I can’t speak for everyone, but I feel like we’ve done our best to not speak injuries into existence for the Bengals this season.
It’s hard not talking about something worth addressing when you know it will incite everyone to immediately knock on wood. Now feels like a good time to just say it: the Bengals have been incredibly healthy this year. That’s starting to change a bit.
Cincinnati lost their best linebacker and cover corner during Sunday’s roller coaster loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. The team’s hottest receiver at the moment and star running back ended up playing through clear and obvious pain, as did their quarterback. And to top it all off, they were missing nearly half of their offensive line.
This isn’t to excuse their performance when they clearly beat themselves, but it goes to show that no team can make it
17 18 weeks without eventually wearing down in some capacity. In regards to the injuries, they were forced to deal with most of them during the game. They at least were preparing to play with new faces at offensive line the week prior.
Trey Hill and Isaiah Prince can be thankful they got all the practice reps they could get.
Hill and Prince have taken similar paths from the start of the year to get to this point. Back in the preseason, Hill got a lot of work as the starting center while Trey Hopkins was being reserved with his nearly recovered ACL. He started the first two exhibition games and played well enough for the organization to deem Billy Price expendable. Price was soon traded away and Hill, the 191st pick in April’s NFL Draft, solidified his spot as the backup center.
Hill was a true rookie in his first training camp, and that’s what it felt like with Prince, only it didn’t look like it. The Bengals acquired him all the way back in 2019 during his first year in the league. We never saw him last year because he opted out due to COVID-19, so this year was Prince’s first real season in Cincinnati. It was our first exposure to him, which is why he took a lot of folks by surprise with how well he practiced and played leading up to the season. The decision to keep him on the initial 53 seemed obvious, and that work would soon pay off.
In Weeks 3 and 4, the Bengals began rolling out heavy personnel packages for their run game. These formations featured Prince as an extra tackle attached to the strong side, and they generally passed the eye test for yielding a solid success rate. They’ve also given Prince a chance to get reps in their effort to take advantage of a blocking scheme that fits their line. What did Prince do with those reps? He turned in the best run-blocking grade for a Bengals lineman through the first 11 games of the year. Not too shabby.
When Hill has seen the field this year, it’s been because of good and bad news. He made his first appearance in Week 6 when he became the final option to start at right guard. That was a mixed bag considering he was benched mid-game and had to come back in for emergency purposes. Since then, he’s only come on during garbage time situations, and almost exclusively at center.
Enter a week ago when Hopkins and Riley Reiff missed a whole week of practice. Hill and Prince were about to go from situational reserves, to starters in place of experienced veterans. Hill may’ve already had a start under his belt, but he was drafted to be a center. This was his first real chance to prove his worth, as was the case for Prince.
The results of their debuts were like the game itself; you really needed some time to grasp what happened. This is coming from the writer who listed both players as losers right after the final snap. That article isn’t the easiest to put together sometimes!
But now that a few days have passed and we’ve got a grip, let’s break down some of the highs and lows from Hill and Prince.
In typical 2021 Bengals fashion, the linemen who played the cleanest in this game were these two. Aside from the penalties, Hill and Prince hardly had any screwups in pass protection and—when put in manageable situations—were productive in the run game. Not the reality you’d expect after Joe Burrow took six sacks in a 19-point loss at home.
It looks like the offense will get Hopkins and Reiff back in practice this week. Hill and Prince will return to the sidelines soon enough, but o-line coach Frank Pollack has to be pleased with how his young reserves performed, and head coach Zac Taylor should feel comfortable inserting them back into the lineup if need be.