NFL Nation: Jermaine Gresham

Bengals Camp Report: Day 14

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
6:40
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • Marvin Jones' broken foot has dominated the headlines in Cincinnati this week. There have been questions about when he will return, how healthy he will return and how the Bengals will get by in his absence. On Tuesday afternoon, they got a bit of an answer to the latter inquiry. One day after the Bengals practiced an hour away at West Carrollton High School just outside Dayton, Ohio, tight end Jermaine Gresham was the star Tuesday. He was used in the seam, he was put into his typical tight end drags, and he even went up for fades in the end zone as part of a goal-line passing play. Unofficially, I recorded him with having six catches during the practice. It's possible he caught one more I didn't see. Following one of the six I observed -- a 15-yard touchdown reception near the right pylon in a red-zone segment -- Gresham got immediate kudos from his quarterback, Andy Dalton. "I like it, Jermaine!" Dalton shouted before jogging over and giving the tight end a high five.
  • That touchdown completion wasn't the only pass caught from Dalton's right hand. In all, the starting signal-caller was 23-for-34 passing in one of his most prolific passing practices of training camp. The loss of Jason Campbell to an elbow injury (he still isn't yet practicing) in the preseason opener last Thursday may have had a slight impact. While backups Matt Scott and Tyler Wilson still got their practice reps in, Dalton seemed to be used a little more than he has been in practices before Campbell's injury. Another part of Dalton's extended work had to do with the fact the Bengals were in full pads for only the fourth time this camp. They hadn't worn the full attire since the Saturday before last.
  • Among the work the Bengals got in offensively and defensively were situational drills that pertained to third downs, no-huddle, red zone and goal-line opportunities. The offense owned certain situations. The defense won its share of battles, too. It seemed like the defense was best in one of the red-zone situations, while the offense got into a rhythm on third downs. One of the highlights of the day came when cornerback Leon Hall slipped underneath A.J. Green in a 7-on-7 drill and jumped right in front of a Dalton pass, making a one-handed grab to intercept it. Dalton's eyes appeared to follow Green throughout the route, telegraphing his pass to the defensive player. It was Dalton's worst passing read of camp to this point. After the play, Hall was seen shaking his hand. He may have had difficulty handling the velocity of the short pass. Dalton got his payback, connecting perfectly with Green on two well-placed balls his next two tries. Another pass later in the practice was thrown just ahead of Hall, who couldn't catch receiver Dane Sanzenbacher for a would-be touchdown. The wideout had a step on Hall.
  • Tuesday's injury update: Domata Peko (concussion), Wallace Gilberry (leg) and Andre Smith (concussion) all returned from injuries but were limited. None participated in 11-on-11 drills. Dre Kirkpatrick (hip), Geno Atkins (knee), Brandon Thompson (illness), Sean Porter (knee), Campbell (elbow), AJ McCarron (shoulder) and Jones (foot) didn't practice. Kirkpatrick told me he expects to play Saturday against the Jets. At the end of Tuesday's practice, offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse was carted off. Coach Marvin Lewis wasn't immediately sure what happened.
  • Up next: The Bengals are back on the practice fields Wednesday for a 3 p.m. ET practice. It will be their penultimate open session for the season.

Bengals clear five to practice

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
6:45
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- Five Cincinnati Bengals were cleared to return to practice by the team's medical staff Monday.

All five participated in some capacity.

Receiver Marvin Jones, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and receiver Ryan Whalen were limited to participating in primarily position-specific drills. Jones did take part in some seven-on-seven work, but was not part of the 11-on-11 exercises the Bengals went through.

Tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive tackle Zach Minter, however, did participate in full-squad activities. Gresham mostly worked with the second- and third-team units. His diving catch at the goal line during a red zone segment was the team's final play of the workout.

Four of the five began training camp on the active physically unable to perform list. Only Jones began on the active non-football injury list for an ankle ailment he wanted to make sure was 100 percent healthy before he practiced again.

"It went well," Jones said. "As the days go on, I'll get more and more out there. It's just good to get the pads on and to get the helmet on again."

He said he wasn't expecting to play Thursday when the Bengals open the preseason at Kansas City.

Only three players continue to have some injury designation. Quarterback AJ McCarron remains on the non-football injury list with a shoulder issue, and offensive tackle Andre Smith and linebacker J.K. Schaffer are still under concussion protocol.
CINCINNATI -- One of the points of emphasis the Cincinnati Bengals had this offseason revolved around figuring out how to get their tight ends more involved in the passing game, in hopes of boosting the physical profile of the overall offense.

Specifically, the hope has been to come up with ways to turn Tyler Eifert into more of a go-to pass-catcher than he was last season.

Eifert
It seems clear at the start of their first week of preseason games that the Bengals may have found a few methods that will help them expand Eifert's role.

Look no further than Saturday's scrimmage for evidence.

"He's done a really good job," quarterback Andy Dalton said.

