Cincinnati Bengals: rex burkhead

CINCINNATI -- Before turning our full attention to free agency, the draft and the 2015 season, let's take one last look back at 2014.

We're doing that all this week through this position-by-position review of the Cincinnati Bengals' recent 10-5-1 campaign that ended with a wild-card round loss at Indianapolis.

We started with the quarterbacks. Now we continue with the running backs:

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
Aaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsJeremy Hill finished the season five shy of tying the Bengals' franchise record of rushing yards by a rookie.
2014 cap value: $3.4 million total -- Giovani Bernard ($1.2 million), Cedric Peerman ($1.1 million), Jeremy Hill ($682,473), Rex Burkhead ($520,550)

Highlights: You can't reference running back highlights without mentioning Hill. The rookie finished the season with 1,124 yards rushing, five shy of tying the rookie franchise record set by Corey Dillon. The bulk of the yards came in the latter half of the season, after Bernard was lost three games with multiple injuries. While Bernard was out, Hill posted two 140-yard plus games. A couple of weeks after Bernard's return, the rookie was eventually named the feature back. Hill led all NFL rushers the last eight weeks of the regular season with 929 yards.

Bernard's biggest highlight was his 89-yard touchdown run in the tie with the Carolina Panthers. It was Cincinnati's longest play of the season. Burkhead had a few highlights, too. At the end of a 14-play, 86-yard drive that lasted nearly nine minutes at the close of the Bengals' win at Cleveland, he weaved around defenders, broke a tackle and dove out of another as he scored on a 10-yard touchdown run to push the score to 30-0 in the final seconds. He also stood out in the playoff loss at Indianapolis, filling in as an extra slot receiver with pass-catchers A.J. Green, James Wright, Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham injured.

Lowlights: Fumbles were perhaps the greatest problem the Bengals' rushers had last season. They had six and lost two, including one at the start of a fourth quarter that saw the Pittsburgh Steelers come from behind, score 25 unanswered and win by 21. Just as he will with quarterback Andy Dalton, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will spend the offseason preaching to his running backs about the value of protecting the football. After a relatively clean first three weeks of the season, the Bengals got increasingly sloppy in the area of turnovers as the season continued. The other major lowlight for the backfield was contending with Bernard's injuries.

Play of the year: Hill provided many options for the running backs' play of the year, but here we'll single out his 85-yard touchdown run in the first half of the Bengals' Monday night win over the Denver Broncos. The run was an important part of the win, as it came on the first play of the drive after Dalton had thrown a pick-six. With Denver in position to steal away early momentum, much like the Cleveland Browns did with a first-quarter interception in a Thursday night home game earlier in the year, the Bengals needed a spark. Hill provided that when he broke a tackle in the backfield, ran through an arm tackle and got great downfield blocking by Gresham and Sanu, in particular.

Necessary improvements: The biggest improvement the Bengals can make for their running backs is identifying each player's roles long before minicamp. Bernard's injuries stemmed, in part, from an unwillingness to tweak his style of play. A smaller, shiftier runner, he's better when used in space. Early in the season, Cincinnati was stubborn with him, often running him in power and dive calls when it may have been better to get him outside. There's no need to take that portion of Bernard's game away completely, but the Bengals will have to do a better job monitoring how physical his play is.
CINCINNATI -- OK, so no, the Seattle Seahawks did not win Sunday night's Super Bowl, thanks in large part to arguably the most bizarre late-game coaching decision in championship-game history.

And as a result, their first-year receiver, Chris Matthews, was not named the Most Valuable Player of the game.

But still, here's a question I pondered while watching Matthews dominate during the ballgame: Do the Cincinnati Bengals have their own version of Matthews? That is, do they have a player on their roster, that had they made it to the Super Bowl, would have come out of relative obscurity to be a difference-maker and potential hero?

There's only name I could come up with: Rex Burkhead.

The Bengals' backup running back actually did have his own breakthrough last month when he caught three passes for 34 yards and had a slick 23-yard gain off a reverse on the Bengals' first offensive play of a wild-card round playoff loss at Indianapolis. It was among the most extensive action of the little-used Burkhead's career, after being thrust into an emergency secondary receiver role following untimely injuries to A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham that thinned the pass-catching ranks.

Matthews' four Super Bowl receptions Sunday were the first passes he caught in his career.

The first, a well-placed 45-yard bomb from quarterback Russell Wilson, set up Seattle's first score. The next was an 11-yard touchdown reception that tied the game at 14 as the Seahawks gambled and went for the end zone instead of playing it safe and kicking a field goal with two seconds before the intermission. Two receptions later, Matthews finished with 109 yards receiving and was in the thick of the game's MVP race, barring a New England win.

The reason I pondered the earlier question as it related to the Bengals was because I was reminded during the game of a comment ESPN's veteran Broncos reporter, Jeff Legwold, made during our NFL Nation TV Spreecast earlier in the week. He mentioned how some Super Bowls come down stellar play from previously unknown players, who may have had little previous impact.

