Update: Geoff Hobson has shared some encouraging news on Billings’ injury, saying the hope is that it’s a cartilage tear. This is pretty good news, considering what was reported when he went down.
Billings knee undergoing MRI tonight. Word is cautious optimism. Hope is cartilage tear at most.— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) August 10, 2016
The injury bug has hit the Cincinnati Bengals once more.
During Wednesday's joint practice with the Minnesota Vikings, rookie defensive tackle Andrew Billings suffered a lower-leg injury. It occurred during a pass-rushing drill in which Billings was tangled up, and after lying on the field in pain, was helped onto a cart before being carted out of practice.
#Bengals rookie NT Andrew Billings being carted off. pic.twitter.com/R7TBY4pjPU— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) August 10, 2016
Teammates were coming over to him before he was taken off. Billings was the fourth rounder out of Baylor. pic.twitter.com/lJIruCUXC9— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) August 10, 2016
It's possible this is just some kind of sprain or non-serious injury, but early indications are that it did not look good. Of all the training camp injuries to date, the media in attendance haven’t reacted the way they did to Billings’ injury to any other injury or player carted off the field.
Billings needed help to get to the cart and wasn’t able to climb on under his own power. The fourth-round pick out of Baylor wasn't expected to contribute much as a rookie with Geno Atkins and Domata Peko occupying most of the snaps, but, the hope was he would prove himself worthy of playing time as the season wore on. As he was carted away, many Bengals players ran over to speak with him.
While this wouldn't necessarily be a major loss for the Bengals’ defensive gameplan, any kind of injury that sidelines Billings for weeks, if not months, would be a gut-wrenching start to the rookie's pro career.
Going into this year’s draft, Billings was widely viewed as a first-round prospect with many mock drafts pegging him to the Bengals at No. 24 overall. Though that 'may' have been a slight reach, few would have complained about the Bengals taking Billings there, so you can imagine how big of a steal it was perceived to be to Draft him in the latter part of Round 4.
Andrew Billings generated 75 total pressures over past 2 seasons, tied for the 8th-most for interior defenders in the NFL Draft— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) April 30, 2016
Last year at Baylor, Billings racked up 5.5 sacks, 39 total tackles and 14 tackles for loss. For his efforts, Billings was named a 2015 All-American and the co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Big 12. He finished his college career with 107 tackles, 30 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in three seasons.
Though he fell to the Bengals in Day 3 of the draft, Billings was immediately viewed as the heir to the starting nose tackle spot once the 31-year-old Peko leaves/retires in the near future.
If Billings does miss the season, that would open up another spot for someone like Pat Sims or DeShawn Williams to make the 53-man roster. Brandon Thompson is still on the PUP list, but if he comes off of it before the regular season, he too would now have a better chance of making the roster if Billings is out.
Still, no one, even those aforementioned guys, wants to see someone suffer an injury that could threaten their season, especially when they’re just trying to establish that they belong in the NFL.
We'll keep you posted as more updates become available.