Last week, the Bengals made the decision to bring back defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry, not only signing him to the team (and cutting Chris Lewis-Harris), but also making him a game day active over Margus Hunt. The decision came as a surprise, but in retrospect, it’s a very Bengals-like move to make.
Next week, the Bengals will have to make yet another decision. Defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, who has spent the season on the PUP list, has yet to practice this season. If he’s unable to do so by Tuesday, the Bengals will need to make a decision: either place him on season-ending injured reserve, or release him.
Per Jim Owczarski, Marvin Lewis mentioned Thompson would practice next week, but, that remains to be seen for sure. By NFL rule, he must practice by the 22nd, six weeks following his eligibility to return off PUP. The PUP rules state a player must be on the list for six weeks before returning to practice and becoming eligible to be activated to the roster.
Thompson, a former third-round pick, hasn’t played a snap since Cincinnati’s Week 17 victory over the Ravens last season. In that game, the defensive tackle suffered a torn ACL which ended his 2015-2016 season. That knee injury has kept him out of action ever since.
“I’m really starting to feel like myself again,” Thompson said per the Cincinnati Enquirer this month. “I’m just excited for the future and the things to come. We’re about there.”
The Bengals signed Thompson to a one-year deal to stay in Cincinnati despite his injury, during the offseason, but he’s spent 2016 rehabbing his previously injured knee.
“Being my first real injury, it was long. It was a long journey,” he said. “Seven months is a long time to be doing the same thing over and over, every day, two times a day. That’s a lot. But I’m just happy I made it through it, kept my head on right, kept my mind sharp. Now I’m just ready for it.”
All Thompson needs is an opportunity, and he certainly seems to feel ready to take advantage of it.
“I’m happy to get back out there with my brothers, I’m ready for it and I’m excited, man,” he said. “I know they miss me and I’ve been missing them. I’m ready to get back out there. We’re a big family.”
Tuesday, November 22 is the day the Bengals will need to decide whether Thompson can return to practice. If he’s unable to do so, the defensive tackle will be moved to season-ending injured reserve or will be released. If he’s able to practice, however, the Bengals will have another three weeks to decide whether to add him to the 53-man roster, or make one of the two decisions previously available to them. So far this season, Thompson has only been on the rehab field during the Bengals’ practices.
Thompson faces an uphill battle either way, and he knows it. With youngsters Will Clarke and DeShawn Williams, as well as Hunt, Gilberry and Pat Sims in the Bengals’ rotation on the defensive line, there isn’t really any clear-cut player Cincinnati would want to part ways with. With a space open on the practice squad, the Bengals may be hoping that whoever they choose to cut, in order to add Thompson (and/or William Jackson III or Cedric Peerman, who are on Injured/Reserve but are eligible to return) clears waivers and can be signed to the practice squad once a decision is made. Perhaps Gilberry could get the axe (he’s not practice squad eligible) if he doesn’t prove valuable in the next couple of weeks. But ultimately, Thompson will need to earn his spot on the roster. And, as we saw with Geno Atkins, returning from a torn ACL as a defensive lineman is no easy feat.
“At the end of the day, the only thing that I can control is what I can control,” Thompson said. “And that’s getting myself better, getting myself healthy, and getting myself to the point where I can put something good on the field when it’s time for me to be on the field.”