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Bengals Notebook: Perine Pegged For Extended Role; Fans Convince Tee To Keep No. 85; Just For Kicks; NFL Schedule Due May 12

Samaje Perine: expanded role.
Samaje Perine: expanded role.

Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin says the team is happy with the running backs they already have backing up Joe Mixon in the wake of Giovani Bernard's release. He didn't rule out taking one in next weekend's draft, but all signs point to it being late, if at all.

During Wednesday's media Zoom call Tobin said what people thought when Bernard was released last week. Samaje Perine looks to have a bigger workload after getting the Bengals' season-high 95 rushing yards last year in the win over Houston while logging 4.8 yards on 63 carries for the season.

That sounds like they're grooming Perine for third down. They've also got third-year back Trayveon Williams coming off a season he averaged six yards per his first 26 NFL carries. Also on the roster is 230-pound Jacques Patrick after he spent his rookie year on the practice squad.

"I think we feel good about the guys we have in the barn. I think Samaje's role is going to grow and I think he earned that last year," Tobin said. "I think we've got some belief in Trayveon as well. Whether there will be an addition beyond that, we'll see as we go."

NUMBERS GAME: Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins is torn. But after listening to the fans, he's going to stick with uniform jersey No. 85.

Higgins, and what seems to be a majority of offensive players around the NFL, had his eyes light up Wednesday when the NFL approved single digits can be worn by defensive backs, linebackers, running backs, fullbacks, tight ends, H-backs and wide receivers. Defensive backs and linebackers can wear any number from 1 to 49, while running backs, fullbacks, tight ends, H-backs and wide receivers can all wear 1 to 49 and 80 to 89.

Higgins toyed mightily with returning to the No. 5 he had at Clemson, a number he's had since Tennessee's Oak Ridge High School.

"It was me and my cousin's favorite number growing up and he told me to wear it in college," Higgins said. "I want to go back to the old number. But a lot of the fans like me in 85. I want to do what makes them happy."

Changing numbers just isn't as easy as it sounds. Teams are going to be faced with a numbers crunch for 1-19 because those are the only numbers quarterbacks, punters and kickers can wear.

And, it's been dicey for years for players that have jerseys on sale. If they want to change numbers and there are unsold jerseys with the current numbers, the players have to buy out the inventory at cost. If the player doesn't want to buy them, he can keep the old number and change the next season without paying, according to Pro Football Talk.

Plus, the rule change came at an awkward time in Bengaldom, just two days after the Bengals unveiled their new uniforms and Higgins' jerseys joined those of quarterback Joe Burrow, running back Joe Mixon, wide receiver Tyler Boyd and left end Sam Hubbard in the Pro Shop on sale. Even before Chad Johnson, the old No. 85, helped model the new No. 85, Higgins knew it's a big number in Bengals history.

"It was like, 'Bro, just stay in 85 now, I just bought your jersey,'" Higgins said of his Twitter feed.

"I like the sound of nine to eighty-five," he said of his connection to Burrow. "Then again, nine to five is a regular work schedule. "

Still, it sounded like he had made a call.

"But I'll keep eighty-five," Higgins said.

ONSIDE ENCORE: The league made one rule change that impacts things on the field Wednesday in an effort to make onside kicks easier to recover and now requires the receiving team to have no more than nine players lined up between 10 and 25 yards from the kickoff.

Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, the longest-tenured kicking game coach in the league, had the numbers at the ready and notes the recoveries have declined over time. Last year there were three recoveries out of 63 onside kicks for 4.8 percent. From 2018-2020, it was 7.8 percent. In the eight seasons before 2018, when the league prevented the kicking team from getting a running start, onside kicks were recovered 13.5 percent of the time.

"I don't think the league is looking for a watershed difference in the numbers of onside kicks recovered. I think they just want a slight uptick," Simmons said. "They're not looking to reinvent the wheel. They're just trying to see if they can get it to four, five, six recoveries."

It's merely a slight adjustment for Simmons and he won't have to tear up the playbook. But he says it's going to come down to what it always comes down to. What really matters is the kick itself and not how many people are where.

"The numbers would suggest more recoveries, but I don't know if it will or not," Simmons said.

He was delighted to hear the fourth-and-15 rule was tabled. That allowed teams one fourth-and-15 play from their own 25-yard line to take the place of an onside kick. If they got it, they could keep the ball. Not getting it would give the opposing the team the ball inside their own territory.

"That's a little bit out there," Simmons said. "It takes a special teams play out of the game. That's a pretty big change. Plus, there are too many what-ifs on the fourth-and-15 scenario.

"What about defensive pass interference? What if somebody just throws the ball up in the air on a fourth-and-15 play? You could be up by nine points with 10 seconds left and lose. Somebody scores a touchdown, you go fourth-and-15 and throw a deep ball and if there's a penalty on the defense you can kick a winning field goal."

SCHEDULE RELEASE: The NFL's first 17-game schedule is set for release May 12.