Despite the Bengals’ struggles during their 3-4-1 start, health has been one of their biggest strengths this year.
It may be getting even better during the bye week with several injured players closing in on a return. That includes defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, cornerback William Jackson III, and running back Cedric Peerman. Thompson is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list while Jackson and Peerman are on Injured Reserve.
During his Tuesday meeting with the media, head coach Marvin Lewis said all three of those players “are very close” to returning.
“We’re fortunate where we are,” Lewis added. “The guys have done a good job with their offseason and their training, and we’re very fortunate where we are. Knock on wood it will continue this way. We have to execute and play better to win football games.”
Thompson, now in his fifth season in Cincinnati, has been a great backup during his four seasons of playing time in the Queen City. That took an unfortunate turn last season when he tore his ACL in Week 17, which cost him all of training camp, the preseason, and led to him beginning this season on PUP.
Thompson was eligible to return to the 53-man roster beginning in Week 7. Starting then, the Bengals were given a six-week window for Thompson to begin practicing. If he's unable to practice when this window expires, he will remain on the PUP list for the rest of the season.
So far, Thompson has only been able to do rehab work on the side field, which does not count as practice participation. Once Thompson does practice, the Bengals will have 21 days to either activate him to the 53-man roster, cut him, or simply keep him on PUP, ending his season.
Since 2013, Thompson has appeared in 36 games, including seven starts during the 2013 season when Geno Atkins went down with a season-ending ACL tear. Thompson finished that season with 1.5 sacks, 23 tackles, and one pass defense. He showed he could be a decent starting tackle in this league, and someone that may have gotten that chance this offseason, had he hit free agency healthy. Instead, the Bengals re-signed him, knowing he’d start the year on the PUP list.
Jackson, who was the 24th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, was regarded as one of the two or three best cornerback prospects in this draft. Last season, Jackson led the NCAA and set a Houston Cougars record for pass breakups with 23. He also added five interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Jackson was the kind of long, athletic and physical defender who could become a complete NFL corner, something very hard to come by even in today's pass-happy NFL.
Unfortunately, an early training camp injury caused a setback for the rookie, and he’s spent the last three months recovering from a torn pectoral muscle. He was placed on I.R. after the Bengals’ final roster cuts were made, which means he is eligible for the I.R. designation to return. Only one player on I.R. can receive that designation.
Peerman, the Bengals’ veteran running back and special teams ace, suffered a forearm fracture on Aug. 28 at Jacksonville in the third preseason game. He was going to make the roster as a fourth back, though his biggest impact has always been on special teams for the coverage units. He too made the final roster before being placed on I.R., meaning he is also eligible for the designation to return.
But only one of Jackson or Peerman can get the designation, which means the other guy will not play this season. Asked for when the Bengals will make that decision, Lewis said “that will be down the road,” while adding that nothing is imminent with any of the three players on the Bengals’ injury lists who are eligible to return this season.
During the offseason, the NFL changed the I.R. with return designation so that teams no longer need to designate the player when he is placed on I.R. Teams are still only allowed to bring one player back, but they can bring back any one player they've placed on injured reserve and make that decision once said player is ready to return to practice.
Previously, if a team wanted to use the one return designation spot, they had to declare it when the player was placed on I.R. Now, they can just see who is getting healthy most quickly, and take them off IR. Or, if a player is added to I.R. after other players are already on the list, it doesn’t compromise the ability to bring back that person. Once a team takes a player off I.R., the rest of the I.R. players must remain on the list for the duration of the season.
That designated player is eligible to return to practice if he has been on the I.R. list for at least six weeks from the date he was placed on I.R. He is eligible to return to the active roster once has been on the I.R. list for at least eight weeks.
The Bengals need to designate Peerman or Jackson just for them to be able to practice, which both have been eligible to do since Week 6. Now that Week 8 is over, both are eligible to play in games now, but is looks like the Bengals are taking their time and not rushing a decision on either player’s 2016 destiny.
For any of these players to be added to the 53-man roster, the Bengals would need to make a corresponding cut.