Defensive end Michael Johnson showed up on the team's injury list after experiencing concussion-like symptoms following Cincinnati's lost to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Uh oh. After watching Carlos Dunlap, Brandon Ghee, and Dre Kirkpatrick undergo concussion protocols earlier this year, and based on the uncertain nature of concussions in general, it's unknown when Johnson will return; he could be cleared and ready to practice by Friday or spend most of the month on the bench. Unfortunately, Wednesday wasn't encouraging as the fifth year defensive end sat during practice.
Now, if Johnson sits against the Patriots this Sunday, it'll snap his 71 straight games played streak. Selected in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft, Johnson has played every game during every season that he's been in the league, plus the first four games this season and Cincinnati's three playoff appearances since '09.
That being the case, Wallace Gilberry would get the start and face Nate Solder, who hasn't allowed a quarterback sack this year as the Patriots left tackle. Oh, that's not all. He hasn't allowed a quarterback hit and only seven rushes on Tom Brady.
"I think there were some things that Nate, like any college player, had to adjust to in this league," said New England head coach Bill Belichick. "He made that adjustment very quickly. Colorado was a spread offense. They were usually in a two-point stance, did a lot of pass blocking and that type of thing. But he made those conversions pretty quickly. Nate is a very, very smart kid. You tell him something once and he has it. He also can do it, he’s very athletic. He has the physical ability to do what you ask him to do and change techniques and that type of thing. Physically I don’t think it’s hard for him. He’s very conscientious, he works extremely hard. I think he transitioned into this league like every other rookie has to transition to it, but I’d say he made the transitions very quickly. He played well as a rookie."
According to Pro Football Focus' grading scale, Solder is ranked as the league's top left tackle (second overall), with a dominating run block score of 5.9.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis praised the New England's continuity on the offensive line, specifically pointing out Solder in his comments on Wednesday.
"Their offensive line is very important because those guys have been there," said Lewis. "Four of the five guys have been there for quite a while, at least three years. I think (Nate) Solder and the center are the guys, and the other guys have been a part of it; they've had great continuity there, which is what you want to have."
Signed on Sept. 18, 2012, Gilberry played 14 games last season and posted 6.5 quarterback sacks, three hits on the quarterback and 10 additional pressures. Attending the 2013 Legends Dinner in March, Gilberry said:
"Hopefully, Cincinnati will put up the resources to get me back. If they do, I will be greatly appreciative. I love the city. I love the team. I love the guys. It was an honor playing for them. So, hopefully, we can get things worked out, and I'll be back in Cincinnati next year."
And they did, rewarding the defensive tackle that moonlights as an inside rusher during passing situations with a three-year deal. While his impact hasn't been as high-profile as it was last year, he's already nearing his hits (2) and hurries (7) totals from last year.