Even though two defensive staples, Jonathan Fanene (hamstring) and Keith Rivers (foot), didn't dress during Wednesday's practice, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis expects to see running back Brian Leonard and wide receiver Andre Caldwell return to practice. No, not just the sideline drills, working out with the strength and conditioning coaches, or having a good time riding a bike singing Molly Hatchet. No.
According to Geoff Hobson, the team is expecting both players "full go in practice" after missing last week's loss to New England and in Leonard's case, the four preseason games before that.
With Leonard, the Bengals get their best third-down running back back (I didn't stutter). Even though Cincinnati converted 53% of their 15 third down opportunities for the game, the team converted only two of their seven first half third down opportunities, the first coming with 8:15 left in the second quarter already trailing the Patriots by 17 points.
Last year, 13 of Leonard's 30 receptions went for first downs -- highest among Bengals running backs and tight ends last year and fourth on the team.
Andre Caldwell's return brings a mix of analysis. On one hand, Caldwell's 29 first down conversions tied second (with Laveranues Coles) for on the team behind Chad Ochocinco. And two of his touchdowns were critical game-winners against divisional opponents. On the other hand, Caldwell struggled towards the back-half of the season, having weaknesses such as separation from the secondary exploited.
Either way, both players should help the team better sustain their drives when the game is much closer than 28-point deficits.