Updated: 6:25 p.m.
The Bengals returned to the University of Cincinnati bubble to work indoors Tuesday, but for head coach Marvin Lewis and his team it's a location that means more than getting out of the elements.
For current events the most newsworthy items were running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (hamstring) and safety Chris Crocker (quad), along with safety Taylor Mays (leg) not working. BJGE was working on the side while Crocker watched the drills. Mays was dressed in shells but not working.
The nostalgic note out of the practice is that it is a historical landmark in the growth of the Bengals as they prepared for their second straight postseason berth since overhauling their roster with the 2011 draft and the selection of wide receiver A.J. Green and Andy Dalton in the first two rounds.
The bubble covers the field where for the first time Dalton met and practiced with his teammates and team leaders like defensive linemen Domata Peko and Robert Geathers and left tackle Andrew Whitworth in the spring of 2011. Since it was done in the black hole of the NFL lockout, it was, in Lewis's mind, a major factor that the coaches couldn't be there.
"Andrew Whitworth said it last week," Lewis recalled during his Tuesday news conference. "Last Wednesday he said, 'This is where it all began. This is right where the Andy Dalton era started on this field at UC.'
"Those guys, without the help of us coaches, shaped this football team from that day when they began practicing up there at UC on their own. And they've never let go of it. Domata, Andrew, Robert and the rest of them. They policed the group time and time again and it's been good."
If there had been a knock on Lewis from his players in the pre Green-Dalton era, it was that he didn't let them take control of the locker room. Lewis's argument back then was that he didn't have enough pros to take over. Now he'll admit that he does.
"Much has been said about the reconstitution of players over the last couple of years; and that's been good," Lewis said. "We've got guys that have played at a high level in college. They've been at large programs in college. They're used to experiencing winning in college. To bring them in with a group of veteran players here that are no-nonsense guys … they've always led and pointed them in the right direction."
ZEITLER VS. WATT:The best matchup of the NFL's first playoff game of the year comes straight out of the Wisconsin Spring Game when Bengals rookie right guard Kevin Zeitler goes up against the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt in Saturday's Wild Card game (4:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) in Houston.
"He's a heck of a player. I have a lot of respect for him and the way he approaches everything," Watt said Tuesday morning on his conference call with the Cincinnati media. "I love Kevin. He's a great guy."
Watt, coming off the sixth-greatest sack season in NFL history with 20.5, doesn't remember going up against Zeitler all that much in practice because back then he played more on the edge. But if you cut Zeiter and Watt open, they've got the same DNA, no-frills, no-BS, all-blue collar Wisconsin approach. Zeitler, a product of Waukesha, and Watt, out of Pewaukee, are both Greater Milwaukee guys that went in the first round a year apart.
It turned out that when Zeitler moved his junior year in high school, he was about a mile away from Watt over the bridge and they met that year at a gym where they still train. The Bengals and Texans shared the same bye this year and the duo found themselves working out together again.
"I would definitely say that's quite true," Watt said of their approach. "Just a guy who's going to come to work every single day with his hardhat and lunch pail and give you everything he's got. I think that's why I like him so much. That's why we're similar players, similar people. We're going to give it everything we've got and it's not about the fame and it's not about the money. It's about what we do best and trying to be great."
*DATE GAME: *When the Bengals say that the history books filled with not winning a playoff game since Jan. 6, 1991 have no relevance to them, they're not kidding. Orson Charles, the No. 2 tight end, was born three weeks after that game, and Cincinnati's three rookie starters—Will backer Vontaze Burfict, wide receiver Marvin Jones, and right guard Kevin Zeitler—were born either during that 1990 season or in the offseason.
FOCUSED: With his offense scrounging for yards and points in December (in the five games the Bengals have scored six touchdowns and averaged 276 yards), Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is buckling down and not focused on any head coaching interviews.
It's early and assistant coaches working Wild Card games can't interview until next week. But teams can get permission this week. No matter. Gruden is just thinking about the Texans.
"I'm trying to get a first down, trying to get these guys ready to go," Gruden said after Tuesday's practice. "That's the farthest thing from my mind.
"No, I haven't heard from anybody. It's not an issue … I don't know how it works. We haven't played our best football offensively the last couple of weeks and I'm trying to keep my job here."
SIGNINGS: The playoffs are here, but the acquisitions keep coming. On Tuesday the Bengals filled their spot on the practice squad with Justin Hilton, the Indiana State free agent rookie that played here in the preseason, and they also signed wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei to a Reserve/Future contract.
The 6-2, 190-pound Hilton was waived Aug. 29 after he played in the first three preseason games and had one catch for 30 yards. The 6-4, 220-pound Tuinei won't join the team for any work or count on the active roster until the day following the Super Bowl. He entered the NFL last season as a free agent with Seattle and played in all four preseason games with one reception for eight yards. He was waived Sept. 1 and was on the Seattle practice squad from Oct. 31-Nov. 6 and Nov. 13-Dec. 17.