Updated: 2:55 p.m.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is juggling three balls in the air as he preps for the club's Thursday's 7 p.m. preseason finale against the Colts (11:35 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Paul Brown Stadium.
"It's a three-fold event," Lewis said Tuesday after the team's only full-scale practice of the week.
"The mindset is it's a great night for our fans. It's another home game. It's a fun thing, and we'll have our guys get out there and let them play a little bit, get them out, and let the other guys finish the game up that are fighting for spots. (And) there are guys who haven't played much who'll be on the 53-man roster that need experience."
Those that haven't played much this preseason because of injury but figure to be here next week are going to get plenty of work against the Colts, such as offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson. Lewis may have offered a hint in the fullback battle between Orson Charles and John Conner when he said Charles needs snaps.
And, of course, the guys fighting for their football lives, such as J.K. Schaffer and Jayson DiManche at linebacker and Shaun Prater and Chris Lewis-Harris at cornerback, are going to blanket the field Thursday.
Lewis says he won't be surprised if someone wins a spot in that last game. It happened three years ago when running back Cedric Peerman broke off the NFL's longest run of the preseason with a 93-yarder in Indy and it probably happened last year over there when Ryan Whalen caught four balls for 41 yards in the third quarter and forced the Bengals to keep seven wide receivers instead of their usual six.
But then, some guys on the bubble that didn't play in the finale made it. You have to go back to 2006 and running back DeDe Dorsey. He didn't play with an injury, but made it on the strength of a 7.5-yards per carry average and a 59-yard catch out of the backfield.
Whatever, Lewis says nothing is final until Saturday at 6 p.m., the deadline for final cuts.
"We've had guys each year play their way onto the team; that's the fun of the preseason," Lewis said of the finale. "No way it's a throwaway game. You've made decisions, but the final decisions haven't been made because you don't have to yet."
It will be interesting to see what decision Lewis makes with quarterback Andy Dalton. The first offense was scheduled to play only one series in last year's finale, but that was almost too much. Dalton got his throwing hand jammed on a sandwich hit in the pocket on his fourth pass of the drive and left the field flexing it, but was deemed OK and didn't return. The bulk of the first defense also only played the first series.
GENO Ts OFF: Two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins is used to bringing some heat. On Tuesday he got some as he handed to each of his teammates a Geno 911 T-shirt. A takeoff on the comedy hit Reno 911, there's a drawing of Atkins as a muscle-bound police officer.
Tuesday's highlight was defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer pulling the orange T-shirt over his Bengals T-shirt after practice.
"I told him to give me one," Zimmer said. "Celebrity status."
Which is why everyone was giving Atkins heat because he doesn't act like a celebrity even though he's the best defensive tackle in football.
Defensive end Wallace Gilberry had some fun with the shirt as he sat next to two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green in the locker room.
"This is out of the box for Geno. A.J. Green does it all the time. Geno is going Hollywood," said Gilberry, which is funny because Green also avoids the spotlight.
"I don't have a T-shirt. See my shirt? It's a V-neck," Green said.
Atkins said he was approached about the idea and, "I thought it was funny with the officer and the big arms. I said, why not? Add to the résumé. A T-shirt. Check that. Went to the ESPYs. Check that."
Laughs and good-natured kidding aside, no one is objecting to Atkins going through his bucket list.
"I think it's a cool shirt," Gilberry said. "I'm going to wear it to support my fellow defensive lineman and teammate."
J.K. TEMPERS HOPES: Here's why linebacker J.K. Schaffer is taking life on the bubble with a grain of salt. Last year when he was a rookie and leading the Jaguars in preseason tackles, he was told that last week he was going to make it.
Then the final cuts came and he didn't.
"It wasn't fun; tough situation," Schaffer said this week. "I've learned not to get my hopes up."
Now a year later in his hometown, the LaSalle High School grad is tied with rookie safety Shawn Williams for most tackles (14) and he appears to be in a scrum for the sixth and last backer spot with rookie free agent Jayson DiManche. Schaffer has been with the club since the middle of last season, when he joined the practice squad, so he knows the system and is comfortable with the playbook while DiManche has had to come in as a college pass rusher and learn to play backer. Schaffer may be more ready now, but DiManche has enough talent that he was one of the post-draft's highest-paid free agents with a $15,000 bonus. He's got a sack to go with nine tackles.
"It's not my first rodeo. (This) is not an easy week," Schaffer said. "No, I don't know where I'll be next week. I hope it's here. But you have to put that stuff aside and go play ball. I think I've put myself in position. I think I've done everything I can to this point. As tough as it is, you can't think about it, you have to go play."
SLANTS AND SCREENS » Right tackle Andre Smith said before Tuesday's practice that the plan is for him to be ready for the Sept. 8 regular-season opener in Chicago after he tweaked his knee Saturday night in Atlanta.
"I feel a lot better than I did a day ago," Smith said.
» Andrew Whitworth (knee), the other starting tackle, wasn't on the field Tuesday morning in an indication he'll miss every preseason game before he hopes to get the call against the Bears. He was in the locker room walking around before practice and mingling with teammates after attending morning meetings.
» Cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Brandon Ghee appear to be battling concussion-like symptoms and didn't practice, which means Prater, Lewis-Harris and Onterio McCalebb are going to get plenty of work at corner in this week's final tuneup. Cornerback Adam Jones (rib) was back on the field and so was Hawkinson (ankle). So were the defensive ends that didn't play in Dallas, Carlos Dunlap and Robert Geathers, as well as SAM linebacker James Harrison.
» Before practice Tuesday the Bengals made six roster moves to get down to the maximum 75 players.
They put fourth-round pick Sean Porter (shoulder) on season-ending injured reserve and waived injured linebacker Brandon Joiner (knee), meaning he'll revert to injured reserve once he clears waivers. The Bengals released two offensive linemen brought in during training camp for depth, tackle Jason Weaver and guard Otis Hudson. And, as expected, they put fullback Chris Pressley (knee) and quarterback Zac Robinson (elbow) on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), meaning they won't be eligible to practice until the seventh week of the season.
Pressley was on the side Tuesday working with rehab trainer Nick Cosgray, as was wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (ankle), a candidate for injured reserve-recall.