Update: Crocker's 3rd term; Hall, Nelson hamstrung; Whit wary of Browns front; Tez calls it


Updated: 4:10 p.m. Even Clinton and Reagan didn't get third terms.

But they couldn't play both safety and slot corner in defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's scheme. And so Crocker is back for his third tenure with the Bengals after his inevitable signing hours before Wednesday's practice.

And two days shy of last year's return under eerily similar circumstances with the secondary devastated by injury. Last year Crocker signed the Thursday before the Sept. 30 victory in Jacksonville. This year it is the Wednesday before the Sept. 29 game in Cleveland, the 10-year anniversary celebration of his third-round selection by the Browns out of Marshall. Both moves came even though Crocker hasn't been near the Bengals since a January Wild Card playoff game.

At some point you hope the Bengals didn't win the battle Sunday but lose the war. Not only did cornerback Leon Halll miss Wednesday's practice with a hamstring problem, but so did starting safety Reggie Nelson. And cornerback Terence Newman (knee) was limited. Newman and Nelson played all 81 snaps and Hall played all 68 before he got hurt.

Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (ankle) was also limited.

"Leon (Hall) said something today like, 'Wow, you come back the week of Cleveland, wouldn't you?' " said a smiling Crocker. "I always loved to play in in that place. I loved it there as a player. I loved it there as an opponent. The fans are very familar with me. They either love me or hate me. It's a great place to play. It's ironic I'm back the same week."

Crocker says he actually feels better this year than last year because in 2012 he was still coming off knee surgery. Mentally, well. The system is still the system. Most new guys never appear during the Wednesday media session because they're squirreled away learning the playbook.

Crocker's not a new guy.

"If I don't know it by now," Crocker said, "I never will. If something ain't broke, don't fix it. That's kind of Zim's motto. His system has been in place."  

The signing of Crocker, 33, and the release of right tackle Dennis Roland fires up a highway full of flares.

How badly hurt is the hamstring of top cornerback and the slot magician Hall? When is 2012 first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick going to get back from his hamstring injury after not working out Wednesday? How effective is Brandon Ghee, Hall's backup in the slot, going to be after being sidelined for a month with a concussion? Ghee said during Tuesday's stop at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati's punt, pass and kick competition that he has been cleared to practice and Lewis confirmed it. But after spending all last season on injured reserve with a broken wrist he suffered a week into camp, Ghee, a 2010 third-rounder, has limited snaps from scrimmage.

Lewis did say that Hall and other injured players have bounced back well enough that they have a shot at playing this week. But with safety Reggie Nelson also not practicing with an unknown ailment, the reasons to go get Crocker seemed to pile up. While the move seems more about the slot than safety, it also appears to signify the Bengals don't think third-rounder Shawn Williams is ready to take some significant snaps.

Kirkpatrick also didn't work Wednesday and neither did backup offensive lineman Mike Pollak (knee). Backup tackle Anthony Collins (knee) was cleared after missing last week.

Even though Crocker hasn't practiced or played since last season, Zimmer knows if he needs him he's going to be in the right spot. The Bengals signed inexperienced corners Chris Lewis-Harris and Curtis Marsh last week, but the Crocker signing may indicate their need for seasoning in the slot.

The Bengals hope it is the same result as last year, when they won on the road and he intercepted a pass late to seal it while playing 19 snaps for a third of the plays.

"Why can't I play that many again?" Crocker asked.

SLANTS AND SCREENS » How times have changed. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth said Cleveland's front seven is one of the best in the league and the best the Bengals have played so far this year. AFTER playing the Bears and Steelers.

» WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict said he's never been more exhausted than he was after Sunday's 81-snap effort. But he had enough wits about him to talk Zimmer into changing the final play that resulted in right end Michael Johnson's tipped pass to end it.

"It shows he trusts me a little bit," Burfict said. "He wanted to call one play and I said, 'Coach, that's not going to work.' Let's just go base and hopefully we get Rodgers to start scrambling and we plaster their guys and it worked."

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