been forced to manage at times without fellow linebackers Rey Maualuga and Emmanuel Lamur. The last three quarters of Cincinnati's game at Indianapolis two weeks ago ended with three reserves, Vincent Rey, Jayson DiManche and Marquis Flowers, at linebacker. With Burfict and Maualuga out this week, Rey and Flowers will be getting extensive playing time again. Rey will wear the communications microphone with Burfict not playing.

"We have a lot of guys that are versatile in their roles," Guenther said. "Vinny's been a guy who's played a lot of different spots. We've got some young guys that are playing some roles."

Even when he was the Bengals' linebackers coach, Guenther's philosophy hinged on holistic coaching. He has long wanted his players at linebacker to know and understand the duties of all three positions.

"It's not like I'm only a strong-side linebacker, I'm only a weak-side linebacker, I'm only a nickel linebacker. They've got to know all the spots," Guenther said. "They have to know the running game and the passing game, so it helps out a lot. And the way I teach [defense] anyways is the way I've taught the linebackers and the defense in general. It's to understand where everything fits."

Beyond the issues at linebacker, the Bengals also have had challenges on the defensive line, where tackle Brandon Thompson's knee injury has changed some of what they can do in run-stop situations. Since he got hurt in Week 2, the Bengals have allowed five straight offenses to collect 100 or more yards rushing.

If Thompson returns this weekend, as expected, he ought to give the Bengals much-needed help on the line's interior.

It's signs like that -- players returning from injuries -- that make Guenther maintain his belief that Year 1 as a coordinator can ultimately be a success.

"The year isn't over," Guenther said. "That's [injuries] part of the job. It's not always going to be status quo. If you're lucky, you get all your guys for the whole season. We haven't had too many guys the last couple years going down like this, so you've just got to make sure your guys are prepared, and you put them in the right positions during the week so when the game comes on Sunday, they understand what to do."

PFF reviews the Bengals' Week 8 win

October, 27, 2014
10/27/14
7:15
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- After closing out the regular-season series sweep Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals have placed the Baltimore Ravens in their rearview mirror for now. The Ravens can't directly affect them the rest of this season.

Let's take a quick peek at some of the ways our friends at Pro Football Focus analyzed and examined Cincinnati's Week 8 game.

As always, take the grades and notes you see below with a certain grain of salt because they can end up being amended. Bad grades also can sometimes simply be the product of particular schemes, coverage or formations a team happens to employ in a respective week based upon the opponent.

Here are a few Bengals grades and notes following Sunday's dramatic 27-24 win:

OFFENSE
  • Britt
    Whitworth
    In what was a mostly down week for the Bengals' offensive line, Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth stood out most significantly, according to PFF's grades. He led the unit with an overall grade of plus-1.8, and was the only offensive lineman in positive territory. Right guard Kevin Zeitler had a 0.0 grade before a calf injury caused him to exit the game in the fourth quarter. As for Whitworth, per PFF, he has only allowed three quarterback pressures all season and none since Week 2. By those standards, he could be closing in on another Pro Bowl-caliber year.
  • The interior of the Bengals' line, notably left guard Clint Boling and center Russell Bodine, had some of its worst grades of the season. Boling had a season-low minus-4.5 overall grade, while Bodine had a minus-4.6. Bodine allowed three quarterback hurries against the Ravens and had trouble in run blocking. Once, he even incurred a holding penalty at the same time he blocked a Baltimore lineman backward, and into running back Jeremy Hill in the backfield.
  • Quarterback Andy Dalton wasn't pressured much Sunday -- taking heat on 10 of his 31 dropbacks -- but when he did feel the pressure, he handled it mostly well. He was 5-for-7 for 91 yards passing on the 10 pressures. He also took two sacks and scrambled once. This was the second time in as many weeks that he was sacked two or more times.
  • Dalton remains the least pressured quarterback in the league, according to PFF, but he has seen an uptick in the pressure the past two weeks. He was pressured on 29.3 percent of his dropbacks against the Colts in Week 7, and saw pressures on 32.3 percent of his dropbacks Sunday.
DEFENSE
  • Dunlap
    Cincinnati's pass rush was sparked by Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, the defender with the highest pass-rush grade -- plus-1.0 -- of any player on the team. PFF said Atkins tallied three quarterback pressures in addition to his first full sack. PFF added that Dunlap hurried Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco five times and had a quarterback hit once.
  • One week after their backup-filled linebacker corps was ripped to shreds by Indianapolis' offense, the Bengals got a boost from Emmanuel Lamur, who returned to the starting rotation following a week off to tend to a shoulder injury. He was good overall, garnering a plus-1.4 overall grade, but it was in run defense where he excelled the most, PFF noted. He had a plus-1.5 grade against the run. In the passing game, Lamur also gave up two catches on five targets and had an interception.
  • The Bengals have had trouble stopping the run all season, but defensive end Wallace Gilberry has been one of their better pieces against it. He has the line's top run-stop percentage at 7.1 percent, per PFF. That's the highest figure of a player in the division, and it's 11th in the league.

