Updated: 6:10 p.m.
In a roster move before Wednesday's practice, the Bengals re-signed defensive tackle Shaun Smith for the second time in a week and cut wide receiver Maurice Purify.
The move reflects two of the Bengals' bigger concerns as they head into the last three games needing one victory for the AFC North championship: The downfield passing game and run defense.
With the Bengals now down to five receivers, it should mean that Jerome Simpson is going to be active for the first time this season Sunday in San Diego. Chad Ochocinco is the team's only wide receiver to catch more than one pass longer than 19 yards in the last three weeks and while Simpson has been deemed as too raw since being drafted in the second round in 2008, he does provide some of the speed and athleticism that has been missing since the season-ending arm injury to Chris Henry.
The man with the biggest hands in his receiver draft class (11 inches), and 44-inch vertrical leap, says, "I know I can jump up and get it."
He also says he wants to prove something to the naysayers, but first he has to prove it to the coaches. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said after practice the club has yet to decide if Simpson is going to be active Sunday and that dressing just four receivers is not a far-fetched options.
Purify, a first-year player, could rejoin the practice squad Thursday and Bratkowski said he could even end up back on the roster at some point. After being activated from the squad five games ago to help as a blocker and on special teams, Purify had no catches and five special-teams tackles. At 6-2, 225 pounds, Purify can also be a factor in the red zone but he dropped a touchdown pass two weeks ago against Cleveland.
The 6-2, 195-pound Simpson has played in just six games with one catch for two yards as a rookie. His development was slowed when he hurt his ankle on a play against the Steelers and missed the next three games.
Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco welcomes Simpson, but he says he's surprised that the lack of speed is a topic in the discussion in why the Bengals can't/won't throw the ball downfield.
"We're fast across the board. We're all a 4 x 1 team. We've got guys right here that can stretch the field in front of you," said The Ocho, pointing to the row of receivers next to his locker. "There's 4.3, 4.3, 4.3, 4.2, 4.3. 4.3."
The 4.2 guy must be Andre Caldwell.
Make no mistake: Simpson has heard his own criticism. He knows he's got people glaring at him as the 46th pick in the draft with more career deactivations (21) than anything else.
"To tell you the truth, I'm a fighter. I'm going to go out there and prove a lot of people wrong," Simpson said. "This is my chance to go out and prove a lot of people wrong.
"There are a lot of things I've just brushed aside. A lot of things they say, you can't control it. I used to get caught up into all the negative things said about Jerome Simpson. Now I'm just going to go out there now and hopefully prove those naysayers wrong."
Smith, cut on Saturday to get an extra defensive back active in wake of safety Chris Crocker's ankle injury, rejoins a defensive line that won't have tackle Domata Peko (knee) until at least the Jan. 3 finale in New Jersey. The Bengals' worries about Crocker were validated in the first half Sunday when he reaggravated the injury, left for good, and has been declared out for Sunday to further diminish a run defense that is ranked third in the NFL while it prepares for the Chargers corps of talented running backs.
The 6-2, 325-pound Smith was cut by two teams in the preseason and resurfaced for the final two games of the UFL season last month before the Bengals re-signed him last week.
At his Wednesday news conference head coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't completely rule out Crocker (ankle) for Sunday's game but did call him "not likely" to play. Peko (knee) definitely won't play and the regular-season finale is still the target date but Lewis did say he's healing fast.
He also said running back Bernard Scott (toe) would be limited in his first practice since getting hurt Nov. 22, as would running back Brian Leonard and defensive tackle Tank Johnson with unknown ailments.
Lewis said rookie tight end Chase Coffman underwent a scope to clean out his ankle and he'll be ready to return for the start of offseason workouts in March.
Also Wednesday, after four games with 38 penalties and three games with 30 apparently Lewis has had enough. Former NFL head linesman Paul Weidner was on the field in Paul Brown Stadium during the early part of practice.
