Notes: Ghee hopeful as secondary limps into weekend; No ducking from pass protection


Brandon Ghee

Updated: 7 p.m.

With 13, Brandon Ghee has fewer snaps from scrimmage than games played by fellow 2010 draft classmates Geno Atkins, Jermaine Gresham and Carlos Dunlap. He hopes that ends Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) when the depleted Bengals secondary turns to him in Cleveland.

On Thursday it sure looked like the Bengals weren't going to have two of their top three slot cornerbacks with Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick out again with hamstring issues, as was starting safety Reggie Nelson.

But, finally, the snake-bit Ghee was back for two days in a row Thursday for the first time in about a month. He hasn't played in a game in a year-and-a-half, ever since he played in the 2011 Wild Card playoff after being promoted from the practice squad and playing the last seven games on special teams.

"I hope they throw me in the slot," Ghee said before Thursday's practice. "It's more opportunity means more plays. I am not the type of person to be all nervous and stuff. I like the pressure. I am just glad I got the opportunity and now I am healthy."

Which has been a chore ever since he arrived in the third round from Wake Forest. Wednesday was Ghee's first practice in a month after he was unable to shake a concussion in the preseason opener in Atlanta. After performing so well during the spring camps in 2012, he was only on the field a week in training camp before his season ended with a dislocated wrist. His rookie year started with a concussion and ended with a December trip to injured reserve with a groin issue.

"I did make a lot of plays last year at the nickel in OTAs and that is where they kind of like me right now, that's where I'm playing; in the slot," Ghee said, and it's a good thing.

The other slot option is thought to be 230-pound safety Taylor Mays. That's a big reason why the Bengals brought safety Chris Crocker back off the street because of his experience in the slot.

But if Ghee is the first option, how much can he go since he's barely played?

"I am not out for a whole year. I look at the bright side, cup is half full not half empty," he said. "Things happen. This ain't the worst one. Last year I dislocated my wrist and was out for a whole year. To me, this is just a small stepping stone. This is not going to affect me very much."

Ghee has the size (6-0, 200 pounds) and speed defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer craves at the position, but he didn't really begin to flash until he was cut at the end of his second preseason and went to the practice squad. Ghee was good enough there to earn a promotion to the roster in the second half of the season and he really took off in the '12 spring camps when he wowed people in the slot.

He's been taking notes from a pretty good one. Hall is coming off a dominant outing in the slot, where he held Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb to five catches on 11 targets. But the Browns have some dangerous inside targets as well, such as wide receiver Davone Bess and tight end Jordan Cameron.

Neither are putting up the league-leading numbers that Cobb had rung up in the slot before meeting Hall. Cameron is ranked 31st among tight ends in the slot and Bess is 62nd among receivers, according to Pro Football Focus. But they have some numbers. Cameron has caught a TD in the slot, where he's averaging 15.5 yards per seven slot catches, and Bess has caught 12 of his 18 targets for 111 yards, according to PFF.

"Just technique," Ghee said of what he's picked up from Hall. "Honestly, I think Leon is one of the best technicians in the league. He's one of the top five corners in the league. He doesn't have that Pro Bowl appearance yet because things happen in voting, but Leon's a great player."

Also going full for the Bengals on Thursday were running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (ankle) and cornerback Terence Newman (knee) after they went limited Wednesday. After missing last Sunday's game backup tackle Anthony Collins (knee) has practiced full two straight days.

Ghee can't hide his frustration over the concussion. He says the Bengals have handled it well, sending him to independent doctors and underdoing written and mental exams. They shelved him this past week even though he was told "technically" he could have played, but the team wanted to make sure so he'd be completely cleared. "It's the type of thing where I may even wipe my head and they may think I'm symptomatic. It's the type of thing they are watching everything," Ghee said. "The new lawsuit and stuff; its they are watching everything post-concussion.

"It's pretty much over. So they made sure I came back healthy. My family wants me to stay healthy and the doctor's situation is they just want to make sure I am completely honest and not having headaches, etc. Now it is over and I am out there playing."

And Ghee says he'll play. He won't become tentative after all the tests and caution.

"I am not that type. (In a) game I'm going to come up and hit, practice I'm going to come up and hit. You can't be scared; that's when you got beat," Ghee said.

ANOTHER MATCHUP: Here's a nice matchup after three games:

The Bengals are seventh-best in the NFL allowing sacks per pass and the Browns are third-best at getting them per pass. Heightening the showdown is that Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander was trying to find some wood to knock on after Thursday's practice.

"We haven't allowed a sack yet," Alexander said of the offensive line in the early part of a season quarterback Andy Dalton has been sacked five times.

But he knows the Browns have two formidable outside rushers in veteran Paul Kruger and rookie Barkevious Mingo, as well as an active front of Desmond Bryant and Ahtyba Rubin. The Bengals have seen Kruger twice a year with the Ravens and last year he had a sack against Cincinnati.

"(Mingo) is a tremendous athlete. He's going to be terrific. Hopefully slow-footed tackles can block him," said Alexander, who knows his two are anything but slow of foot. "(Kruger) was a very good pass rusher in Baltimore, but he's even better now. He's added some things to his game he didn't have in Baltimore and he's more effective. New coaching, learn a few wrinkles, whatever, but he's a better player now and he was a good player in Baltimore."

Alexander says it's no coincidence that elite tackles like Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth and Browns left tackle Joe Thomas go against good defensive fronts daily. Whitworth has the relentless, always-improving 6-7 Michael Johnson and now Thomas has the ultra-quick Mingo.

"They feed off each other. We rush the passer well and we pass block well and the two go hand-in-hand," Alexander said.

PFF has to love this matchup. Thomas, 97.9 in 618 sets, and Whitworth, 97.7 in 585 sets, were the web site's No. 1 and No. 2 most efficient pass blockers in the NFL last season. The site said Whitworth allowed five sacks and Thomas three, but Whitworth allowed no hits while Thomas gave three, and both allowed 16 pressures.

"Two completely different technique players and both are effective at what they do. Two of the best. Both are fun to watch. I hope Whit has a little more fun this week," Alexander said.

It may be biased, but Alexander thinks the edge always has to go to the O-line.

"The better blocker always wins against a better rusher. If you get in the right place and use geometry on your side, you don't lose," Alexander said. "The only time you lose in protection is when you psych yourself out with something stupid you shouldn't do. The good rushers take advantage of that."

But Alexander is clearly intrigued by the battle between Whitworth and Mingo, the two favorite sons of West Monroe, La., which is what he told Whitworth when he discovered one of TV's hottest shows also has roots in their town.

"West Monroe is the Hollywood of the south," Alexander said. "You've got Whitworth, you've got Mingo, you've got 'Duck Dynasty.' You've got it all."

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