After being sidelined all season with a concussion and enduring a one-game suspension for disciplinary reasons, Cordy Glenn surfaced as the odds-on favorite to be Bengals starting left tackle for Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium.
"He's going to have a real good shot at it," said offensive line coach Jim Turner after Wednesday's practice. "He's healthy, he's been cleared to go, and he's a good ballplayer and we want him in there."
It caps a very weird season for Glenn, the Bengals' $9.25 Million Man who yet to play a snap in a season of controversy. After suffering what was reported as a concussion in the second pre-season game, Glenn went two months before being cleared. And when he did he was at the center of a published report that said he was at odds with the team over the handling of the injury. Glenn had a heated confrontation with a coach before the team suspended him for a week and fined him $200,000 for conduct detrimental to the team.
When he returned to the team in late October, Glenn downplayed the stories and is now just getting back on the field. It comes in the wake of John Jerry's tough game in Oakland, although he wasn't fully responsible for two of Raiders linebacker Maxx Crosby's four sacks. Head coach Zac Taylor took blame for one because Crosby was unblocked on a bootleg and on another Crosby stunted and Jerry's handoff wasn't picked up.
Instead, Turner praised Jerry and Andre Smith on Wednesday, since both were viewed as back-up players on the right side (Jerry at guard and Smith at tackle) when they signed in June and July, respectively. But they ended up playing the toughest position on the line at left tackle when No. 1 pick Jonah Williams suffered what may be a season-ending shoulder injury in June and Glenn went down the week of Aug. 17. Glenn, the starter last season, was moved to left guard when the Bengals drafted Williams. Smith started the first five games before suffering a groin injury and Jerry started the last five.
"I have more respect for John Jerry and Andre than I have for any ballplayers I've ever coached," said Turner, who has been coaching for a quarter of a century. "I'm asking John Jerry to play left tackle. John Jerry's not a left tackle. And then Andre to come back the way he did and give us the support he's given us and the reps he's given us, both of these guys are older guys and you know what these bodies go through. So I'm grateful for those two players."
Turner indicated the coaches and players have seen what they've need to see from Glenn and are welcoming him back to fray. Turner said he's talked to Glenn.
"He knows what's at stake right now. In the end, when you're a player, you answer to the team," Turner said. "So he's answering to those players in the locker room. He's answering to all of us, of course. We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't think he was ready to step up and answer that."
Turner admits it is "a mystery," on how Glenn is going to play since he has yet to take a snap in the regular season. The 6-6, 345-pounder's conditioning is a question, Turner says they'll keep an eye on that and they'll play him, 'Smart. He's fresh," and, "He's so massive and he's athletic at that size and he can definitely cover people up in the pass game. And then in the run game, obviously with that size and power, he can help us move that line of scrimmage a little bit.
"It's not Pop Warner. You don't tell him to sprint down the field every play," Turner said. "He'll be smart about it … "We need to protect the passer on third down, we need to run the ball on first and second down."
HAT ON A HAT: Glenn may be back in the lineup because a) when the Bengals played the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sept. 30 Andy Dalton was sacked a career-high eight times and rookie quarterback Ryan Finley needs all the help he can get and b) Turner loves the way Glenn can pass protect: "Pass protection is his big strength, of course. So holding down that left side, especially in this game coming up, that will be a help."
But go back to being smart. In the last three games the Bengals' run game has come alive and their 5.17 yards per against the Rams, Ravens and Raiders is sixth best in the league during that stretch. Ahead of the Rams game Turner orchestrated a change in the run scheme that mixed up their zone runs with more man-on-man blocking, as well as more power plays involving pulling. Running back Joe Mixon, who has more yards in the last three games (266) than he had in the first eight (254), has responded to what he calls "hat on hat," blocking.
"They've helped me out with hat on a hat," Mixon said before Wednesday's practice. "If we have hat on a hat football and we win our one-on-ones, then we'll have success in whatever we do with the run … The hat on a hat helped out a lot with A.J. (Green) and John (Ross) out. If you win every snap, we'll have success. As long as they stay consistent with it, I think we'll be in pretty good shape."
Here's how Turner characterizes hat on a hat: "(It) just means that we're trying to put one guy on one guy. You have this guy, block that guy and if you don't block him and he makes the tackle, it's your fault.' You know, it's a little bit more in-depth than that. But it is just a man for a man."
But the biggest difference in the past three weeks is that the Bengals have defenses on their heels because they're using more than their signature zone reads and giving them a diverse series of plays to defend.
"You'll see us pulling people at times. You'll see us pitch the ball at times. And again, like in the situation we're in — or I don't care if we were undefeated — you try to be a little bit unpredictable," Turner said. "You can't be predictable. So your self-scout means a lot and so on … Especially (blocking) the great ones. If you block down on him, then you trap him, then you zone block him, then you gap block him. If he's thinking like that — if he's thinking at all — then you're doing something right because it's slowing him down a little bit."
And the Bengals put the Steelers front in an elite category.
"They're DNA in general. They've got some good players that are good football players," Turner said. "(End Cameron) Heyward's a great player, I think. Both of those defensive ends are really good pass rushers. They're really good run stoppers. They play hard. And so, I think it'll be a great matchup. I think it'll be a great battle because our guys play hard, too."
Mixon would love the Bengals to stay consistent with the carries because he knows the running game takes on greater significance against Steelers linebackers Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt. They lead a defense ranked fifth in sacks per pass.
"Them boys like to get the edge with Bud and Watt and get after the quarterback," Mixon said. "If we can have that success (running), we'll try to wear them down and hopefully they'll be tired from rushing the passer because of the run."
In Oakland last Sunday, it seemed the Bengals were intent on making sure Mixon got some pitches on the edge and he seems to think it gets him to his reads faster.
"It's been cool," Mixon said. "The way we play (they) try to give me more options in between the front side, hitting up the crease or on the back side. It depends how they're playing it. At the same time I have to stay true to my reads … My reads take me where I'm going to go. (I've) been able to hit the crease faster than earlier in the season."
Turner likes Mixon's instincts in the wide game and he thinks a pitch can take some of the pressure off his line and puts a little more on the defense.
"I think he sees the field well that way," Turner said. "I think he sees lanes, he feels lanes, he can feel the blocks developing. You think when you pitch it, you're asking them to hold blocks longer. It's really not true because the defense is going lateral. So they're kind of running with you so you're not holding blocks longer. He can see blocks better. He can set blocks up better. So we like that part of it."
INJURY UPDATE: No A.J. Green (ankle) Wednesday and Taylor admitted that makes it tough for him to play against the Steelers.
"Not impossible, but it is difficult with any player, especially a player that hasn't played in a long time," Taylor said. "You want to make sure they get the reps and get a feel for the game plan. We'll take it day-to-day with him."
So, they won't have Green and they probably won't have wide receiver Auden Tate (concussion), again leaving them with possibly just four wide receivers, two of them undrafted free agents in Stanley Morgan and Damion Willis. There's two more undrafted rookies on the practice squad in Stanford's Trenton Irwin and Toledo's Cody Thompson. Irwin has been here for nearly two months and Thompson just got here Tuesday after being waived by Kansas City at final cuts and routes through the Chiefs and Seahawks practice squads …
Rookie tight end Drew Sample (ankle) won't go for the second straight week …
Right guard Alex Redmond (knee, ankle) went full Wednesday …
Left guard Billy Price (back) and safety Shawn Williams (thumb) went limited Wednesday …
A trio of veterans got rest days Wednesday: defensive tackle Geno Atkins, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and tight end Tyler Eifert.