Part of it has to do with scheming. It's so easy for opposing defenses to spend the two weeks preparing for a playmaking team's stars that often they don't fully game plan for a player they've seldom seen on tape. Those players also are typically fresher by the final game of the season than their teammates who played every other down during the season. Think about David Tyree, a New York Giants receiver who had no postseason catches in five previous playoff games, ahead of his four-reception night in the Giants' Super Bowl XLII win over the Patriots. His night was highlighted by his iconic late-game helmet grab.

Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith similarly burst on the scene during last year's postseason and returned a key interception for a touchdown early in Seattle's rout of the Broncos.

Had the Bengals made it that far this year, my pick for unknown potential offensive star would have been Burkhead. On defense, rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard could have pulled off the same aggressive goal-line interception that Patriots rookie Malcolm Butler had in the closing seconds of New England's 28-24 win. The heroic game-clinching pick-off was from an undrafted player who had logged just 176 defensive snaps this regular season.

Dennard, Cincinnati's first-round pick, only had 58 snaps.
CINCINNATI -- We mentioned Saturday how we had a flood of questions for this week's mailbag. So, just as we did with Part 1, let's go on and get right to the questions and answers for Part 2.

Up first, an inquiry about getting Geno Atkins and Vontaze Burfict back to form:

@ColeyHarvey: It's so hard to predict how people's bodies will respond to injuries, particularly knee injuries. So the short answer, Jesse, is, "Who knows?" Even they have no idea if they'll ever get back to where they were before missing significant chunks of the last two seasons. You can be sure of one thing, though: Both will work hard on returning to their old selves. The thing is, in addition to the physical rebound their knees have to make (in Atkins' case, ACL surgery from late in 2013; in Burfict's case, a cartilage issue that required postseason surgery), there can be a mental component to the recovery, too. That's especially the case for players who sustained knee injuries because of unexpected contact initiated by opposing players.

Atkins, by all accounts, was fully healthy in 2014. He didn't play like his old self, though, notching just three sacks after having six in a half-season shortened by injury in 2013 and 12.5 in a complete season in 2012. Based on that, it seems as if he didn't quite have full confidence in his knee this season. The hope is that by having a full offseason to train without having to rehab, Atkins will be dramatically better in 2015. As for Burfict, the hope is that his knee comes back stronger than before after surgery and rehab this offseason.

@ColeyHarvey: Again, you can't predict anything as it relates to injuries and rebounding from them. In this case, the Bengals would like to believe that the timing of Tyler Eifert's elbow and shoulder surgeries will cut down on the amount of time he misses in voluntary offseason workouts and organized team activities while rehabbing. He seems confident he'll be back at 100 percent in time for training camp. Also, who knows if he'll be 100 percent healthy for a full season? As for Jermaine Gresham, the writing on the wall seems to indicate that he won't be coming back in free agency. If that's the case, Eifert's role in the offense ought to increase. Another tight end we'll discuss in the next question might have an expanded role, too. Perhaps the Bengals will sign another tight end who could help Eifert in possible two-tight end sets? We'll see.

@ColeyHarvey: Hewitt had a very strong first season. You could make a case that he really was the Bengals' rookie of the year. Without him opening up holes as a blocker out of the backfield, first-year running back Jeremy Hill might not have had many of the rushing lanes that helped propel him to more than 1,100 yards. The answer to your question, though, depends upon what else the Bengals do at the position. I personally subscribe to the if-it-ain't-broke line of reasoning. Hewitt was great as an H-back and had receiving opportunities from that position. They might like to get the ball into his hands more often, but his value as a blocker was tremendous. I'd keep him in that role. But again, it all hinges upon what happens with the two free-agent tight ends (Gresham and Alex Smith).

@ColeyHarvey: Speaking of expanded roles, it would make sense for the Bengals to try to get Rex Burkhead more involved as a receiver in 2015, whether he's coming out of the backfield or lining up in the slot, as he was forced to in the playoff loss. He was effective in his role against the Colts, catching three passes for 34 yards. He even had a 23-yard run on a reverse to open the game. A selfless player who is one of the coaches' favorites, Burkhead has definitely earned more opportunities. The best way for him to showcase them, though, would be in scenarios in which the Bengals might incorporate some kind of misdirection or gadget play. Using Burkhead in the passing game, to me, ought to be akin to using Mohamed Sanu as a passer. It can be a valuable weapon, but must be used with care and timeliness. Because there are so many other talented pass-catchers around him, Burkhead can't be expected to have a large receiving role, but he should at least have one.

@ColeyHarvey: Still no answer to share with you here, Brett. Terence Newman has yet to publicize a decision about playing again next season, but he definitely could. He's still excited to play football and he said his body felt pretty good by the end of the season. He's still pondering that decision. Even if he does decide he has another season left in him, it might be hard for the Bengals to be convinced to re-sign him. Dre Kirkpatrick finally emerged last season and Darqueze Dennard is waiting in the wings. The Bengals definitely would like to get Dennard on the field at some point soon, as they start to usher in a new era at cornerback.
CINCINNATI -- Free agency is right around the corner for the Cincinnati Bengals, who have 15 players with contracts that expire in March.

Of the 15, 13 are unrestricted free agents and two are restricted free agents. To help you understand what decisions the Bengals must make with each of them, we're taking a daily look at the respective free agents and the reasons why they will or won't be re-signed.

We started with quarterback Jason Campbell.

