The Cincinnati Bengals held their breath on Sunday after starting strong safety George Iloka went down in camp clutching his knee. The last thing the Bengals need is a key starter going down with a major knee injury. But, after an MRI on Monday, the Bengals learned Iloka avoided any major ligament damage, but will still need to sit out for three to four weeks, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
There are currently six weeks before the Bengals’ home opener against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium on September 10.
The Bengals next option at free safety behind Iloka is Derron Smith, who was also injured at Sunday’s practice. Smith was carted off the field, so his injury could be more serious. No update has been provided on Smith at this point, other than that the injury is to his ankle.
With Iloka and Smith off-the-field, there will be more opportunity for one of the Bengals’ reserve safeties to get their shot at practice reps and proving their worth to the team.
The most experienced true-safety replacement on the Bengals’ current roster is second-year safety Clayton Fejedelem, who has only recorded three tackles in his NFL career. The Bengals also employ rookie Brandon Wilson (who is currently on the Active/Non-Football Injury list), undrafted rookie Demetrious Cox, and the recently signed journeyman Cedric Thompson. The Bengals’ safety position once seemed too crowded, but now there is an opportunity for someone to break out and make their mark.
In addition to these players, cornerback Joshua Shaw will likely be the No. 1 option to fill in for Iloka. He subbed in at safety last year when there were injuries and has been practicing at safety during training camp, too. Shaw did well in his limited opportunities at safety last year, and it seems he’ll come in handy as a cornerback/safety hybrid again this year.
The Bengals will no doubt miss the contributions of Iloka and the stability of Smith, but there are a number of reserve options on the roster looking to prove their worth while the duo are off-the-field recovering. Here’s to hoping the two safeties heal up quickly and that Iloka is ready for the Bengals’ Week 1 matchup with the Ravens.