Maybe KeiVarae Russell didn't circle Oct. 21 when the NFL schedule sent the Bengals to Kansas City. But the media circled him before Friday's walk-through to discuss his promotion from the practice squad to the active roster in time for Sunday's game (8:20 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) at his old haunt of Arrowhead Stadium.
"I'm excited. First game is against the old team, but it is another game," said Russell, a 2016 third-round draft pick of the Chiefs. "At the end of the day I'm going to have a little excitement for sure. Definitely have a little excitement."
Before Russell got the call, the Bengals were down to just four cornerbacks with slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard (shoulder) ruled out for Sunday. That promotes Tony McRae into the slot and moves rookie Darius Phillips up a rung. Between them they have 74 NFL snaps. Russell, who had an interception on his only snap of 2016 and a blocked field goal last season on 90 special teams' plays, has 47 career scrimmage snaps. But in the wake of the Bengals drafting two fifth-round corners in Phillips and the injured Davontae Harris, Russell has been on the practice squad all year.
"Obviously that's the goal of the practice squad. Eventually you want to have that shot to be back on the active roster," Russell said. "I've been there before, so being demoted, my goal was to get right back up. Nothing changed at practice for me. When I was released and brought back to the practice squad, I worked hard every day and now the shot is here I have to take advantage of it."
There is hope starting safety Shawn Williams (concussion) plays. He was slated full go Friday and was listed as questionable after being out and then limited earlier in the week. Dennard joined Friday's list of non-surprises that have been ruled out for K.C.: running back Giovani Bernard (knee), linebacker Nick Vigil (knee), tight end Tyler Kroft (foot) and center Billy Price (foot)
Don't look for any insights from Russell on the Chiefs. He's been a Bengal longer than a Chief.
"I haven't been there in two years now and I was only there for five months. I remember a little bit of what they've done, but I wouldn't say it's going to be an advantage because I've been there before or anything," Russell said. "I'm going to do whatever the coaches want me to do on special teams, if I happen to go on defense, whatever it is y'all know I'm going to go out there and work hard. That's the goal for me. Y'all know I'm going to do that. I don't care if it's two plays, if it's 20 plays, 30 plays, no plays."
ROSS-HILL LOOK: Russell was there long enough catch the elite speed of Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs' fifth-rounder from his draft. Hill ran a 4.29 40-yard dash at his West Alabama pro day and Bengals wide receiver John Ross has been living with the comparisons all week. Before the Bengals took Ross with the ninth pick in the next draft, he racked up the NFL scouting combine 40 record in 4.22 seconds. But while Ross has been hounded by injuries, Hill has used that speed to blossom into one of the NFL's top receivers. He's got an NFL-best six TDs and has the fourth most yards in the league with 16.7 yards per catch. Ross didn't get his first NFL catch until this year's opener and hurt his groin Sept. 30 when he caught his sixth pass, a Hill-like 39-yard touchdown in Atlanta. After making another catch, Ross was lost for the last two games. But he went full go this week in practice, so he should be able to play in this Indy 500 of a showdown.
"It's funny because I've played with both of them now. John Ross and Tyreek. So that's the irony of everything. I'm one of the few in the league that could say they played with both." said Russell, who wouldn't name the guy he thinks is the league's fastest player. "It's one of those two. It all depends. I think John is a little smoother, but Tyreek, they both have something to them. Tyreek is a little bit stouter, a little bigger I guess. He comes at it with a little more power, but John is so smooth with it. It kind of is a little different, but they both can go now. It just looks a little different."
Ross says he watches film of not just Hill, but any of the speed guys such as DeSean Jackson and T.Y. Hilton. He and Jackson go way back to their hometown of Long Beach, Calif., and Jackson has sat down with Ross to go over Jackson's tape as well as serving as a training partner It helps, too, that Bengals receivers coach Bob Bicknell coached Jackson to a 1,000-yard yard season in Philly. Way back in Jackson's sixth season of 2013. So that gives next week's game against Tampa Bay at Paul Brown Stadium a little bit more intrigue.
"I don't think he's lost a step," Ross said. "Bob says he's one of the smartest guys he's ever coached and one of the most talented."
Hill and Jackson are dangerous not only because they're fast but because their teams use them on a variety of plays: sweeps, screens, bombs. The defense always has to account for them and that's the kind of weapon Ross wants to become. In the little time he's played, he says he's seen defenses adjust a bit to his speed. Maybe that gives A.J. Green a bit more breathing room.
Numbers? Before Ross went down, Green had four touchdown catches and had TD catches of 32 and 38 yards. He also had a 31-yard catch. In the last two games Ross has missed, Green's longest catch is 23 yards and he has no TDs.
(Coincidence? Take a look at Green's 38-yard TD vs. the Colts, run out of the slot with Ross on the outside of him. Safety Malik Hooker takes an instant to make sure Ross doesn't run past the corner and Green gets to the post before him. All four TDs came with Green in the slot and Ross on his outside.)
"We all can tell. I think it's helpful. That's the kind of impact I want to make," Ross said. "It's going to come. I can't force it and I'm not going to."
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor hasn't noticed if defenses adjust to Ross' speed. All he knows is he wants him back.
"I haven't really considered it a whole lot yet. I'm just waiting to see what his availability would be," Lazor said this week. "Most guys who are real fast aren't also quick and sudden. He really is. As we were planning for (Thursday's) red zone I went back last night and watched some of the red zone that we've done already just for the perspective of what the opponent is seeing. On one of A.J. touchdowns I just happened to notice John on the other side of the field.
"I think everyone would say as he got into that Atlanta game we felt like momentum was building for him and we just have to get him to pick up. Its part of the NFL is guys miss games here and there and so it's our job as coaches, and hopefully they see the responsibility themselves, is to not let those little gaps of playing time be blips in their development. We've got to keep them going and keep pushing them. He's been around and he's been involved so hopefully he picks up where he left off."
BIG RED: One category the Bengals lead the Chiefs' potent offense is red zone touchdown percentage because they're No. 1 at 15 of 20 for 75 percent. But the Chiefs, sixth in the NFL, have been inside the 20 six more times and have three more TDs.
Lazor thinks a key in there is forgetting style points.
"I think if you fall into pride in red zone play design you open the door of trying to get cute down there and you don't execute well," Lazor said. "I can say I've been on those staffs before. You have to do what you can do. It's the most critical point in the game, let's do what we do well."
You'd figure with tight end Tyler Eifert gone for basically the last 10 quarters their percentage would suffer. But in the last two weeks wide receiver Tyler Boyd has nabbed two red-zone TDs and running back Joe Mixon has split a run and a pass for a score.
"The No. 1 thing for us is focus. From the spring even though we were out there on the grass with no defense, just focus on this how we are going to run our plays, this is how we are going to run our routes," Lazor said. "We talked about getting north and south with the football, whether it be the run game or when guys catch the ball, get north and south and just gain yards, never be the guy that gets tackled first-and-goal from the 10. It's very hard to scored first-and-goal at the 10. If you can get to the nine, get to the eight, just that mentality that every single yard counts. We just try to be very diligent in preparing during the week and these are the plays we're going to run down there and these are the schemes we know and let's make them count."
PRACTICE SQUAD: Rookie wide receiver Auden Tate took the place of Russell on the practice squad Friday after he cleared waivers.