Bengals secondary will be thin Thursday
October, 28, 2013
By Coley Harvey | ESPN.com
CINCINNATI -- All of a sudden, depth has become a concern for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Just this time two weeks ago, everything seemed fine on the injury front. The entire 53-man roster was in great shape. The Bengals were being lauded for their rather stunning health.
Yes, there were some bruises, to be sure. There were nicks and scrapes and bumps and discomfort, but overall, whatever issues individual players had were so minor that shots, painkillers and mental toughness were enough to keep them on the field.
That isn't the case now. The injury bug that had been doing such a great job avoiding Paul Brown Stadium can no longer stay away. Now it's taken up residence inside the Bengals' locker room, and doesn't appear to be leaving anytime soon.
On the same day ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that linebacker Rey Maualuga would be out three to four weeks with an MCL sprain, the Bengals listed defensive back Taylor Mays as out on their first injury report of the short week. Mays will miss Thursday night's game at Miami, joining cornerback Leon Hall and defensive tackle Devon Still.
Maualuga, however, was not ruled out, even though he (and Mays) did not practice Monday. Maualuga left in the first half of Sunday's 49-9 win over the New York Jets with a knee injury and concussion. Even if the knee injury wasn't as bad as Schefter is reporting, the linebacker would have had a difficult time getting back on the field five days after a concussion.
Mays' right shoulder injury came on the final play of the first half.
Hall was lost for the year with an Achilles tear last week, but has not yet been put on injured reserve. No timeline has been provided for Still's injury, but he will be missing his second straight game after suffering an elbow injury against Detroit last week.
The timing of Mays' departure from the lineup, coupled with Maualuga's likely long-term injury, couldn't be worse. It creates a little uncertainty for the Bengals, who now have to move players around throughout the secondary to fill the gaps that have formed. If Maualuga is included, the Bengals would be down three key pieces of their secondary, including Hall and Mays. A versatile back-end defender, Mays has played some nickel linebacker this year and would have been a logical option to play more of that role this week to accommodate for Maualuga's absence at middle linebacker. Vontaze Burfict, who occupies one of the outside spots, would be able to play some at the Mike position in place of Maualuga if need be.
Since that scenario won't be able to take place, the Bengals likely will work some combination of Vincent Rey, Michael Boley and Jayson DiManche into the inside linebacker spot. It could even end up being just Rey and DiManche. Although there's little reason to indicate he won't play right now, Boley did appear on the did not participate portion of Monday's walk-through.
The Bengals have to be happy the Dolphins don't have an offense that mirrors theirs schematically. Unlike Cincinnati, Miami doesn't work a two-tight end set that often. For that reason, the nickel linebacker responsibilities and any other linebacker coverage responsibilities might not end up having the same necessity that they have had in past weeks. In an effort to not only match the Dolphins' wideout personnel, but also to meet their own depth concerns, the Bengals' nickel could end up resembling more of a dime setup, with an extra cornerback coming into the game.
As far as roster moves are concerned, it isn't likely any major ones will take shape before Thursday. As much as Cincinnati would like to add to its depth and bring in new bodies, three days simply isn't enough time for a brand new linebacker to come in, learn coordinator Mike Zimmer's complex defense and contribute. The only real change that appears like a distinct possibility is moving of linebacker J.K. Schaffer off the practice squad and onto the game roster. If that happens, the Cincinnati native would have a chance to play in his second career game. He played on special teams in the Week 2 home opener against Pittsburgh.
Regardless what moves the Bengals end up making, the fact remains: They are hurting.
For their aching, beat-up bodies, this weekend and its three straight off days couldn't come fast enough.
Here is Monday's full injury report:
CB Leon Hall (Achilles)
DB Taylor Mays (shoulder)
DT Devon Still (elbow)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE IN PRACTICE
LB Rey Maualuga (knee/concussion)
LB Michael Boley (hamstring)
WR Mohamed Sanu (shoulder)
OT Andrew Whitworth (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE
RB Rex Burkhead (hamstring)
DE Wallace Gilberry (groin)