We continue with running back Cedric Peerman:

Year signed: 2013 (second deal with Cincinnati)

Length of previous deal: Two years

2014 Cap Value: $1,050,000

2014 Role: Backup running back, and special teams contributor.

Why he will be re-signed: Bottom line, if Peerman gets re-signed, it will be because of his role on the Bengals' special teams units. Cincinnati certainly values him as a backup running back, too, but his most significant contribution has been, and likely will continue to be, on the various return and coverage units he plays. Peerman was so valued as a specialist that he was on the Pro Bowl ballot as a possible selection for that very position. He's the lead blocker on the kick return team, and participates on the punt and kickoff coverage teams. He had the most single-season special teams tackles of his career in 2014, coming away with 15 stops. He had 12 in 2013, and forced a fumble. There's clear value for Peerman in this role.

Why he won't be re-signed: The Bengals would be viewing Peerman strictly as a running back if they don't elect to bring him back or extend him an offer that would entice him to stay. The reason the running back vs. special teams distinction is so important as it relates to Peerman is because the Bengals currently have a rather crowded backfield with young, up-and-coming talent they are trying to groom. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard are the stars at the position, and Rex Burkhead is there, too, after a promising second season as a backup. Burkhead and Peerman alternated as the team's No. 3 back this year. Then there's James Wilder Jr., a back who spent all of 2014 on the practice squad. He'll be looking for a way to stay off the practice squad when training camp begins later this year. If they think of Peerman as simply a running back, the Bengals won't make it possible for him to spend his seventh NFL season with them.

Behind the Bengals' Week 10 snap counts

November, 7, 2014
CINCINNATI -- There's not much new to glean from a review of the Cincinnati Bengals' snap counts following Thursday night's 24-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Perhaps most telling was the reversal of snaps at the back end of the running back rotation. Last week, it was Cedric Peerman who got the bulk of the backup carries behind rookie starter Jeremy Hill. This week, Rex Burkhead took on the primary backup role.

At receiver, A.J. Green played nearly a complete game as promised. He was part of 60 of the Bengals' 68 snaps. Last Sunday, he was limited to just 40 of the offense's 69 plays in a win over the Jaguars. That game was his first back since missing three with a toe injury.

With a rotation of defensive tackles Thursday that stemmed in part from a right knee injury Geno Atkins suffered but eventually returned from, Devon Still saw his second-most snaps of the season after receiving his fewest the week before. He was in on 31 plays on the same night his 4-year-old daughter, who is battling pediatric cancer, traveled more than 600 miles to watch him play for the first time since her June diagnosis.

Aside from those notes, the only other snap-related items worth highlighting revolved around the fact that second-team quarterback Jason Campbell led a backup offense onto the field late in the fourth quarter, long after the game was out of reach. It's only the third game he has had snaps in this season, and the second time he has had them in a loss.

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

OFFENSE (68 plays)*
OG Clint Boling (68), C Russell Bodine (68), OG Kevin Zeitler (68), OT Marshall Newhouse (68), WR Mohamed Sanu (67), OT Andrew Whitworth (65), QB Andy Dalton (60), WR A.J. Green (60), TE Jermaine Gresham (56), RB Jeremy Hill (48), WR Greg Little (36), H-back Ryan Hewitt (16), RB Rex Burkhead (15), WR James Wright (14), TE Kevin Brock (11), WR Brandon Tate (10), QB Jason Campbell (8), RB Cedric Peerman (7), OT Tanner Hawkinson (3).

DEFENSE (77 plays)*
S George Iloka (77), LB Emmanuel Lamur (77), LB Vincent Rey (77), S Reggie Nelson (76), CB Adam Jones (76), CB Terence Newman (74), LB Nico Johnson (61), DE Carlos Dunlap (59), DE Wallace Gilberry (58), DT Domata Peko (51), DT Geno Atkins (36), DT Devon Still (31), DT Brandon Thompson (27), DE Robert Geathers (26), DE Margus Hunt (21), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (18), LB Marquis Flowers (1), S Shawn Williams (1).

SPECIAL TEAMS (28 plays)**
LB Jayson DiManche (27), Williams (27), S Taylor Mays (22), Peerman (22), Wright (22), Flowers (22), Hunt (19), Kirkpatrick (17), Hewitt (14), Burkhead (13), Dennard (12), P Kevin Huber (9), LS Clark Harris (9), Johnson (8), Tate (8), Nelson (7), Dunlap (6), Peko (6), Newman (5), Rey (5), Lamur (5), Brock (5), Still (4), Jones (4), K Mike Nugent (3), OG Mike Pollak (1), Thompson (1), Hawkinson (1), Gresham (1), Newhouse (1), Zeitler (1), Whitworth (1).

Note: *Counts come from PFF. **Counts come from NFL's GSIS.

Behind the Bengals' Week 9 snap counts

November, 3, 2014
CINCINNATI -- Our eyes showed us that Cincinnati Bengals Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green was limited in Sunday afternoon's 33-23 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but now we know exactly how limited he was.

According to snap counts from Pro Football Focus, Green was on the field for 58 percent of the snaps, a much higher percentage than it appeared. He played 40 of the Bengals' 69 snaps, the website reported. Receiver Mohamed Sanu played 60 of the Bengals' snaps.

