Bengals cornerback Eli Apple, one of three former Saints returning to the Caesars Superdpome Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) as a defensive starter, has a pretty hefting scouting report on the New Orleans wide receivers.
If rookie Chris Olave (concussion) and vet Michael Thomas (foot) play. Neither practiced Wednesday.
The 6-3, 212-pound Thomas is Apple's former college and Saints teammate while Olave is a fellow Buckeye and one of Apple's favorite receivers.
"I was actually at the Michigan game when he was a freshman and he caught the two touchdown passes," Apple said Wednesday of the memorable rout where Olave also blocked a punt that led to another Ohio State touchdown. "I would always watch his games after that.
"Great talent. Fast. He's got moves. Catches everything naturally. I hope he's healthy."
Apple said he's got "a lot of practice reps," against the imposing Thomas from both Columbus and New Orleans.
"We're everywhere," Apple said of the Buckeyes. "I haven't talked to (Thomas) for a minute, we were pretty tight … It's a street fight every time. He's physical, contested catches, stuff like that."
Apple had a rather celebrated social media dust-up with Saints fans before the Super Bowl. A first-round pick of the Giants in 2016, they traded him early in the 2018 season to the Saints for a fourth-round pick in 2019 and a seventh in 2020. After 25 starts, they let him walk after the 2019 before he became a postseason hero in Cincinnati.
"They love to say my name," Apple said. "I really enjoyed my time there. The fans were great, it was just some of the comments. It was kind of personal about my family You can't get into it. You have to act like it's not happening. But it is."
Apple says it's another game, "but it's also a big game.
"They didn't really believe in me, so you want to show them what it is. That's every team, honestly."
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo knows Apple isn't going to be undone by the exchange of words.
" Nah," Anarumo said, "He's used to all that."
TOUGH JONAH: Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams' best outing of the last season last Sunday night was even more impressive when he revealed before Wednesday's practice he suffered a dislocated kneecap late in the first half. He missed the last six plays, was told the major ligaments were stable and went all the way in the second half in a performance Pro Football Focus graded as tops on the Bengals offense.
Initially it looked disastrous. A non-contact injury with his feet planted awkwardly and the kneecap slipping inside his leg swung back into place.
"Sunday night. Division opponent on the road. I just felt like I had to be out there," Williams said. "That definitely helped, the adrenaline."
He didn't practice Wednesday, but he says he's doing everything to play Sunday.
"I'm just working on keeping my strength up and getting rid of some of the swelling," Williams said. "Just working on being able to play. That's what I'm doing, man. I'm going to be here early, staying late trying to get it fixed and get back to playing as soon as I can".
"I just shows," center Ted Karras, "how tough he is and how much he wants this team to win."
ZAC-BURROW AT THE HIP: When Marvin Lewis, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's predecessor, arrived in 2003, the Bengals took Heisman Trophy quarterback Carson Palmer No. 1 overall and Lewis often said, "Carson and I are joined at the hip."
So are Taylor and Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner drafted overall No. 1 in Taylor's second season. On Wednesday, Burrow defended Taylor's "collaborative," approach to play-calling after it took a public flogging following Sunday night's rough outing on the goal line as he acknowledged offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher.
"I think that's pretty unique to this place," Burrow said. "I think that's what makes everyone loves being here. There's no egos from me to our coaching staff to Zac, to Brian to Pitch, to our receivers. It's a collaborative effort that everyone puts in so everyone can take ownership. "
NOSTALGIA CORNER: With the Bengals returning to the scene of LSU winning the 2019 national title, a collaborative effort between Burrow, Ohio's Mr. Football, and Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, a Crescent City high school legend, the media asked Burrow to riff about what has become one of the most iconic American sports photos of the early 21st century.
Burrow lighting up a 15-0 cigar.
"I didn't even know there was a camera right there. That's all I got," said Burrow, with vintage game week focus. "Cigars are kind of celebratory thing, and we had just won a national title and we wanted to celebrate."
It will be recalled the police weren't happy the Superdome's fire laws weren't observed and almost as many stories swirled out of that locker room as smoke.
"I didn't get cited, but there were definitely cops in there ready to go," Burrow said.
SHOT-GUN MARRIAGE: Burrow said Wednesday the Bengals need to ride the wave of their best rushing game of the season with their running backs averaging more than 5.5 yards per 17 carries.
Burrow either ended or stoked the debate he's comfortable working play-action under center.
"I don't think it really matters to me. Play-action's really good under center, but we'll see what we do going forward," Burrow said. "The gun run game was really good for us on Sunday. We need to build on that momentum."
Here's the Bengals' dilemma. The best play-action game they need to draw defenses out of the zones that have snagged their deep game come when Burrow is under center. But on three runs under center Sunday they got virtually no yards and on 15 carries out of the shotgun they had 89 yards.
"The key is running the ball better from under center," Burrow said of play-action. "If they're going to play soft zone like they did in the second half, we have to run the ball like we did. We did it out of the gun. We'll see what we can do going forward. That's the biggest part. You have to be able to run the ball well to get that respect from the linebackers to suck up and get that intermediate zone."
MORE JOE-ISMs: Burrow said the loudest stadium he's ever played in is Arrowhead, but he knows Sunday is going to be a madhouse: "We are just going to have to be great with our communication. We know it's going to be loud and the fans are going to be fired up. They have a really good defense that's really good at limiting what you are good at. It's going to be a tough test for us." …
As for another hot topic, his Sunday go-to-meeting clothes, Burrow shrugged: "I haven't even thought about it yet. It's usually a Saturday morning decision for me. You'll find out, I guess."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: After Wednesday's practice the coaches got their first look at the IEL indoor facility and Taylor said they could use it as soon as Friday to simulate the dome noise.
"Great. Awesome. Really did a great job," Anarumo said. "More comfort. For the guys, for us, makes everything a little bit easier." ….
The Bengals cut third-year defensive end Khalid Kareem earlier this week, but Taylor said they could sign him to the practice squad …
As planned, right tackle La'el Collins (back) sat out Wednesday's practice. So did wide receiver Tee Higgins (ankle), as well as Jonah Williams (knee) …