Dalton was 17-for-20, collecting approximately 200 yards on his completions during the workout at Paul Brown Stadium. Of those 200 yards, about 120 of them went to Eifert, who caught six passes in a variety of ways and in all kinds of scenarios. Twice he went long either from an inside seam route or during a straight "Go" route as an outside receiver. Both catches resulted in gains of 35 or more yards. One of them probably would have ended in a touchdown had officials not marked down a possible TD. With players only in shoulder pads, there was no tackling, and referees were guessing about where contact may have occurred. On the 41-yard catch in question, Eifert likely would have run through any possible tackle and scooted another 7 yards into the end zone.

Along with the longer routes, Eifert was targeted for a few shorter plays, including drags and out patterns. He caught all six of the passes that went his way. But it hasn't only been in the simulated games where Eifert has excelled. He's performed well all training camp and has been among Dalton's favorite passing options.

"We feel like we get looks and matchups with him, and he makes big plays," Dalton said. "That's what he did in college. It's what we expect of him now. He's been in the right spots and we're getting looks that we want and we're hitting them."

A first-round draft pick out of Notre Dame, Eifert had high expectations when he arrived last summer. They were so high when the regular season started that he was targeted 35 times through the first eight games of 2013. In the opener at Chicago, Eifert caught all five of Dalton's passes that were directed to him. Paired with Jermaine Gresham, who also caught all five of his targets, Eifert's Week 1 performance sent a clear message that the Bengals were high on incorporating a two-tight end offense.

Across the latter half of last season, though, the Bengals veered slightly from that focus. After targeting Eifert nearly three dozen times in the first eight games of the season, the Bengals threw to him just 26 times in their last nine games, including the regular-season finale that both Eifert and Gresham missed with injuries and the playoff loss when he was targeted twice but had no catches.

Eifert finished the season with 39 catches for 445 yards and two touchdowns.

Perhaps the best way to explain the departure from the tight end focus is to use these two words: Giovani Bernard. The rookie running back became a more valued and more reliable piece of the offense as last season wore on, and his performance in both the rushing and receiving games seemed to take some touches away from the tight ends. Their late-season injuries also threw off some of the rhythm and allowed other players to get more involved in those last few games.

Based on what he's seen since last training camp, Dalton has no reason to believe he won't be throwing to Eifert a lot this season.

"He's been in the right spot," Dalton said. "He's so talented with the ball in the air. He's got great ball skills and runs really good routes. That's why he's been able to get open and make big plays."

When asked to explain why he thinks Eifert has been a dependable option the first few days of this camp, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson shifted the credit to Dalton and Eifert.

"We're doing a good job of finding him," Jackson said. "Our progressions are taking us to him. Sometimes he's the first choice, sometimes he's the second choice and things have worked out that way."

Maybe the offense has simply worked out in Eifert's favor so far. Maybe. It's more likely, though, that there's a push to get the ball into the hands of the bigger-bodied playmaker who can catch it and collect first downs. If Eifert keeps doing what he has done to this point in camp, not only will he make himself look good this season, he'll keep making his quarterback look brilliant as well.
CINCINNATI -- With one tight end nursing an unspecified injury the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday re-signed another.

Gresham
Smith
Alex Smith, a 10-year veteran who had been an unrestricted free agent this offseason, was added just as tight end Jermaine Gresham goes through his own injury.

A league source told ESPN's Field Yates on Tuesday that hernia surgery has kept Gresham out of on-field practices since they began two weeks ago. Coach Marvin Lewis admitted to reporters last week that Gresham was hurt, but he declined to go into specifics of the injury. Not only has Gresham missed all of the voluntary organized team activities to this point, he also wasn't practicing in Tuesday's mandatory minicamp, although he was in attendance. Before that sighting, he hadn't been seen by media since early May, when he was around for voluntary offseason conditioning workouts.

According to Yates, there is no exact timetable on Gresham's return.

With Smith's return, the Bengals are officially at full capacity on their roster. They now have 90 players. While they can cut players and add others at any time between now and training camp, this figures to be the roster they will carry into the preseason.

"Alex played significant snaps for us last year, and it's good to get him back in the fold," coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's ready to go physically, and it's minicamp week, so he jumps right back in there for us."

Smith's only season with the Bengals was 2013. He signed last offseason as an unrestricted free agent from Cleveland. He played in every one of Cincinnati's regular-season games last year, starting two of them. His last start came during the regular-season finale, when he played in place of both Gresham and Tyler Eifert, the Bengals' top two tight ends who had suffered injuries the week before.

Eifert also has missed time this spring. He didn't practice last week after battling through a minor shoulder injury. He began Tuesday's minicamp, but didn't finish the workout.

Smith has played in 119 career games, making 57 starts. He also has 163 catches for 1,473 yards and 13 touchdowns.
CINCINNATI -- The Bengals begin the mandatory phase of their offseason practices Tuesday morning when they host the first of three consecutive minicamp practices at Paul Brown Stadium.