Despite getting targeted six times and catching three passes for 44 yards and a touchdown, Green didn't participate as fully as normal because he was returning Sunday from a toe injury that kept him out of the previous three games. It has been a lingering issue that he aggravated during a practice about a month ago. Doctors have told him the pain in the right big toe will last the rest of the season. The combination of the down time and a quick turnaround this week made the Bengals ease Green back into action.

After Sunday's game, Green said he didn't have any complications with the toe and that he felt OK. He expects to be used more regularly Thursday when the Bengals host the Cleveland Browns in a nationally televised division contest.

Before Sunday's game, Green appeared in 160 of the 184 plays of the games he had finished this season. That accounts for 87 percent of the Bengals' snaps in those games, one of which was a 26-point blowout of the Titans that he and other starters left a few plays early.

So clearly, he was limited Sunday.

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 (69 plays)*
OG Clint Boling (69), C Russell Bodine (69), OG Mike Pollak (69), OT Andrew Whitworth (69), QB Andy Dalton (69) TE Jermaine Gresham (67), WR Sanu (60), OT Marshall Newhouse (46), RB Jeremy Hill (44), WR Green (40), WR Greg Little (38), H-back Ryan Hewitt (34), OT Andre Smith (24), RB Cedric Peerman (18), WR Brandon Tate (14), TE Kevin Brock (11), WR James Wright (10), RB Rex Burkhead (7), DT/FB Domata Peko (1).

DEFENSE (64 plays)*
S Reggie Nelson (64), CB Terence Newman (64), LB Vincent Rey (64), S George Iloka (63), LB Emmanuel Lamur (63), DE Carlos Dunlap (58), CB Leon Hall (55), DE Wallace Gilberry (48), DT Geno Atkins (47), CB Adam Jones (46), DT Peko (40), DE Robert Geathers (31), DT Brandon Thompson (19), LB Nico Johnson (17), Dre Kirkpatrick (10), DE Margus Hunt (9), DT Devon Still (4), S Taylor Mays (1), S Shawn Williams (1).

SPECIAL TEAMS (33 plays)**
Williams (27), LB Jayson DiManche (27), LB Marquis Flowers (24), Mays (24), Wright (24), Peerman (23), Hunt (22), Burkhead (19), Kirkpatrick (18), Hewitt (16), K Mike Nugent (11), Jones (11), LS Clark Harris (10), P Kevin Huber (10), Nelson (9), Peko (8), CB Chris Lewis-Harris (7), Brock (6), Johnson (5), Whitworth (5), Pollak (5), Bodine (5), Gresham (5), Newhouse (5), Tate (3), Newman (3), Rey (3), Lamur (3), Dunlap (3), Hall (3), Still (3), Smith (1).

Note: *Counts come from PFF. **Counts come from NFL's GSIS.
CINCINNATI -- It's been a frustrating season for A.J. Green, the Cincinnati Bengals' Pro Bowl receiver who has been forced to miss parts of four games because of a nagging toe injury.

There are a lot of competitive players in the NFL, but few are as intense or as intensely driven as him.

That's been clear the better part of the past month as he's stood on the sidelines with a scowl plastered on his face, visibly annoyed about being unable to play with his teammates. It wasn't until this week when Green's smile finally started returning.

Maybe it was back because the Bengals finally won a game after a tie and a loss came in the previous two games he missed. Maybe. Most likely, though, his familiar grin had returned because he started feeling better physically, and thinking he would finally rejoin the team Sunday when the Bengals host the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But will he play? Green was listed as questionable on the Bengals' injury report Friday and might not play this week. Maybe that's a good thing:

@ColeyHarvey: Good question, Nick. It's one I've been mulling all week, and one I guarantee you the Bengals have been considering it as well -- although you'll never hear anyone from the team actually admit that. I actually think that's a big part of the reason Green ended up drawing the "questionable" listing Friday. Since they have already had one setback with Green's injury following his six-play appearance against the Falcons seven weeks ago, it's possible trainers still have some concerns about his right big toe. They wouldn't want to throw Green into another game only for him to last for a short amount of time once again. If that's the case, they probably would rather keep his foot fresh for next Thursday's short turnaround against the Browns.

One of the most important parts of injuries like his is monitoring what the injury does in the days after a game. Obviously, if the Bengals had a Sunday game next week, they would have a full six days to evaluate his toe. But with only four days, that could change things. Personally, I'd consider shelving him this week. Mohamed Sanu has been an adequate replacement, accounting for more than 31 percent of the Bengals' offense with Green out. Ride him one more week and turn to your Pro Bowl receiver in the big prime-time division game.

@ColeyHarvey: Pat, the only person who could legitimately answer that question is Giovani Bernard himself. But the second-year running back has barely been around the team this week, and when he has been, he hasn't answered questions from the media. Having said that, if I had to make an educated guess, I would say that it wouldn't matter who the Bengals were playing this week; it doesn't appear Bernard would have been able to play regardless who the Bengals were facing. The fact he ended up getting listed with two injuries this week, including an old issue (clavicle) that apparently resurfaced during last week's game, isn't promising. The hip injury he was diagnosed with also takes time to heal. Given the way Bernard has been beaten up the last three weeks in particular, he probably would have gotten time off even if this week's game wasn't against a 1-7 team. The door isn't yet closed on his return next week, but the Bengals will be closely monitoring his progress between now and then.

