Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson flashed his offense's signature versatility when rookie backup tackle Jake Fisher showed up at Thursday morning's practice as an H-back wearing No. 44.
Also at practice Thursday, starting safety George Iloka (groin) and starting tight end Tyler Eifert (concussion) reported to their first full-scale workout since getting hurt in the Dec. 13 Steelers game. Quarterback AJ McCarron (left wrist) also reported in helmet. McCarron and Eifert were listed full go and Iloka was limited. Also limited, as they were Wednesday, were starting left end Carlos Dunlap (hamstring) and starting wide receiver Marvin Jones (hamstring).
Fisher, a second-round pick out of Oregon, appears poised to fill the role of H-Back Ryan Hewitt after Hewitt sprained his knee on his fifth play during last Monday night's game in Denver and isn't going to play in Sunday's regular-season finale (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) against Baltimore.
Hewitt is a valued member of the offense because of his abilities as a blocker than can line up at both fullback and tight end, as well as catch the ball out of either spot, and with Fisher getting a new number that would suggest Hewitt may be out beyond Sunday.
"I'm taking it as an opportunity to get better at what I do to add value to my team and go from there," Fisher said after practice. "Just show the coaches I'm here for the team. This time of year it's all about the team. I'm going to do whatever I can to help out."
The Bengals had high grades on the 6-6, 306-pound Fisher because of his athleticism and big-man quickness and Jackson wasted no time putting the former Travers City (Mich.) High School tight end to use. In his second NFL game against San Diego Fisher rumbled for 31 yards on his only NFL catch, the longest by an NFL offensive lineman in 28 years. He only played two snaps Monday night, but quarterback AJ McCarron targeted him in the end zone and the two couldn't connect.
Fisher is averaging seven snaps per game, largely as the sixth lineman who reports to the official before the snap as an eligible receiver even though he's wearing a lineman's number, in Fisher's case No. 74. Now he doesn't have to report with No. 44, cutting down on potential penalties because of a lack of communication with the officials.
He's never played fullback, where Hewitt has established himself as a dominant lead blocker. Fisher doesn't see much difference from blocking there than at tackle and tight end; except they give you a head start.
"I think what Hewitt does, he should be a Pro Bowl fullback," Fisher said. "He's the best in the game, from what I see. The way he goes about his day, the way he goes about his training. He's one of the best and I'm trying to learn everything from him."
Now there could be several plays where the Bengals have four tackles on the field. Besides starters Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith, first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi supplanted Fisher as the sixth lineman in heavy formations with 16 snaps on Monday. But now Fisher is getting back on the field with a new number and taking fullback advice from Hewitt.
"Just be physical getting up through there," Fisher recounted for the lead block. "Don't hesitate. Just run through the blocks."
He'll get more work than he did Monday. Hewitt played 16 snaps against the Ravens back on Sept. 27 in Cincinnati's 28-24 victory in Baltimore.