Posted: 5:55 p.m.
The stockpile of rookie receivers for the Bengals and Steelers has barely touched the field this season. In fact, while Bengals second-rounder Jerome Simpson has played just a handful of snaps, Bengals third-rounder Andre Caldwell and Steelers second-rounder Limas Sweed haven't played at all and both could very well get their baptism this weekend at Paul Brown Stadium because of injuries.
It would be in dramatic fashion for Caldwell if kick returner Glenn Holt's gimpy ankle doesn't respond.
That looks to be the centerpiece of another adventurous week for the Bengals special teams. With kicker Shayne Graham questionable with a groin problem, the Bengals are trying to bounce back from a horrid day in Jersey in which their punting was bad and their coverage worse on a day the Jets' average drive start was the New York 46.
Also nicked up is Steelers kicker Jeff Reed and he may not be able to kick off.
"We put our defense in terrible situations and I thought they held up very well," said special teams coach Darrin Simmons after Thursday's practice. "We've got to do a much better job backed up."
Holt didn't practice Wednesday and Thursday and while Caldwell is the next name on the depth chart, no one is saying much.
CaldwellExcept the 6-0, 204-pound Caldwell, who hasn't returned a kick for real in three years since breaking his leg in the third game of the 2005 season while at Florida. But ever since he arrived, Simmons has been working him.
"I feel like I've got home-run ability and that I can put up six points for us," Caldwell said after Thursday's practice. "I feel like I can actually take it the whole way with my speed."
Caldwell thought the day would come sooner than this, but he admitted, "I also knew I was behind some great players."
He has better speed than Holt, but none of the experience of Holt's 104 career kick returns. Holt has so many this year (28) that he leads the NFL and is on pace to have the second most in a season in history with 75, seven shy of MarTay Jenkins' record set in 2000 for the Cardinals. He's also on pace for the second-most yards (1,984) and for the Bengals' second-best average of all time at 26.6, behind Tremain Mack's Pro Bowl 27.1 in 1999.
But Holt injured his ankle on Return No. 28 against the Jets last Sunday. Caldwell has no qualms about returning to the job that got him hurt.
"I planted my foot and took a helmet in the thigh; that's football," Caldwell said. "Injuries are a part of the game. I never want somebody to get hurt, but if I get the opportunity I want to get out there and make something happen and help us win."
It's probably been good for a speedster like Caldwell to watch how a guy like Holt does it with more savvy than blinding speed.
"Glenn runs extremely hard and our guys have developed confidence in him," Simmons said. "He knows where to go and he's made a big play for us in every game. If we do end up going with Andre, and that remains to be seen, he's a guy with tremendous speed. He gets out there in the open field and I don't think there are going to be many that catch him."
Caldwell returned 37 kicks for the Gators before the injury and averaged 20.3 yards with no touchdowns. But the season he got hurt, his four returns went for a 31-yard average. Caldwell had a long of 31 in the preseason, when his three returns went for a 23.3 average.
"But that's nothing like the real show," Caldwell said.
It remains to be seen if Dave Rayner is going to take another curtain call after his first act as a Bengal last week was to basically meet the bus. With Graham shelved, Rayner kicked two extra points. Marvin Lewis said that Graham would kick some Thursday and see how he responded.
"(Rayner) has come in here and been a veteran of (41) NFL games," Simmons said. "He stepped in the way we hoped and if we need him again we expect bigger and better things."