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Bengals Notebook: Rookie Lessons From A Vet; View From The Offense

Cam Taylor-Britt working in Thursday's practice.
Cam Taylor-Britt working in Thursday's practice.

Thursday's injury report didn't give the Bengals cornerbacks much of a reprieve as they prep for Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Fox 19) against the Panthers at Paycor Stadium.

Starter Eli Apple did go full for the first time since he injured his hamstring Oct. 23 against Atlanta. But slot cornerback Mike Hilton (finger) and first corner-off-the-bench Tre Flowers (hamstring) didn't practice.

Just another step along the rookie road for second-rounder Cam Taylor-Britt, getting his second start at cornerback, and first-rounder Dax Hill, well, who knows where he's going to line up?

Chidobe Awuzie, the Bengals best cornerback, won't be there and Thursday talked about his impending ACL reconstructive surgery. But, really, he has been there. Like Taylor-Britt, Awuzie was the 60th pick in his draft. Like Hill, he was seen as a versatile guy that could move around.

"I came into the league as a rookie with the same thing," Awuzie said of Taylor-Britt. "He's able to pick up on concepts really quickly. I think with (those) two and the rest of our young guys, it's about making the game simple, so it slows down out there and you're responding."

The Cowboys took Awuzie with the 60th pick in the 2017 draft. He was inactive more than he was active his rookie year until veteran Orlando Scandrick got hurt and then Awuzie was on his way starting the last five games of the season.

"When I was a rookie, it was injuries that brought me into the game very early," Awuzie said. "I was supposed to be the dime cornerback and in on some third downs. All of a sudden, I was playing at corner. So, I know exactly where they are. They're blessed with great veterans on this team. I know they're going to do their thing."

Hill, the highly-touted Michigan safety, hadn't played cornerback since his days Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Okla. Until the last few snaps Monday night after Awuzie left and Flowers were out.

"I already talked to Dax. He reminds me a lot of when I was a rookie because I was playing safety, corner, nickel, dime, everything," Awuzie said. "I just had to learn every position and, you know, his moment and athletic ability all that stuff is just about making everything as simple as possible."

INJURY UPDATE: Back-up edger Joseph Ossai (ankle) surfaced on Thursday's injury report as limited. Backup nose tackle Josh Tupou (calf) again didn't practice. Neither did right tackle La'el Collins (illness). Possible new face is backup slot Jalen Davis, a special teamer yet to take a snap from scrimmage this season ...

FIRST CUT IS DEEPEST: Thursday after practice offensive coordinator Brian Callahan broke down the biggest play of Monday night's loss in Cleveland that occurred on the first series. Quarterback Joe Burrow's pass to wide-open wide receiver Tee Higgins off a run-pass option was headed to a first down in the red zone until Browns edge Myles Garrett ignored the run on first down (as he is known to do a la T.J. Watt), backed up, threw up his hand and tipped it for a pick behind him.

Asked what could have been done to avoid it, Callahan said, "Nothing. Other than Myles Garrett being big and long and you know we had exactly what we were hoping for or the way they play the coverage.

"There was really nothing that anybody could have done, Joe or anybody else," Callahan said. "He's turned to throw it and Myles just gets his hand on it. The ball gets tipped up in the air. And it's one of those plays. There's not much we can do either way. You know, you'd like to not get tipped, but sometimes you don't really have much control over it."

SMASHIN SAMAJE: It's been hard to get third running back Chris Evans on the field. He took just two plays Monday night and one was on a third down he converted with a 26-yard catch on the sixth play of the game. He played one more snap the rest of the night, his 11th of the season.

Callahan says what's really driving that is the pass protection of Joe Mixon backup Samaje Perine.

 "Samaje is probably, this year, in particular, one of the best pass protecting backs in football. He's been phenomenal in that role," Callahan said. "And so he's got to take that role on third downs. And so Chris has there's limited places for him to fit in. And those are the top two guys. We do have roles for him. We have more plays for him that we practice than they get called sometimes.

"But when he's asked to go in a matchup, he's done that this year at times of game obviously against Cleveland. A perfect example. He gets one-on-one with the linebacker, ball goes his way. He makes a great play. If that was a corner out there, the ball wouldn't go his way and that's the sort of how it works … We had what, eight carries in that game and to give Chris two of those, at that point, it would be, you know, for us at this point, probably a little bit foolish in that regard."

Mixon has played 73 percent of the snaps, Perine 26 percent and it looks like they'll keep pretty much the same ratio.

"It's just how the division of labor works in the running back room, your third back doesn't get a ton of carries," Callahan said. "You've got a pass protector like Samaje, it's hard to take him out for that.

NUMBERS GAME: The Panthers don't have a big pass rush but they've got a legit edge guy in Brian Burns with five of Carolina's 12 sacks …

According to Next Gen Stats, Burrow leads the league with seven touchdown passes when under pressure in 2022 after four in 2020 and 2021 combined while the Panthers are 14th in the NFL in pressure on 28.3 percent of the plays …

Burrow is top five among qualified quarterbacks with a 69.2 completion percentage for fourth, 291.1 yards per game for fourth and 20 passing and rushing touchdowns that are tied for second …

Can't sleep on the Panthers running game. Running back D'Onta Foreman has had 118 rushing yards in consecutive games and the last Panther to do that is Christian McCaffrey, recently traded to the 49ers. That was done in 2019. The year before in his one career appearance against the Bengals, McCaffrey went for 184 yards in a 31-21 Panthers win in Carolina …

 The Bengals had 229 yards on Monday night, the fewest in a game with Burrow as the starter since that rookie year they had 205 in a loss in Baltimore ….

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