Cincinnati has taken a progressive hit recently in the secondary; though extraordinarily moderate in comparison to more dire situations around the league. Starting safety George Iloka is listed as questionable against the San Diego Chargers this weekend, which is the same designation for rookie cornerback Josh Shaw. Reggie Nelson suffered a groin injury during Sunday's game against the Raiders and Dre Kirkpatrick had a minor calf injury during practice on Thursday. Both are probable this Sunday.
The obvious concern is for Iloka. As the first quarter expired against the Raiders last week, Iloka momentarily crawled before hobbling off the field with an apparent ankle injury. Despite returning for a handful of plays during the second quarter, he was declared out by the second half.
Generic reports hint optimistic expectations for Iloka, who sat during Wednesday's practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday. Many of the local beat writers are tying their expectations into comments made by Marvin Lewis on Friday.
"We're fortunate," Lewis said after practice. "You feel blessed anytime you've got basically 62 guys working of the 63 we've got. So that's a good thing and just knock on wood we continue to stay that way and hopefully a lot of the things we're doing will help that; continue to stay on this trend."
Media translation: Since Marcus Hardison is the only player out for Sunday, the Bengals will have the entire team available... including the practice squad apparently.
Yet, if Iloka is unable to go, third-year safety Shawn Williams is expected to start.
Earlier this year, Williams was being mentioned as a possible hybrid player, possibly being groomed into a linebacker role during passing situations. "I think he's a nice player and I'd like to see what he can do," Bengals linebackers coach Matt Burke said last month. "He did a good job. He saw some things he hasn't seen because he hasn’t played there. We're just trying to get him some work if we need a body like that down the road."
Scouting reports on Williams highlight a player who appears more comfortable in the box, as opposed to coverage, where every pass reached targets he defended. Williams played well in relief of Iloka on Sunday, allowing a four-yard completion. Pro Football Focus submitted positive grades in coverage and against the run.
"We’re trying to get him in position to play more and more and every opportunity he gets he takes full advantage," head coach Marvin Lewis said in late August. "Last year he became an accountable guy on special teams and when he got the opportunity to play on defense he did a great job and he’s continued to do that in this camp."
ADAM JONES FINED
Cornerback Adam Jones was fined $35,000 by the league for his actions against the Oakland Raiders. At the conclusion of a significant 60-yard run, Jones forcefully removed Amari Cooper's helmet and slammed the back of his head on the helmet.
"I played a pretty good game, but the main distraction was what happened on that play, not how good I played in the game," Jones said earlier this week. "I've learned from this mistake, and hopefully it won't happen again. But I can't promise you guys that in the heat of the moment that it won't happen again."
Here's the reality.
1) Most fans acknowledge his performance against the Raiders as one of his best-ever games. Acting like the victim of a mainstream media conspiracy highlights his more destructive behavior and isn't consistent with most fans' reaction.
2) It's his actions and emotional responses that usually puts him in these situations, overreacting to perceived insults, landing him in trouble with the league and the law.
Jones is a fantastic talent who has embraced Cincinnati and been embraced by the Queen City. At the end of the day, Bengals fans will support Jones on Sunday afternoons. His responses have, and probably will, get him into trouble; we just have to weather those storms. Luckily his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty didn't hurt the team (Austin Howard, also flagged for a personal foul, defended Cooper by popping Jones), and the lack of an ejection won't lead to a suspension... which could have hurt Cincinnati, a team already keeping a narrow eye focused on Iloka's ankle.