Each player on the team is required to be in attendance for the minicamp sessions that last until Thursday morning. The arrival of minicamp in Cincinnati signals the start of the second half of the practice portion of their offseason calendar. After this week, the Bengals revert back to the voluntary organized team activity (OTA) model of practice for three days. After that, they'll break for the summer.

Training camp starts July 24.

As the mandatory minicamp -- all of which will be open to media -- gets going this week, here are five things to watch for:

Gresham
1. Will Gresham be there? Through the first two weeks of OTAs, tight end Jermaine Gresham has been a noticeable absence. He didn't participate in either of the two practices that were open to media, and he wasn't even seen around the stadium in any other capacity those two days, either. Coach Marvin Lewis said last week that Gresham was in Cincinnati, though, and that he was rehabbing from an injury the coach said wouldn't keep him out of training camp. At this point, Gresham's absence is a mystery. We'll perhaps get a few more definitive answers during the minicamp. If any do come, don't expect them to come from the often media shy Gresham. It bears noting that he has been around the locker room during other voluntary workouts this offseason. He just has yet to be seen by reporters since OTAs began. Will Tuesday by that day? We shall see.

2. Will Still be there? Presumably, defensive tackle Devon Still will be in attendance for the minicamp after missing OTAs to deal with a personal issue last week. Along with Gresham, Still was a noticeable absence when media viewed an open OTA session last Tuesday. He revealed in a post to social media later in the week that he and his family learned his young daughter has cancer. Earlier this week, he tweeted a photo showing he's shaved his head to support his daughter who will go through chemotherapy. Although injured for much of the latter half of last season, Still was and continues to be a key piece to the Bengals' defensive line depth chart. Assuming Geno Atkins returns during training camp from his ACL injury, Still and Brandon Thompson are right now the first two defensive tackles off the bench behind Atkins and Domata Peko.

lastname
Bernard
3. RB rotation getting set? We are still about three months from the start of the regular season, but it appears we may be getting a general idea of what the Bengals' backfield may look like this fall. Giovani Bernard has been moved into a more prominent role, although the Bengals are expected to continue with the committee approach to delegating carries and receptions. Alongside him often during the two open OTAs was rookie Jeremy Hill, the team's prized second-round pick who promises to be a key piece in the backfield as veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis enters the final year on his current deal. Speaking of Green-Ellis, the Bengals have been adamant in their belief a roster spot remains for the 28-year-old, but Hill's arrival hasn't made it easy to justify Green-Ellis' future in Cincinnati. As the Bengals go through this week, it still will be interesting to see how the running back rotations shake out. Will Green-Ellis stay in the mix? Or is Hill starting to push past him?

4. Making tempo a priority. Offensively, the Bengals' charge this offseason has been to adopt coordinator Hue Jackson's tweaked scheme that includes a quicker tempo and a faster pace. His goal has been to get his players to come out of the huddle quickly so they can get to the line of scrimmage much earlier in the play clock, effectively allowing them to run more plays in a drive and game. It's been an offensive priority, but we haven't been able to gauge how much of a priority it's been for the defense, too. Overall, practices seem to be conducted at a faster speed than they were last season, particularly during 11-on-11 drills when the defense is shifting fronts, moving around constantly, and the offense is making pre-play calls to counter. Jackson isn't the only coordinator trying to spice up his unit. It appears Paul Guenther has done the same with the defense. The minicamp should show a little more of that.

5. Grooming the rookies. The Bengals have eight draft picks and 11 undrafted free agents they still are trying to both groom and assess before the season begins. Many of the evaluations will be done in training camp, but coaches are looking right now to see how well the first-year players can adapt to the coaching and new playbooks. A foundation for late July is being at this time, and these three practices can go a long way toward giving the Bengals a better idea of who the young players they just brought on are. Among the rookies who will be scrutinized the next few months, cornerback Darqueze Dennard may top the list. While Hill's place in the backfield is beginning to take shape, the first-round pick Dennard has a more difficult obstacle to overcome to play; he has several veterans ahead of him. Already, though, Dennard has gotten his share of early instruction and played with both the first- and second-team defenses in open OTAs.
CINCINNATI -- After closing their last two organized team activity practices to the media last week, the Cincinnati Bengals are back open Tuesday morning as they begin the second week of voluntary OTAs.

There was a lot gleaned from the lone open practice last week, and there ought to be even more learned this week as the team starts finally settling into the flow of the workout schedule. Following this week's three practices, the team will convene again three times next week for a mandatory minicamp before meeting for one final three-day stretch of OTAs the week of June 16. After that players are released until July 24, when they begin training camp at Paul Brown Stadium.

