With injuries continuing to be an issue in the secondary, the Cincinnati Bengals turned to a familiar face Wednesday with the re-signing of safety Chris Crocker.
It was nearly one year ago to the day – Sept. 27, 2012 – when the Bengals grabbed Crocker off his couch and, after just two practices, threw him into action for one-third of the snaps in a Week 4 game at Jacksonville.
Crocker intercepted a pass in that 27-10 victory against the Jaguars and went on to play in all 12 remaining regular-season games with nine starts. But a thigh injury kept him out of the playoff game in Houston, and the Bengals elected not to re-sign him … until Wednesday.
“It always feels good when someone wants you and you still have some gas in the tank,” the 33-year-old Crocker said Wednesday morning before practice. “We stayed in contact, and you just know this is a possibility, especially when you have sort of a good track record of being able to help. But when it does happen, you never would have thought it would be the same week as last year. Almost a year to the date. How ironic is that?”
The Bengals waived tackle Dennis Roland to make room on the 53-man roster for Crocker, who has been a respected figure in the Bengals locker room ever since arriving in 2008 after being cut by the Miami Dolphins.
He arrived in late October that season when the team was 0-8, and he was a big reason for a 4-3-1 finish.
“He came in here and kind of changed this locker room with his attitude, as a guy who had been there and experienced some of the things we were experiencing and realized how you had to change it with your attitude and how you went about things,” offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said.
“He was here at the end of ‘08 when I was injured, and I can remember walking through here and him challenging guys. Here’s the new guy and he’s basically walking in and challenging different guys on the team, saying you’ve got to play better and quit coasting and those type of things.”
Crocker went on to start 44 games for the Bengals over the next 3-plus seasons, including all 16 in 2011. But his poor performance in a 31-10 wild-card loss to Houston, combined with a nagging knee injury, resulted in the Bengals not re-signing him in 2012.
Then the inconsistent play of Taylor Mays and Jeromy Miles at strong safety early last year led the Bengals to bring him back and throw him into action immediately. Asked if he could do the same thing Sunday in Cleveland, Crocker answered the question with a question.
“Why couldn’t I? It’s sort of like a hypothetical when you ask a question,” he said. “Why couldn’t he do what he did last year? I’m just a year older. But like wine you get better as it ages.”
The bigger question won’t be if Crocker is able, but if he is needed.
Cornerbacks Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick and free safety Reggie Nelson missed practice Wednesday with hamstring injuries, while cornerback Terence Newman was limited by a sore knee. And while cornerback Brandon Ghee received medical clearance to return from a concussion, it was his first action since suffering the injury Aug. 17.
All of those question marks resulted in Crocker coming back for his third stint with the team.
“Like gum on your shoe,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis joked.
“Hopefully lightning strikes back as it did a year ago for us,” Lewis added. “He brings a calmness, a presence that sometimes you need. We’re not sure where we’ll end up at the end of the week injury-wise, but he’s a great insurance policy to have. We’re fortunate to bring somebody in that can cover a few different spots if needed.”