Updated: 6:30 p.m.
Maurice Purify or Jerome Simpson?
The decision isn't so much who is the better player because they are both inexperienced second-year guys who are completely different wide receivers. It is more of a game-plan decision about Sunday in Pittsburgh, a physical matchup that would seemingly favor the 6-3, 225-pound Purify and his ability to block and tackle on special teams as well as be a potential big red-zone target.
Whoever it is, he is going to have to play some Sunday, said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski as he came off the field Thursday. The Bengals could line up in four wides with Chad Ochocinco and Laveranues Coles on the outside and Andre Caldwell and Quan Cosby on the inside, but Bratkowski said he's looking to get some snaps from the new guy as they look to replace Chris Henry, out for the year with a fractured left forearm.
At 6-2, 195 pounds, Simpson, the second-rounder from 2008, has speed and athleticism. But the transition from tiny Coastal Carolina has been slow and he has yet to be active for a game this season after playing in just six as a rookie.
"It's not an indictment of Coastal Carolina," Bratkowski said. "It's just coming from that small environment is a difficult thing and it's taking him time to make that adjustment. Both have made progress. Neither one has much game experience nor is that where you find the progress. Both are responsible. They study. They pay attention in the meetings."
But like receivers coach Mike Sheppard says, "Each guy has their strength that they bring that adds to our offense. Jerome has that special athleticism with probably a little better speed. Maurice is more physical by nature. He can make a big contribution on special teams and he's a better blocker. At the end of the week, you figure out who gives you the best chance to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers."
Given the Bengals have adopted more of a physical style this year and the Steelers are perennially one of the league's most physical teams, plus the fact that Notre Dame and Pitt are going to make the field a mess Saturday night, they could very well opt for muscle over speed.
Sheppard said he feels pretty comfortable with the versatility of the group. Cosby, Caldwell and Coles can all play inside and outside. The Ocho, Purify and Simpson are purely outside guys at this point.
"Quan's a very bright guy. He's very trustworthy out there," Sheppard said. "He backs up everybody. I remember what (Coles) said when he first got here (in the spring). He said don't underestimate how good and deep we are. He's wasn't talking about where he was coming from, but looking at rosters around the league. We've got some good young players with upside."
If Purify knows he's going to be activated from the practice squad in time for Sunday as one of the five wide receivers, he's not saying.
Purify has made a name for himself in practices as the scout team's top receiver, ranging from Green Bay's Donald Driver and Houston's Andre Johnson to Baltimore's Derrick Mason and Pittsburgh's Hines Ward. One teammate said Purify has been such a beast in practice that he's caught more balls on cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall than the Masons and Drivers have caught on them in the real games.
And another teammate, a pretty big one named Carson Palmer, said publicly he could use Purify.
"What Carson said was a big deal," Purify said. "I appreciate that from him that he trusts me and is willing to step up front and say something like that about somebody."
Told that Palmer's endorsement should help him, Purify said, "He might carry a lot of weight."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» More questions on the Roy Williams front. After goingfull go with his forearm injury on Wednesday, he wasn't dressed Thursday and there appears to be concern that the pain just isn't going away and what that means for the rest of the season since it is the same arm that he fractured last season in Dallas. That could mean more exams for an injury that has never been officially described, although defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer indicated last month that it wasn't broken.
Head coach Marvin Lewis is extremely close-mouthed on injuries and the only thing known is that Williams hasn't played in the last three games and four of the last five since injuring it in practice the week of the Oct. 4 win over Cleveland. After sitting out the Browns game, he didn't finish the Oct. 11 win over Baltimore and hasn't played since.
Williams, a five-time Pro Bowler who signed a one-year deal back in March, had surgery last season to insert plates that repaired his broken forearm. He missed all but three games.
» Fullback Jeremi Johnson (chest) returned to the field but was limited.For the second straight day WILL linebacker Keith Rivers (calf) and left guard Evan Mathis (ankle) didn't work. Mathis was in a boot before practice. Also for the second straight day, defensive ends Frostee Rucker (neck) and Robert Geathers (hip) were limited. Running back Cedric Benson, who didn't practice Wednesday because of a non-injury reason), went full go Thursday.
» For the Steelers, it looks like outside linebacker Lawerence Timmons(ankle) may very well start after missing Monday night's game. He did a lot Thursday, but end Travis Kirschke (calf) did not and he's probably not going to play, meaning third stringer Nick Eason gets the nod at left end with the injury to Krischke and season-ending injury to Aaron Smith.
» Despite his league-best 198 carries, Bengals running back Cedric Benson says he's not sore. Here was his take on the difference between the Baltimore and Pittsburgh run defenses: He said Pittsburgh tries to get bigger people on smaller people in matchups while Baltimore "just thinks they're better than you."
» Benson's matchup with Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall pits two of the hottest runners in the NFL. Here are numbers from Gerry Dulac at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
In five games as a starter, Mendenhall has rushed for 526 yards on 93 carries, an average of 105.2 yards per game. In that time, only three backs have rushed for more yards than Mendenhall – Tennessee's Chris Johnson (608), Carolina's DeAngelo Williams (588) and Benson (544).
Mendenhall has seven runs of 20 yards or longer this season, tying him with Benson and Atlanta's Michael Turner for third most in the NFL. Only Johnson (12) and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (8) have more.
But, there is only one back among the top 35 rushers in the league who has a better yards-per-carry average than Mendenhall (5.73), and that's Johnson (6.7).
Mendenhall did not play in Cincinnati because he was being punished for not knowing his practice assignments during the week.