@ColeyHarvey: You can go on and get out a red ink pen, Dave, and write Rex Burkhead's name into your list of pregame actives. Normally a special-teamer in games that he's active, Burkhead stands a good chance to get his first career carry Sunday with the Bengals honing their backfield focus on him, Cedric Peerman and Jeremy Hill. While Hill will get the bulk of the touches, Peerman and Burkhead will be in the mix as well. Peerman already has five carries and a catch, but he stands to see even more action this week. The Bengals have made it clear that under offensive coordinator Hue Jackson they will be employing occasional two-back and three-back rotations, so it makes sense that Burkhead could see a little action. If this game trends in the blowout direction that I'm thinking it will, Burkhead might have several playmaking opportunities before the end of the day.

@ColeyHarvey: Jake, not a whole lot is new on the Tyler Eifert front this week. The Bengals had hoped to get him back to practice this week, but he didn't make it out. Like Bernard, he was around, but was absent from the practice fields all week. His right elbow, dislocated in the season opener, doesn't appear to be quite back to the point the Bengals feel comfortable about playing him. I actually thought it was a little overly optimistic to expect Eifert back to practice seven weeks after such an injury. Since he hasn't played in about two months and hasn't done much on-field conditioning recently, I'm starting to doubt that we even see him at New Orleans in two weeks, as had been previously anticipated. The Bengals might be lucky to get him back at Houston the week after.

What can Jeremy Hill give the Bengals?

October, 31, 2014
CINCINNATI -- All of a sudden, the spotlight on Jeremy Hill has intensified.

With Giovani Bernard slated to miss the first game of his young career Sunday due to injury, the focus in the Cincinnati Bengals' backfield shifts to his rookie replacement.

Joined by backups Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead, Hill ought to command his share of carries and passing targets as he steps in for Bernard against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
John Grieshop/Getty ImagesRookie Jeremy Hill will get his first start Sunday against the Jaguars.
Although Hill already plays regularly, this will be the first start of his career.

So what does Hill give the Bengals?

He's a strong, physical runner who can catch. He was LSU's third-leading receiver last year. He also has comparatively fresh legs after getting outpaced by Bernard on offensive touches to this point, 131-63.

While Bernard may have more opportunities, Hill has still taken advantage of the ones he has received. His 7.0 yards per touch (both receiving and rushing) is better than the 6.1-yard average Bernard has on his rushes and receptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Hill technically may be a rookie another three months, but as the season reaches its halfway point, his coaches and teammates no longer consider him as such. He's grown since his arrival six months ago, and has a chance this weekend to take his biggest strides yet.

"They're not rookies anymore," offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said about Hill and fellow first-year player center Russell Bodine. They are the most regular rookie contributors on offense.

"They're expected to make plays. That's what they're here for," Jackson continued. "Whether it's the center or the back or any of our guys, that's the name of the business."

That's also the reason Hill was drafted in the first place. Cincinnati had former back BenJarvus Green-Ellis' succession plans in place and were looking for Hill to factor into them. They wanted to employ a two-man running back rotation with Bernard, but they also wanted to ensure that if they drafted Hill, he would be mature enough to handle situations like this one.

"It's kind of that time of the year where those guys have to put extra onus on some of the little things that may go by just because they're rookies," veteran Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "As long as they continue to progress and continue to say every week 'I want to go out and be a little better, that's really what the biggest difference is.'"

As he readies for his first start, that's the attitude Hill has tried to exude. He wants people to know that he's confident he can provide a boost in Bernard's absence.

"I'm preparing like I'm the No. 1 guy, like I do every week," Hill said earlier this week. "If you stick to what your coaches are teaching you and you run the ball hard, you should be able to get successful yards. That's what I've been sticking to and it's what I'm going to continue to stick to. I'm just doing my job and doing what the coaches ask me to do and it's been pretty successful so far."

Bengals near full strength for practice

September, 29, 2014
CINCINNATI -- With their Sunday night game at New England looming, the Cincinnati Bengals returned to practice Monday afternoon and did so at near-full capacity.

Only three players not on injury lists -- linebacker Vontaze Burfict, defensive tackle Brandon Thompson and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler -- did not practice. Everyone else participated in the workout in some capacity. It's unclear who was limited and who participated fully since the team wasn't required to submit an official injury report.

The Bengals normally stay off the practice field Monday and use the day for film review, but last week's bye gave them an opportunity to go outside a little earlier in the week than normal. The NFL still won't require them to submit an injury report until Wednesday.

Burfict, Thompson and Zeitler each missed the Bengals' Week 3 game against the Titans. The week before, Burfict had suffered his second concussion in two games. Thompson had been run from the Bengals' Week 2 win against the Falcons with a knee injury, and Zeitler picked up a calf injury in the same game.

