Faced with his biggest roster jigsaw puzzle of the season under an avalanche of injuries, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis opted to give Jake Fisher his first NFL start at left tackle and Vontaze Burfict his first start of the season at middle linebacker in Sunday's game against the Browns at Paul Brown Stadium. He had to with the Bengals' two prizes from the offseason, left tackle Cordy Glenn (back) and middle linebacker Preston Brown (knee), hitting Sunday's inactive list and injured reserve list this week, respectively.
After downgrading wide receiver A.J. Green (toe) and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (shoulder) on Saturday, it was no surprise they didn't dress. After that, the spate of injuries turned the inactive list into a grab bag. Starting SAM linebacker Nick Vigil (knee) missed his fifth straight game and backup wide receiver Josh Malone (hamstring) missed third out. Also out were two of the three new defensive linemen that showed up this week when two others went on IR: defensive tackle Christian Ringo and defensive end Kasim Edebali. Expected to make his NFL debut is back-up rookie nose tackle Niles Scott, plucked from the Denver practice squad earlier this week.
That would indicate the Bengals expect a smash-mouth effort from the Browns' fifth-best rushing team in the league fueled by break-out rookie running back Nick Chubb and his six yards per carry pitted against the Bengals' last-ranked rush defense giving up five yards per carry. After giving up two 100-yard rookie rushers in Baltimore last week, Lewis has also chosen to replace middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson in the starting lineup by moving Burfict from Will. Burfict, who made his first five NFL starts in the middle last year, said last season he doesn't like playing in the middle and he finished out the season at WILL. But necessity is the mother of invention, right? Burfict is expected to be talking to Lewis on the helmet communicator while flanked by Vincent Rey at SAM and Jordan Evans at WILL.
A mere month after the Browns let him go as head coach, Bengals special assistant coach Hue Jackson made a brief appearance about two-and-a-half hours before the game. He spoke to Browns assistant special teams coach Sam Shade and then walked to the far end zone to briskly shake hands with Browns personnel before walking quickly back to the Bengals tunnel.