Behind the Bengals' Week 8 snap counts

October, 27, 2014
10/27/14
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CINCINNATI -- After being on the field for more than 80 plays in their previous three games, the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive players received a slight reprieve in in Sunday's 27-24 win against the Baltimore Ravens, who kept them out for just 67 plays.

For a defense licking its wounds and beginning to get players back from injuries, it was a welcome relief.

lastname
Bernard
One of the players returning from injury, linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, played all 67 snaps. Lamur missed last week's loss against Indianapolis after suffering a shoulder injury at the very end of regulation during the Bengals' tie against Carolina. In one of his best games of the season, Lamur recorded five tackles and had a key second-half interception that led to a score against the Ravens.

Along with getting some players back into the rotation, the Bengals also had one of their more balanced running back rotations of the season. Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill had almost an even split of carries.

One reason was an injury to Bernard late in the fourth quarter, but even before that happened Hill had shared snaps. According to Pro Football Focus, Bernard was part of 38 of the Bengals' 70 offensive snaps, and Hill was in on 31. The last time their snap counts were that balanced was in Week 2 against Atlanta, when Bernard was in for 46 plays, and Hill for 33.

Here, with help from our friends at PFF and the NFL's Game Statistics and Information System, are this week's complete Bengals play counts:

OFFENSE (70 plays)*
OG Clint Boling (70), C Russell Bodine (70), OT Andrew Whitworth (70), OT Andre Smith (70), QB Andy Dalton (70), TE Jermaine Gresham (70), WR Mohamed Sanu (65), OG Kevin Zeitler (53), WR Brandon Tate (50), RB Giovani Bernard (38), H-back Ryan Hewitt (34), RB Jeremy Hill (31), WR Greg Little (30), OG Mike Pollak (17), WR James Wright (8), WR Dane Sanzenbacher (5), TE Kevin Brock (5), OT Marshall Newhouse (5), FB/DT Domata Peko (5, offensive snaps), RB Cedric Peerman (3).

DEFENSE (67 plays)*
LB Emmanuel Lamur (67), S Reggie Nelson (65), S George Iloka (65), CB Leon Hall (65), DE Carlos Dunlap (62), LB Vontaze Burfict (62), CB Terence Newman (61), DE Wallace Gilberry (50), DT Domata Peko (46), DT Geno Atkins (45), LB Vincent Rey (37), DE Robert Geathers (35), CB Adam Jones (35), DT Devon Still (25), DE Margus Hunt (7), LB Marquis Flowers (3), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (3), LB Nico Johnson (2), S Shawn Williams (2).

SPECIAL TEAMS (26 plays)**
Williams (20), Johnson (16), Flowers (16), Peerman (16), S Taylor Mays (16), Hunt (14), Wright (13), CB Darqueze Dennard (13), K Mike Nugent (11), LB Jayson DiManche (11), Hewitt (11), Nelson (10), Rey (10), Kirkpatrick (10), Peko (9), LS Clark Harris (8), P Kevin Huber (8), Brock (6), Whitworth (5), Smith (5), Gresham (5), Pollak (5), Dunlap (5), Jones (5), Newhouse (5), Still (4), Hall (4), Zeitler (4), Tate (2), Gilberry (2), Lamur (2), Burfict (1), Newman (1), Hill (1), Bodine (1).

Note: *Counts come from PFF. **Counts come from NFL's GSIS.
CINCINNATI -- It's hard to attach value to how important Wednesday's practice was for the Cincinnati Bengals.

For the first time in a long time, they welcomed multiple injured players back to the fold, providing some measure of hope that they could be markedly healthier Sunday when Cincy hosts the Baltimore Ravens.

Even still, fourth-year receiver A.J. Green didn't practice. He did give a promising sign that he could play this week, though, when he participated in conditioning drills off to the side of the practice fields. It was the first time he has participated in any kind of activity since he was hurt at the start of a Wednesday practice two weeks ago. It was during that workout that Green aggravated his big right toe. It's an injury that has affected him since Week 1.

Asked to comment after practice, Green declined.

On Tuesday, he said on NFL Network that his status this weekend is "still up in the air," even if his toe has felt better and is beginning to progress.

Defensive tackle Brandon Thompson and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur were two Bengals in particular who returned Wednesday after having missed time in recent weeks because of injuries. Lamur hurt his left shoulder two weeks ago on the second-to-last play of regulation against the Panthers. Thompson suffered a knee injury in the Bengals' Week 2 win over the Falcons.

Both were listed as having limited practice participation.

If Thompson goes this weekend, he could help the Bengals' struggling run defense. In the four games since he got hurt, Cincinnati has allowed an average of 172.3 yards rushing per game. In the two games before a knee issue sidelined Thompson, the Bengals had been giving up an average of 95.5 yards rushing.

"He's a good run-stuffing guy," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "He's a key part of what we do and we can't wait to have him back."

If Lamur plays as expected, he will give the Bengals a jolt from an experience and talent standpoint. Because of injuries, for the last three quarters of Sunday's game at Indianapolis, the Bengals didn't have a single starter in the game at linebacker. Rookie Marquis Flowers and second-year reserve Jayson DiManche played the most snaps of their young careers alongside veteran backup Vincent Rey.