Ahead of this week's lone day of open practice, here are a few items to watch for:
  • Gresham's status. Tight end Jermaine Gresham was the lone holdout during last week's workouts. According to Bengals.com, he has an injury he suffered earlier this offseason, but isn't believed to be in jeopardy of missing training camp. We'll see if more official word will be provided by the team Tuesday, and if he ends up making at least a sideline appearance. Last week, other injured players, Leon Hall, Geno Atkins, Clint Boling and Mike Pollak showed up but did not go through the full practice. Pollak didn't go through stretching like the other three.
  • Offensive line rotations. With Pollak presumably still out, we'll be keeping an eye on the Bengals' offensive line rotation. Last week they subbed Trevor Robinson and rookie Russell Bodine in at center. With Boling still out rehabbing from his ACL injury, Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth got a few snaps at left guard just as he did at the end of last season. Others played the position with the first-team unit, as well, though, including undrafted free agent Trey Hopkins. At this stage in the offseason, it's all about getting reserves some meaningful snaps and figuring out who might be able to play where in the event an emergency insertion is needed.
  • Rookie learning curve. Along with Bodine and Hopkins, the Bengals have 18 other first-year players who are trying to pick up their offensive and defensive schemes and acclimate themselves to the terminology both playbooks have. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard addressed his steep learning curve in interviews last week. He said he's been helped by many of the veterans on the defense, including third-year linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Two other rookies to watch this week are running back Jeremy Hill and quarterback AJ McCarron. Both missed part of last week while attending the NFLPA's "Rookie Premiere" event in Los Angeles. After practicing last Tuesday, they were at the event Wednesday and Thursday, meaning they will be a bit behind their peers now that they are back this week.
  • Defensive line rotations. Much like the offensive line with its changes due to injuries, the Bengals experimented with defensive line rotations last week and ought to continue to do so. Second-year defensive end Margus Hunt got some playing time at left end, although that was the position Carlos Dunlap occupied much of last season. Dunlap played some at right end, as well, as the Bengals started tinkering with possible switches along the front based upon the packages they're playing. Several of the ends could see action on the line's interior as part of pass-rush details in Cincinnati's nickel defense.
  • Lamur's place. After missing the entire 2013 regular season, outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur is back. More of a cover linebacker, the Bengals would like to see if he can stay on the field often as their linebacker rotation takes shape. With his size and length, the 6-foot-4 Lamur matches up well with tight ends. In a division that has some good ones, it'll be important the Bengals have such a healthy defender of Lamur's make up this year.
  • Tempo, tempo. It wasn't hard to notice the Bengals' stepped up offensive tempo during last week's practices. It probably won't change this week, either. Again, it's not so much that the Bengals are getting into hurry-up mode, it's just that they're getting out of the huddle and to the line a lot quicker.
INDIANAPOLIS -- With this post let it be known that the NFL combine has officially begun.

At least it has for me.

Even though players began arriving at the combine Wednesday, Thursday marks the first time they get to speak with media members assembled here at Lucas Oil Stadium. Throughout the day, I hope to hear from a few of the offensive linemen, tight ends, punters and kickers who will make the rounds.

Specifically, when it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals and their draft needs, I'll be on the lookout for offensive linemen. As I've already said this week, for now, offensive line isn't a major position of concern for the Bengals. There are currently a few other positions that require their attention. Having said that, though, if the Bengals aren't able to re-sign unrestricted free-agent offensive tackle Anthony Collins, that could all change. That's the main reason I'll be keeping an eye on some of the offensive linemen.

It might be worthwhile to keep tabs on tight ends, too. With Alex Smith also set to enter free agency next month, the Bengals could have a spot available for another to join the likes of Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert. That's especially the case since it appears the Bengals will keep one-time tight end Orson Charles at H-back, and forgo using him as a backup pass-catcher.

When it comes to offensive linemen, specifically I'm looking at linemen who have run-blocking backgrounds. The reason? New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's push for a more physical scheme that will use the run to get action flowing. Specifically I'll be keeping an eye on offensive tackles since that position would be most directly impacted if Collins isn't re-signed. Versatile linemen, particularly those who could play left guard, are ones to pay attention to, as well.

Here's a rundown of a few names I'll be watching:
video 
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 7
Preseason power ranking: 9

Biggest surprise: Giovani Bernard. When the Bengals drafted Bernard in the second round of April's NFL draft, there was a belief that -- in time -- he would be the answer to the franchise's long-documented playmaking troubles. It had been decades since the Bengals had a dynamic player who had fans buzzing the instant he touched the football. That's who Bernard was this season. While the hope was that the shifty, speedy ball carrier would be an adequate counter to BenJarvus Green-Ellis' bruising style, few anticipated just how much he would take over. He had more than 1,200 total yards to go along with eight touchdowns. He was tied for second in scores among rookie running backs. Also a surprise? Bernard's ball insecurity. After fumbling just once in the regular season, he was stripped near the goal line on a pivotal reception late in the first half of Sunday's AFC playoff loss.

