Updated: 2:05 p.m.
Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga won't play against the Colts this Sunday (1 p.m.-ESPN 1530) after spraining his ankle in Thursday's practice. Head coach Marvin Lewis indicated after Friday's practice that third-year player Dan Skuta gets the start, the second of his NFL career.
It's not clear how severe the sprain is and it could sideline Maualuga, the club's leading tackler, for more than a game even though the Bengals have a bye next week before playing again in Seattle on Oct. 30. Lewis said it wasn't "broken medically," indicating it may be severe. Historically sprains take two to four weeks to heal.
Lewis also said that cornerback Kelly Jennings (hamstring), out last week, has a chance to play although he was limited Friday and is listed as questionable. Safety Taylor Mays was active for the first time last Sunday but had a big DNP. Lewis said that won't happen again if he's active because he sees it as a big waste, "especially at the spot he plays."
Wide receiver Ryan Whalen (hamstring), who didn't practice all week, is doubtful and he's only dressed for one game even when healthy. Safety Chris Crocker (knee), running back Brian Leonard (groin) and tight end Donald Lee (groin) all went full go Friday and are probable.
The coaches hope playing Skuta doesn't strain the special teams, where he is active and defending last year's tackling title. But others have stepped up this year, too, with safety Gibril Wilson checking in with a team-leading five tackles and running back Brian Leonard and linebacker Vincent Rey grabbing three each. Skuta has two, along with safeties Reggie Nelson and Jeromy Miles, and running back Cedric Peerman.
The Bengals are confident Skuta can stop the run, but it is hard to match Maualuga's ability to stay on the field on passing downs. Lewis indicated this week that a reason for the defense's improvement has been how effectively the linebackers have covered the pass.
Still, Skuta, an undrafted free agent out of Division II Grand Valley, has proven to be a versatile, athletic guy and even took a shot at playing fullback in the 2010 training camp.
"He's a guy that's basically flourished in every opportunity he's been given," Lewis said.
Maualuga has roared into his own the past couple of weeks and had a huge two-way game against the run and pass two weeks ago against the Bills. His 50 tackles go with two passes defensed and a forced fumble.
"He's playing well, doing good things," Lewis said. "When you don't get a chance to play you get to step back watch someone else do it and it helps you improve a little bit."
Maualuga has missed just two games out of a possible 38 in his career. He broke his ankle in the next-to-last game of his rookie season in 2009 and sat out the regular-season finale and Wild Card Game.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» The Bengals are looking for two straight Paul Brown Stadium victories in October for the first time since 2003. Lewis tuned up his team Friday morning across the street on the PBS practice fields even though the Bengals are playing in the stadium Sunday. He's changed it up on Fridays this year because the players have told him they prefer working on grass as much as possible.
» The Colts had three starters that didn't practice all week and are listed as questionable but it would be a surprise if they played: running back Joseph Addai (hamstring), cornerback Jerraud Powers (hamstring) and left tackle Anthony Castonzo (ankle). Quarterback Kerry Collins (concussion) went limited all week and is questionable.
» In attendance at Friday's practice was former Bengals safety Solomon Wilcots, on his home turf as the analyst with CBS play-by-man Kevin Harlan for Sunday's game. He took a moment to rave about the rotation of the defensive line.
"It's the best and deepest I can ever remember this franchise having," Wilcots said.
» Except for the 2005 season when the Bengals went 3-2, the month of October has never been kind to Lewis. He's 13-21 for his worst month and they're trying to win three straight in the month for the first time in his nine seasons. The Bengals are 9-9 under Lewis in October PBS games.
» The Bengals are trying to win their third straight of any kind for the first time since Oct. 25, Nov. 8, Nov. 15, 2009.
» The weather will be Chamber of Commerce, according to the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio. It will be 73 degrees at kickoff under mostly sunny skies and zero chance of rain with a 13 mile-per-wind predicted from the south and west.