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Quick Hits: Brandon 'I'm Going To Break One Soon' Wilson Returns To Top; Rush Stymies Pass Rush; Higgins Off First Tee 

Brandon Wilson: a natural runner.
Brandon Wilson: a natural runner.

Darrin Simmons, the Bengals assistant head coach who is the NFL's longest-tenured special teams coordinator, has been doing this thing for a quarter of a century.

So with Brandon Wilson on pace to have the greatest kick return season in NFL history after the first two games, Simmons cautioned, "Take it easy. We've only had three returns."

But oh, those three returns.

All at least 40 yards with an average of 43.7, nearly three yards better than Travis Williams' all-time record for the 1967 Super Bowl champion Packers.

"Every time. Every time," said Wilson, when asked if he's been one tackle away from going all the way. "It's either the back side safety or the kicker tackling me. I'm going to get one soon.

"I'm just like, 'Dang, I've got to beat the kicker.' I'm going to break one soon. I know I will."

Simmons thinks he will, too. Wilson did it last year on his way to the NFL kick return title when he racked up Cincinnati's first kick return touchdown in 10 years by taking the opening kick in Baltimore 92 yards. He's got all the elements.

"He runs hard. He's aggressive. He's tough. He's got vision. He's everything you want in a returner," Simmons said. "He's got very good speed, he's got a natural feel running the ball. Plus, our guys are blocking well for him and that's a good combination to have."

Simmons loves how these guys are blocking. Exhibit A just may be the opening kickoff in Cleveland Thursday night on Wilson's 42-yard bolt, where tight end Cethan Carter, one of Wilson's few returning blockers, planted linebacker Tae Davis into the sod.

"The guys up front, they're still being coached well, so they're doing their jobs, seeing their keys and everything, making their blocks," said Wilson of the production despite the massive turnover in front of him. "We've still got to get the job done."

Simmons also says Wilson can be uttered with the best. He coached Michael Bates in Carolina when Bates was named to the NFL's all-decade team for his work returning kicks in the 1990s. Asked if Wilson could do it for the 2020s, Simmons said, "I would love it if he did. He's got the potential. Sure he could. He's a special kid."

Why not? While Wilson was chewing up 31.3 yards per return last season, the man who finished runner-up with 29.3, the Bears' Cordarrelle Patterson, was named to the 2010s all-decade team and the last man to win back-to-back kick return titles in 2015 and 2016.

"Cordarrelle is so big. What he's got going for him is that great physical size," said Simmons of the 6-2, 238-pound Patterson. "And he's got good speed. Brandon certainly isn't as big (5-10, 200 pounds), but he's got very good speed and he's got a knack of running with the ball in his hands."

Simmons has coached against some great ones. Dante Hall, Terrence McGee. Jacoby Jones. And of his own returners, Adam Jones comes to Simmons' mind first. As good as 2019 was for Wilson, when you carry it out to the third decimal point Jones' 2014 season is still the team record.

Simmons agrees that Wilson and Jones have one thing in common.

"Super decisive," Simmons said.

Or, the way Wilson puts it, "You can't hesitate. You've just got to go."

And there's that special speed. Next Gen Stats had the 92-yarder in Baltimore as the third fastest time in the league last season. Sub 4.4, they felt, when former Simmons assistant Brayden Combs scouted Wilson in 2017 at the University of Houston before the draft. They traded up in the sixth round to get him, just the fourth time in history the Bengals had traded up in the draft.

"We liked his speed, "Simmons said, "and he played a lot of positions. Running back. Safety. Corner."

But if Wilson his showing his stuff, so is Simmons. On that first kickoff in Cleveland Wilson looked to have about 6.5 new blockers compared to last year. Running back Samaje Perine, who had a huge block on the play, and safety Trayvon Henderson played sparingly last year next to regulars Carter and linebackers Germaine Pratt and Jordan Evans.

But Simmons has been able to get good play in his scheme from a batch of newcomers like rookie defensive end Khalid Kareem (a nice block on that opening kick), rookie linebackers Akeem Davis-Gaither and Logan Wilson and new veteran wide receiver Mike Thomas.

Wilson, it turns out, feeds off those guys. And it's a good thing. He says the silence in the stadiums nowadays reminds him of how he hushed the crowd in Baltimore, when you could have heard a Raven drop.

"Just seeing my teammates come around," Wilson said of what he likes best about his job. "We all get hype after the big return, and that's what kind of makes me happy and everything despite me juking past anybody or running by anybody and scoring. Just seeing the sideline and my teammates being happy, that's kind of cool."

CANDID CARL: Even in this age of media Zoom, Bengals pass rusher Carl Lawson remains one of the go-to-guys for the straight story.

The Bengals had no sacks Thursday. They have two for the season and he's got one of them. Middle linebacker Josh Bynes has the other.

Lawson begins and ends with the other rush, where the Bengals are ranked 30th against the run after giving Cleveland 215 yards.

"You don't get that many attempts to just have drop-back passes to get after the quarterback. We have to fix that problem first," Lawson said Monday. "Obviously, we have the talent and the pass rushers to get the quarterback. The narrative is you guys have struggled to get after the quarterback, but I'm like when we're in third-and-short or teams are doing play-action boots and things of that nature, you don't get many drop-back opportunities.

"One of the best teams in the league on defense and last year, the team that had the most sacks, Tampa Bay, they stopped the run first. Then, they had their guys go get the quarterback. Pittsburgh does a good job at stopping the run, then they get to go get the quarterback. We have to address that first, then you'll see us shine."

But beyond missed tackles, even Lawson doesn't have an answer for the poor run defense after the Bengals put so much money and time into it over the offseason.

"I don't know. I can't really tell you. I think that we just need to go fix it to be honestly," Lawson said. "All I know, I'm going to continue to get better each day and continue to go work and bring other guys alongside me. I can't really tell you. I'm not a coach."

They didn't have starting tackle Geno Atkins and first tackle off the bench Mike Daniels Thursday. During Monday's brief practice there were encouraging signs when Atkins (shoulder) and Daniels (groin) were on the field in uniform, although they didn't have their helmets. Atkins warmed up with Daniels on the side.

"It would be a big help. I think that's pretty obvious for everybody else, too," Lawson said. "It's not something that can't be fixed and it will be fixed."

FIRST TEE: It only took until rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins' second NFL game for him to have a better day than idol A.J. Green. Higgins had his first three pro catches for 35 yards while Green had 29 yards on three catches.

Higgins' first one came as rookie quarterback Joe Burrow scrambled away from trouble late in the first half and he hit Higgins over the middle for 18 yards. But Higgins believes they left more scramble plays out there.

"I had a little in-breaking route, and Joe ended up scrambling, so I had to get out of there real quick," Higgins said. "And I think it was two minutes, so I knew I had to get out of bounds, so I just started running for the sideline. He threw a great ball, and I just had to do the rest.

"We really got to work on that a little bit more. Joe's a guy that -- he can move. So you're going to get a lot of scramble drills in game situations so we just got to go out there and practice. And you really can't really just work on it. This is something you've got to have instinct. You see Joe's scrambling, you've got to make go make a play."

Now that Higgins has played in two games, here's the difference between Cincinnati and Clemson:

"Definitely the speed of the game. Everything is way more up tempo. And you've got to recognize coverages in the league because if you don't, you're going to get picked off or they're sitting on top of your route. So you just got to be in top of your game. You've got to really prepare like a pro and go out there and take ownership of what you're doing."