Head coach Zac Taylor's Bengals returned to work Labor Day after a three-day layoff and he declared No. 1 cornerback Chidobe Awuzie in for Sunday's opener (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Cleveland while continuing to call Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Burrow "day-to-day."
But he indicated both looked good after Monday's light workout in 90-degree heat on the Kettering Health Practice Fields.
Awuzie, who has always been cautious talking about the ACL he tore last Halloween night in, of all places, Cleveland Browns Stadium, played it the same way after Monday's practice.
"Obviously it's a long season. I'm proud of my progress," Awuzie said.
But he does have to admit it's a heck of an opener for him. His first game back is not only where the injury happened, it's also where he returned to the field after the game even though his season was shot.
But that's what you do for one of your brothers and that's how Awuzie views Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper, long-time friends from their days in Dallas.
"He wanted to link up after the game and we must have talked for 30 to 40 minutes," Awuzie said. "We have real conversations.
"We talk about chess, Bible verses, life. That's what our conversations consist of. We both know we have to play each other in the first game, but we still talk about the stuff brothers talk about."
Taylor knows what Awuzie's return means for his own chessboard.
"Arguably one of the smartest corners in the league. I haven't coached every corner, but he's just got those instincts and that awareness," Taylor said. "He's physically as talented as anyone, so there's a lot that he brings to the table that people see and people don't see. It's good to get him back in the huddle and have him back out there taking reps. He really makes those receivers work for everything that they get. I know that they would tell you that. He's a great weapon to have back there."
CAPTAINS AHOY: Taylor announced this season's captains Monday via the player vote and there are only two changes from last season. There doesn't appear to be a special teams captain and slot cornerback Mike Hilton replaces Vonn Bell as a defensive captain. Everybody else won re-election, which means Burrow, running back Joe Mixon and center Ted Karras on offense and nose tackle DJ Reader and left end Sam Hubbard joining Hilton on defense.
"It just depends on how it all falls. Each year can be different that way," Taylor said. "We don't set in stone what it's going to look like. You just sort it out once the players have voted.
There may not be a special teams captain because it's probably the youngest spot on Taylor's youngest of his five rosters. Mike Thomas, the 33-year-old incumbent, is on the practice squad and Taylor smiled when asked if practice squad players were eligible.
"Everybody that's a captain this year is on the 53 (active roster), but that doesn't mean others didn't receive votes," Taylor said.
Reader and Hubbard locker next to each other at the end of the defensive line row, so welcome to Captain's Corner for a second straight year. "Everything is right here," Reader said. It is Hubbard's third term in his sixth season ("Three-star general," he called it), but he says, "It never gets old and it's something never taken for granted because it's based on your teammates' votes. Every year is a new year. You have to earn the respect and trust of your teammates. I consider it an incredible honor."
Last year in his seventh NFL season, Reader became an NFL captain for the first time. This season, he's the senior man on defense with eight years in the league and regained the 'C.'
"They must like me. I'm just trying to go out there and do my thing," Reader said. "It's a big honor because it's voted on by your teammates. The guys you're around every day."
Check out the best photos from practice on Monday, September 4, 2023.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Although Taylor was cautious about Burrow (calf), he's also encouraged in his third day back to practice.
"I thought today was a really good day for him. It was encouraging to see. So we'll just take it one day at a time," Taylor said. When asked what is a quality rep for him at this stage, he said, "Completing the ball, which he's done a lot of." …
Taylor is also upbeat about pass rusher Joseph Ossai. A week ago his ankle was in a boot and he was week-to-week. Monday he was on the rehab field day-to-day.
"I think everything has been encouraging," Taylor said.
He said he also likes where running back Trayveon Williams (ankle) is after missing most of the preseason …
Bengals Ring of Honor member and two-time Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist Willie Anderson checked in at practice Monday and chatted up offensive line coach Frank Pollack and assistant Derek Frazier. No. 71 also said hello to the current No. 71 La'el Collins and Taylor walked from the 50 to the end zone to thank him for coming ...