Bengaldom Holds Breath on Green

RB Joe Mixon and QB Andy Dalton share a laugh before working in a drill at the team's first training camp practice.
Joe Mixon (left) and Andy Dalton confer during practice.

At the end of the day, it looks like the Bengals may have dodged a bullet and A.J. Green is dealing with a sprained ankle and not a major injury. It’s believed he’ll undergo an MRI Sunday and while he may miss a chunk of training camp, it would appear if no more damage is discovered he’s still on for Opening Day in Seattle on Sept. 6.

That’s the way it looked, anyway, at the end of one of the more surreal days Bengaldom can remember.

It began with the faces of your 2019 Cincinnati Bengals, new head coach Zac Taylor and the franchise rocks, Green and Andy Dalton (both finally healthy), taking off ahead of the buses in a car for an upbeat and relaxing drive to Dayton’s Welcome Stadium. Before what amounted to the first practice of the year, they sat for a series of national and local interviews blinding with sunny optimism.

Then, suddenly, during one of those innocuous plays near the end of practice, Green was limping off the field after contesting a go route with cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. In his first practice back since missing the last half of last season with a surgically-repaired big toe, Green was limping off the field. He fired his helmet in disgust. And his mouthpiece. He knows when he’s hurt. Green, known for his cool, finished off the tirade punching the bench.

Then he was headed back to Cincinnati with crutches in another car. As his teammates were getting off the buses at Paul Brown Stadium, he was still wearing No. 18 and being led to an X-Ray machine.

On three. One, two, three.

Unbelievable.

It’s believed the X-Rays didn’t reveal a break, but aren’t the Bengals always waiting for the other shoe to drop on injuries? At least since Dalton broke his thumb when the Bengals were riding at 10-2 on Dec. 13, 2015 and 50-25-1 since they came into the NFL in 2011. Since then, Dalton has broken that throwing thumb again, Green has missed what amounts to 15 games and they’re 21-31-1 since.

It looks like they dodged a bullet with this one, but they have to get through the MRI first. Taylor hasn’t been able to weaponize his best player yet. Saturday was the first time he’s had him in a practice and it looks like he won’t have him for a while.

“I felt like he had a good summer,” is really all Taylor could say.

So it will be interesting to see how he can work Green into a new scheme with what is possibly reduced reps, if any, heading into Seattle. The third wide receiver, John Ross arrived at PBS Saturday morning with hamstring tightness and while Taylor said it’s not a long-term injury, he may not be back until next week. Also not expected to miss some time but not long is center Billy Price and long snapper Clark Harris, both with unknown ailments. Like Ross, they were on the field with their position groups Saturday.

On the plus side, pass rusher Carl Lawson and defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow were on the field for the first snap of camp after rehabbing torn ACLs. And speaking of ankles, tight end Tyler Eifert was also back after dislocating his ankle in the fourth game and missing the rest of the way.

Taylor convened what was pretty much an up-tempo walk-through for the first work after the six-week summer vacation, although he did end practice with a robust team drill that got lost in the pall of the Green injury. He admitted guys were feeling their way in the new environment and after the long layoff. Yet he liked that there weren’t a lot of mental mistakes and in addressing the ones that were made he said, “Be more urgent tomorrow. Don’t make the same mistake twice. That’s all we ask.”

The Green injury aside, it was a terrific setting to begin a new era with a sun-splashed crowd of 7,500 watching Taylor put his team through the paces under the guidance of the largest staff in history after the biggest coaching change in nearly 40 years.

And it all began with a nice drive up I-75. The 50-minute spin gave Taylor, a mere five years older, another chance to bond with his two leaders. Before practice, Green and Dalton reported there was no talk of football. Just life in general. With all three having babies less than a year old and a total of nine kids eight and under, there was plenty to talk about.

Asked how easy it is to talk to Taylor, Green said, “Easy. He’s one of the guys.”

It looks like Green is, too, after a big first-day scare. But they’ll wait awhile to uncross their fingers.

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