Biggest disappointment: The entire team. Once again, the Bengals couldn't close out a playoff appearance with a playoff win, thereby extending their postseason victory drought to 23 years. They had a real chance to snap that streak this year, too. The talent was there. The coaching, for the most part, was there. The schemes were there. The buzz was there. The internal confidence seemed to be there, as well. But when the lights got bright and the stage got big again, the Bengals, like so many times before, simply couldn't get it done. Even though they went 11-5 and won the AFC North, this was supposed to be a Super Bowl season, not another one-and-done year.

Biggest need: Aggressive postseason play calling. For the third consecutive playoff game, the Bengals ran the ball significantly fewer times than their preseason average. Yes, late in games when a team is trailing by wide margins, it has to pass. But Cincinnati was only down four at the start of the third quarter in Sunday's game against a team it had been successful running against in the previous six quarters (the Bengals and Chargers had met just 35 days before). The Bengals got too conservative too early, and it arguably cost them the game. Other than that, they still have the pieces in place for true success. Even with possible losses in free agency or in the coaching ranks, they have the talent to be great next year. They just need to make sure they stay aggressive and hungry when they get back in the playoffs.

Team MVP: Vontaze Burfict. The linebacker led the league in tackles with 171, and contributed to a series of turnovers throughout the year. A fearless defender who rarely took plays off, Burfict's passion spilled over into the rest of the defense. While others may have been more vocal than the second-year linebacker, he was the unquestioned on-field leader of the NFL's No. 3 defensive unit. Not only did he call plays, but he was part of virtually every one, it seemed.

CINCINNATI -- Terence Newman will miss a fourth straight game Sunday as the Cincinnati Bengals listed the veteran cornerback among their inactives ahead of the first-round AFC playoff game here.

Newman was out the last three games of the regular season after suffering an MCL sprain in the Bengals' 42-28 win over the Colts in Week 14. Like they did in the other three games he missed, the Bengals are replacing him with second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Last week, Kirkpatrick had two interceptions, including one he returned 21 yards for a game-icing touchdown.

Cincinnati closed out the regular season last week with a 34-17 win over the Ravens at home.

In anticipation of a likely start Sunday, Kirkpatrick told ESPN.com earlier this week that he wasn't feeling nervous about making his first career postseason start.

"You can't really get any bigger than the game I played in 2011," the University of Alabama product said. "Alabama-LSU. That game was so big, there was so much media there. I don't look at it as no different. ... Both are on the same platform for me."

It appeared Newman had a chance to play Friday when he participated in his first practice since suffering his knee injury. Even though he returned, he was listed as doubtful on the injury report and didn't seem he would be conditioned enough to play. All signs point to him possibly being healthy enough to play next week if the Bengals win Sunday. With a win in this wild-card game, the Bengals would advance to the divisional round, where they have to travel to New England to face the Patriots. Cincinnati beat New England at Paul Brown Stadium in September.

While Newman was listed among the inactives, two tight ends, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, weren't. The pair missed last week's finale and spent much of this past week trying to get back for this game. Gresham didn't play last week after picking up a hamstring injury in the win over Minnesota the week before. Eifert suffered a stinger in that game and was shelved until this past Thursday.

Here are the inactives for both teams:

CHARGERS: QB Brad Sorensen, WR/KR Lavelle Hawkins, S Brandon Taylor, CB Marcus Cromartie, OL Stephen Schilling, OT Kenny Wiggins, DT Sean Lissemore.

BENGALS: WR Dane Sanzenbacher, CB Terence Newman, RB Rex Burkhead, OG Tanner Hawkinson, DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo, TE Kevin Brock, WR Ryan Whalen.

W2W4: Chargers at Bengals

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
4:30
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- Before the Cincinnati Bengals began practices this week, coach Marvin Lewis rattled off a list of themes they could expect reporters to write about and ask about this week.

In no particular order, among them were statements about how:
  • The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since Andy Dalton and A.J. Green were drafted.
  • The Bengals haven't won a playoff game under Lewis.
  • The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since 1990.
  • The Bengals were good at home, sporting an 8-0 record there this season.

In a week in which Cincinnati was hosting a first-round playoff game against a San Diego team it had already beaten on the road this year, he was trying to get them to feel like underdogs. He wanted his players to feel like they weren't loved by the rest of the football world. He wanted them to feel the same sense of desperation and urgency the fans of their city had felt for 23 years.

He wanted them to know what was at stake Sunday afternoon.

Along with needing a win in order to advance in the playoffs, some around the city simply want the Bengals to win Sunday so they may start changing the city's postseason luck. Lewis knows that. He wanted his players to be aware of that, too.

For a possible drought-ending playoff win to happen, the Bengals will have to do the following four things. Here's this wild-card round Chargers-Bengals W2W4:

Does Good Andy show up? This was the top question most had for the Bengals for 16 weeks this season, as they wondered which version of the team's enigmatic quarterback would make an appearance. "Good Andy," the version of Andy Dalton who posted 300-yard passing games with ease and who could connect with receivers for three and four touchdowns in wins, showed up multiple times this season. But he wasn't present enough to render "Bad Andy" moot. Twice this season, Dalton threw for less than 200 yards in a game and four times had QBRs that were below 30.0. It was mostly against intense pressure that "Bad Andy" arrived on the scene, throwing ill-advised interceptions and forcing incompletions into difficult coverages. During the first half of last month's Bengals-Chargers game, Dalton was bad for one half before completing a 180-degree turn in the second half to help spark a big late-season victory. Of course, Cincinnati will need more of the good guy this week.

