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Shawn Williams doubtful, Derron Smith questionable; who steps up?

The Bengals will likely be without at least one of their three top safeties on Sunday. Who will step up in a potential absence?

Cincinnati Bengals v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

The Bengals will likely be without one or even two of their top three safeties in Sunday’s matchup with the Ravens. George Iloka will play, but Shawn Williams is listed as doubtful and Derron Smith is listed as questionable on the Bengals’ final injury report of the week.

Williams is dealing with a hamstring injury, which he suffered against the Bills, while Smith battles a thigh injury, potentially suffered during practice as he didn’t appear injured in Saturday’s game. Williams, the starter, hasn’t practiced all week, while Smith missed Friday’s practice after being limited on Thursday. That’s especially concerning considering Friday practices are really just walkthroughs.

These injuries, on top of the major injuries to A.J. Green (out indefinitely) and Giovani Bernard (now on Injured Reserve) against Buffalo last week, put the Bengals in a predicament. Based on what we’ve learned from the Bengals’ transparency when it comes to injury reports, there’s a very good chance one or both of Williams and Smith will not play in Baltimore.

If neither safety plays on Sunday, the Bengals will need to decide who to play at the safety position opposite Iloka. On one hand, rookie seventh-round pick Clayton Fejedelem will be active regardless, as he’s played 190 special teams snaps this season, third to only Marquis Flowers and Nick Vigil. Yet, the safety has yet to see a single snap on defense, a sign the Bengals’ coaching staff probably doesn’t trust the 23-year-old enough to send him into action.

This means Josh Shaw will probably earn the start at safety if both Williams and Smith are unable to play on Sunday. The second-year corner has seen some ups and downs this season, playing on more than half of the Bengals’ defensive snaps this season. Putting Shaw at safety would most likely move Darqueze Dennard into Shaw’s spot as the team’s nickel corner. There, he’ll likely battle Kamar Aiken, who aligned as the Ravens’ slot receiver on most of last week’s snaps.

Regardless of whether Williams or Smith is active, Chykie Brown will likely be active on Sunday. He played nine snaps on special teams last week and took eight in the week prior. And if both players are inactive, there could be a chance the Bengals finally activate KeiVarae Russell, who was the Chiefs’ third-round pick back in April. If active, Russell probably wouldn’t see any snaps on defense, but he could take a few special teams snaps.

Facing a Ravens offense which boasts two dangerous deep threats in Mike Wallace and Steve Smith is already a daunting task, but with potential absences of one or even two of Cincinnati’s top three safeties on Sunday, the Bengals’ defense could be in trouble. Keep an eye on Paul Guenther in Baltimore, as he will likely mix things up on defense, perhaps even swaying away from the Bengals’ traditional two-high safety coverages if Williams and Smith are unable to play.