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Chris Crocker

Chris Crocker thought about it long and hard Wednesday.

As a member of the Bengals, he's played the team that drafted him eight times and when he meets the Browns this Sunday in Cleveland (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) under the most bizarre of circumstances, it is the seventh different starting quarterback he'll line up against when Brian Hoyer gets the call.

"Let's go through them," Crocker said. "Charlie Frye. Derrick Anderson. Brady Quinn. Seneca Wallace. Colt McCoy. Brandon Weeden. That's crazy."

Crazy? How about not putting on a helmet since the day before New Year's Eve and showing up the first week of fall and expecting to play in an NFL game? How about doing it two years in a row? How about two years in a row the same week? How about last year coming off the couch on a Thursday, getting a pick on a Sunday, and going on to play the rest of the games with nine starts with exactly 0.0 appearances in the spring and training camp?

That can give the collective bargaining agreement a complex.

THAT's crazy.

"It is amazing," said safety Reggie Nelson, who has started 24 games with Crocker in the past two playoff runs. "Last year he came in and got a pick. That tells you what type of veteran he is and how seriously he takes it; it's great to have him back around the locker room. You can't lose that. When you're intelligent, you're intelligent."

Nelson's hamstring injury is one of the reasons Crocker got the call. And the hamstring injuries belonging to cornerbacks Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick are two other reasons. None of them practiced Wednesday and that doesn't auger very well for Cleveland. That could put George Iloka, the new starter paired with Nelson this season, matched up with Taylor Mays. Total Zimmer starts: Six.

"Anything is possible," said secondary coach Mark Carrier. "It's only Wednesday.

"(Crocker) looked all right. He's not in football shape. I think he's in better shape this year. I remember last year his legs were burning. He knows conditioning-wise he's not there yet, but I think his legs are in better shape."

Crocker predicted that before practice, recalling his knee surgery right after the 2011 season put him into rehab for much of the following spring. Ironically, after all that, he couldn't play in last year's Wild Card playoff because of a quad injury suffered the week before and something else is still burning.

"I didn't finish last year, I was unable to play in the playoff game. I just want to play," Crocker said. "Obviously the goal is the Super Bowl. That's unfinished business. It's not about what you did in your last game; it's about getting to the ultimate game."

Crocker made up his mind a long time ago that if he ever came back, it would only be with the Bengals.

"It's hard for anyone to go somewhere new and have to relearn a lot of things. It's just not easy and I was at the point in my career I just didn't see the need to go somewhere else," he says.

Plus if he's burning for a Super Bowl, he's also burning the candle at both ends.

He and wife Karrie are building a new home in Atlanta. He has dabbled in NFL officiating clinics as well as TV boot camps for former players. There were his workouts. So when he got the call from Bengals vice president of player personnel Paul Brown on Monday morning at his computer with the request to get to town as soon as he could, he had to delay it by a day because he had so many things on his plate to get done before he left.

One of those was celebrating the second birthday of their daughter, which falls on Sunday. Crocker missed her first birthday because the Bengals were traveling to Jacksonville, two days after his first return. The kid has good vibes. When she was born in 2011, Crocker missed most of practice the week before the Bengals knocked off 3-0 Buffalo. And of course last year Dad famously picked off the Jaguars off the couch in a victory.

"I'm sure it was tough to leave his family," Nelson said. "He was waking up to her every day. Now he's with us."   

Crocker preferred to keep his post-career plans (officiating, TV?) close to the vest on Wednesday. He still seems reluctant to even think about closing the door on his career. The coup de grace appeared to come in April when the Bengals drafted Georgia safety Shawn Williams in the third round on top of taking Iloka in the fifth round in 2012.

"I'm just very confident in my abilities and I know that I'm an asset," Crocker said. "I know that. I think that people around me know that also. There's always some place for me, whether it is helping another guy, whether it is being a player on the field. There's always a place for a guy who has been good and played well and smart. There are places for people like that.

"I never really looked at the roster. Just go about your own business. You can't worry about what everyone else does. You can't control all the elements. You only can control yourself."