Hostile at home. Paul Brown Stadium has been a difficult place for opposing offenses to play this season. Even some of the league's best units -- the No. 3 Packers and No. 7 Patriots -- had their struggles there. New England quarterback Tom Brady saw a consecutive games touchdown streak ended as he was held out of the end zone. Two field goals were all the Patriots could muster in the teams' October meeting in Cincinnati. The Bengals had a timely fumble return for touchdown and a key fourth-down stand that beat Green Bay the week before the Patriots arrived. Inside the building nicknamed "The Jungle," the Bengals are averaging a 17.6-point margin of victory in all eight home wins. Ask the Bengals why they play so well there, and they are quick to defer to fans who attend those games. After needing help from local businesses to make a sellout possible, be on the lookout for how many fans the Bengals are able to have show up. An emptier stadium could lead to a less hostile environment than what the Bengals are accustomed to.

Offensive line shuffle. Last Sunday against Baltimore, Cincinnati's offensive line took a beating so intense that offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was growing concerned about whether he was going to get out of the game with a line he could field this week. At one point, a trainer shouted: "We don't have any offensive tackles." When he did, Andre Smith and Anthony Collins, both sidelined by ankle injuries, offered to go back in and finish the contest. Injuries like those were among reasons why the Bengals barely had any linemen practice Wednesday when the week's playoff preparations began. Center Kyle Cook also had a foot injury and guard Andrew Whitworth dealt with his own ankle issue. Because of the line shuffling that resulted, Gruden said preparations this week have been "unique." While all of the injured linemen should be healthy Sunday, watch to see how well they all respond to their apparently nagging injuries. If just one isn't able to go, it could throw the starting line rotation out of whack. The same anticipated rotation that includes Whitworth at left guard and Collins at left tackle was first used the day the Bengals pounded 150 yards of rushing offense at a battered Chargers defensive line.

Kirkpatrick or Newman? In addition to a little uncertainty on the Bengals' offensive line, there are some question marks revolving around the left boundary cornerback position. Second-year defender Dre Kirkpatrick, who missed Thursday's workout with an illness that he was still getting over Friday, appears set to make his third straight start in place of veteran Terence Newman. Although Newman finally returned to practice Friday for the first time since injuring his left knee Dec. 8, it doesn't appear he's had enough time to get fully healthy. He only had the one day of practice this week. Still, he contends that he'll be in shape if needed. Officially, he was listed as doubtful for the game. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert could be similar game-time scratches or additions. After missing last week completely, both were declared questionable going into this weekend.
CINCINNATI -- For the first time in a month, Terence Newman practiced for the Cincinnati Bengals on Friday.

But that might not be enough to get him back in the starting rotation. It appears he will be missing his fourth straight game after being listed as doubtful on the injury report following Cincinnati's final practice ahead of Sunday's playoff game against San Diego.

Newman
Newman
Kirkpatrick
It was originally believed following his Week 14 injury against the Indianapolis Colts that Newman would only miss one to three weeks. After that third week passed seven days ago, he was expected to be back practicing this week. He didn't appear until Friday, continuing to to rehab from his MCL sprain Wednesday and Thursday.

Newman was one of 12 players on the injury report. The list included his backup, Dre Kirkpatrick, who practiced despite having an illness that kept him out Thursday. Since Newman's injury, Kirkpatrick appeared in the past three games. Although he has been beaten at some critical times, he also has come away with three key interceptions, including his game-icing 21-yard interception return for touchdown in last week's 34-17 win against the Ravens.

"It's just about being more focused this time of the year," Kirkpatrick said Friday. "I know what it takes to win championships. Just the intensity has to pick up. I'm not a leader, but I've got the intensity that I am a leader."

Before getting drafted in the first round last year, Kirkpatrick starred in the secondary at Alabama. The Crimson Tide won two BCS championships while Kirkpatrick was there. He was listed as probable on the injury report.

Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert also made the injury report, marking the second straight week there will be doubt about their playing status. Both were declared inactive last week with respective hamstring and neck injuries. Gresham has practiced all week, despite being limited for part of it. Eifert returned Thursday after suffering a stinger in Cincinnati's win two weeks ago against Minnesota. Both were listed as questionable.

In addition to Kirkpatrick, receiver A.J. Green was listed as probable after dealing with a knee injury that caused him to miss Wednesday's practice. He returned Thursday and was full-go Friday when the Bengals dodged single-digit temperatures by practicing inside the University of Cincinnati's practice bubble.

