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Bengals injury news: Shawn Williams recovering well, targeting opener vs Ravens for return

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Williams’ injury looked worse than it really was, and he may actually return early in the regular season, if not for Week 1.

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Cincinnati Bengals v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals and Shawn Williams appear to have avoided an injury disaster.

When Williams suffered his gruesome elbow injury in Saturday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, it looked like his season was in jeopardy before it ever really began. Now, it appears Williams may not be sidelined for long after all.

On Friday, head coach Marvin Lewis gave an update on Williams’ status, and it sounds promising:

Last season, Williams recorded 81 tackles, three interceptions and one sack, while grading out as one of the best strong safeties in the game according to Pro Football Focus and The Bleacher Report’s NFL 1000. Pro Football Focus even pegged Williams as the Bengals’ secret superstar entering the 2017 season.

Depending on how much damage was done to the elbow, Williams could have been subject to missing anywhere between four weeks to an entire season. It sounds like this injury will end up being on the lighter side of the recovery timetable if he could return as soon as Week 1.

If that’s the case, Williams will be on the Week 1 53-man roster. There was a fear the Bengals would need to place Williams on IR and use the IR-return designation later in the regular seasonfor hin to return. That would require him to spend at least eight weeks on the inactive list and miss at least seven regular-season games (the Bengals bye week comes in Week 6).

Since it appears Williams may actually return within the first three games (a Bengals.com article this week mentioned a Week 3 return target), there’s no need for IR unless there’s a significant setback in his recovery. However, if Williams does miss several regular-season games, the Bengals must keep an extra safety on the roster during that time. Otherwise, they’ll hope the three other safeties remain healthy (assuming the Bengals keep just four true safeties, as they typically do).

The good news is that George Iloka, Derron Smith and Clayton Fejedelem should be able to hold the fort down while Williams is out. Then, Josh Shaw could be the fourth safety while also sticking to his cornerback duties. That gives the team 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.

There’s also a chance that undrafted free agent Demetrious Cox makes the final roster to ensure the Bengals have adequate depth at both safety spots. Cox has looked good in training camp and two preseason games. If nothing else, Cox has secured his spot on the practice squad, but there’s now a real possibility he makes the initial 53-man roster. The Bengals also drafted defensive back Brandon Wilson this year but he’s on the Non-Football Injury list and hasn’t practiced yet this summer.