Bengals head coach Zac Taylor got hit with a bevy of personnel questions before Thursday's practice prepping for Monday night's game (8:15 p.m., ESPN and Cincinnati's Channel 5) against the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium. It gives you an idea of just how much the injuries have impacted them:
_Quarterback Ryan Finley worked the Thursday practice while Brandon Allen (knee) didn't, although Taylor says Allen is still an option to play. But if Allen is inactive, they could call up Kevin Hogan from the practice squad to back up Finley after they signed quarterback Kyle Shurmur to the squad Thursday. There are ten NFL starts among them.
_Cornerback Trae Waynes, the second richest Bengals free agent ever (three years, $42 million) behind only D.J. Reader, won't ever see the field this season. Taylor ruled him out for the year four months after he suffered a pectoral injury the week before the Bengals took the field. Reader (four years, $53 million) was lost for the year with a torn quad in the season's fifth game.
_Two-time 1,000-yard running back Joe Mixon (foot), who hasn't played since the sixth game on Oct. 15, won't come off injured reserve this week. Taylor wouldn't rule him out for the year.
_Look for more running back by committee after Taylor tried it last week against Dallas and Trayveon Williams had career-highs with 12 carries and 49 yards. But Taylor said Giovani Bernard and Samaje Perine are also destined to work against Pittsburgh's third-ranked defense.
That's what they did in Pittsburgh last month, when the trio combined for 100 yards in just the 14th game this century the Bengals have rushed for at least 100 against the Steelers. Williams, a sixth-round draft pick in 2019, didn't get his first five NFL carries until that game and he went for 22 yards. Bernard (eight) and Perine (seven) split the bulk of the carries for 78.
"Trayveon is a young back that we're continuing to get a look at. We'll use all three of those as best we can," Taylor said. "Just wanted to provide some opportunity for him. We've got a lot of confidence in Gio and Samaje as well. Two guys that do everything the right way and exactly how you want it done. As we continue to try to be explosive on offense and create ways to get more explosive plays to score more points, we're turning over every stone to try to find ways that can happen. Trayveon hadn't gotten much of an opportunity, so we felt like let's take a peek at him and see if he can give us a jolt on offense."
_With left tackle Jonah Williams (knee) out for the year, Taylor wouldn't say if Fred Johnson gets the start after he pulled Hakeem Adeniji before the third series last week and put in Johnson. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson allowed just two pressures when he went in. But Adeniji played well against the Steelers in his second NFL start last month. If Johnson gets the start, it marks the eighth straight different starting offensive line.
"(Johnson's) got a good shot," Taylor said. "We got him and Hakeem, two young players who are continuing to compete and get a lot of reps. Those guys have to continue to progress as they get more time at that position."
_Taylor wouldn't say who his guards are going to be after he started and ended the last game with the new vets, Xavier Su'a-Filo at left and Quinton Spain at right. Since the guards have been healthy for the last three games or so, they've been trying to find the right mix and it looks like the vets are getting time over left guard Michael Jordan and right guard Alex Redmond.
They signed Su'a-Filo to play right guard, but after he got hurt Opening Day, he surfaced the last two weeks at left.
"We just felt like we needed a change there after the Miami game and Xavier was healthy and ready for an opportunity, so we took a look at him and I thought he did some good things for us," Taylor said. "The rhythm they had was Q at right guard and Xavier had played a ton of left guard over the course of his career. You don't want to keep switching guys back and forth if you can avoid it. They both felt comfortable there and did a good job for us."
What it means for next year for the guard spot is unclear. Taylor says he'll talk about it in the offseason and he's got three games left until that.
GENO APPRECIATION DAY: Last week Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins was named the Bengals nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. This week his season ended on injured reserve. Not one of the more effusive sorts when it comes to words, Atkins spoke volumes when he hurt his shoulder in training camp and tried to play instead of getting season-ending shoulder surgery before the season even started.
He tried, but he wasn't the eight-time Pro Bowler. He missed the first four games, never started one of the eight games he did play, never played more than 20 snaps in a game and the guy on a Hall of Fame sack pace didn't have one.
It all left Taylor wondering on Thursday just how different it would have been up front with a healthy Atkins and Reader.
"They were playing at a very high level in training camp. It was exciting to watch that interior defensive line go," Taylor said. "(Nose tackle Renell) Wren was a part of that as well early on when we had those first couple practices. How quickly that changed once we had those three injuries. But (Atkins) was playing at a high level in training camp."
All three guys ended the season on injured reserve. The injury to Atkins forced the Bengals to trade for Broncos tackle Christian Covington on Cutdown Day and he's had a very nice year.
He's got 11 of those starts (he had 15 in his previous five seasons) and three of them came next to his buddy from the Texans, Reader. He's ten plays away from a career-high 482 snaps, the first time he's played more than 50 percent in his career. No, not Atkins, but Covington has been quite solid with 31 tackles, second on the line. A huge pickup.
"(Atkins) is a man that doesn't give up. He's going to put his team, he's going to put his teammates first," Covington said in a media Zoom before Thursday's practice. "He wants to be able to give this team every opportunity to be able to be successful and get wins. He's a fighter, at the end of the day. He's been nursing this thing for a long, long time. And he's been trying to fight, fight, fight for himself, for this team.
"Not knowing him early in my career, not knowing who he was on a personal level, to come to this team, to be around him, to learn from him, to learn what it takes to be a true NFL player, what it means to be a true citizen off this field, it's something that speaks volumes with what he's done for this community and what he's done for this team in his career."
MONDAY NIGHT: The Bengals are looking for their first Monday Night win over the Steelers since 2013, when Bernard was a rookie and safety Vonn Bell was Ohio State coach Urban Meyer's top southern recruit.
As a kid for Bell, Monday Night meant the Cowboys. And no doubt his mother is changing allegiances for this Monday Night.
"I always watched those guys. And having T.O., getting the popcorn ready," Bell said of Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens. "That's what he used to do. I used to tell my momma, 'Hey, we've got to watch the Cowboys' because she was a Steelers fan."
Bell has been there before. He was 3-2 with the Saints on Monday night and had one of his eight career sacks on the national tube. At the moment, Bell would like to expand the team's tackling lead he holds over fellow safety Jessie Bates III, 96-91, already seven more than his career high.
Before Thursday's practice, Bell ran through some of his goals for '20: "Try to be the leading tackler for sure. Get a couple picks. Get more PBU's and some forced fumbles. Just keep making plays on the ball."
It's as productive as Bell's been in the league. To go along with the tackles, he's got a career-high two fumble recoveries, is tied for a career-high five passes defensed and is two away from a career-high six quarterback hits.