Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick became the fifth starter or regular to go on injured reserve Friday and he'll join defensive linemen Ryan Glasgow (knee) and Kerry Wynn (concussion) out for the year. Another starter, rookie left tackle Jonah Williams (shoulder), remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Kirkpatrick, an eighth-year player with the most games in the secondary with 99, has been out since he hurt his knee in Baltimore last month.
"It's been hard to predict when he doesn't feel ready to come back in these next couple of weeks," said head coach Zac Taylor said practice. "So I felt it was in everybody's best interest to give him time to heal. It's tough when you've got guys that you're not quite sure what the long-term diagnosis is going to be and they keep taking a spot. We just felt like it was the best decision and it gives him a chance to get healthy."
One of those IR players, wide receiver John Ross (sternoclavicular), returned to practice this week and is looking at a Dec. 8 return in Cleveland. They hope cornerback Darius Phillips (knee) is their second IR player to return. He can come back Dec. 1 against the Jets at Paul Brown Stadium.
WILLIS, NICKERSON PROMOTED: Down to four wide receivers and Alex Erickson (back) limited on Thursday after leaving last Sunday's game, the Bengals opted to replace Kirkpatrick with wide receiver Damion Willis off the practice squad. They also went to the squad to replace the released Preston Brown with another linebacker in Hardy Nickerson.
Willis, undrafted out of Troy, earned an Opening Day start off a strong training camp. But after losing his job after the second game he was sent to the squad with nine catches for 82 yards in seven games. Erickson went full Friday as the Bengals go into the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum with two undrafted rookie receivers (the other is Nebraska's Stanley Morgan, Jr.), and a second-year receiver in Auden Tate. Tate (30 catches) and Erickson (25), a slot receiver known more for returning punts and kicks, combine for 55 catches while Bengals leading wide receiver Tyler Boyd has 57.
Now Willis is back.
"He had a good camp. The consistency with all our young players, they have to be more consistent is the best way to say it," Taylor said. "He fits in that mold. He's a young player we obviously see some traits in and when he's at his best playing with great confidence he's a good receiver in this league. So the decisions we made, we put him down, got Stanley up. We've seen ups and downs with all our receivers at this point. He shows us enough to where we know we can count on him if he has to play a game. So we'll get him up and he'll have some opportunities."
But A.J. Green (ankle) is not and there was no sense when the Bengals franchise wide receiver starts practicing again after he at sat out last week when his ankle became sore and swollen. Taylor ruled him out, meaning he's missed the last 14 games and 17 of the last 18. Taylor said Tuesday Green felt like he could go this week, but it didn't happen.
"We'll just keep taking it as it comes, and we'll see what next week brings for us," Taylor said. "(The swelling) flares up and then it goes back down. He just wasn't in position to play this week."
After playing in every game but two the previous two seasons with nine starts, Nickerson, the undrafted free agent out of Illinois, has spent all of this season the practice squad. He'll play his 31st NFL game Sunday, but rookie Germaine Pratt gets the start, along with Nick Vigil. Pratt, the third-rounder, is under the microscope in the remaining seven games.
"We have to keep getting him more reps," Taylor said. "He has to keep learning from those experiences. Like a lot of our rookies it's not perfect, but they just need the reps on the field doing it. We'll keep throwing them in the fire and let them keep improving that way."
GENO, HART GOOD TO GO: Although defensive tackle Geno Atkins sat out Thursday resting his knee and went limited Friday with an ankle issue and was listed as questionable, Taylor said he's expected to play. Taylor indicated that the Bengals have planned to give Atkins more rest days as the season progresses and that Thursday's move was purely maintenance, which makes sense for a guy that did have ACL reconstruction six years ago. Right tackle Bobby Hart (shoulder) went full Friday and was listed as questionable, but Taylor also expects him to play Sunday.
Tight end Drew Sample (ankle) and right guard Alex Redmond (knee, ankle) were ruled out for Sunday.
SLANTS AND SCREEN: The loss of Green and Ross has devastated the Bengals' speed at wide receiver and the ensuing separation that it yields. The two rookies, Willis and Morgan, have combined for 12 catches and both are averaging nine yards per catch. On Friday, Taylor pointed to more technique than speed.
"Speed and technique are the best combination to be able to separate vs. man coverage," Taylor said. "Last week there were some examples where our technique could have been much better than what it was because we called some man-beaters down the field off some play actions and we didn't create enough separation. If you don't do that, it's going to be a long day. Some plays Ryan (Finley) dipped out of the pocket and ran and got some good gains for us. Overall we have to a better job with our technique creating separation." …
The moves involving Brown and Kirkpatrick aren't going to impact how the Bengals are going to line up on defense.
"We're a four-down base. We mix in a couple of multiple fronts," Taylor said by way of review. "Depending on the personnel we put in the game, we could be a five-man front, a four-man front. Just whatever it's going to take to win that game."