After rupturing his Achilles' during the Steelers home game last November, Leon Hall and the Bengals have had a difficult time figuring out their game plan going in to the 2012 season. Normally it takes between 9-11 months for an Achilles injury to be fully healed, and by the time the preseason starts it will only have been 7-8 months since Hall's surgery. Reports from Cincy Jungle over the last month regarding Hall's progress have been promising. He has been noted as being ahead of schedule, making progress, and even doing drills on the field in early March. Although these seem like positive headlines coming out of the Jungle, the free agent acquisitions the Bengals have made seem to point in another direction.
During the 2012 free agency, the Bengals have brought in Jason Allen and Terence Newman, re-signed Adam Jones, and have Nate Clements in the final year of his contract. If you are counting at home, that is four CB's on the roster, not including Leon Hall. This could lead the reader to several different conclusions: are the Bengals going to draft a CB with one of their first three picks with all of the personnel they have acquired? Did they bring in Newman and Allen just to compete for a spot with Hall or to be special teams players? Or, and this might be a bit troubling for Bengals fans, will they put Hall on the PUP list and make sure that his Achilles is healed completely before putting him on the field?
For those of you unfamiliar with the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list, here is a simple and short breakdown for you:
There are two types of PUP lists: preseason and regular season. A player can be assigned to the preseason PUP list and be taken off at any time, but the only catch is that if said player even touches the field for a practice or game during and after training camp, then that player is unable to be placed on the preseason PUP list. Case in point, Antonio Bryant and his debacle with the Bengals. Bryant's roster spot could have been saved by placing him on the PUP list and allowing his knee injury to heal fully before ever letting him touch the field, but since he tried running routes on the first day of training camp and re-injured, or tweaked, his knee he was unable to be placed on the list and the rest of his story is history.
The regular season PUP list is a bit different, in that a player can be assigned to the regular season PUP list directly from the offseason list, but that player will be forced to sit out the first six games of the season (see Ed Reed last year). Once those six games have passed, the team has an extra three weeks to monitor the player's injury and allow him to practice. Whenever that player begins practicing, the team has an additional three weeks before they would need to activate him to the 53-man roster. All in all, the player will have six weeks plus, at most, another six weeks before he would have a designated roster spot and take his place with the team. If at any point these deadlines pass without the team placing the player on the active roster, the player will be on the PUP list for the remainder of the season and be unable to play, but he will also not take up a roster spot on the team.
This is the predicament that the Bengals are in with Leon Hall: should they place him on the PUP list to start off and see where his recovery and rehab is at six weeks into the season, or should they allow him to practice at training camp and just hope and pray he doesn't re-injure himself and stays healthy?
The Bengals' off-season moves point towards the direction that they are going to place Hall on the PUP list, at least during the preseason, and not let him touch the field during training camp. Allen and Newman are veterans and could do very well in Zimmer's defense (remember: Zimmer formats his defensive schemes around the positive attributes of his players, rather than relying solely on the players' talent), which would make the decision to put Hall on the PUP list very easy. On the other hand, we have not even mentioned the possibility of the Bengals drafting a CB in the first round of this year's draft and, if they do, then that all but sends Hall to the preseason PUP list. With a rookie CB, that would make 5 CB's on the roster not including Hall. I know the Bengals are looking for depth in the secondary, but having 6 CB's on the roster is a bit much for any team.
Along with this, it is very possible that ZImmer and the coaching staff believe in Allen, Newman, Clements, and Jones more than the fans might and placing Hall on the PUP list would be beneficial not only to Hall himself, but for the big-picture of the Bengals as well. Placing Hall on the PUP list would be a definite negative only because of the impact that he has in the secondary and because he is an elite talent at CB, but having a 75-80 percent Leon Hall is not worth having at all especially when you have talented back-ups who can replace him for, at least, the first six weeks of the season. In regards to the Bengals' big-picture, Leon Hall is an elite CB in the NFL and, when healthy, is a significant part of why the Bengals have the no. 7 ranked defense in the NFL.
From the reports that have been coming out of Paul Brown Stadium, knowing that Hall is doing cone drills and backpedaling only four months after his surgery to repair the ruptured Achilles is music to our ears because that is very productive rehab. This does not preclude the Bengals from never placing him on the PUP list and sending him onto the field from day one, a la Carson Palmer in 2006 after returning from a blown knee in 7 months.
There is no concrete evidence that supports the point that Leon Hall will start the season on the PUP list, rather it is all speculation on my part. But, the evidence (free agent signings and the strong possibility of drafting a CB in the first round of the draft this year) all suggest that it could happen. It seems as though the front office is preparing for anything, but the hope is that Hall will be recovered and ready for the first day of training camp in July. But, with the chance that he won't be, I want to assuage many of your fears and let you know that if Hall does start the season on PUP and misses the first six games, the Bengals will not lose those six games because of one CB. Hall is a great player, but the final scores of the games are not determined by him alone. There are 10 other players on the field who are professional athletes and whom the Bengals brought onto the team for a specific reason.
In the end, we, as fans, must trust the coaches' decisions regarding personnel. We may think we know what is best for the team, but we enter Paul Brown once every few weeks and are better deemed "recliner coaches." I mean, how many of you wanted the Bengals to go after Brandon Carr or Mario Williams and spend a lot of money (read: overpay) on talent? After the dust settled, free agency ended up going pretty well for the Bengals and they did not spend $100 million on any players. My point is this: trust the coaches and, more importantly, we need to learn to trust Mike Brown. I understand like many of you that it goes against our better judgement to trust Brown with the moves he makes for the Bengals, but in light of the past few years, I think he has earned a bit more respect than we give him.