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Andy Dalton injury update: Dalton's cast replaced with smaller option to help with mobility

AJ McCarron has done well in his first two games after Andy Dalton suffered his thumb injury last week. When will Dalton be back though? Only time will tell.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals are still among the NFL's most notorious teams when it comes to disclosing injuries.

Ever since Marvin Lewis became head coach of the Bengals, he's routinely done his best to leave everyone guessing when key players are injured. His "we'll sees" have become pretty common in weekly press conferences. That also involves feeding the national media updates that may in fact not be accurate involving guys like Andy Dalton.

This time though, it's not as much the injury that's not being made clear. Fox Sports' Jay Glazer reported before Sunday's NFL games that Lewis told him that backup AJ McCarron had been getting first-team reps with the offense as early as six weeks ago as other starting quarterbacks around the league were going down with injuries.

In the event that did happen to Cincinnati, Lewis wanted to have McCarron ready to take over by giving him more first-team reps.

But, that story is news to McCarron.

"Zero. I don’t get one snap at all," McCarron said last week of how many first-team reps he was getting. "I do the opposing team’s offense. That’s the way it is."

So whether or not McCarron had taken any first team reps prior to Dalton's injury, McCarron has done well since taking over in the Steelers game last week. Since Dalton went down, McCarron has completed 37 of 53 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns vs two interceptions with seven sacks taken. Whether that will be good enough against a stout Broncos defense in Week 16 and then in the playoffs remains to be seen.

The good news is Dalton may actually be back for the postseason based on the latest update Lewis gave Glazer. He noted that the fracture in Dalton's thumb was low enough on the knuckle that doctors continue to tell the Bengals that Dalton may actually return in the playoffs.

However, Glazer stressed that the Bengals getting the first-round bye and not having to play in the Wild Card round will be critical to Dalton coming back. While the thumb may be healthy by the time the playoffs roll around, it may not be strong enough for Dalton to play. Because the thumb will have been immobile and not put through strenuous activity for weeks, it will be weak once the cast is able to be removed and Dalton can start throwing again.

That's pretty much the case with any injury. Even when the injured body part has healed, it has to be re-conditioned and strengthened enough that it's able to be used in game action in the same way an athlete has to get back into game shape after missing significant time due to an injury.

Dalton actually had a smaller cast already put on, which is a good sign, and according to Glazer, it will help him work on mobility of the thumb, while it's still casted.

Dalton's injured thumb probably won't prevent him from staying in game shape between now and his return, but his thumb isn't going to be strong enough for him to play with it, especially since it's on his throwing hand, as soon as he is able to shed the cast and resume throwing. Dalton has been staying active though and last week spent time on a stationary bike.

Whatever the case is, it's clear that the Bengals would be best served to beat the Broncos this week and clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs if they want to see Dalton again this season.