Center Kyle Cook has seen the 2012 season from both sides now, through his own eyes and those of a rookie making his first four NFL starts. And he can't wait to make his season debut now that he's been cleared and back practicing.
It's been three months since he has surgery to repair an injured ankle. It's been a month since he's been allowed to leave the box and watch games from the sideline as he helped Trevor Robinson make what has been a remarkable transition. It's been two weeks since he's been allowed back on the field to do drills, clearing the way for his first practice on Wednesday.
"At first it was really frustrating as far as when I was up in the suite and on my little scooter, because the week before, the opening game, and the second game, I was there," Cook recalled Wednesday before he took the field.
"I was out there. It was hard for me to understand that no matter what I can't do anything about it. I had a screw in my ankle, in a cast. There was nothing I could do. But as you get closer, you start to get it back as far as it's a reality that I can actually come back with this new (injured reserve-recall) rule. It's not just the year is done for me. I've been hungry the whole year. I'm glad the guys have done what they needed to do and we're on a real good last month with how we're playing. It's just basically whatever I can do when I come back to help the team. Whatever is asked of me, I'll do whatever is asked of me."
And that's been helping ease Robinson along in what has been a crash course for the undrafted rookie from Notre Dame. Jeff Faine's hamstring injury thrust Robinson into the second half against, all teams, the Steelers, and save for a hamstring injury himself in the second half against the Broncos, he's been the man.
Robinson is 3-1 as the starter and the Bengals are off their two best running games of the season, including running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis's first two 100-yard games as a Bengal. And Cook likes what he sees. He says the main thing Robinson has improved is how he sees the defense.
"As a center, you've kind of got to be like a quarterback and see the whole field, see the game," Cook said. "(It's) about seeing different safeties and seeing the whole picture, not just the guy in front of you. I think he's improved on that. He still has a ways to go, obviously, being a first-year guy. You pick things up no matter what year you are in the league.
"If you're not, then obviously you're not becoming a better player. There's a lot of differences between college and the pros as far as how you're calling your protections and how you're basing your runs and how things change week in and week out depending on the teams you play."
Robinson has had the benefit of playing his games with Cook, Faine and offensive line coach Paul Alexander all hovering around him.
"I've been limited on the practices that I could go to and when I'm on the field even when Jeff was playing we'd stand next to each other next to coach Alexander and when the play was called we'd talk about things we'd see and tell him things that I saw. For the most part, he's got it down," Cook said.
"He was obviously fortunate enough that for his sake he wasn't thrown right into it from the get-go right when I got hurt. Jeff was able to come in. (Robinson) was still allowed an opportunity to keep practicing and know what it's like to be in an actual game week, prepare for different opponents and stuff like that. That was beneficial. He just waited until he got his chance and he's done a good job."
Cook has a three-week roster exemption, so the clock is running on Faine, a guy that got the Bengals through the first month at 3-1 himself. That's when the Bengals first negotiated life without Cook, their center ever since the 2009 AFC North title run. The thinking is Cook is going to return for the Dec. 9 Paul Brown Stadium game against Dallas, but what remains to be seen is how his ankle responds this week and how he will be worked in with Robinson.
The Bengals could decide after three weeks to put Cook on season-ending injured reserve, but no one thinks that is going to happen.
"I think I could (play), but like I said, I'm not a selfish guy where it's like, 'Oh, I have to be back,' " Cook said. "It's whatever's best for the team. They'll make that decision and I'll go with it."
Cook is ready to let it go. He said the Bengals knew a few weeks ago Wednesday was the target date.
"It's kind of let you go and feel it out. Obviously it's not going to be like from nothing to 70 plays in a practice," he said. "It's a progression. I think they all know. If you guys know me, I'm the kind of guy who they're going to have to tell me, 'Whoa.' Because if it was up to me, I'd just go in there and kind of do everything and go nuts. But, no, as long as it feels good, really, there's no restrictions on it as far as what I can and can't do."
WEST COAST SWING: Head coach Marvin Lewis is thinking of guys like rookie wide receiver Marvin Lewis Jones when he plans for West Coast trips like the one Friday to San Diego when the Bengals leave a day early. Lewis says in his 22 NFL seasons there has only been one time his teams left on a Saturday and that was Cincinnati's 2009 trip to Oakland.
"The Friday thing is because when we go to Florida or the West Coast, we see an influx of our player families. From my perspective of it, that's the best thing we get accomplished. We get the time change handled and we get the families, because players get overrun with their families," Lewis said. "It gives them an opportunity Friday evening to spend time with their family, and us to have our normal day on Saturday.
"Then, by Saturday afternoon they are pretty much done with their families. They had enough Friday night. They've got all the tickets done and handled. So they can go back and focus on football, because they want to have their time separate and apart as well. To me that's the biggest advantage of going on a Friday. When I coached with the Steelers, we went to Florida two days early because of those things, because you get just overrun by that. We did in Baltimore once I believe, too. That's the thing I like the most about it – once we get together on Saturday, it's our normal Saturday."
Jones, who grew up two hours away in Orange County, expects 25 to 30 family and friends at a stadium where he played his last college game when he caught eight balls for 88 yards in the Holiday Bowl for the University of California last year.
But he never went as a fan.
"I never went to football games; that's not the No. 1 thing in southern California," Jones said. "You know how California is. You have football towns and it's more like Lakers and you go to basketball games. Growing up I never really went to go to any football games."
Jones had virtually the entire family at the Oct. 21 game at PBS against the Steelers, when he was supposed to get the bulk of the snaps at No. 2 receiver. With his father and five siblings watching, he sprained his knee blocking on Cincinnati's first kick return and never got to scrimmage.
He came back last Sunday and, in what is not an upset, didn't take a special teams snap while getting in for nine plays. He had two targets and didn't make a catch, but he said while the knee wasn't 100 percent he played with confidence.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Wide receiver A.J. Green remained the top vote-getter at AFC wide receiver with nearly a 100,000-vote lead on Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne (406,780-316,254) in a Pro Bowl fan balloting update. Geno Atkins also remained in second place at defensive tackle behind Baltimore's Haloti Ngata (219,581-196,813). But with three weeks of voting left, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub nosed ahead of Andy Dalton into fifth place. The NFL releases only the top five at each position and at AFC quarterback Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck lead the way.
» Various tweets and reports had the Bengals working out linebacker Aaron Curry on Wednesday, but they aren't expected to sign him. They could revisit him during the offseason with SAM backer Manny Lawson working on a one-year deal. That seems to be where the Bengals would put Curry.