Here's the full Bengals injury report:

DOUBTFUL
CB Terence Newman (knee)

QUESTIONABLE
C Kyle Cook (foot)
TE Tyler Eifert (neck)
DE Wallace Gilberry (concussion)
TE Jermaine Gresham (hamstring)

PROBABLE
OT Anthony Collins (ankle)
S Chris Crocker (knee)
WR A.J. Green (knee)
CB Dre Kirkpatrick (illness)
LB Vincent Rey (ankle)
OT Andre Smith (ankle)
OL Andrew Whitworth (ankle)

Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert inactive

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
12:05
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- Injuries to Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert will keep the Cincinnati Bengals down their top two tight ends Sunday afternoon when they host the Baltimore Ravens in the regular-season finale.

Both tight ends were shelved all week as they tried to recover from injuries sustained in last week's 42-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Gresham hurt a hamstring and Eifert picked up a neck stinger.

In an effort to replace Gresham and Eifert, the Bengals will turn to backups Alex Smith and Orson Charles. Smith also got hurt last week, picking up a concussion. After sitting Tuesday, though, Smith came off concussion protocol in time to get a few workouts in ahead of Sunday's game. After playing nearly all special teams this season, Charles will be making his first start on offense of the season. It'll be the seventh start of his career, after he had six last season as a rookie.

Smith enters the game with two catches for 5 yards and a touchdown. Charles hasn't played tight end all season, after moving in the preseason to H-back as an extra backfield blocker.

Gresham and Eifert had a chance to go beyond the 500-yard receiving mark had they played. Gresham has 461 yards with four touchdowns, and Eifert has 445 yards with two scores. Eifert was the Bengals' first-round pick in April's draft.

Much of the year, the Bengals have used Gresham and Eifert in two-tight end sets as both blockers and pass-catchers. While Cincinnati may continue to use the scheme against the Ravens, they likely will get into more three- and four-wide receiver sets in passing situations.

Along with Gresham and Eifert, the Bengals announced that cornerback Terence Newman was going to be inactive for the third straight game. The veteran is trying to get over a left knee injury suffered in the Bengals' win over Indianapolis four weeks ago. Newman is expected to return in time for the Bengals' first playoff game, whether that's next week or the week after. Newman will be replaced again by second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.

Cincinnati could be playing in next week's wild-card round, or could earn a first-round bye, depending on what happens with the Patriots' game against Buffalo. A Patriots loss and a Bengals win would lead to a No. 2 seeding and the first-round bye.

Here is the complete list of inactives for the Bengals and Ravens:

Ravens: CB Asa Jackson, S Omar Brown, C Ryan Jensen, WR Deonte Thompson, TE Dallas Clark, LB John Simon, DT Arthur Jones.

Bengals: CB Terence Newman, RB Rex Burkhead, OG Tanner Hawkinson, DT Devon Still, TE Jermaine Gresham, TE Tyler Eifert, WR Ryan Whalen.

Eight injured Bengals miss practice

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
2:45
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals were without eight players Tuesday afternoon as they held their first practice ahead of Sunday's regular-season finale against the Baltimore Ravens.

The group was headlined by linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who continues to miss time after being placed this week under concussion protocol. He suffered a head injury late in the 42-14 blowout win against the Vikings in Week 15. On Monday, Bengals officials confirmed that he was one of three players who had been placed under the protocol this week. Tight end Alex Smith and practice squad cornerback Onterio McCalebb also were being evaluated for head injuries.

Like Burfict, Smith missed Tuesday's practice.

They were joined by offensive tackle Andre Smith, linebacker Vincent Rey, cornerbacks Terence Newman and Dre Kirkpatrick, and tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert. Newman has missed the past two games because of a knee injury that came three weeks ago. It's possible he would miss this game, as well, in order to get completely back to full strength entering the postseason.

Eifert was diagnosed during Sunday's game with having suffered a stinger. Andre Smith also left the game with a sprained ankle. It's unclear as of now how the other players were hurt. It's likely the high rate of absences resulted from the fact that practice was a day earlier than normal. There is a chance many of those who missed Tuesday's session will be good to go later in the week. Linebacker James Harrison returned to practice Tuesday after being declared inactive Sunday because of a concussion he had the week before.

Because the Bengals were practicing on a day they normally take off -- Wednesdays are typically the first days they practice each week -- no injury report was provided. An injury report will be released to media late Wednesday, outlining just what caused each player to miss practice time.

Cincinnati spent Tuesday working out inside Paul Brown Stadium in an effort to get work in before Christmas. In deference to the holiday, they will be taking Wednesday completely off.

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
3:59
PM ET

CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 42-14 victory against the Minnesota Vikings.

