Injuries still hound starters with corners bracing for Brees

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The Bengals are supposed to get out from under their injury problems for the stretch run, but they won't for Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in New Orleans.

Starting cornerback Terence Newman (knee) and starting right tackle Andre Smith (ankle) didn't work on Friday and Newman was ruled  questionable while Smith is doubtful.

Also ruled questionable is middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. His hamstring injury has knocked him out of the last four games and he was limited this week until going full Friday.

Pro Bowl WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) and starting running back Giovani Bernard (hip, shoulder) also didn't work, haven't all week, and have been ruled out for Sunday.

Bernard went on the rehab field every day this week for  the first time since the Oct. 26 injury and that makes next Sunday in Houston a possibility. But Burfict may be out one more week because he has yet to be on the rehab field since his Oct. 29 arthroscopic surgery. Head coach Marvin Lewis preferred not to give them a timeline after Friday's practice.

Not having Newman and Smith can cause major problems against the 4-5 Saints. Newman, arguably the Bengals Defensive Player of the Year in the first half of the season, hasn't worked all week and the Saints have eight players with at least 11 catches and the artist known as Drew Brees.

Adam Jones, who has played well as one of the regular corners, would get the start but the two young backups have to step up against the Saints' myriad sets of multiple receivers.

With cornerback Leon Hall out last Thursday night, third-year man Dre Kirkpatrick played 12 snaps as the third corner while first-round pick Darqueze Dennard was limited to special teams because of the lost practice time with a hamstring injury. Both figure to get plenty of snaps Sunday if Dennard is healthy. Since he's played just 34 scrimmage snaps, this may be his welcomes to the NFL moment.

Hall, who had a concussion, has gone full in practice all this week.

Andre Smith went limited Wednesday but hasn't worked the last two days. His backup, Marshall Newhouse, struggled against the Browns (profootballfocus.com had him allowing a sack, a hit, and three hurries) and the Saints  have productive pass rushers on either edge in right end Cameron Jordan with five sacks and outside linebacker Junior Galette with six sacks and a safety.

Tight end Jermaine Gresham (thigh), banged up the last couple of weeks, went full go the last two days and is probable.

Lewis went with Kirkpatrick last week as his extra corner because he's practiced more than the nicked Dennard.

"Dre has been practicing," Lewis said. "(He's the one)  who has been out there full time in practice and understands things. You've got to have experience and abilities both to match up all together."

After missing most of his rookie year because of injury in 2012 (when he took just 43 snaps), Kirkpatrick logged 309 last season in 14 games. He's got just 64 snaps this season, but what Lewis says of Dennard he could be saying for Kirkpatrick. The predicament facing his two young first-rounders is the veterans in front of them.

"Those guys aren't going to fold up the tent and give up  their job," Lewis said.

It will be recalled that Dennard, fresh out of Michigan State and pegged by some as the best corner in the last draft, had a break-out spring. With Hall out as he rehabbed his second Achilles' tear in three seasons, Dennard took a ton of snaps and looked surprisingly at home for such a young player, particularly at Hall's spot in the slot.

But Dennard hurt his hip in the preseason opener and missed about a month and it took him out of the regular-season opener. It also took him out of the groove and rotation. He's battled some other nicks and missed the Jacksonville game because of a hamstring problem and now he's trying to work his way back.

"It's slowed him down," Lewis said. "He's not in a rhythm of playing and getting an opportunity to play. He  got injured in training camp and wasn't quite ready when we started the year. Those things you battle a little bit. Obviously Dre's been through that in his career. But Dre has overcome those things now and continues to fight through a very sore ankle and he keeps fighting through these things."

So is Hall, one of the leading NFL corners the last five years. He admits he's not where he wants to be as he goes through an unprecedented second Achilles' rehab. Profootballfocus.com seems to agree. After rating him the NFL's top slot cornerback in 2012, they've got him No. 48 out of 57. And a very un-Leon 60th out of 105 corners.

He certainly hasn't played that badly, but he says he is trying to button down the little things. While some wonder if he's lost some speed the second time through, Hall thinks it is a matter of technique.

"I feel like I can run. I feel like I can move left and right, front to back comfortable and as quick or as fast as I know I can," he said this week. "Like I said, the technique part of it has hurt me. Maybe it's on a good play or maybe it's not a play, but even on good plays technique is sometimes an issue. It's something I've been trying to work on for weeks now. It's always little things that add up. But it will be corrected. We're a little more than halfway through the season and you'd like to have that tightened up by now. But if it's not you've just got to deal with it and keep working."

Hall is a bit mystified. He says it's not a medical issue or a mental issue and, like the true pro that he is, isn't using the Achilles as an excuse.

"Medically it feels fine. Now I don't think as far as the production is concerned it's not how it was last year for whatever reason. I do know 100 percent that it's not because of the Achilles, if that makes sense," Hall said. "I would like to think not. Mentally I feel fine. I feel like I'm physically able to do everything that is asked of me within the defense. Like I was saying earlier with the ups and downs of everything, with a little bump in the road sometimes you have to go back and look at what you're doing wrong as opposed to wanting to look forward and think about the Saints or whatever that week may be."

The Saints' best corner, Keenan Lewis (knee), is also fighting an injury and he's questionable after practicing for the first time Friday, but he was limited. He'll match up with Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green in their first meeting since Lewis played for the Steelers in 2012.

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