Updated: 7:30 p.m.
There had to be a sigh of relief when defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (ankle) returned to practice Thursday. Even if it was in a limited role.
Thompson, a 2012 third-rounder, had a huge first start last week at Baltimore in place of Pro Bowler Geno Atkins. Thompson led the defensive line with seven tackles in a career-high 55 snaps heading into Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against Cleveland at Paul Brown Stadium.
Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas has noticed and told Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com so on Thursday.
"Obviously Geno was a terrific player and was having another great impact season," Thomas told Grossi. "But they've got so much depth on the defensive line. We were watching film on his replacement, Thompson, and I think he's going to be a heckuva player in this league. He hasn't gotten his opportunity sitting behind Geno, but the stuff he's been putting on film really shows, I think, that he can be a star in the NFL. So it's definitely not going to be easy knowing Geno's not going to be in there."
Bengals WILL backer Vontaze Burfict agrees.
"He's a great defensive tackle," Burfict said before Thursday's practice. "Geno is a great three technique. Brandon Thompson isn't too far off. He did a great job allowing the linebackers to run free, taking on two people on one play. On the way home I told him, 'Thanks, man. You stepped up this game. Keep getting better.' "
RAY TAKE: Notice how close the Bengals and Browns are defensively? The Bengals are ranked fourth overall giving up 311 yards per game and the Browns fifth at 315 with the Bengals ninth in rushing and seventh passing and the Browns sixth in rushing and 10th passing.
And Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton has deep roots in Cincinnati, where he played and coached under Bengals defensive coordinator and later head coach Dick LeBeau. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis also worked with LeBeau, in Pittsburgh, where LeBeau is in his 10th season as the Steelers defensive coordinator.
But as Horton told the Cleveland media Thursday, the 4-3 scheme Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is running bears no resemblance to what he runs in Cleveland, LeBeau runs in Pittsburgh and what Lewis ran in Baltimore. Zimmer runs fire zones for sure, but he does more of what Horton calls "double-barreled" blitzes in the A gap.
"It's not LeBeau and it's not Marvin; it's Mike Zimmer," Horton said. "It's a totally different pressure package. Very effective, but totally different. I'm not down there, but I think Marvin probably spends more time with the offense because this is definitely a different package."
Asked how much of LeBeau is in his scheme Horton said, "I hope 100 percent. I hope I always carry that. I always said more off the field than on the field, but next week is going to be an interesting matchup of same defense against same defense."
The Browns host Pittsburgh while the Bengals take a bye.
WINDY CITY: Bengals kicker Mike Nugent says he learns from every miss, so he should be able to go to school in Sunday's game.
The National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio is calling for a pleasant 66 degrees, but there is a 70 percent chance of showers in a 16 mile-per-hour wind predicted to gust up to about 20.
It was the wind of upwards to 30 miles per hour that played havoc with Nugent's first try in Baltimore last Sunday, a 42-yarder he hooked left 1:02 into the second quarter.
"When you're kicking into the wind, the big thing is not to overkick it; don't try to smoke it," special teams coach Darrin Simmons said after Thursday's practice. "Especially early in the game, we're not going to send him to the edge of his range and he has to overkick it, or hit the ball harder than it needs to be hit. I think that's what happened."
Nugent acknowledged that he didn't play the wind correctly and thinks it would have been good if the game had been played indoors. But also didn't like his form.
"I got a little lazy on it. I picked up my head really fast," Nugent said. "(The wind) was in your face. It changed a lot all day. You couldn't really get a gauge on it in pregame warmups or 10 minutes ago."
Nugent says he's "on a roller-coaster ride." His last two misses have been in the second quarter on his first tries of the day going back to when he missed a 47-yarder left in the Oct. 20 win in Detroit. But he followed that up later in the day with his longest winner, a 54-yarder at the gun.
"You want to make every single one that counts and when it comes down to it you want to make that one at the end that puts you ahead," said Nugent, who is 76 percent at 13-for-17 for the season. "But you can't miss the early ones."
Simmons is working on Nugent's alignment ("a kicker's accuracy is how he lines himself up. He has to walk off the right angles," he said) and emphasizing a quick start. And after Baltimore, don't overcook it when going into the wind.
Nugent has been in a funny spot. Author of two last-kick Bengals victories this season and one in overtime, he didn't get a chance to win the last two games the Bengals have lost in overtime when Lewis passed on a 57-yarder in Miami and what looked to Nugent to be a 52-yarder in that same direction and wind in Baltimore.
"We've been in that gray area several times," Simmons said. "The decision has been correct all the time in my opinion."
Simmons said Nugent was 50-50 from about 50 yards in warmups into the wind and the real eye-opener was Baltimore's Justin Tucker missing five straight from 38 and beyond before he gave up and went the other direction. Tucker, who made his 18th field goal in 20 tries with the 46-yarder with the wind in OT, rode the currents to AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
What might have been. (Why did Tucker get the award and not Nugent after the winners in Detroit and Buffalo?)
"It was 100 times easier," Nugent said of Tucker's kick. "It was a tough wind. As the kicker, I'm always, yeah, I can kick it. But Coach (Lewis) has to weigh everything and he does a good job of being objective."
With everyone calling for a tight game Sunday, the wind looks like it's going to be a factor again.
EXPERIENCED QB: The Bengals have lost the last two in the series, but under Lewis they lead the Browns, 14-7, in some part because they've gone against inexperienced quarterbacks.
The last two losses came at the hands of young quarterbacks with Brandon Weeden beating the Bengals for his first NFL win in his sixth NFL start last year and Brian Hoyer beating them in his third back in September. But that hasn't been the norm.
When Jason Campbell brings his 73 NFL starts into Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's-Channel 12), it marks the first time since the 2005 NFL opener the Bengals have faced a Browns quarterback with more than 31 NFL starts. Trent Dilfer made his 97th start in the Bengals 27-13 victory in Cleveland.
» Campbell is also the 13th different starting Cleveland quarterback Lewis faces.
» Burfict (knee) and Thompson (ankle) returned to the field Thursday after sitting out Wednesday. So did center Kyle Cook (shoulder) and all were listed as limited. But safety Chris Crocker (hamstring) and right guard Kevin Zeitler (foot) didn't and it puts their status in doubt for Sunday.
Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee) stretched and did some drills on the side, but didn't dress and looks to be out Sunday, as does defensive tackle Devon Still.
Also limited were cornerback Terence Newman (ankle) and middle linebacker Michael Boley (hamstring).