Update: More backer promotions as Schaffer returns; Dunlap forcing the issue

Posted Oct 29, 2013

The Bengals worked on a grass practice field across the street from Paul Brown Stadium in helmets Tuesday morning in preparation for Thursday's game.

Carlos Dunlap

Updated: 3:30 p.m.

The Bengals worked on a grass practice field across the street from Paul Brown Stadium in helmets and shells Tuesday in preparation for Thursday's game (8:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5 and NFL Network) in Miami.

Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee, concussion) surfaced on crutches in the locker room and would appear to be out Thursday at the least. His backup, Michael Boley (hamstring), didn't work Tuesday and neither did wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (shoulder), right end Wallace Gilberry (groin) or left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee).

Head coach Marvin Lewis said after practice that if Sanu can't go, wide receiver Marvin Jones would replace him in the two-receiver sets with Dane Sanzenbacher taking some of Sanu's reps in the slot. Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (ankle) is eligible to be activated from injured reserve-recall at some point before the 4 p.m. Thursday deadline to make roster moves and that would give the Bengals another option in the slot as well as a core special-teamer.

The Bengals already made some moves after Tuesday's practice, putting cornerback Leon Hall (Achilles) on season-ending injured reserve and calling up practice squad linebacker J.K. Schaffer. They also released defensive end DeQuin Evans, on a roster exemption after returning from his NFL suspension.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: One matchup to watch Thursday is Bengals left end Carlos Dunlap vs. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill has fumbled eight times this season and lost five and Dunlap has six career forced fumbles, all in the last 22 games, and his specialty is quarterbacks. Four of the forced fumbles have come at the hands of quarterbacks.

Dunlap has forced huge fumbles on the road against Washington's Robert Griffin III to Buffalo's Thad Lewis and last season he made two game-changing sack-and-strips in San Diego of Philip Rivers that gave the offense the ball twice virtually in the red zone. All three games were one-score wins.

"Why make the tackle when you can get the football?" Dunlap asked before Tuesday's practice. "The object is to get the football. You only play with one. You've got to manage it. You can't always go for it. Sometimes you just have to make a tackle.

"It's my fourth year. The game has slowed down, so I see a lot more opportunities to change the game. It's something you see. If guys are going to carry it that way, I'm going to go after it."

Dunlap has two this season, including a big strip of Lewis during the 27-24 overtime victory in Buffalo on Oct. 13. It came on third-and-six from the Bills 47 on the second half's opening drive when Dunlap reached out to tip the ball out of Lewis's hands when he brought it down to his side as he ran toward the sidelines. WILL backer Vontaze Burfict recovered at the 47 and it turned into the touchdown that gave the Bengals a 24-10 lead in a game they eventually won in overtime, 27-24.

The week before that against New England, Dunlap came up big in another one-score game when 250-pound Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount rumbled for a seven-yard gain from the Bengals 32 in the middle of the second quarter in a scoreless game. Dunlap came from the back to jar it out of there and when safety Reggie Nelson recovered it to set up the first score of the game, a Mike Nugent field goal, the Bengals were off.

"It helps, but it only makes a difference if it's the quarterback," the 6-6 Dunlap said of his long arms. "You need to be as close as possible to get it out. When he drops back to pass, you want to get the quarterback's arm or whatever you can get to keep him from throwing so you can get the actual sack rather than a hit."

If Dunlap forces a fumble, the Bengals must be in a tight game. When he forced Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin's fumble last year in Philadelphia, it was on the game's first drive and it translated into a touchdown on the game's first drive of what became a Bengals rout.

"If you can get there, you do whatever you can to affect the play," he said. "I feel like if I can't get there, I'll still reach for him."

BACKER DÉJÀ VU: Bengals linebackers coach Paul Guenther has been here before. Last year after his best cover backer, Thomas Howard, was lost for the season with an ACL injury, rookie Vontaze Burfict had one practice to move from middle backer to WILL.

After this year's preseason finale, when the team's best cover backer, Emmanuel Lamur, suffered a season-ending dislocated shoulder, safety Taylor Mays had 10 days to get ready to play the nickel backer in time for the opener.

Now with Mays going down on the last play of Sunday's first half with what some fear could be a similar injury to Lamur's, Guenther is looking for candidates again. But it's complicated this time with middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee, concussion) looking like he's out and his backup, Michael Boley, also sitting out Tuesday's practice with a hamstring issue. That leaves Guenther with five healthy backers including the little-used Schaffer, Vincent Rey and rookie Jayson DiManche.

Going off the second half against the Jets, the indications are Rey, a goal-line specialist and backup middle backer, would replace Mays as the cover backer and that DiManche may also get some snaps. DiManche got some of his first looks from scrimmage Sunday but has raised some eyebrows with a special teams-leading seven tackles.

"He's been better every week. He's coming on. He's a special teams guy who is developing into an up-and-coming player," Guenther said.

Guenther is confident that training every linebacker to play all three spots is going to continue to serve the Bengals well. He feels like that was the key in getting Burfict and Mays ready so quickly and he feels the same about Thursday.

"The way we do it around here," Guenther says, "I want everybody to be ready and understand the big picture on defense and when things like this happen we can punch in another guy and not miss a beat. I'd rather have a smart player who may not be as good an athlete than a great athlete who can't ever learn."

That's primarily why Duke's Rey and the University of Cincinnati's Schaffer are here as well as Southern Illinois' DiManche, but as he's showing on special teams, DiManche can hold his own athletically.

Guenther may also be losing SAM backer James Harrison for a few snaps. Harrison played some against the Jets at end last Sunday and could be called upon again with right end Wallace Gilberry (groin) not working Thursday.

Whatever happens, Burfict and his 106 tackles are staying put as he relays the signals and sets the huddle. Maualuga has set the front but Guenther is confident the other guys can help Burfict do that.

"He's playing at a high level; we want to keep him going," Guenther said.


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