Updated: 11:50 p.m.
If you think this game is big for Cedric Benson, what about for another familiar Texas name in college football called Abilene Christian University?
Three players from the Division II program are going to be on the field Sunday and the school president, Dr. Royce Money, as well as the athletic director, Jared Mosley, are going to be on hand at Paul Brown Stadium.
Bengals backup running back Bernard Scott won the Division II Heisman Trophy (Harlon Hill) last year at ACU and is joined by former teammate Johnny Knox, a wide receiver who comes into the game for the Bears leading the NFL in kick returns with a 33.7-yard average that includes a 102-yard touchdown. Manning can tell him how to lead the league for the entire season because he did it last year when he replaced Pro Bowler Devin Hester in midseason and racked up a 29.7 average on 36 returns.
The problem for Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons is that Knox, Manning and Hester have all dropped back there at various times this season, although Hester has been content to return basically only punts and he's sixth in the league.
Simmons would eventually like to get Scott ready to help return kicks because he really likes his speed. And speed is what Knox has plenty of. He ripped off a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. Which makes it a nice matchup with Bengals kick returner Andre Caldwell, who ripped off a 4.3 40 at the '08 combine.
But Simmons just wishes this stretch that began on Opening Day is over. After Sunday, the Bengals will have faced the NFL's top kick and punt returner with Knox and Cleveland's Josh Cribbs, respectively. Plus, Denver's Eddie Royal, Hester and Houston's Jacoby Jones are fourth, sixth and eighth in punt returns. And, Houston's Jones is second to Knox in kickoffs while Cribbs is seventh and Royal ninth in kickoffs.
Which makes the Bengals numbers on the punt coverage team extremely impressive. Although they are 22nd in kick coverage, they are first in net punting.
"That's what this team has always prided themselves on for the past X amount of years," said Simmons of the Bears. "Be great in the kicking game and be able to control field position."
No question, Simmons said. A stretch that opened the '07 season (Ed Reed, Cribbs) was tough, but not quite like this.
INJURY UPDATE:The Bengals were much healthier Wednesday than at the end of Sunday's game. Running back Brian Leonard (groin), who missed Sunday's game, went full go, as well as defensive tackle Tank Johnson (foot), tight end Dan Coats (shoulder), defensive end Frostee Rucker (ankle) and Pat Sims (biceps). But safety Roy Williams (forearm), who also didn't go Sunday, didn't work.
» Complete Wednesday Injury Report
Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris (knee) didn't practice Wednesday.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Palmer, still using a glove on his sprained left thumb Wednesday, pulled no punches in talking about the importance of Sunday's game. "Huge," he said.
» Defensive tackle Domata Peko got off the crutches Tuesday, his MRI showed no tear, and he wants to play. But he also said Wednesday, "If my knee's not ready, I'm not going to go out there. ... If it's not 100 percent I'm not going to force it and jeopardize the rest of the season."
So Peko didn't practice Wednesday, but one of the tougher Bengals hasn't ruled out playing Sunday with what sounds to be a severe bruise.
» With Peko limping and right end Antwan Odom on injured reserve after Achilles surgery, the Bengals signed a familiar face in defensive tackle Orien Harris, a guy that has been traded for and cut by the Lions since the Bengals traded him to the Rams on May 7 for running back Brian Leonard.
"They said that never happened before," said Harris of getting traded twice in two months. Harris, who is from Delaware, admitted he has been keeping up with Leonard since the trade and he had already known about him from his career at nearby Rutgers. "He's been doing (well). In the preseason, too ... I gave him the closer eye (after the trade)."
Harris did see Leonard's dive on his successful fourth-and-10 catch that led to the win over Pittsburgh: "ESPY," he said. As for all the dealing Harris said it actually helped him. "It made me a better person and a football player also," he said. "It helped me figure out some things in my life."
» On his first day of practice since he broke his foot during his third workout of the season Sept. 1, rookie right tackle Andre Smith is looking lighter than when he arrived nearly two months ago. No one is saying what it is, but he says he's been doing cardiovascular work two or three times a day. But it turned out that Smith's return to practice was based on him not having contact yet and that did offensive line coach Paul Alexander no good.
"It's football, right? It's not badminton," Alexander said. "I think he'll do more next week."
So Smith apparently did the same agility drills he did the past few weeks and was listed as limited.
» Briggs, by the way, sounds like a delightful interview and when told the Bengals must seem different than when they last played the Bears, he said, "You stole some of our guys," in reference to Benson and defensive tackle Tank Johnson.
Briggs doesn't sound surprised the Bengals offensive line has been hit with some holding calls.
"Their big guys are kind of maulers," he said. "They'll get their hands on you and try to hold you, pull you down, and swing you around, so it's going to be a physical game." Asked about the difference in style from the line that beat the Bears in '05, 24-7, he offered, "The guys in '05, they grabbed and tugged me and tried to throw me around, too."
Alexander knows Briggs is a huge assignment.
"I think he's a great player and I think we're going to do what we need to do block him," Alexander said. "He's fast, he has great instincts, he's explosive. He's certainly one of the best linebackers in football."