Despite right tackle La'el Collins' sore back preventing him from practicing any of the three days this week, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said after Friday's practice he's optimistic Collins can go Sunday in New York (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against the Jets.
Taylor wouldn't call Collins day-to-day and was listed as questionable on Friday's injury report. He's not sure they're looking at a season-long issue, but Collins, 29, has had problems with his back ever since he hurt it away from Paycor Stadium before training camp and he couldn't start practicing until late last month.
If Collins can't go, it's either Hakeem Adeniji in his second NFL start at right tackle or D'Ante Smith in his first. They are still battling for the job of swing tackle with Adeniji active in the opener and Smith replacing him last week and playing six snaps as an extra tackle.
On Friday Taylor talked about the difficulty of staging a competition during the season, when practice snaps are pretty much limited to regulars. He's adjusted for it the last two weeks.
"We're doing everything we can in the difficult time crunch you have in a game week to make sure those guys are getting quality reps so they can improve," Taylor said.
"We've done a lot of extra O-line, D-line stuff early in practice, late in practice. (Thursday) we did some one-on- ones late in practice for those reserve guys."
Adeniji, a sixth-round pick in 2020, has 14 NFL starts, including the last nine games of last season before starting all four playoff games. Those were all at right guard after making five starts, all at tackle, as a rookie.
Last week in Dallas, Smith, a 2021 fourth-rounder, appeared in his third NFL game. His one start came in last season's finale in Cleveland at left tackle, when he held his own against Myles Garrett. Pro Football Focus charted him for allowing one sack and no hurries or hits on 30 passes.
INJURY UPDATE: Linebacker Germaine Pratt (knee), who has only missed two games in his four seasons, didn't practice Friday after going limited Thursday and is listed as doubtful. Starting tight end Hayden Hurst (groin) looked to have a setback Friday when he went limited after going full Thursday and was categorized as questionable. Wide receiver Tee Higgins (toe) surfaced on the injury report Friday, but he went full.
The Hurst injury is a bit disconcerting since his backup, Drew Sample (knee) is going on injured reserve. That leaves two healthy tight ends in Mitchell Wilcox, who has played 21 snaps this season, and Devin Asiasi, making his Bengals debut after playing just 12 snaps in New England last year.
ADG POISED: It's the first time Pratt, the team's leading tackler, is sitting out a Bengals game because of injury. He was sidelined with COVID for last season's win over the Chiefs and then sat out with the rest of the starters for the next week's finale in Cleveland.
So the Bengals get to show off what they think is a deep position for them as Akeem Davis-Gather figures to get his third NFL start Sunday next to middle linebacker Logan Wilson and his first since his rookie year in 2020.
ADG went in the fourth round, the round after Wilson, and Markus Bailey, taken in the seventh round of that draft, is also expected to get some work against the Jets. Bailey's taken just two scrimmage snaps this year, but leads the team (with wide receiver Stanley Morgan) with two special teams tackles while Davis-Gaither has 21 scrimmage snaps and 40 more in the kicking game.
The speedy 6-2, 230-pound Davis-Gaither has answered questions about his ability to mix it up in the NFL and is coming off a hugely impressive training camp where he and defensive lineman Cam Sample were arguably the team's most improved players after ADG came back from tearing up his foot in last season's ninth game and missing the rest of the way.
"He's playing very physical, which is the key for him because he's not a 245-pound guy," Taylor said. "He's a good cover guy and does a great job on special teams. We have a lot of trust in him. Same thing with Markus. Same draft class. They've all gotten better where everyone has been more dependable for us.
"There are a lot of guys in the room we wanted to draft. Guys we (sought) out to be a part of our team. We're talking about Akeem Davis-Gaither, Markus Bailey, Logan Wilson. (Joe) Bachie. We didn't get him, but we got him the second time around (off waivers). Our scouting department really saw something in all four of those guys. Those guys have proven our scouts know what they're doing. "
Bachie, unavailable on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), came out of that same draft from Michigan State as a free agent and played well in place of the injured Wilson late last season before tearing his ACL.
Pratt, a 2019 third-rounder, is a year older than ADG and took him under his wing when he was injured. A product of Thomasville, N.C., ADG played against Pratt's Central High team out of High Point High and they only knew of each other.
Now they locker next to each other and Davis-Gaither has dutifully picked Pratt's highly-regarded brain.
"(Pratt) is knowledgeable of the game and sharing it with everybody in the locker room, seeing keys on tape we might have missed and he always delivers the message," ADG said after Friday's practice.
"He's decisive. He's so smart. He already knows the play and is calling things out. I've been trying to piggy back off that just to see the formation, being a step ahead. I think he sees that really well and playing fast."
Davis-Gaither is no dummy, either. Remember, they coached him at the Senior Bowl and had him for a few hours before they made him the defensive captain for the South calling the signals. They were drawn to his coach's son approach. His father, long-time college assistant Keith Gaither, is currently the special teams coordinator and running backs coach at Virginia.
So between Pratt and his dad, he's well prepared.
"(Pratt) quizzed me when I was a rookie and then when I kind of elevated my thinking the game and seen it a little better, he hasn't as much," ADG said. "My dad helps me with that stuff, too. He's the one that quizzes me."