Posted: 6:45 a.m.
All indications are the Bengals are going to keep working out long snappers as they mull what to do with struggling veteran Brad St. Louis.
Special teams coach Darrin Simmons said after Wednesday's practice that St. Louis is going to snap in his 144th game as a Bengal this Sunday in Baltimore but that the club needs to see some improvement after four wayward snaps in three games have cost it a total of eight points (two field goals, two extra points) in games decided by a combined 11 points.
Simmons agreed with the observation that the workouts signal the Bengals are close to the brink of making a change, but he's also expressing confidence in St. Louis and that he'll "pull out of it." Heightening the frustration is that St. Louis has a perfect day of practice like on Wednesday, as well as perfect snaps in a game, like the last one in overtime Sunday in Cleveland on Shayne Graham's 31-yard field goal.
"It comes down to putting the team in a precarious situation," he said. "We're making things interesting at the end and it shouldn't be."
This is classic Catch-22. Simmons said it's a fine line because if the team makes a move, the specialists have to start from scratch with the timing of the operation. But the other side is, how can you continue to put the team in jeopardy if you don't make a move?
"It's all part of what goes into the decision; it affects the whole team," Simmons said. "If you make the move, there's no looking back on it. That's it. You go forward. That's all part of the consideration."
He did acknowledge that an option is to sign a snapper to the practice squad and have him work with Graham and holder Kevin Huber so that he has some timing with them after a few weeks if a move is made.
"Any time you can get a guy on the practice squad that makes sense. You get to work with them. I don't care what position it is before you throw somebody to the wolves," Simmons said. "That's definitely something that goes into it. If you make a change, it takes time to develop trust in one another."
Center Kyle Cook has worked on punt-snapping more than field-goal snapping and there are other players currently on the roster that have dabbled in long snapping but that don't have the level of competency of what the club needs.
Simmons also said that rookie Bernard Scott could see more time returning kicks. He returned his first two Sunday in Cleveland after Andre Caldwell told the coaches they had to take him out because of his injured shoulder. Caldwell practiced Wednesday, but Simmons was impressed with how quickly Scott made his moves and hit the seam and "he made a play every time he was back there."
Simmons also said that a reason why Caldwell and the kick return have struggled is because they're adjusting to the new rules in which teams can't have more than two men in a wedge.
And here's where injuries on special teams are like everything else in life. The bad stuff runs downhill. When linebacker Rashad Jeanty fractured his finger and had to leave the game Sunday, he was replaced by rookie defensive end Michael Johnson making his first appearance on punt cover against Browns Pro Bowler Josh Cribbs. Johnson was the first of three tacklers to miss Cribbs on his 50-yard return that set up Cleveland's last points.
Johnson had seen time in the preseason on the punt team, but like Simmons said, there is a huge difference between "playing in the second half of a preseason game against guys and a Pro Bowler."
TANK GRINDING: After not playing Sunday, defensive tackle Tank Johnson returned to practice Wednesday in a limited role with a painful case of plantar fasciitis, commonly defined as irritation and swelling of the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot.
Or as Johnson said, "You have to call and ask Eli," since that's what Giants quarterback Eli Manning is dealing with in a much more public fashion.
"It's something you've got to push through it," he said. "It's something I'm willing to do for this team, for this defense. These guys have sacrificed a lot there. There are a lot of guys out there hurting. So it's not a point of how much pain there is, but if I can go."
Johnson can only sum it up as, "It stinks ... it's completely sore. As a defensive lineman the last thing you want to hurt is your foot because you use it so much. But I'm feeling a lot better."