The media crowd surrounding Hakeem Adeniji during Tuesday's media session in the Bengals locker room indicates he's the presumptive heir apparent in the wake of the season-ending knee injury to right tackle La'el Collins.
With Monday night's nationally-televised Rozzi's on the River matchup at Paycor Stadium featuring the offensive fireworks of quarterbacks Joe Burrow of the 11-4 Bengals and Josh Allen of the 12-3 Bills (8:30, Cincinnati's Channel 9 and ESPN), the Bengals offensive line is adjusting to its first change to the starting lineup this season.
And head coach Zac Taylor says the solution at right tackle is at Paycor.
"We've got good people in the building that we trust," Taylor said Tuesday of a possible foray into the market. "We've got guys that we've had in here, developing, working in our system that we've got a high degree of trust in that can help us do the things that we need to do this year."
Adeniji, as he has all season as the swing tackle, filled in capably for Collins in the final 64 plays of Saturday's win in New England. Taylor said, "We haven't made any determinations about any of the roles that anyone is going to play for us this game," but Adeniji is certainly used to fireworks. He started the last 13 games of last season at right guard. Four of those games were in the playoffs. The last one was in Super Bowl LVI, where he and his line had a very public bruising battle with a Hall of Fame exhibit named Aaron Donald in the Rams' last-minute win.
But Adeniji, who went through Kansas in three years to get a degree with a better than a 3.0, isn't one to shy away. While there are some players who haven't been able to bear re-watching such a game so close and so near for something so great, Adeniji says he watches it all the time.
"It took a while at first," Adeniji said. "Like I said, the biggest growing moments in life come from your perceived biggest failures or however you want to say it. Just watching that, watching what I did, going back through my process, going back through last season, I've been able to grow from that."
When he watches that tape from February, he's doing it to get better, not to torture himself: "It's life. Things happen."
What he's seen this year is he's not only more comfortable at tackle because he's simply spent most of his life out there, but also his line is playing more "sure," than last season.
"From a team perspective, I think we know where we're going. We're confident in we know what we're doing," Adeniji said. "Last year I feel like we were trying to find our identity. We know our identity know. We know what we need to do. We're a lot surer. You guys see it on Sunday. We've got guys out there playing for each other, playing connected and getting the job done. It's not always pretty some times, but we're playing for each other and blocking for Joe, giving him enough time and getting efficient runs and whatever we need to pull out those wins."
WYOMING SHOWDOWN: That's what playmaking Bengals middle linebacker Logan Wilson is calling his college reunion with the Bills' Allen, a two-time Pro Bowler whose passing is as lethal as his 237-pound running.
"Wyoming loves Josh and rightfully so," Wilson said. "He's the highest draft pick in school history and he represents the state very well."
Wilson is being modest. Allen, the seventh pick in the 2018 draft, comes from the small California town of Firebaugh. Wilson, a third-round pick in the Bengals' franchise-changing 2020 draft, is Wyoming born-and-bred in Casper. He may be even more popular than the strong-armed quarterback who has taken the NFL by storm in his first five seasons.
After all, Wilson is the one nicknamed "The Governor."
One thing is for sure.
"There'll be a lot of people watching," Wilson said.
It's also one of the matchups of the game.
Wilson has never tackled Allen. "He was off-limits and rightfully so." He has intercepted him, but he doesn't know how many times. Wilson's brew of speed, athleticism and sure tackling is the reason they drafted him as a three-down antidote for dangerous dual threats like Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson.
During this seven-game winning streak, Wilson has been as much of a terror on defense as Burrow has been on offense. He's got at least seven tackles in the last six games and 2.5 sacks and 41 tackles in the last three.
"He's got the ability to make every throw on the run. Just athletic throws across his body," Wilson said of his buddy. "Some guys get out of the pocket more so they can pass more than run. But he possesses both abilities to make any throw and you have to worry about him running because he's not slow and very hard to bring down."
They became close as captains of the Cowboys' 2017 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl team and have remained close enough that Wilson plans a jersey swap after Monday's game.
"It's one of those things where you just don't talk as much but you pick up where you left off when you see each other," Wilson said. "Last year after they lost to the Chiefs (and the chance to play the Bengals in the AFC title game), he told me good luck and wished they were playing us, of course. But then he wished me good luck in the Super Bowl. We have periodic text messages."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Taylor said the nine days between games is a long enough stretch that edge Sam Hubbard (calf) can be considered day-to-day after not playing in New England …
It sounded like tight end Hayden Hurst (calf) is back after missing the last three games. He almost played in Foxboro Saturday.
"He had a good week. Ultimately that that just came down to coaching decision to give it one more week instead of putting him out there in the cold when he was feeling really good," Taylor said. "But I thought if we could give it another nine days, he'd be in great shape going in this week. So very optimistic about him." …
Taylor indicated slot receiver Tyler Boyd could be ready after using the nine days to recover from aggravating the dislocated finger he practiced with full last week.
"Tyler, like I mentioned during the game just struck at one time and that wasn't a good feeling. But other than that, they've come out clean," Taylor said …
Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons wasn't all that pleased with Drue Chrisman's 50-yard punt in the last minute Saturday. Since it was headed to Marcus Jones, who beat the Jets on a last-play punt return a few weeks ago, they spent the week practicing that very situation.
"Drue was trying to do all he could to get it out of bounds, believe me. And that's the first thing I told him when he got to the sideline is 'You're damn lucky.' It was close enough to the sideline the guy had to run far enough to get to it," Simmons said. "I think that's part of the reason he mishandled it. But you saw it. When you play in conditions like that, it's hard. I mean it's hard to do anything right.
"Hell, you saw the punter. The punter dropped a snap. The returner, he had to run far to get to the one he did have to get to, plus he's playing a lot of plays on defense -- Jones -- and even playing on offense. So they're getting a lot of mileage out of him. He's a good player. He was the top-rated punt returner I had coming out. Really the top-rated returner I had evaluated last year. So he's a damn good player. But it was a critical punt at a critical time that kept them out of striking distance."