Those three weren't at practice during the 30 minutes media were permitted to watch, but receiver Marvin Jones and defensive end Margus Hunt were among those who were. Jones was working out for only the second time since breaking his foot in the preseason. He practiced last Tuesday in the lone workout of the week. Hunt was banged up in the Week 3 game, but appears likely to participate in Week 5.

Along with those two, running back Rex Burkhead and linebacker Sean Porter also practiced for only the second time since the preseason. Burkhead said Monday that he wasn't sure what his exact role would be in the running back rotation as a reserve behind Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill.

"Whatever role the coaches want me to have and whatever they want to use me for, I'm up for that," Burkhead said. "Whatever way I can get out on the field."
CINCINNATI -- We're all about transparency on's Cincinnati Bengals blog.

So let's take a look back to earlier this summer when we ran a series of "Bubble Watch" projections that attempted to pinpoint which fringe players would and wouldn't make the Bengals' 53-man roster (or in one case, the practice squad).

As you can see in this "Bubble Watch" from July 17, our last post in the 11-player series, we placed odds on whether the player would make the team. We have included those odds below in parenthesis:

WR James Wright (odds were high)
Wright made the team as the last receiver on the roster. He's likely to be part of the 46-man game-day roster because of his ability to play on coverage units on special teams. He had two penalties in the preseason on special teams that drew concern. He'll have to make sure he avoids them now that the season is beginning.

RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (low)
The veteran rusher was cut Friday as the Bengals officially signaled they were ready for the Jeremy Hill era to begin. Hill was a rookie who was faster, more physical and more athletic than Green-Ellis. He also has much fresher legs, and ought to be better able to withstand the pounding the Bengals will put their backs through this year.

RB Rex Burkhead (50/50)
Burkhead made the team, beating out Green-Ellis despite picking up a knee injury in Week 2 of the preseason. The Bengals are hopeful he'll be able to play again soon.

LB Jayson DiManche (high)
DiManche was on the bubble, but it almost seems strange suggesting he belonged there. He's a difference-maker on special teams, he plays well enough when he's in on defense. There's a reason his odds were high.

DE Sam Montgomery (low)
In a certain sense, we were right about this one. Montgomery didn't make the 53-man roster, but he did get added to the practice squad over the weekend. So he is among the 63 players still in the locker room.

DE Dontay Moch (50/50)
The "50/50" odds were probably accurate on Moch entering camp. He didn't show much that made it clear he deserved to stick, particularly when Montgomery did some of what Moch could do, as a player with hybrid defensive end, rush outside linebacker experience. Montgomery's ability to play on the line's interior also helped set him apart from Moch, who was just an edge rusher.

LB J.K. Schaffer (low)
Schaffer's odds weren't great to begin with because he was at a stacked position, but when he had two concussions in training camp, you knew his spot on the 53-man roster would be filled. He's still around the team, though. He's on the injured reserve.

WR Cobi Hamilton (high)
This might be the worst miss of the projections. There was reason to believe in Hamilton, but once he struggled with consistency and kept dropping passes, you knew he wouldn't make the team. He also didn't originally make the practice squad.

RB James Wilder Jr. (high)
In Wilder's case, we looked specifically at odds to make the practice squad. The running back position was just too loaded for the rookie who left college a year early. Still, his raw ability did in fact make him a practice-squad body.

WR Brandon Tate (high)
We didn't really believe Tate was in jeopardy of losing his job, but you never know. The Bengals were loaded at receiver in camp, and he was a bit of a one-trick pony as primarily a returner.

S Taylor Mays (50/50)
Mays was mainly "50/50" because of numbers. It seemed over the summer that veteran safety Danieal Manning would eventually pick up the defense and stick, possibly taking Mays' spot. When Manning struggled getting the system as quickly as he needed to, though, he got cut. Mays had already been in the scheme.

Porter among Bengals who missed Monday

September, 1, 2014
CINCINNATI -- Sean Porter admitted Monday that he was "frustrated and angry" with the numerous injuries he has collected since first donning a Cincinnati Bengals uniform in April 2013.

They are quite surprising to the outside linebacker because until this point in his entire football-playing career, he had been relatively injury-free.

He was healthy in Pop Warner. He had few injury concerns in high school. He breezed through college without missing snaps or downs at Texas A&M, appearing in 100 or so plays on both defense and special teams in certain games.

He was a workhorse. He was dependable.

In the nearly 17 months since the Bengals drafted him, Porter has been anything but. He tore the labrum in a shoulder before last season. The injury shelved him the entire 2013 season and forced him into taking it slowly before he could work himself back into football shape earlier this year. Just as he was getting to that point in training camp, Porter suffered a knee injury. After that cleared, he had another setback last Thursday when he tweaked a hamstring just six plays into the preseason finale against the Colts.

"I wanted to really be able to prove to my teammates that I'm a good player, and that I can go out there and help contribute," Porter said Monday, two days after he survived roster cuts. "I was a little disappointed I couldn't finish that game. I've just got a run of bad luck. I guess it just happens and at some point it'll even out."

When asked about his hamstring Porter simply said it was "getting there."

Apparently it's not there yet. He was one of three players on the 53-man roster sidelined with an injury when the Bengals opened regular-season practices Monday afternoon. Along with Porter, running back Rex Burkhead and receiver Marvin Jones also didn't practice. Jones, who has been wearing a boot and crutches since foot surgery three weeks ago, isn't expected back until the Bengals visit New England on Oct. 6.

