In a perfect world, Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther had his Pro Bowl WILL linebacker penciled in for a return to practice Wednesday. But, as we all know, the only thing perfect in the NFL is the 1972 Dolphins, and Burfict was on the rehab field Wednesday and, presumably, closer to starting the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) that would delay his return to Nov. 1 in Pittsburgh.
But Guenther wouldn't rule out Burfict being ready for the Sept. 13 opener in Oakland, about eight months after microfracture knee surgery, and had to talk him off the practice field Wednesday.
All indications are the Bengals are going with a conservative approach and are keeping their options open of placing him on PUP. Burfict isn't eligible for PUP if he practices even once in the preseason. If he does practice and isn't ready, the Bengals would have to carry him on the final 53-man roster until he is available.
But Guenther is holding out hope. "He's progressing fast. He's working his butt off," Guenther said after Wednesday's practice. "I saw him over there in individuals and he wanted to hop in there (in team). I told him 'No, No.' There's a certain protocol we have to follow. It's a step-by-step process and once he passes the protocol and the trainers say we can ease him in there, we'll welcome him with open arms."
Saturday's game against the Bears (7:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) would seem to be out for Burfict. And it's hard to see the Bengals activating him for just the pre-season finale in Indianapolis Sept. 3, but Guenther holds out hope. No decision has been made. He looks good. Guenther is waiting.
"We'll see how it goes," he said. . . . Andre Smith, the starting right tackle, was on the field when practice started Wednesday. He hasn't played in the first two games because of an unknown issue that isn't expected to keep him out of the opener. Jake Fisher (shoulder), a second-round pick who has been working at backup guard and left tackle, has also missed his first two pre-season games and it looks like they're getting him ready to play Saturday. He was also on the field when practice started, but it's unknown if he worked because practice was closed before team drills.
Darqueze Dennard (hamstring), the second-year cornerback backing up Leon Hall in the slot, hasn't worked since getting hurt in the Aug. 14 opener against the Giants. Cornerback Brandon Ghee (hamstring), who has missed both games, also returned Wednesday. As running back Jeremy Hill said, Saturday is the last game the starters/regulars get a chance to work so it is crunch time in that regard.
Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring) looked to be the only casualty of Monday night's game in Tampa and sat out Wednesday's practice. Safety George Iloka was back on the practice field after leaving Monday with a knee issue. But it looked like defensive tackles Pat Sims (thigh) and Brandon Thompson (unknown) didn't work. Also not going were wide receivers Tevin Reese and Onterio McCalebb (hamstring).
Right end Michael Johnson, out with an MCL knee sprain since Aug. 2, surfaced on the rehab field for the first time in his bid to make the opener, now 18 days away . . . Jeremy Hill had one word for Wednesday morning's meeting, the Bengals' first gathering for the first time since the 25-11 loss in Tampa Monday night in their second pre-season game.
"Brutal,' said Hill, who had one of the three second-quarter turnovers with a fumble after his 11-yard run. "Today is a big day for us, a big practice for us so we can put the game behind us, execute and put ourselves in position to do well Saturday."
Since the Bengals are playing the Bears in just three days, Wednesday is the only full-scale practice they'll get before the game.
"I think we were kind of complacent out there," Hill said. "After playing the way we did against the Giants, I think we just thought it would happen and you can't do that. You have to go out there with the same intensity and the same respect you have for every opponent." . . .
Hill said he's not sure how Bucs cornerback Mike Jenkins got the ball loose: "I had the ball high and tight …but somehow he made a play on the ball. That can't happen." …
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is making no excuses for giving up that 22-yard touchdown pass to Bucs wide receiver Russell Shepard on third-and-20. It came on his 30th and last snap of the game and he admits he was "gassed,' and he thinks the rest of his defense was, too. At that point the Bucs had the ball about 15 minutes and the Bengals' six midway through the second quarter.
"I just couldn't run," Kirkpatrick said before Wednesday's practice. "I played the route well. I was trying to burst, I just didn't have it. I don't like to make excuses. You have to get through your adversity."
Game-time temp was 91 degrees and Kirkpatrick said when he got in his car in Cincinnati after the plane landed 3 a.m. Tuesday, the gauge read 57 degrees.
"We needed that. It was a rough environment weather-wide,' he said, fast forwarding to the Sept. 13 opener. "We have to overcome that because we go to Oakland and it's not going to be pretty out there, either." . . .
The Ravens have Matt Schaub as their No. 2 backup. The Steelers just added Michael Vick as their No. 2. That is a combined 200 NFL starts opposed to AJ McCarron's 0. But head coach Marvin Lewis is confident that McCarron is a rising young player with poise and confidence.
"He's got a linebacker's mentality," Lewis said. "We've got a guy who has a lot of moxie, has a lot of other experience. ... when the season rolls around, that second guy doesn't get many snaps. But in AJ, you have a guy who last year, even with being on the PUP list, was pushed to prepare as if he was the starting quarterback and he did that. He welcomed that challenge all the time with Kenny (Zampese). He stood back there with me in practice all the time, and I told him to play, and he went through everything in his mind, and he talked it. That's what you want." ...
Lewis has said third-round pick P.J. Dawson, the linebacker from Texas Christian, is a work in progress. And on Wednesday before practice Lewis said he likes the progress.
"He's in the tutoring program constantly," Lewis said with a smile. "That's where we expected him to be, and he's better than I expected him to be, which is a good thing. He's worthwhile to have in that program. He deserves all the attention he gets every day. … I think at the end of the day, he's certainly going to be a worthwhile linebacker. He has instinctive things that we can't coach that he's very natural with." …