Rookie linebacker Nick Vigil may have grabbed some significant playing time Saturday.
In the wake of Friday's star-studded injury report, the Bengals have no choice but to find out if the kids are OK with starting Will linebacker Vontaze Burfict and starting tight end Tyler Eifert ruled out for Saturday night's game and wide receiver A.J. Green categorized as questionable despite having a full practice.
Just before the Bengals left Paul Brown Stadium for Friday's trip to Houston and the Christmas Eve game with the Texans (8:25-Cincinnati's Channel 12, NFL Network), left guard Clint Boling (shoulder) and backup tight end Tyler Kroft (knee, ankle) were also ruled out.
Starting running back Jeremy Hill (knee) and starting right end Michael Johnson (shoulder) joined Green as questionable, but since they played last Sunday and went full on Friday, there is some optimism there.
Green went full for the first time Friday since he partially tore his hamstring on the second snap in the Nov. 20 game against Buffalo at PBS. They don't want him to play unless he's 100 percent, but it's unclear if that's what one full practice means. Hence the questionable designation.
But what's clear is quarterback Andy Dalton continues to be haunted by the loss of his weapons. Although Eifert (back) missed the first six games, he has chalked up five touchdown passes in his eight games. Third down back Giovani Bernard, who had the second most catches to Green, tore his ACL in the costly Nov. 20 game. Kroft has 10 catches in a backup role, so third-year fullback Ryan Hewitt and and second-year tight end C.J. Uzomah, who has missed the last five games with a calf injury, are going to have to step in for Eifert with no career touchdowns.
The last time Green and Eifert were out of a game together was the 2014 Wild Card Game, a 26-10 loss in Indianapolis where Dalton threw for 155 yards.
The shelving of Boling now only gets the speculation amped up. The conventional wisdom is that the Bengals now slide left tackle Andrew Whitworth into left guard and put Cedric Ogbuehi at left tackle in an effort to find out if he can play after being benched at right tackle when his 11-game experiment over there struggled.
Burfict, who leads the Bengals in tackles despite missing three games, is a tough loss against a Texans running game that is ranked fifth in the NFL. With Friday's promotion of P.J. Dawson from the practice squad, the Bengals have some youth now at one of their oldest positons. But Dawson, a third-round pick in 2015 who played in 11 games as a rookie, didn't prevent them from drafting another linebacker, Vigil, in the third round this year. Dawson has worked at SAM this year after he didn't make the roster out of training camp, cleared waivers, and signed to the practice squad.
Vigil could play in Burfict's spot and so could veteran Vincent Rey after he started during Burfict's three-game suspension that opened the season. Rey (hamstring) was limited earlier in the week but went full and is ready to go. If Vigil is in the starting lineup, it's a good clue on how they view the last two games as not only a chance to win but to develop.