Burkhead has had a knee injury since the Bengals' Week 2 preseason game against the Jets. There is no indication how bad Burkhead's injury is, but the hope had been that he'd be healthy before the season got too far along. In addition to those practice absences, the Bengals also were without quarterback AJ McCarron who was placed over the weekend on the non-football injury list. He can't practice until after Week 6. Practice-squad defensive tackle Devon Still also missed practice as he continues juggling his personal life with his returning from a hamstring injury of his own.

Still's 4-year-old daughter has stage-4 cancer.

It was worth noting that receiver James Wright, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and linebacker Vontaze Burfict were practicing after missing the last game. None of them played Thursday. Since the Bengals were practicing on what is normally a day off, they still haven't reached the date where they must file daily injury reports. So we're not sure which players were in full or limited capacity. We'll have better details Wednesday when Bengals' injury-report filings officially begin. Here's Monday's injury report:

LB Sean Porter (hamstring)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
DT Devon Still (hamstring)
WR Marvin Jones (foot)
QB AJ McCarron (shoulder)

Returned to practice
WR James Wright (head)
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
LB Vontaze Burfict (hamstring)

Other notable practice additions
TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder)
OT Andre Smith (head ... has been practicing, but didn't take a preseason snap)
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Rex Burkhead headlined the 11 Cincinnati Bengals who were listed under the "not expected to play" designation before Sunday night's Week 3 preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Green-Ellis was sidelined late in the week with a stomach virus that head coach Marvin Lewis said is spreading around the team. Burkhead injured his right knee in last week's game against the Jets. No official diagnosis was given on Burkhead's injury, but Lewis hinted Wednesday that the back competing for playing time wouldn't be sidelined long.

Along with Green-Ellis and Burkhead, cornerback Darqueze Dennard also isn't expected to play. He was seen at the start of pregame warmups going through conditioning drills. Tight end Tyler Eifert and wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher also are out. Dennard suffered a hip injury during his only play last week. Sanzenbacher's injury wasn't disclosed, but he got up rather slowly after delivering a hard tackle on a punt return in the second half of last Saturday's game.

Eifert's injury wasn't disclosed, but he has been dealing with some lingering discomfort in his shoulder. He missed the organized team activities and minicamps in the spring, as well as part of this summer's training camp sessions, because of his sore shoulder.

Right offensive tackle Andre Smith also isn't playing after suffering a concussion early in training camp. He has been cleared to practice for a little over a week, but he apparently has not gotten to the point where he can play. He mentioned earlier this week that he had hoped to play so that he can start getting his conditioning in regular-season shape.

Smith has not yet played in the preseason.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the Arizona State product who didn't practice the last three days, is expected to play.

Eifert will be replaced in the starting lineup by rookie H-back Ryan Hewitt. Smith will be replaced by Marshall Newhouse.

Here's the full list of Bengals not expected to play:

CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
QB Tyler Wilson (head)
QB AJ McCarron (shoulder)
WR Dane Sanzenbacher (undisclosed)
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (illness)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
CB Lavelle Westbrooks (hip)
TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder)
WR Marvin Jones (foot)
LB J.K. Schaffer (head)
OT Andre Smith (head)
CINCINNATI -- Vontaze Burfict missed his second straight practice for the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday, sidelined with an ailment defensive coordinator Paul Guenther previously called a "stomach bug."

The linebacker's second day of rest came one day after reports surfaced suggesting he and the Bengals had agreed on a multi-year contract extension that will pay him about $20 million by its conclusion. According to ESPN Insider Adam Schefter, he'll be making $7.6 million in the first year of the new deal. Before the extension was agreed to, Burfict had been expected to make $570,000 in this, the last year of his rookie deal that was signed when he was an undrafted free agent in 2012.

Burfict wasn't at Paul Brown Stadium most of Wednesday after being permitted to go home because of the illness. He was long gone when news of the deal first trickled out late Wednesday.

As for Thursday, not only was Burfict seen often in the locker room talking with teammates, but he also made appearances on the sideline during the day's practice. He wasn't in uniform. He only wore a windbreaker and hat to keep him dry during the rainy practice session.

There hasn't been any indication why the Bengals have yet to formalize the extension.

Burfict wasn't the only player to miss the practice. Nine others were either held out in some capacity, including veteran offensive lineman Mike Pollak, who has been off and on all preseason as the eases back from an offseason knee injury. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis also was out.

As was mentioned in Wednesday's injury update, since the Bengals aren't required this preseason to file a daily injury report like they will be in the regular season, it can be tough determining which banged-up players were limited or in full participation in a workout. Media are only permitted to view the first 30 minutes of the closed practices. Here is what was observed Thursday:

Did not practice
LB Vontaze Burfict (stomach bug)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
LB J.K. Schaffer (head)
WR Marvin Jones (foot)
QB Tyler Wilson (head)
QB AJ McCarron (shoulder)
DE David King (undisclosed)
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (undisclosed)

Wore jersey, but didn't practice
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
CB Lavelle Westbrooks (undisclosed)
CINCINNATI -- When the Cincinnati Bengals returned to practice Wednesday after a day off Tuesday, they were once again without cornerback Darqueze Dennard and running back Rex Burkhead, among others.

