Updated: 8:55 p.m.
Going by two ominous signposts, the Bengals could be bracing for some tougher news on wide receiver Andrew Hawkins's injured ankle than first anticipated.
When Hawkins showed up to find out his MRI results Friday afternoon, he was not only on crutches but his left foot was in a boot. Then when head coach Marvin Lewis met the media after Friday's practice, he didn't have much to say. He did say he didn't know if Hawkins would be ready for the Sept. 8 opener in Chicago.
"I don't know. He's got a sprained ankle. However the ankle comes along," Lewis said.
It sounds like it's not a clear-cut injury because Lewis said he's not sure of the severity of the sprain. Hawkins got injured in Thursday night's practice stretching out to make a diving catch.
ILOKA GETS NOD:** Second-year safety George Iloka has moved past Taylor Mays on the Bengals depth chart while on offense Mohamed Sanu lines up opposite wide receiver A.J. Green and transplanted tight end Orson Charles gets the nod at H-back/fullback.
Head coach Marvin Lewis detests depth charts, but he had to release one as the Bengals prepare for Thursday night's preseason opener (8 p.m.-ESPN, Cincinnati's Channel 5) in Atlanta.
Brandon Ghee is backing up Terence Newman at left cornerback and Dre Kirkpatrick is backing him up. Rookie Sean Porter is backing up Vontaze Burfit at WILL backer, Emmanuel Lamur is behind James Harrison at SAM backer, and Vinnie Rey is backing up Rey Maualuga in the middle. Iloka, a fifth-round pick out of Boise State, has been splitting time with veteran Taylor Mays and rookie safety Shawn Williams so he wasn't totally stunned. But he didn't know until a reporter told him before Friday's practice.
"It makes me want to practice harder and get better," Iloka said. "For whatever reason they put me in, I don't want to be the guy standing out for doing something bad. I want to be the guy standing out for something good."
Iloka chalks up his emergence to his work with the playbook during the offseason and his tutorials with secondary coaches Mark Carrier and Adam Zimmer.
"I always felt like I had the athletic ability, the speed and the strength," Iloka said. "It was just applying it. Knowing the calls and the schemes and the ins and outs."
INJURY UPDATE: Joining Hawkins on the shelf Friday were fellow receivers A.J. Green and Marvin Jones. But Jones (unknown) looked pretty good running around on the side and he could play Thursday. It's pretty clear now that the Bengals are not going to play Green (knee) or left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee) on Thursday. Also out Friday were left end Carlos Dunlap and Tyrone Goard with their concussions as well as defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (knee), rookie right tackle Reid Fragel (knee) and tight end Alex Smith (knee). Tight end Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) and running back Giovani Bernard (hamstring) were suited up but they didn't do much from scrimmage.
In response Friday the Bengals signed defensive tackle Vaughn Meatoga, a first-year player that they signed out of Hawaii last year. After the Bengals cut the 6-1, 294-pound Meatoga last preseason, he spent time in the regular season on the Oakland and Seattle practice squads before looking for work this season. With the numbers depleted at receiver and tight end, the Bengals could sign some guys at that spot for the game.
Running back Cedric Peerman, sidelined all spring and summer with a variety of foot and ankle ailments, made his first appearance Friday with the third offense.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: Quarterback Josh Johnson.
Johnson, listed as the No. 2 quarterback ahead of John Skelton, had a first-string day when one sideline estimate had him 12-for-16 in 11-on-11 drills while getting a smattering of reps against the first-and second-team defenses.
He had a better day than Andy Dalton. Dalton heated up later in practice, but his slow start contributed to his 15 of 26 by one sideline account.
Johnson came into camp with the edge over Skelton because of his knowledge of the system and his ability to run, and both have held up in the first week.
Johnson had one three-snap sequence that was particularly impressive. He started by escaping out of the pocket and quickly finding his favorite target, wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, with a fast throw and look to the flat. Then he dropped a floater down the sideline, just over the reach of cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, to hit rookie wide receiver Cobi Hamilton. He closed it out against a blitz when he rifled it over the middle to wide receiver Ryan Whalen getting position on cornerback Brandon Ghee.
RULE BOOK: The Bengals had their tutorial on this year's rule changes and points of emphasis this week and they get one major call on the league's film every team sees.
It showed a clip of quarterback Andy Dalton having the ball slip out of his hands as he went to pass against the Broncos last season for an incompletion. But this year with the refinement of the "Tuck" rule, it would have been a fumble.
Any loss of control after a passer starts to tuck the ball back toward his body is now going to be a fumble. Prior to this season (hello Tom Brady and John Gruden), it was a pass until the quarterback actually tucked the ball all the way back to his body. Now the passing motion ends once he begins the tuck.
The other most prominent change is the 15-yard penalty accessed to running backs if they use the crown of their helmets on defenders three yards beyond the line of scrimmage and beyond the tackle box. When the rule was passed back in March there was general outcry among backs, but Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, as usual, is a voice of reason.
"It's about right," BJGE said Friday. "When they made the rule it sounded like it was just about the backs, but it's for the defense. I don't run like that (with head down), so there's not going to be an adjustment. Guys can get hurt bowing their necks, so I can see it."
Here's a major clarification. In order for it to be called, a back or defender has to line up someone in space and deliver the blow. For instance, if a back is on a sweep beyond the tackle box and at least three yards downfield and he's trying to get extra yardage with someone wrapped around his legs, he won't be called for it if the hit is on an angle.
PLAY OF THE DAY: Fair catch, free kick.
This was special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons's first day to show off his renowned attention to detail. With Lewis handing over the bulk of practice to Simmons's situations in preparation for Thursday, the crowd of about 1,000 saw a little bit of everything. Onside kicks. Hands team. Kick return after a safety. And the obscure fair catch free kick.
"You've got two options after you fair catch a punt. What are they?" Simmons asked. "One, you put the offense on the field. That happens 99 percent of the time. The other is you can take a free kick. And the unique thing about fair catch, free kick is that there can be no time left on the clock."
So Simmons's scenario goes like this: There's five seconds left in the half, you have the other team backed up in their own end zone. They punt it out and you fair-catch it at the 40 with no time left. You then have the chance to kick a field goal and the opposing team can't rush the free kick.
"Now what they'll do is put their kick return team on the field, but they can't rush," Simmons said. "It doesn't happen very much, but if it does … ."
Simmons threw the ball in the air for the fair catch with three seconds left and then brought on kickers Mike Nugent and Quinn Sharp and they hit it from about 50 yards. It was an odd scene with the field-goal team working against no defense.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Simmons on how many of his players knew the fair catch, free kick rule: "Some of them. The veteran guys who have been here have practiced it. I don't even ask (the rookies). I don't want to know."
TOON ENCORE: A replay of the Bengals appearance on the animated *NFL RUSH ZONE: Season of the Guardians *series appears on NFL Network on Saturday at 8 a.m. with Dalton and Gresham making animated cameos to battle evil villains Wild Card and Drop Kick.
UP NEXT: The Bengals are off Saturday and are working at a new time on Sunday, from 12:50 -1:45 p.m. Gates open at noon. The club then leaves for its two practice sessions and preseason game in Atlanta.