Going into Week 14, the Cincinnati Bengals’ secondary was as banged up as just about any NFL team.
Before they even faced the Chicago Bears, Cincinnati had ruled out Shawn Williams, Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones on defense, while Darqueze Dennard was questionable to play with a lingering knee injury.
That’s four starting defensive backs, so you can imagine the Bengals were pretty desperate for bodies there going into Sunday’s clash with the Bears.
That’s where John Ross comes into play. The embattled rookie receiver was buried on the depth chart going into Week 14, so much that he had been a healthy scratch for most of the season.
There were just too many other receivers the Bengals preferred at his current position to warrant having him active on gamedays.
But what about playing Ross at cornerback?
Before Ross was placed on injured reserve due to a shoulder injury, head coach Marvin Lewis joked about playing his prized rookie at defensive back in Week 14.
“I think he’ll (Ross) have an opportunity. It might be at cornerback (laughs),” said Lewis. “He’s done it, he’s played it (laughs). That was the first video I ever saw of John Ross, was him playing cornerback. But yes, this is a good opportunity for John to possibly be suited up this week. We just broke news again in here (laughs).”
Everyone assumed Lewis was joking, but apparently, he was very serious. According to a report from Pro Football Talk, the Bengals actually spoke with Ross about playing defensive back.
Per multiple sources, the Bengals mentioned to Ross the possibility of taking snaps at defensive back, before Ross recently landed on injured reserve.
It’s unclear whether the Bengals seriously considered having the 10th overall pick in the draft play NFL cornerback. One source suggested that it was mentioned in connection with injury issues at the position.
Another source believes that the possibility traces to apparent concerns among the coaching staff about the player’s overall toughness.
I actually think this explains the mystery as to how Ross ended up on injured reserve just hours after Lewis said the rookie might actually play in Week 14.
After being a healthy scratch for so many games this season while dealing with a shoulder injury (which Ross was hiding), when the Bengals actually approached Ross about playing cornerback, that was all he needed to hear to understand he just wasn’t going to play the rest of the season, at least at receiver.
So once the Bengals approached Ross about playing cornerback, he essentially said ‘thanks, but I’d rather go on injured reserve.’
That’s pure speculation, but it does help explain how last week went down after it appeared Ross was going to be active, only for him to end up on season-ending injured reserve.