Both were hurt in Saturday's 25-17 preseason loss to the Jets.

Dennard was sidelined after appearing on just one play in the game. He jogged on the field to assist on a punt return. After the play was over, he hobbled back to the bench, favoring his hip.

"I was just running and pretty much felt something coming off the field and talked to the trainers and basically, it was just a smart thing to stop [playing]," Dennard said.

He added that he didn't believe the injury was serious. Dennard is hopeful to play Sunday when the Bengals travel to Arizona. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said he wasn't sure if Dennard would be healthy in time.

"Hopefully, we'd like to see him playing there early," Guenther said. "But if he can't, then we've got next week to look at him, too."

While the Bengals might be without Dennard this weekend, they still anticipate seeing defensive tackle Geno Atkins for the first time. Guenther said Wednesday afternoon that the Pro Bowl lineman would be making his return to the rotation as his rehab from an ACL tear last season concludes.

It doesn't appear Burkhead will be part of the Bengals' game plan as he continues recovering from an injury that head coach Marvin Lewis on Wednesday called a "sore knee."

Still, Burkhead has made some progress. After sporting both a long leg brace and a pair of crutches Monday, Burkhead was only wearing the compression style brace that covered his right leg on Wednesday. He was walking around the locker room with it, without any assistance.

"He'll be out of that in a couple of days and be running in the pool soon," Lewis said. "I don't think much is going to hold Rex back very long, but he's going to have to go through the process of getting it right. He obviously plays a position at running back where he's going to have to be able to do what a running back does."

Burkhead was knocked out of last Saturday's game after taking a hard hit when tackled at the end of an early fourth-quarter run.

As the Bengals continue preparations for Sunday's game -- one backup quarterback Jason Campbell and offensive tackle Andre Smith anticipate playing -- the following are injury updates from Wednesday's practice. Cincinnati isn't required this preseason to file a daily injury report like it will in the regular season, so it's tough to determine which players were limited or in full participation. Media are only permitted to view the first 30 minutes of the closed practices. Wednesday's workout was in shells; shoulder pads, helmets and shorts.

Returned to practice
WR Dane Sanzenbacher (undisclosed)
WR James Wright (hip)
DE Dontay Moch (undisclosed)
DE Wallace Gilberry (undisclosed)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder)
LB Sean Porter (knee)
LB Marquis Flowers (ankle)

Not practicing
LB Vontaze Burfict (stomach bug)
DE David King (undisclosed)
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
QB AJ McCarron (shoulder)
QB Tyler Wilson (head)
LB J.K. Schaffer (head)
CINCINNATI -- After a week out of the rotation, quarterback Jason Campbell returned to the Cincinnati Bengals' practices Monday afternoon, giving the team three reasonably healthy signal-callers once again.

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsBengals quarterback Jason Campbell sits on the ground after being hit in his throwing elbow by a Chiefs player in their Aug. 7 preseason game.
The team's No. 4 quarterback, Tyler Wilson -- added to the roster after Campbell's bruised elbow came in Week 1 of the preseason -- didn't practice after suffering a head injury near the end of Saturday's 25-17 preseason loss to the Jets.

Late Monday morning, before practice, Campbell told reporters he was hopeful about playing Sunday when the Bengals visit Arizona in arguably the most important game of the preseason. The Week 3 game typically is the one in which the starters and second-string offense see their most extended action of the preseason. Since Campbell hasn't had many opportunities to play and practice in the past week, he's hoping to play to show he's better than the two-interception performance that spoiled his brief outing against the Chiefs two weeks ago.

"That's my goal, is to be able to get some reps and get back on the field," the Bengals' No. 2 quarterback said. "I really want to get back out there and build some chemistry with these guys. I know I have a lot of experience, but at the same time timing is everything in the passing game."

Campbell went 6-for-15, passing for 72 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions in the preseason opener at Kansas City. He had a passer rating of 55.4 when he left after being struck hard in his throwing elbow by a defender's helmet.

He said that he would not have been able to play in last Saturday's game against the Jets because the swelling in his elbow hadn't quite gone down. When he arrived for treatment early Monday, he said it had gone down considerably.

During the open portion of the pad-less, shorts only workout -- the Bengals' first practice since training camp ended last week -- Campbell was throwing like the other quarterbacks. He didn't seem to be visibly favoring his elbow.

"I'm doing a lot better," Campbell said.

Here's a look at the rest of the Bengals' unofficial injury update (the team isn't expected to put out an official report until the regular season begins):

Returned to practice
CB Dre Kirkpatrick (hip)
RB Jeremy Hill (shoulder)*

Appeared to be limited
LB Sean Porter (knee)
QB Jason Campbell (elbow)

At practice, in jersey but not practicing
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)*
TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder)
DE Dontay Moch (undisclosed)
WR James Wright (ankle)*

Not practicing
QB Tyler Wilson (head)*
LB J.K. Schaffer (head)*
WR Marvin Jones (foot)
QB AJ McCarron (shoulder)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)*
*Denotes injury that occurred in Saturday's game against the Jets.