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Shawn Williams injury update: Bengals safety may miss just 4-6 weeks

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The Bengals may not even need the IR-return designation for Williams.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals are holding out hope that Shawn Williams’ scary elbow injury isn’t as bad as originally feared.

Williams suffered what appeared to be a dislocated elbow in the second quarter of Saturday’s preseason loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It was a gruesome sight that had many wondering if Williams’ 2017 season was over before it ever really began.

However, a dislocation isn’t necessarily a season-ending injury. That is, so long as the dislocation didn’t result in ligament or joint damage around the elbow, which we obviously won’t know the full extent of until an MRI is conducted.

Depending on how much damage was done, Williams could miss anywhere between four weeks to an entire season. It sounds like this particular injury may wind up being on the lighter side of the recovery timetable, according to Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson.

Again, nothing is conclusive until MRI results come out, but this is a positive update for Williams. If he’s only out for 4-6 weeks, that means he’d miss around 2-4 weeks of regular-season action and return sometime in September.

If that’s the case, then there’s no need to place him on IR and use the IR-return designation later in the regular season. That would require him to spend at least eight weeks on the inactive list and miss at least seven regular-season games with the Bengals (their bye week comes in Week 6).

If Williams is only going to miss 2-4 games, there’s no reason to use an IR-return spot on him. Problem is, that means the Bengals either need to keep an extra safety for 2-4 weeks, or they must hope that the three other safeties remain healthy (assuming the Bengals would normally keep just four true safeties).

The Bengals can make this work by having George Iloka, Derron Smith and Clayton Fejedelem as the three true safeties, then have cornerback Josh Shaw spend more time as a backup safety. That gives them four healthy defensive backs who can play safety while not having to spend an extra spot on another safety, all while Williams occupies the fourth safety spot as he rehabs.

This is all a moot point if the injury requires a longer recovery, in which case the Bengals should probably just send Williams to IR and use the return designation later in the regular season, giving him ample time to recover.

Whatever happens, the Bengals still have to figure out who that second starting safety will be. Smith and Fejedelem have both flashed potential to this point in their young careers, but neither has seen extended time as a starter, so it’s hard to know how either would fare in that role.

My guess is Smith gets the nod, but Fejedelem is making a strong push for it. We’ll likely end up seeing both guys starting next week at Washington as George Iloka recovers from his hyperextended knee.

What once was a position of strength has become a major concern heading into the regular season, so hopefully, Williams returns to action sooner rather than later.