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Bengals backup QB derby sees Skelton enter before Johnson

The question Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis dodged Wednesday was answered Saturday night in the team’s preseason home opener against the Tennessee Titans.

With Josh Johnson and John Skelton battling to win the backup quarterback job, Lewis was asked if he would flip the two and have Skelton enter the game before Johnson after watching Johnson light up the Atlanta Falcons the week before.

“We’ll have different combinations of people, yes,” Lewis said coyly.

Skelton, who only played 21 snaps to Johnson’s 42 in the 34-10 victory at Atlanta, entered Saturday’s game first, taking the field for the Bengals’ fourth offensive series after starter Andy Dalton had led back-to-back touchdown drives.

Skelton hit his first four passes, including a key 25-yarder to rookie tight end Tyler Eifert, to get Cincinnati in the red zone. But the drive bogged down and ended with an incompletion on third-and-7, forcing the Bengals to settle for a Mike Nugent 38-yard field goal.

Much was made of the struggles by both Skelton and Johnson on the most recent episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” despite both performing well against the Falcons.

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden talked about that portrayal Wednesday afternoon.

“They still have a ways to go, no question,” Gruden said. “Josh is really high. Holy cow, he makes some big plays, some splash plays. Then sometimes he makes some plays that just want to make you bang your head on the wall. We just have to limit those plays.

“And John just has to study harder,” Gruden added. “He’s got to understand the concepts. He’s got to know the play before I call it out. When I call a formation, he should know the play. It’s not quite there yet. It’s going to take some time. We threw a lot of offense in early because a lot of guys were returning, but unfortunately for him, he wasn’t returning.”

Skelton’s second drive Saturday night began with 44 seconds left in the first half and the Bengals on their 37. He hit Brandon Tate with a 16-yard pass on first down, but two incompletions and a sack followed to end the half.

Johnson was expected to get his turn in the second half.

Triple tights: The Bengals opened their second offensive series with three tight ends — Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert and Alex Smith — and ran rookie Giovani Bernard on three consecutive plays netting 9, 9 and 7 yards.

On the next play Bernard caught a quick screen pass from Dalton and turned it into a 28-yard gain. He capped the drive a few plays later with a 1-yard touchdown, his second in as many games.

Pro Bowlers sit: As expected, wide receiver A.J. Green (knee) and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee) did not play as a precaution. Both said they could go if it was a regular season game, and both are expected to make their preseason debuts Saturday in Dallas.

Also held out were wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (ankle), safety George Iloka (wrist), linebackers Vincent Rey (knee), Sean Porter (shoulder) and Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring), guards Otis Hudson (undisclosed) and Tanner Hawkinson (ankle), tackle Reid Fragel (knee), defensive ends Michael Johnson (undisclosed) and Carlos Dunlap (head) and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (knee).

Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis dressed but did not play in the first half.

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