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Bengals find healthy formula, but X factor remains elusive


Giovani Bernard is trying to get back for the opener.

The season has been done barely a week but the Bengals are getting good early vibes from their players on the mend and should have virtually every one in place when they report for voluntary workouts.

With franchise wide receiver A.J. Green bowing out of the Pro Bowl, his hamstring figures to be ready when the Bengals are ready to take the field in late May. And with tight end Tyler Eifert not repeating his Pro Bowl accident of last January, he, too, is on course when organized team activities migrate to the field after his back surgery.

Plus, first-round pick William Jackson (pectoral) and fourth-round pick Andrew Billings (knee) are on the verge of being cleared after their rookie seasons were wiped out by early August. Left guard Clint Boling is already on the elliptical days after surgery to correct a separated shoulder and is also looking at an on-time arrival for OTAs, as are fellow offensive linemen Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher after they survived dinged shoulders late in the season that didn't require surgery.

But they hope the biggest piece of optimism belongs to running back Giovani Bernard.  Last week, less than 50 days after tearing his ACL, Bernard was back in the Bengals weight room and he wasn't saying a word. He figures opposing defenses are really going to underestimate him now. He won't make the field in May and June and maybe not the start of training camp, but Bernard is definitely in the mix to be ready for the opener.


When A.J. Green went down with a hamstring injury, it was hard for the Bengals to recover.

When it comes to the NFL's endless battle of injuries, numbers suggest the Bengals are as well prepared as the best trained teams in the league. But they have to work on their luck.

According to the web site, a year after the Bengals led the NFL in fewest games lost by injuries with 85, they were the fifth healthiest team in 2016 when they lost 121, trailing only Philadelphia (75), Tennessee (90), Denver (111), and Kansas City (118).

The program instituted by Bengals head strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton and assistant Jeff Friday in the wake of the 2014 season has held up well. According to, that was the year the Bengals finished tied for 15th for most games lost by injury with 174 a season after they had the ninth most with 209 in 2013.

Morton and Friday backed off the weekly in-season regimen for 2015. Wednesday and Thursday were still the heaviest practices, but the Friday workout got scratched and replaced by a recovery day with a walk-through. The Saturday walk-through was then replaced by a brief but up-tempo practice, a bow to research showing that amping up the speed closer to the game had bigger benefits.

It matters.  Look at the top ten of the fewest games lost by injury in 2015. The Bengals won their division. Denver, which had the third fewest, won the Super Bowl. Minnesota (7), Green Bay (9), and Arizona (10) made the postseason.

Of course, New England made the AFC title game with the most games lost, but only Washington and Houston, both 9-7, joined them in the postseason out of the bottom ten. In 2016, the two AFC bye teams, Kansas City (4) and New England (6) were in the top ten of the fewest games lost, as were Wild Card Oakland (7) and NFC South champ Atlanta (8).


The Bengals have been among the healthiest of teams the past two seasons, but don't tell that to Eifert (left) and Dalton.

But teams can't prepare for luck. The Bengals' overhauled agenda worked wonders, but it didn't help them avoid quarterback Andy Dalton's freak broken thumb on his throwing hand after a tackle in 2015, or tight end Tyler Eifert's torn ankle ligaments in the Pro Bowl a half a world away from the Bengals staff, and Green's abnormally high torn hamstring in 2016.

Injuries are so subjective and random that it's hard to get analytical about them. As indicated by It's hard to think of any team hit harder in 2016 than the Bengals offense. When they lost Green and Bernard for the last six games this season it marked a 47 percent loss of their passing game. When Green and Eifert played only two full games together, it hampered a duo that combined for 24 TDs in 2015.

And yet when the web site computed injury impact to team approximate value, it found the Bengals' AFC North rivals, the champion Steelers and runner-up Ravens,  were impacted eighth and 11th , respectively in the NFL while the Bengals were mysteriously all the way to No. 26 despite missing Green, Eifert, and Bernard for at least six games.

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