GLENDALE, Ariz. _ Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's inactive sheet for Sunday's game against the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium may elicit a few NFL firsts.
With wide receiver Tee Higgins (rib) out, rookie Andrei Iosivas and practice squadder Kwamie Lassiter II could come out of it with their first NFL catches. No. 1 cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (back) is out and second-rounder DJ Turner is expected to get his first NFL start while seventh-round cornerback DJ Ivey is active for the first time this season.
Awuzie came up with a back issue in Thursday's practice and didn't work Friday. Pro Bowl sacker Trey Hendrickson, also had a back problem, didn't work Friday and was questionable. But he was active Sunday and so was the other starting cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, who practiced Friday for the first time coming out of concussion protocol and was listed as questionable.
Taylor figures to move slot receiver Tyler Boyd outside and use backup Trenton Irwin in the slot. Iosivas' and Lassiter's most prominent roles remain on special teams, but their offensive roles could also expand. The 6-3, 215-pound Iosivas has similar size and catch radius to Higgins in the red zone.
In order to make room for the injury replacements, vet defensive tackle Josh Tupou was inactive for the first time this season. Special teams ace and backup linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither (knee) was inactive for the second straight week. Backup tackle Jackson Carman was active for the first time this year while backup offensive linemen Trey Hill and D'Ante Smith were inactive.
TWO BIRDS: The two greatest quarterbacks who ever played out here in the desert for the Cardinals, Pro Football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner and former Bengals Pro Bowler Carson Palmer, have more than a passing interest in Sunday's game when Joe Burrow hopes to quarterback the Bengals to their first road victory.
Warner has been a family friend since Burrow's dad coached defense on his Arena League team just before Warner's made-for-TV NFL MVP season of 1999. Palmer not only shares so many things with Burrow (the Bengals made both of them the overall No. 1 pick before giving them the richest contract ever), but his brother Jordan also works with him in the offseason.
"No one ever questioned his toughness," Carson Palmer says. "You know a quarterback's toughness in the first month of his career. That was never a question. It's hard to watch him not to be able to do those things that make him so electrifying.
"The good thing is nobody's career was cut short because they had a calf injury. It's not like a knee or a shoulder that can be scary long-term. But calves, hamstrings, they are what they are. Joe will be just fine long-term."
Warner says it's easy to see why Burrow wants to play. A two-time MVP who led two different teams to the Super Bowl, including the Cards in their only appearance, Warner knows how an elite team leader is wired.
"As a competitor, you always say I don't care what percentage of me you get. We're going to be better with me out there," Warner says. "Whether it's my leadership, whether it's a comfort level with the guys around me, whether it's the fact that even if I'm injured I'll do some things that nobody else can do. And so you always feel like your team has a better chance when you're in that huddle, leading your guys.
"When Joe said that a couple of weeks ago, yeah, I understand the risks of playing but at the same time, I also understand the risk of us going 0-3, I just think that shows Joe's mentality that the great leaders have. I'm going to be out there leading my guys. That's what it's all about. Let them know I'm here to do in whatever capacity I can and you have to lift me up outside of that. But I'm going to be here with you battling."
Palmer says Burrow and the Bengals have a bright future once the calf is healed. The man who signed an NFL record contract extension with Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn at the end of the 2005 season noticed how Blackburn got a deal with Burrow at the beginning of the 2023 season.
"Great to see. He's the guy. Great move to get it done with very little drama involved," Palmer says. "Good to see from the organization standpoint they got it done early so they can get some other guys signed. And it was nice it was drama-free. Guys aren't getting asked about it. The head coach isn't getting asked about it. That stuff wears on teams. It wears on locker rooms.
"It might be tough now, but he's so good he'll overcome it."
At 43, Palmer's children came of age after he left the Bengals. They make the call when it comes time to root. They like the Cardinals and Cowboys. One likes the Vikings because of the uniforms. Whatever they want, he says.
But he does have one rooting interest on Sunday.
"I just want the calf to heal," Palmer says.
HOMETOWN STORY: Now the story gets really good.
Kwamie Lassiter II, like Kwamie Lassiter I an undrafted free agent from Kansas, has been elevated for his second NFL game in the stadium where his father is a Cardinals icon. A safety for eight seasons in Arizona, Lassiter died suddenly at 49 in 2019, but his legacy lives through his sons, wife Ericka and their foundation that supports sickle cell anemia family support and education.
What a spot it would be for his first NFL catch after he played in one game last year. It remains to be seen how he'll be used with Tee Higgins out with a fractured rib. Even if it's mainly special teams, it's a big moment for a family that has already had one this season when his two brothers played against each other.
Last month, Kansas cornerback Kwinton got a win at home over BYU wide receiver Darius. Their mom was there, but she can't be here Sunday as she explained to Howard Balzer of PHNX.com via email from Italy, where she is helping one of her best friends celebrate her 50th birthday.
"She had us get tickets in February before the NFL schedule came out. I will NEVER do that again. Italy is great but I am currently trying to watch the Jayhawks right now on a sketchy hotel Wi-Fi and will somehow get the Cardinals vs Bengals game tomorrow."
But she wrote Balzer her oldest son is going to be surrounded by plenty of love.
"Kwamie coming home is just another answered prayer. The opportunity to play at home where his father's career started, in front of his family and friends, is truly nothing but God. Over 20 family and friends will be at the game cheering him on. I pray he scores his first career touchdown at State Farm Stadium. That for sure will have heaven written all over it."
HILTON-DOBBS: Cards quarterback Joshua Dobbs may not be Kyler Murray, but he comes in lighting it up fairly well. Only Dobbs, Brock Purdy, and C.J. Stroud have made at least two starts and have thrown no interceptions. His 70.7 completion percentage is seventh in the league. Bengals slot cornerback Mike Hilton knows him well. They're both from the Atlanta area, where they work out together in the offseason and were teammates with the Steelers. He didn't have to go far to make a comparison in style.
"Kenny Pickett," said Hilton of the Steelers quarterback. "He's pretty mobile, can get outside the pocket. He might not have the strongest arm, but he's an accurate guy who runs their offense well … He's real mobile. That's his best asset. He's able to extend drives."