Rey started the game with Rey Maualuga out with a hamstring injury, but he ultimately assumed Pro Bowler Vontaze Burfict's duties once Burfict left in the first quarter with a neck injury.

Burfict's injury has responded favorably enough since Sunday that he joined Thompson and Lamur at practice. He, too, participated in a limited capacity. Running back Giovani Bernard also worked out in a limited fashion with a rib injury that came when he was demolished by Vontae Davis on a second-quarter screen at Indianapolis.

Cornerback Leon Hall (back), who also was hurt in the game against the Colts, did not practice.

Here's Cincinnati's full injury report:

OUT
LB Rey Maualuga (hamstring)

DID NOT PRACTICE
DE Robert Geathers (toe)
WR A.J. Green (toe)
CB Leon Hall (back)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)

LIMITED PRACTICE PARTICIPATION
RB Giovani Bernard (ribs)
TE Kevin Brock (neck)
LB Vontaze Burfict (neck)
DE Wallace Gilberry (eye)
LB Emmanuel Lamur (shoulder)
OT Marshall Newhouse (back)
OT Andre Smith (shoulder)
DT Brandon Thompson (knee)

Behind the Bengals' Week 7 snap counts

October, 20, 2014
10/20/14
9:30
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CINCINNATI -- Battered and bruised by a spate of injuries, the Cincinnati Bengals once again were forced to turn to their youngest players Sunday afternoon.

Backups like rookies Darqueze Dennard and Marquis Flowers, and second-year player Jayson DiManche, got the most playing time of their careers because players listed ahead of them on the depth chart either weren't healthy coming into the 27-0 shutout or were banged up in it.

Starters like linebackers Rey Maualuga and Emmanuel Lamur didn't play this week after suffering serious ailments in last week's 37-37 tie with Carolina. Pro Bowler A.J. Green didn't play for a second straight week as he deals with a toe injury he's had all year. During Sunday's loss to the Colts, Vontaze Burfict and Leon Hall were lost with a pair of first-half injuries, forcing players like DiManche and Flowers to help absorb their losses, while also retaining their roles on special teams.

In addition to the nearly 50 defensive plays DiManche and Flowers were part of, for example, both also had 23 special-teams snaps, giving their bodies the most strenuous in-game workouts they have had since joining the NFL. To keep Rey fresh, the Bengals cleared his special-teams duties, keeping him out there for just six of those plays.

As much of those tweaks were made to help, they didn't do enough to make anyone forget about the absences of the starters.

More than any other game the Bengals have had this year, this game showed the glaring holes left when a team of this caliber takes this of volume of injury-induced hits.

With Maualuga potentially out for a couple more weeks, and Green's toe injury one that ought to linger all season, and Burfict's health and head injuries being an apparent yearlong concern, the Bengals could end up using some of these reserves regularly this season. So if they are going to see any semblance of the success they had hoped to have when the year began, they must find a way to fully ingratiate these young players into their schemes and make the drop-off from starter to bench dramatically more minimal than it has been.

Because if you think these reserve snap counts are high, there could be more on the way later this year.

Here, with help from Pro Football Focus and the NFL's Game Statistics and Information System, are this week's play counts:

OFFENSE (59 plays)*
OG Clint Boling (59), C Russell Bodine (59), OT Andrew Whitworth (59), OG Kevin Zeitler (59), OT Andre Smith (59), QB Andy Dalton (59), WR Mohamed Sanu (55), TE Jermaine Gresham (52), WR Dane Sanzenbacher (51), WR Brandon Tate (41), RB Giovani Bernard (41), RB Jeremy Hill (19), WR James Wright (15), H-back Ryan Hewitt (13), WR Greg Little (7), RB Cedric Peerman (1).

DEFENSE (82 plays)*
LB Vincent Rey (82), S Reggie Nelson (82), S George Iloka (81), CB Terence Newman (74), CB Adam Jones (67), DT Domata Peko (66), DT Geno Atkins (57), DE Carlos Dunlap (56), DE Wallace Gilberry (54), LB Jayson DiManche (46), LB Marquis Flowers (46), DE Robert Geathers (39), CB Leon Hall (33), DT Devon Still (31), LB Vontaze Burfict (27), DE Margus Hunt (26), CB Darqueze Dennard (18), S Taylor Mays (9), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (8).

SPECIAL TEAMS (29 plays)**
S Shawn Williams (28), Peerman (23), Flowers (23), DiManche (23), Mays (23), Hewitt (19), Wright (17), Dennard (17), TE Kevin Brock (17), LB Nico Johnson (16), Kirkpatrick (15), RB Rex Burkhead (12), P Kevin Huber (11), LS Clark Harris (11), Hunt (10), Jones (8), Nelson (6), Rey (6), Peko (6), Dunlap (6), Tate (5), Newman (5), Still (5), Hall (3), Iloka (1), Atkins (1), Gilberry (1), K Mike Nugent (1).
*Counts come from PFF.
*Counts come from NFL's GSIS.

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