Updated: 4:25 p.m.
Right tackle Anthony Collins' first NFL start came in Pittsburgh two years ago at left tackle in relief of the injured Levi Jones and Andrew Whitworth. Two years later he's still looking to prove he's an NFL starter and he knows his matchup against outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is a big one for the evaluators Sunday in his rotation with Dennis Roland.
Collins took 19 of the club's 62 snaps last Sunday against the Saints and helped provide relatively solid pass protection for quarterback Michael Johnson. This isn't his first rodeo against the 6-2, 265-pound Woodley. Collins was on the field in the fourth quarter last season when the Bengals needed to throw to beat the Steelers, down 20-9, and the Bengals came up with two touchdowns in a game Collins played all but 10 snaps. Woodley has 6.5 sacks and the brute strength that Collins is working to defend. Collins has built himself from a 305-pound rookie to his current 324 pounds.
"Two years ago I went against (James) Harrison and last year it was Woodley and they're two of the best," he said. "I'm trying to finish off these last four games to prove myself."
» Special teams captain Brandon Johnson says his unit seems to finally be finding its chemistry as they fight back from allowing two kick returns for touchdowns. Punt coverage is ranked first in the league and in the last two games the Bengals have popped their longest punt return of the season (19 yards) and three kick returns of at least 33 yards.
Just a look at the top five special-teams tacklers from this year to last year shows how much change they've gone through. The only name that is the same is linebacker Dan Skuta. Last year he finished fifth with 10 special-teams tackles in just eight games. Now he has nearly twice as many as No. 2, rookie linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy, with 13.
"I said before this thing even started that (Skuta) is our best special teams player," Johnson said. "You go in and look at the board and the point total, it's not even close."
Three of the top five tacklers from last season, linebackers Rashad Jeanty and Abdul Hodge, and safety Kyries Hebert, were cut in preseason. Of the top five tacklers this season, two are rookies in Muckelroy and injured cornerback Brandon Ghee, and one joined the club after the preseason in safety George Iloka.
» Cornerback Johnathan Joseph didn't practice for the second straight day Thursday after coming off a two-week absence to play last week with his high ankle sprain. Also not practicing again was tight end Jermaine Gresham, home with his family following the death of his grandmother. Running back Bernard Scott, who missed Wednesday with an illness, was back full, as was wide receiver Terrell Owens (knee) after he was limited. Also out was cornerback Rico Murray (ankle).
The Bengals had three new players on the report that were limited Thursday, left end Carlos Dunlap (hip), SAM linebacker Rey Maualugua (shoulder), and center Kyle Cook (shoulder). Left guard Nate Livings (knee) moved from out to limited and defensive tackle Pat Sims (knee) stayed limited.
Steelers right tackle Flozell Adams (ankle) wasn't expected by some to play Sunday after missing Wednesday's practice, but he worked Thursday full go and looks to be prepping to play. Safety Troy Polamalu (ankle) mssed another day, but is expected to play. Running back Isaac Redman (ankle) also went full.
» CBS announced Thursday that through 13 weeks of the season, THE NFL ON CBS *is averaging 18.505* **million viewers, a 12 percent increase over 2009's 16.530 million viewers. This year's 18.505 million viewers is the highest number of average viewers for the first 13 weeks of the season for the AFC television package in 23 years, or as far back as CBS records go.