"It's always good to have those guys here and have their perspective," Bratkowski said. "And it means a little more to (the players), rather than me jumping their butt when there's a penalty. They see the flag come out on the field and when the yellow comes out, hopefully it has a little more effect on them.
"The penalties are holding us back. They're making it harder. I wouldn't say they're the only reason we fail to do certain things at times, but they make it a harder."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Ochocinco has had at least one false start in the last four games, but he always thinks he can get it back during the game. His quickness off the line has been the biggest key to his success, but he says the officials aren't singling him out.
"I'm jumping. I'm edgy," he said, because "(the ball) is coming to me ... I'm going to get it back twofold. Sometimes threefold. They say things like you can't overcome it. You're (kidding) me. With 85, yes you can."
» After learning about the Ed Block Courage Award festivities from previous Bengals winners Reggie Kelly and Rashad Jeanty, right guard Bobbie Williams said Wednesday he's "thrilled" to be part of what he calls a first-class event in Baltimore during the offseason that honors all 32 winners for demonstrating commitment to the values of sportsmanship and courage.
"The vote had to be overwhelming," said left guard Evan Mathis. "Bobbie is a rock. He's the nicest guy off the field, meanest guy on the field. He's the perfect combination. He's tough as nails. A force to be reckoned with."
» For the second straight week The Ocho goes against a premier cornerback in the Chargers' Antonio Cromartie. And he's used to it because Croomartie is one of the guys that Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh always work out with in the offseason.
"He was helping me out with my game. He was teaching me when I was running, right before I got out of my break I would raise a little bit," Ochocinco said. "I would tilt. He can read that. Something as small as that. Now I'm going to use what he taught me. I'm going to use it on his (butt)."
He doesn't think Cromartie is going to have an edge on him because of those sessions.
"If I'm not tipping when I'm getting ready to stop, how is he going to break? Now that I've taken it out of my game, it will be awesome," Ochocinco said.
» The Ocho said that no one has ever pressed him as tight as the Vikings' Cedric Griffin did.
"I've had guys here, but never here," he said as he outstretched his hand and then put it next to his face.
» "Lights Out" and "The Ocho" are in top WWF mode.
The Twitter War that began in the offseason with Ochocinco and Chargers outside linebacker Shawne Merriman escalated Wednesday in dueling conference calls with the clubs playing Sunday for not only a playoff berth but a playoff bye.
The Ocho is known to keep things pretty light. But Merriman, who got the name "Lights Out" for his tough sacks, remembers those tweets about Ochicinco saying how physical he was going to get with him.
"It started even before the season," Merriman said in a conference call Wednesday with the Cincinnati media. "I use the social networking to reach out to the fans. It's more for the fans. And sometimes those things tend to get crossed up from personal grudges and that's what it's been. A little bit of trash-talking going on."
Merriman, a Pro Bowl sacker who is struggling with plantar fasciitis this season and has just four sacks, doesn't really care if Ochocinco is serious or not.
"I haven't been called out by too many guys," Merriman said. "This is a different situation for me. I can tell you one thing: It's not going to be a joke. And that's when I see him Sunday.
"I'm not a big fan of calling other guys out. I believe everything is said and done on Sunday. If they've got to hear something I have to say, it will be said on Sunday."
The Ocho fired back on his conference call, according the The San Diego Union-Tribune.
"I would beat Shawne's head in right now," Ochocinco said. "This is not in fun. This is not in fun. It's personal, you know? It is what it is. I think he might be one of the only people I don't really get along with. I wanna fight. I'm not sure how to get the fight on with him without him suing me. ... Ever had somebody you just had an itch, you just wanna fight? That's what it's come to. I just want to fight."
The Ocho claims the feud goes back to even before Twitter. Back on Nov. 12, 2006, when he had a career-high 260 yards in the Chargers 49-41 win at PBS. A game that Merriman missed because he was serving a four-game suspension for steroids.
"I think I copied his dance after I scored," said Ochocinco, "and it (ticked) him off."
"I'll whoop his (butt). Like Will Ferrell," he said laughing. Yeah, like Step Brothers."