A third tenure, a third number. No. 42, No. 33, now No. 32. There has been a running dialogue between Crocker and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, a guy that has always had Crocker's number since they first crossed paths in Atlanta in 2007. Keep working out. Stay in shape. This all began with Zimmer rescuing Crocker from the couch in October 2008, 10 days after the Dolphins had stunningly cut him. Both desperately needed each other and it's been a match made in X-and-O heaven with Crocker being a coach on field for three top 10 defenses.

"Me and Zim have a relationship to where there is a lot of rapport there. You keep up with guys that you play with for quite some time," Crocker said. "We had conversations that I won't divulge. We stayed in contact, people that have been close to me during my career stayed in touch and you just know this is a possibility, especially when you have sort of a good track record of being able to help. We will see."

It's hard to say what unnerved the Bengals more about the spate of injuries. Until Brandon Ghee returned to practice Tuesday, the only healthy backup slot corner they had was a 230-pound nickel linebacker in Mays. Ghee hasn't practiced for nearly a month and he's only had 15 snaps from scrimmage in his career and two in the last two years. Dre Kirkpatrick is another option in the slot, but the 2012 first-rounder is on the verge of missing his 11th game in his first 20 as a pro.

Crocker can play the slot. Then throw in the injury to Nelson and it looks like the Bengals may not think Williams is ready yet for significant snaps. Either way, Crocker's versatility had head coach Marvin Lewis calling him a good insurance policy because he covers a couple of areas for them.

"I have been very busy. I have been gracious just to be a good guy throughout my career and people have really taken notice not only in my playing career but post-career," Crocker said. "People really notice the things not only on the field but off the field. It's really a testament to other guys in that you treat people right, you do well, good things will happen."

No one in the locker room doubts that Crocker can play Sunday. Not only that, that he can come in and play well. Last year he took 19 snaps and had the interception simply by knowing where to line up. The coaches are saying "we'll see." Crocker is saying "why not?"

"Me being here will help my teammates," Crocker said. "It's just, you know, I think my teammates like me and everybody's been a lot more energetic and it's a fresh face in the locker room and having that familiarity. It's been really good. I've been received really well. It's just fun. It feels good to be here."

Crocker kept tabs. Like everyone else, he was stunned with what happened Sunday against Green Bay.

"I watched bits and pieces. Honestly, I was just like a Bengals fan. You watch the first half and you think the game is over and then you turn it on in the fourth quarter and its like, 'Wow, what happened?' " Crocker said. "That actually happened all of the Chicago game and the Green Bay game. I watched all of the Monday night game. I saw that we were up 14 and we were down and then I turn it back in the fourth quarter and all of a sudden, I see Aaron Rodgers going down for a game-winning drive and I just can't believe this game has gotten to this point."

Another reason he's here? He thinks this team has a shot.

"(It's) a lot smarter. A lot more battle-tested. But are they better? I don't know yet because you just haven't gotten that far into the season," Crocker said. "They can be much better, though. There really isn't a ceiling with this team. Last year, there were still some things that we were figuring out but we have all the pieces in place."

One of the reasons Crocker can walk in here in September is how he helped this team get to three Januarys in the past four seasons. He's a bit of royalty in this locker room because left tackle Andrew Whitworth, also one of those guys, remembers how Crocker helped build it all during the second half of the dreadful 4-11-1 season.

"He came in here and kind of changed this locker room with his attitude, as a guy who had been there and experienced some of the things we were experiencing and realized how you had to change it with your attitude and how you went about things," Whitworth said. "He was here at the end of '08 when I was injured, and I can remember walking through here and him challenging guys. Here's the new guy and he's basically walking in and challenging different guys on the team, saying you've got to play better and quit coasting and those type of things. And that's why they were able to win the last three games the way they did."

Five years later and Crocker is still challenging. Why not 19 snaps on Sunday?

"Why couldn't I is the question," Crocker said. "You tell me, why couldn't I go 19 snaps? It's sort of like a hypothetical when you ask a question, why couldn't he do what he did last year? Just a year older, but like wine you get better as it ages."

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