Brandon Wilson's bid to win the NFL kick return title may have came to an end Friday when the Bengals put him on season-ending injured reserve with a broken hand he suffered making a tackle in last Sunday's win over the Jets.
His spot on the active roster went to rookie tackle Isaiah Prince, a sixth-rounder claimed on waivers from the Dolphins after a 70-snap stint that included 52 in a start at right tackle. He figures to be inactive for Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Cleveland, but joins the growing list of rookie tackles to be developed in the offseason that begins with first-rounder Jonah Williams, as well as back-up Fred Johnson (claimed on waivers from the Steelers) and practice squadder Wyatt Miller, an undrafted free agent cut picked up the day after the Jets cut him following the end of the preseason.
Losing Wilson is a huge blow for a special teams unit ranked No. 1 in the NFL by footballoutsiders.com. Not only was he clinging to the kick return lead, averaging 31.3 to the 30.2 for the Bears' Cordarrelle Patterson, but he also led Bengals special-teamers with six tackles. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons also had Wilson covering punts as a gunner, a unit that is tied for fifth in the league.
But Wilson can still win the title because he has the 20 minimum returns. He also qualifies for the Bengals' all-time record book, but Adam Jones' 2014 record barely beats him with 31.26 per return compared to Wilson's 31.25.
Next man up in both spots is cornerback Darius Phillips and that's a pretty good man. Before he got hurt in the third game of the season and Wilson inherited the job in the fifth game, Phillips had a kick return called back on a hold and has a long of 37 on six returns this season.
HUBBARD OUT: The Bengals can't catch a break on the injury front. They had another tough loss for Sunday when starting right end Sam Hubbard (knee) was ruled out, marking the first time he's missed a game and comes on the heels of the line playing well the past three weeks when Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson returned from injuries. It looks like Hubbard, a second-year player, can get back this season, probably as soon as next week at Paul Brown Stadium against the Patriots. But he'll be sorely missed against the Browns' Nick Chubb, the NFL rushing leader, and Kareem Hunt, a multiple threat out of the backfield.
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has been relying on Hubbard as one of his horses up front. He's played the most snaps of any of his lineman (84 percent with 678 plays) and Anarumo has been dropping him at times as a linebacker in his five-down linemen look that has done well on the early downs in this three-game skein the Bengals are eighth in the league in yards per rush and fifth in points allowed.
On Monday head coach Zac Taylor sounded like he could coax Hubbard and Wilson through the week and have them for Sunday. But after going limited Wednesday and Thursday, Wilson didn't work Friday and Hubbard never made it to the practice field.
PRINCE OF A PICKUP: The Bengals had their eye on the 6-7, 310-pound Prince late in the draft even though they had traded up in the fourth round to take his college line mate, fellow Ohio State giant
Michael Jordan. Prince, who started one game as an extra lineman in addition to the one start at right tackle for Miami, is viewed as a right but he's played both sides. According to profootballfocus.com, in his one start at right tackle he allowed a sack and four pressures, but had the best run-blocking grade on the line in Miami's 30-10 loss to the Chargers. Known more for his power than his athleticism, Prince is seen as a good prospect who has all the good vibes coming out of Columbus. A three-year starter at right tackle Prince played in all 54 games during four seasons and started 41 while elected a captain in his senior year.
That puts three Buckeyes in the offensive line room. After Friday's practice Taylor said the 6-6, 315-pound Jordan gets his second straight at left guard in place of Billy Price. Price, the club's No. 1 pick out of Ohio State in 2018, centered both Jordan and Prince with the Buckeyes, and Taylor continued to say Friday Price is in their plans. He also said draft status has nothing to do with it.
"None of that stuff plays into anything," Taylor said. "We're looking to play the guys that give us the best chance and certainly we have a lot of confidence in Billy."
Price has had a nagging back issue the past month and when Alex Redmond got hurt on the last snap in warmups two weeks ago before the Pittsburgh game, Price went into left guard at the last moment and played pretty well. He hasn't appeared on the injury report since.
Taylor recounted how they traded up to get Jordan, still the youngest guy on the team at 21, the only one born in 1998. After starting four of the first five games and struggling some, Jordan sat behind Price for six games before getting the call again.
Prince is very young, too, having turned 22 the week training camp started.
"A lot of the traits we like," Taylor said of Jordan. "Ton of potential. Big. Can move. Smart. We'll continue to work on his strength as we go into the offseason part of it. Still a young player. Certainly has all the traits that you're looking for. It's sometimes good for those young guys to go in and play, and then take a step back. 'OK, I played, these are some things I can correct.' They see some other guys doing it and we gave you a chance here late in the season to go back out there and try again."