Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis continues to be optimistic about his Pro Bowl wide receiver even though he hasn't practiced for the last three weeks and is categorized as doubtful for Sunday's game for first place in the AFC North against the Ravens, (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Paul Brown Stadium. But after Friday's practice he still can't say for sure when A.J. Green is going to return from his injured big toe.
"Each day of this week he's looked better and better. Today looked like football for him, so that's good," said Lewis after Green did another stint on the rehab portion of the field. "He's looked good and doing well. We'll see."
He wouldn't rule out Green playing Sunday against the Ravens and he said there have been exceptional cases that have played despite not practicing all week.
"The trend has been broken before," Lewis said. "We'll see."
But it's rarely ignored. The reason Green's situation seems to change from almost hour-to-hour is because it's more of a rest issue. The Bengals are hoping when he does come back, it will no longer have to be managed.
"It's a feel and pain and tolerance thing. That's what we're trying to avoid," said Lewis of being faced with the question each week. "We're trying to get over the hump and find the solution other than totally shutting him down for the rest of the season. (A solution) that gets him as much of the season we can get him. I don't want him to be frustrated by it. I want him to feel good about it. When he tells me he's ready to go. Guys deal all the time with different circumstances. In his mind, when he's 100 percent ready to deal with that."
When that happens, Lewis is still going to go heavy at receiver and dress six players for that position just in case. Against Atlanta when Green went down after five snaps, the Bengals were left with just four receivers.
Defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, one of their best run stoppers, may not go against the Ravens' No. 7 rush offense. After missing a month with a sprained knee from the Sept. 14 home opener, he returned to practice this week. But after two full days of practice, he went limited Friday and is questionable.
Everybody else is probable. Despite going limited Wednesday and Thursday running back Giovani Bernard (ribs) went full. So did cornerback Leon Hall (back) after he was limited Thursday and full go Friday. Pro Bowl WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict (neck) went full Thursday and Friday.
SPECIAL DAY: After all the head coaching and QB news conferences and the coordinators holding court and the breathless cyberspace consuming A.J. Green's big toe, watch. Sunday's crucial play is going to come out of the always forgotten kicking game.
Special teams already had a foot in this game earlier this season in the Sept. 7 opener when Mike Nugent's five goals were the only scores in the first half of a game the Bengals won, 23-16.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh says Sunday's match pits the NFL's two best special teams and Bengals punter Kevin Huber finds that interesting.
Harbaugh served as a special teams coach at the University of Cincinnati before his decade run with the Eagles' specialists gave him a shot at the Baltimore job. Huber is a former University of Cincinnati punter inducted into the school's Hall of Fame Thursday night.
"Coach Harbaugh coached special teams for so long, you know they're always well coached," Huber said before Friday's practice. "They always have a good plan in place, their technique is always sound. They always have something up their sleeve that's new, so you have to be ready."
Of course, he could have been describing the Bengals and what special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons concocts weekly. The Bengals and Ravens are 1-2 in the NFL when it comes to the combined rankings of the top ten special teams categories as Simmons preps for his 23rd meeting with Ravens special teams coach jerry Rosburg.
Rosburg is in his seventh season in Baltimore after six seasons in Cleveland and while Simmons has NFL punt return leader Adam Jones and the NFL's leading defensive punt unit, Rosburg counters with wide receiver Jacoby Jones and the league's second best kick returners.
"I have a ton of respect for their special teams coach," Simmons said. "They do a great job putting their active roster together with eight linebackers and 10 defensive backs. It's tilted to the kicking game."
The Bengals usually dress six backers and nine DBs because they don't have as many linebackers since they play a 4-3 defense and the Ravens play a 3-4. The Bengals make up for it with a mix of experienced specialists and core players (such as co-captains Cedric Peerman and Vincent Rey) and emerging young players such as gunners Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard.
Simmons' developmental program came back to haunt him in the opener. Ravens safety Jeromy Miles, who began his career as one of Simmons' stalwarts and later became a captain during his 39-game Bengals stint, blocked Nugent's 45-yard field goal early in the third quarter.
Now the Bengals have to counter.
"Darrin says it's a copycat league,' Huber said. "Teams try to throw you off-balance with something different and if they see somebody using something they like, they'll use it."
Huber is having a big year with a net average that is third in the league and was one of the few bright spots Sunday with a franchise-tying 11 punts that netted 47.7.
"You never know. We punted one time the game before that,' Huber said. "We have to stick with our scheme and we'll be fine."
WEATHER CHECK: The National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio is calling a perfect forecast for Sunday with sunshine, no chance of rain, and a light wind coming out of the west at five miles per hour. Kickoff temperature is in the mid-60s and reaching a high of 69-70 as the game unfolds.