What it means: Sunday's victory means the Bengals have -- for one week, at least -- done exactly what they've been preaching since last Sunday's loss at Pittsburgh. They have controlled what they can control. The only way they can be assured that their postseason fate is playing out precisely the way they want is to simply win and win some more. Now that they have done that for one week, they have to do it one more when they play the Ravens in their final AFC North game of the season. At the time Sunday's early-afternoon game ended, the Bengals appeared headed toward clinching a third straight playoff bid. They had to wait to see if the Miami Dolphins would end up losing to the Buffalo Bills. A Miami loss would clinch that playoff for the Bengals. The late-afternoon New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens game also had implications on the division race and the AFC's No. 2 seeding. After Cincinnati's victory, a Ravens win in that game would be enough to give the Bengals the conference's No. 2 playoff seed. A Patriots win would give Cincinnati the division title.

Stock watch: Andy Dalton: rising. As embattled as he has been all season, the Cincinnati quarterback has actually put together a solid month so far. With a game left in the season, he has played some of his best football of the year of late. It was tough to see that last week at Pittsburgh because of how far the Bengals fell behind in that game, but he kept them in the ballgame with a 230-yard, two-touchdown showing. Against a Vikings secondary that had several injuries, Dalton posted a career-best 136.5 passer rating in Sunday's win. He also completed 71 percent of his passes (27-for-38), throwing for 366 yards. It was the fifth time Dalton went over the 300-yard passing mark this year.

Catching Andy: Dalton's passing numbers were supported by a strong outing by his pass-catchers. A.J. Green paced the group with seven catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Mohamed Sanu and tight end Jermaine Gresham also had touchdowns. Fellow receiver Marvin Jones had six receptions for 85 yards, including a diving grab along the Bengals' sideline. It was one of several head-turning plays the Bengals had, including Andrew Hawkins' awkward leaping grab in the red zone that set up Gresham's score.

What's next? Cincinnati looks to close out the regular season on a high next Sunday when it hosts Baltimore in the Week 17 finale. The Bengals lost the teams' previous meeting this year, falling in overtime, 20-17. Green sent the game to the extra period when he caught a 51-yard touchdown pass on a Hail Mary from Dalton as time expired in regulation. The Bengals also will be putting their undefeated home record (7-0) on the line next week.
CINCINNATI -- When the Cincinnati Bengals return from their bye next week, expect them to get back to some semblance of normalcy on the injury front.

Just after his team's final practice before hosting Cleveland this weekend, coach Marvin Lewis told reporters Friday that he believed his team would be at "full strength" when it headed out west for its Week 13 contest in two weeks.

Bush
Maualuga
"We're on the mend," he said.

Full strength, of course, doesn't mean the entire roster that started the season will be back. It just means the players who the Bengals have been waiting to get rehabbed from different ailments will have returned.

One of them, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, took a turn in that direction Friday when he practiced for the first time since leaving the Bengals-Jets game four weeks ago with a knee injury and a concussion. He was held to limited work. The Bengals had been expecting Maualuga's MCL sprain to heal by Week 13. Since his injury, backup Vincent Rey has started, collecting 18 total tackles, three sacks and an interception in the past two games. Both sacks and the interception came in last week's 20-17 overtime loss at Baltimore.

Maualuga, who has been listed as Out for the past two weeks, was declared Doubtful on the injury report released Friday. Taking his place as an Out designation was offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, who suffered a foot injury last week. Zeitler hasn't practiced all week and has been hobbling around the locker room with a boot and crutches.

Along with being down Zeitler, the Bengals also will be without defensive tackle Devon Still, who has been recovering the past five weeks from a dislocated elbow. The Bengals have been expecting him to return by Week 13, too. The missed start will be Zeitler's first of his two-year career.

It appears he will be replaced by reserve guard Mike Pollak. The backup, who missed nearly all of the first half of the season with a knee injury, took Zeitler's reps during open practice periods this week. He has been impressing coaches since his return.

"He's done well," Lewis said. "He's not had obviously much opportunity in a game, but he's done well in practice and looked good. He's a smart guy, and this is why we have him here; to back up the interior, and he's got a chance to do that."

A six-year veteran, Pollak hasn't started a game since 2011.

"You sit there and as a veteran player, you're waiting for your chance and you understand why your chance doesn't come," Lewis said. "So you know the urgency of when your chance comes to make good on it."

Cincinnati likely won't have cornerback Chris Crocker on Sunday, either. The veteran hasn't practiced all week because of a hamstring injury and was declared Doubtful on the injury report.

Otherwise, the Bengals should be healthy for the Browns. Outside linebacker James Harrison, who didn't practice Friday after working out the first two days this week, was listed as Questionable with a calf injury. Another six players who spent time on the injury report this week were listed as Probable.

OUT
OG Kevin Zeitler (foot)
DT Devon Still (elbow)

DOUBTFUL
CB Chris Crocker (hamstring)
LB Rey Maualuga (knee)

QUESTIONABLE
LB James Harrison (calf)

PROBABLE
TE Jermaine Gresham (groin)
C Kyle Cook (hamstring)
CB Terence Newman (ankle)
DT Brandon Thompson (ankle)
LB Michael Boley (hamstring)
LB Vontaze Burfict (kne)

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22
WEEKLY LEADERS